FDA weighs in on obesity

The Food and Drug Administration commissioner Mark McClellan formed the Obesity Working Group to investigate what role FDA can play in fighting obesity.

On November 20, 2003, the agency held its second daylong hearing to explore the link between weight management and food labeling and packaging. The agency is looking for new scientific and economic data on how to communicate messages more effectively to consumers, with a focus on how nutrition labeling affects caloric intake. Key questions include these:

• What are the messages likely to affect weight gain, weight management, or weight loss?

• How could those messages be communicated through labeling?

• What are the pros and cons of communicating these messages through labeling?

The working group is expected to issue a report by February 12, 2004. McClellan has indicated that among the steps the agency could take are changing the required nutrition labels to include more information that could be used to control weight or issuing new regulations for weight-related health claims.

Among the suggestions offered by critics of current label requirements is listing the calorie content for the whole package rather than for a single serving, because consumers often mistake the latter for the former. Critics also charge that FDA’s guidelines on serving sizes, established in 1990, are out of date and do not reflect current portion sizes.

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