Roundup: FDA Redefines ‘Healthy’ Claims on Packaged Foods; U.S. Health Panel Urges Anxiety Screenings for Youth 8-18; and CDC’s Report on 2nd COVID-Booster Effectiveness

FDA Proposes Tightening Definition of “Healthy” Food Product Claims on Packaging

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to crack down on food producers who claim their products are “healthy” — and don’t back up that claim on the nutrition labelling.

The FDA’s states that its proposed rule would align the definition of the “healthy” claim with “current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The proposal is the latest move by the agency to help consumers improve nutrition and dietary patterns, and help “reduce the burden of chronic disease and advance health equity,” the FDA said. More than 80 percent of individuals in the U.S. are not eating enough vegetables, fruit and dairy. And the majority are taking in too much added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.

“Diet-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, are the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. and disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority groups,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D., said in a statement. “Today’s action is an important step toward accomplishing a number of nutrition-related priorities, which include empowering consumers with information to choose healthier diets and establishing healthy eating habits early. It can also result in a healthier food supply.”

Under the FDA’s proposed definition, food products labeled with the “healthy” claim would need to: 

  • Contain a certain meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc.) recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.  
  • Adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. The threshold for the limits is based on a percent of the Daily Value (DV) for the nutrient and varies depending on the food and food group. The limit for sodium is 10% of the DV per serving (230 milligrams per serving).

For example, a cereal would need to contain ¾ ounces of whole grains and contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars, the FDA said. There is currently no limit on added sugars under the current definition — an omission that the F.D.A. states is inconsistent with nutrition science.


For First Time, U.S. Health Panel Urges Anxiety Screenings for Youth, Ages 8 to 18

For the first time, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has recommended that primary care doctors screen all children ages 8 to 18 for anxiety, as part of updated guidance that targets a mental health crisis among young people.

The USPSTF, an influential panel of independent medical experts, also reaffirmed its position that all adolescents ages 12 to 18 should be screened for depression. The task force’s recommendations released this week follow last month’s recommendation that all adults under the age of 65 be screened for anxiety – another first for the USPSTF.

For older children and teens, screening and follow-up care can reduce symptoms of depression and can improve, and potentially resolve, anxiety, the USPSTF states. “However, there is very limited evidence on the benefits and harms of screening children younger than 8 for anxiety and younger than 12 for depression,” the task force said.

There are several types of anxiety, including “generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety” — but all forms are characterized by excessive fear or worry.

“The Task Force reviewed the evidence on screening for anxiety, depression, and suicide risk to provide primary care professionals with guidance on how they can help support the mental health of children and adolescents,” says Task Force member Martha Kubik, Ph.D., R.N., in a statement. “Fortunately, screening older children for anxiety and depression can identify these conditions so children and teens can receive the care that they need.”

Youth who screen positive need further evaluation to determine if they have anxiety or depression, the task force states.

CDC: Second COVID Booster Highly Effective at Protecting Nursing Home Residents from Severe Illness

A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the second COVID-19 booster is highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths among nursing home residents. A second booster was approved earlier this year for U.S. adults older than 50.

The second booster, however, did not perform as well in preventing infections during the period when the Omicron BA. 4 and BA. 5 variants dominated — between March 29 and July 25.

Researchers reviewed records of nursing home residents who received a second original mRNA booster dose, compared to those who did not. The second booster was 90 percent effective at preventing coronavirus-related deaths, and 74 percent effective at preventing severe cases that led to either hospitalizations or deaths, the CDC said. The second shot was about 26 percent effective at preventing infection.

The analysis included 9,527 residents across 196 nursing homes across 19 states (median of 49 residents per facility

The nursing home residents had received their booster within 60 days when they were researchers followed up with them. Study participants had to have been a resident of a nursing home for more than 100 days, spent less than 10 outside of the facility and received three prior vaccine doses, with the last dose received more than 120 days prior to the study.

Concludes the CDC: “The results support the importance of continued efforts to ensure the nursing home population is up to date on recommended COVID-19 vaccine booster doses including the newly authorized bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.”

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