Wednesday, February 24, 2010
“Front of Package Food Labels – Public Health or Propaganda”
But what about claims that a food package is “low salt” or “low cholesterol” or “low fat?” Usually this represents a relative statement. If a soup is low salt but if one eats multiple servings per meal, then low salt becomes a lot of salt. If low sugar means just a small bite of the chocolate bar, that is true but who eats just a small bite?
The article noted that the San Francisco city attorney was able to force Kellogg to stop using the statement that sweetened breakfast cereals “help support your child’s immunity.” There was no evidence to support this claim and furthermore, sugared foods raise many other health issues.
Manufacturers naturally want to use health claims; it helps sell the product. But these claims can confuse the shopper and may well suggest to the buyer that the government has somehow endorsed the statement when in fact it has not. Indeed, few claims can be verified because no unbiased evaluation has been done to accept or refute them. Stating that a food is fortified with a vitamin does not mean that it is a healthy food; just that it has had the vitamin added. The important question is whether the food, say a cereal, is made of whole grains and has little or not sugars, salt or fat added.
The authors conclude by recommending that the FDA strictly regulate front-of-package labeling based on sound studies. Seems like a very good idea to me.
Praise for Dr Schimpff
The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.
-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).