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Health claims on food packages are under fire, but more shoppers rely on nutrition labels

March 4, 2010 | 12:50 pm

While food makers are getting more creative about the health claims they make on the front of their products -- olive oil that cures cancer and green tea that cures Alzheimer’s disease -- a new survey finds that American shoppers are getting more savvy about reading the old-school nutrition information printed on the back of food packages.

Nutrition label For the first time, more than half of shoppers (54%) told interviewers for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2008 Health and Diet Survey that they “often” read the nutrition label when they consider buying a product. Two-thirds of those label readers said they look for information about calories, fat, salt and vitamins. But only 46% of the 2,584 adults surveyed said they used the nutrition label to assess the calorie content of packaged foods, and 34% said they rarely or never do.

Declarations that products are “low fat,” “high fiber” or “cholesterol-free” sway only 38% of consumers, and 27% said they routinely ignore them. That might explain why marketers have been making ever-more-ambitious claims about the healing powers of their foods and beverages. If so, there’s evidence that the strategy has backfired: 56% of those surveyed said they doubted the accuracy of some or all of those claims.

Another surely unintended consequence: On Wednesday, the FDA revealed that it has sent warning letters to 17 food makers accused of printing false or misleading nutrition information on product packages. In the letters, Roberta Wagner, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, informs the companies, “Failure to promptly correct these violations may result in regulatory actions without further notice, such as seizure and/or injunction.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which may have prompted the letters through its own investigation of food labels, called the action “a once in a generation event,” according to this story in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, you can read the full results of the Health and Diet Survey here.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: More shoppers are taking the time to read the fine print on the back of packaged foods, according to the FDA. Credit: Dawn Villella / Associated Press

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Comments (2)

Slowly and surely people are getting hip as to what food manufactures are doing. I believe it's not people's fault as to why they are overweight. A lot of it has to do with what they are lead to believe from food manufactures/ marketers.

Great post!

nutrition, fat loss, weight loss, how to lose body fat, bodybuilding, how to get swole, how to lose weight

I run a tea website which (besides user-generated ratings and reviews) has a lot of information on different varieties of tea and a bit of health information.

Over the course of working on the website and researching tea, I have been shocked by the number of misleading and even outright false health claims made by tea companies (including some of the more mainstream ones--who shall go unnamed). The biggest claim that I see repeated over and over again is that green tea is lower in caffeine than black tea, and white tea is lowest in caffeine. This claim is totally false, and this has been definitively shown by all of the few laboratory studies done on the subject--some types of white tea are actually highest in caffeine among teas, and there is essentially no pattern of one type (green, black, white) being more or less caffeinated.

Another common myth is that Yerba Mate does not contain caffeine, and instead contains "mateine". But "mateine" is considered a synonym for caffeine--it contains caffeine just like tea or coffee. I've seen all sorts of other more outrageous claims too.

The lesson here: don't believe something just because you read it, even if you read it on something produced by a mainstream company. Make sure a reliable source is cited! And to anyone who wants to find more reliable information, at least as it pertains to tea and herbal tea, I'd invite you to check out RateTea.net. We are unaffiliated with any tea company and strive to be among the most accurate sources of tea-related information on the web. And we carefully read and cite scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals to critically evaluate health claims!



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