Stop Judging Cereal Boxes By Their Fronts

February 24, 2010 – 11:02 am
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Rebecca RuizBio |
Rebecca Ruiz is a staff writer at Forbes.
Walking into a grocery store these days is almost like walking into a pharmacy.

Multi-grain Cheerios promises to help manage weight. Quaker’s oatmeal says it will lower cholesterol. Omega-3-fortified Horizon milk is advertised as good for healthy brain development. These reassuring front-of-package claims often lull consumers into thinking that a trip to the grocery store is a decent substitute for a trip to the doctor’s office or to the gym. Of course, as the controversy over immunity boosting Cocoa Krispies proved last fall, such claims often defy common sense.
NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle and Boston-based endocrinologist Dr. David Ludwig write in the current Journal of the American Medical Association(sub. req’d) that these claims should not be allowed.  A ban on all front-of-package claims, they argue, would force consumers to read the ingredient list and nutrition information. Food companies weren’t permitted to make health claims about their products until 1990, but since then, the regulations have loosened.

It’s not clear that a shopper would immediately turn a package over if health claims were absent from the front, but the ban would certainly weed out claims based on tenuous science and eliminate the warm, fuzzy feeling consumers get when they buy a product that purports to be good for their bodies. It would also force food companies to attract customers using a more straightforward, less disingenious, marketing strategy.

The primary obstacle to such a ban is that prior court decisions have ruled that health claims fall into the domain of commercial free speech. Plenty of folks are also likely to cast the ban as an intrusion of the nanny state. But right now, there’s no compelling evidence demonstrating that front-of-label health claims make Americans savvier consumers. In fact, our waistlines indicate they’ve had the opposite effect.

Sourced and published by Henry Sapiecha 23rd March 2010

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