The FDA, Making the World Safe -- From Cheerios
Of the countless things the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could be doing to help make the nation's food supply safer, here's one issue the agency recently chose to focus on. The FDA a week ago issued a warning to the folks who make Cheerios to stop printing on boxes claims that eating the popular, life-preserver shaped breakfast cereal can lower cholesterol 4 percent in six weeks.
It's not that the claim's not valid: The science behind it appears to be fairly sound.
The issue is that only drug-makers are allowed to say their products have specific, measurable health benefits -- and with good reason. Drugs are put through all kinds of testing before the FDA okays claims on their behalf. Cheerios are a food, not a drug, and so their manufacturer can't make specific health claims for them unless it, too, tests them as drugs and submits its science for FDA scrutiny. (For more on the complicated world of health claims for foods, read Post science reporter David Brown's recent article about Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice.)
It's taken the FDA two years to catch up with the Cheerios claim; that's apparently how long it's been listed on the boxes. General Mills was given 15 days to tell the FDA how it intends to address the problem. (The cereal box was also taken to task for omitting reference to fruits and vegetables in addition to whole grains as part of the package that provides potential disease-fighting fiber.)
In a market in which manufacturers are allowed to tout whole-grain goodness for products (including many brands of bread and other baked goods) with scarcely any whole grain or, for that matter, much goodness, why on Earth would the FDA go after Cheerios -- a product that is made with whole grain and hardly any sugar, both attributes that the government should be promoting with all its might?
Of course, I know: It's the principle of the thing, and everybody has to play by the rules.
In the meantime, Cheerios has moved on to a new and improved claim. Its Web site says, "Wow! Exciting news from Cheerios. Cheerios helps lower cholesterol 10% in one month." The copy continues, "A new study proves Cheerios cereal plus a reduced calorie diet that is low in fat can help naturally lower bad cholesterol about 10% in one month." And in the Q&A section appears this:
Q: I'VE BEEN EATING CHEERIOS FOR YEARS. THE BOX USED TO SAY "CHEERIOS CAN HELP LOWER YOUR CHOLESTEROL 4% IN 6 WEEKS!' HOW IS THIS STUDY DIFFERENT? DID YOU ADD SOMETHING TO CHEERIOS?
A: This is still the same great Cheerios cereal that can help naturally lower cholesterol through the power of oats. This study is different from the original Cheerios study because it incorporated a reduced calorie diet. A reduced calorie diet can help promote healthy weight loss, which can help lower cholesterol. The new study shows that Cheerios cereal, as part of a reduced calorie diet low in fat, can help lower cholesterol even more than diet alone.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
May 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Family Health , General Health , Health Policy , Nutrition and Fitness
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