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Health Claims on Foods May Not Be Well-Grounded
Date:5/12/2010

New report suggests ways for FDA to beef up its oversight,,,,

WEDNESDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. consumers are being misled by the health claims made on the packaging of foods and supplements, according to a new report by the Institute of Medicine, because those claims do not undergo the same scientific rigor required for such claims on medications.

A box of cereal that proclaims the breakfast food will lower your cholesterol, for instance, has not had to pass the same government standards as the claims on the packaging of a cholesterol-lowering drug.

"There is evidence that things get on the market because the standard is lower," said Dr. John Ball, executive vice president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology and chairman of the committee that wrote the report, which was released Wednesday.

"Consumers probably assume that if the FDA said it's OK, it's OK," Ball said. "But in fact, the OK for drugs is a much higher OK than the OK for food supplements."

Faced with a barrage of health claims for foods, the FDA asked the committee to develop a way in which those claims could be better evaluated, Ball said.

Most health claims on food packaging, he said, are based on the supposed beneficial effects on biomarkers, which are a measure of a biological process, such as blood pressure or cholesterol. A cereal might be sold to consumers as being good for the heart when, in fact, that clinical outcome has not been tested.

Dr. Robert H. Sprinkle, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, described food marketers' use of biomarkers in making health claims as "misappropriated" because "they may not mean much in the context in which they're cited."

For example, Sprinkle said, "our cereal does XYZ, and we want to say so ... and some experts think that's favorable, so we want to have you credit [it] with having that effect -- eve
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