The Food and Drug Administration recently invited public comment on an updated definition of what constitutes a “healthy” food. An updated definition is not merely fodder for food policy gurus. This will have a very real impact on advertisers and consumers alike because the new standard will set the stage for what brands will label and advertise as “healthy.”
What is “healthy” under the current definition—which reflects decades old views on nutrition—may no longer be “healthy” after the FDA’s final determination. Perhaps that is a good thing. Take, for example, that some sugary breakfast cereals and pastries could be considered “healthy” under the current guidelines—which focus on overall fat content rather than sugar content—but things like fresh avocados and nuts are not considered “healthy” because of their fat content.
The FDA’s new guidance will likely force many brands to rethink and retool how they advertise their previously “healthy” (but suddenly not “healthy” anymore) products. On the flip side, the new definition could well breathe new life into a languishing product or push emerging products to even greater market prowess that will be suddenly considered “healthy” by the FDA. According to the FDA, many consumers make their purchasing decisions in 3-5 seconds. So, by that data, most folks are not loitering in the florescent lights of a big box supermarket comparing nutrition tables. While the details may not be a focus to consumers, a big catchy label clearly stating that something is “healthy,” could make the difference between buying Brand X or Brand Y.
Perhaps most importantly, brand owners and the public will have a say on the final definition of “healthy.” The FDA is currently seeking input on a variety of questions about what “healthy” should mean – both from a nutrition standpoint and from a consumer’s understanding standpoint. The public comment period opened on September 28, 2016, and comments can be submitted through the FDA’s website.