It’s no secret. The obesity epidemic is still raging in the United States. Documentaries such as Super Size Me and TV shows like Big Medicine have helped to bring the public’s attention to the obesity problem in the US, but there is still a long way to go to encourage consumers to adopt proper eating habits and exercise regiments.
There have been quite a few fad diets out there that guarantee the latest “quick fix” for a spare tire around the waist or love handles. The health food market has also exploded with new products offering few calories and added vitamins and minerals. Consumers are also looking for products not only to help them lose weight, but also stay healthy by consuming products, like functional foods, to help prevent cancer. Functional foods, any fresh or processed food claiming to have a health-promoting and/or disease-preventing property beyond the basic nutritional function of supplying nutrients, are also being researched and developed by many scientists.
Functional foods are fast becoming a part of everyday life. Two-thirds of adults made an effort to buy more fortified foods in 2006 – up 17% over 2005. One-third of young adults age 18–24 regularly drink energy beverages, and more than half of mothers of preteens bought organic foods last year.
With the majority (69%) of Americans pursuing a preventive lifestyle and 27% taking a treatment approach, not surprisingly, products that offer specific health benefits that make it easier for consumers to address their individual needs are enjoying explosive sales growth.
How does the market classify whether or not a food is considered functional food? The FDA regulates food products according to their intended use and the nature of claims made on the package. Five types of health-related statements or claims are allowed on food and dietary supplement labels:
* Nutrient content claims indicate the presence of a specific nutrient at a certain level.
* Structure and function claims describe the effect of dietary components on the normal structure or function of the body.
* Dietary guidance claims describe the health benefits of broad categories of foods.
* Qualified health claims convey a developing relationship between components in the diet and risk of disease, as reviewed by the FDA and supported by the weight of credible scientific evidence available.
* Health claims confirm a relationship between components in the diet and risk of disease or health condition, as approved by FDA and supported by significant scientific agreement.
Could junk food be advertised with health claims? Diet Coke Plus was introduced in 2007 by The Coca-Cola Company as an alternative to Coca-Cola Classic. The ingredient list includes the following added vitamins and minerals: magnesium sulfate (declared at 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for magnesium in the Nutrition Facts panel), zinc gluconate (declared at 10% of the DV for zinc), niacinamide (declared at 15% of the DV for niacin), pyridoxine hydrochloride (declared at 15% of the DV for vitamin B6), and cyanocobalamine (declared at 15% of the DV for vitamin B12).
Diet Coke Plus has just come under fire for using the word “plus” in their product name. According to the FDA, Diet Coke Plus is “misbranded … because the product makes a nutrient content claim but does not meet the criteria to make the claim.” Muhtar Kent, the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company received a warning letter from the FDA last week detailing regulations for using the word “plus” and Diet Coke Plus’ abuse of the word, along with the statement that the “FDA does not consider it appropriate to fortify snack foods such as carbonated beverages.”
I’ll be honest; I’ve bought Diet Coke Plus at the grocery store. I might’ve been trying to rationalize my caffeine addiction. It said Plus, it must be ok to drink. If they ever come out with an Organic Coke I’m sure people will be clamoring to buy it, supposing that it will be “all natural”.
The FDA has allowed Coke 15 days to prepare a letter detailing the actions that Coke plans to take in response to the warning letter, including an explanation of each step being taken to correct the current violations and prevent similar violations. “We take seriously the issues raised by the FDA in its letter,” Coke spokesman Scott Williamson said in a prepared statement. “This does not involve any health or safety issues, and we believe the label on Diet Coke Plus complies with FDA’s policies and regulations. We will provide a detailed response to the FDA in early January."