F.D.A. seeks study into fortified snack foods, beverages

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration has submitted information to the Office of Management and Budget requesting clearance to conduct a controlled, randomized experiment to explore consumer responses to expressed and implied nutrient content claims on the labels of snack foods such as cookies, carbonated beverages and candy.

Details of the potential study appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of the Federal Register.

The study, which would use a 15-minute Internet-based questionnaire to collect information from 7,500 adults on an on-line consumer panel, is part of the agency’s continuing effort to enable consumers to make informed dietary choices and construct healthful diets.

“F.D.A. has an interest in the American public achieving and maintaining diets with optimal levels of nutritional quality, wherein healthy diets are composed of foods from a variety of nutrient sources,” the agency noted in the Federal Register filing. “F.D.A. does not encourage the addition of nutrients to certain food products (including sugars or snack foods such as [cookies] candies, and carbonated beverages). F.D.A. is interested in studying whether fortification of these foods could cause consumers to believe that substituting fortified snack foods for more nutritious foods would ensure a nutritionally sound diet.”

As part of the study, the F.D.A. said it plans to provide consumers with mock snack products with such claims as “as much (nutrient) as a serving of (food product)”; “a good source of (nutrient)”; and mock carbonated beverages with the claim, “(product name) plus (nutrient).”

Each participant in each study will be randomly assigned to view a label image, and each participant also will be randomly allowed or disallowed access to the Nutrition Facts Panel of the product.

After viewing the label images, participants will answer questions about their perceptions and reactions to the label.

The F.D.A. said it will use the results of the study to inform its understanding of how claims on packages of fortified food may affect how consumers perceive a product or a label, which may in turn affect their dietary choices.

Comments on the potential study must be submitted by Nov. 20 to www.regulations.gov.

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