Almost every grocery store's shelves are lined with food products labeled as "healthy," but what does the term actually mean?
The Food and Drug Administration launched an online forum Wednesday morning asking for the public to weigh in on how the word should be defined after petitioners urged the agency to make labeling criteria more specific.
"In particular, the petitioners request that FDA amend the regulation defining the nutrient content claim 'healthy' with respect to total fat intake and amend the regulation to emphasize whole foods and dietary patterns rather than specific nutrients," according to the FDA's regulation summary. "We invite public comment on the term 'healthy,' generally, and as a nutrient content claim in the context of food labeling and on specific questions contained in this document."
Jonathan Shrednick, the owner of Completely Pickled, a local gourmet pickle brand that pegs its products as healthy, gave his perspective on what a product that wants to call itself healthy should be. Shrednick is a regular vendor at USC's Wednesday farmers market.
"I believe that healthy food would be something that you put in your body that's going to benefit you whether it be in the short run or the long run and not have that chance of harming you," he said.
Each of the six people interviewed on campus said they believe foods should be properly labeled, some felt the responsibility of making good choices is ultimately up to the customer.
"I try not to listen to the labeling like 'natural' and stuff like that and do my own investigations of ingredients," said 19-year-old art major Bardia Soltani."It's hard to say what's properly labeled because it's a fine line between marketing and deceit. It's more up to the consumer to detect the marketing schemes."
Jeffrey Hirsch, an adjunct professor for the university's communications management program, mirrored Soltani's sentiment.
"I won't address some of your FDA questions, but I do think that consumers want to see nutritional information," Hirsch said. "However, it is up to them, the consumers, to decide what's 'healthy' and what's not. Science and the government have clearly failed us over the past several decades. Fat is bad. Then it's good. Carbs are good. The 'Food Pyramid' keeps evolving. It's all very confusing to consumers."
Bob Girandola, an associate biology professor and nutrition expert, is skeptical that anything can be done to remedy the problem.
"I don't know if it's ever going to change — you have too many lobbying interests that have vested interest in all of this," he said.
While some are skeptical, one student had a colorful idea about how to clearly show what foods are healthy and unhealthy.
"I think that the FDA should put on labels kind of like a color coding symbol where green is good, yellow is OK for you and red is bad," said Tara Ribisi, 19, a business major.
Ribisi said that she would consider submitting her idea to the FDA and feels passionately that some changes need to be made.
"It's something that I feel really strongly about because I think it's really hard for people to read labels and understand what they mean," Ribisi said. "Food is something we consume all the time, it's our main energy source and I think in America especially with our obesity rates and things like that it would be really helpful."
Anyone who wants to weigh in can do so here until Jan. 27, 2017.