The agency claims that food is its main focus, and that it has shifted resources to address this issue
WASHINGTON — FDA Commissioner Robert Califf opened Wednesday’s National Food Policy Conference with some sobering words.
“It’s all too obvious that we’re in the midst of backsliding in the progress that we’ve made for many years,” Califf said.
The average American’s life expectancy has gone down nearly three years since 2019 and is now 76.1 years, the lowest level since 1996, he said. Six in 10 people in this country have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have more than one.
Many factors contribute to these conditions, but unhealthy diets and poor nutrition play an outsized role, Califf said. Three-quarters of people in the U.S. don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables or dairy, he said, while a majority eat too much sugar, salt and saturated fat.
But this week, he said the nation is at an inflection point in food policy.
However, there remains some concern among critics of the FDA’s decision.
Last month, President Joe Biden hosted the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in more than 50 years. The administration released a detailed policy plan designed to end hunger in the nation by 2030, as well as reverse trends toward more diet-related diseases.
A major part of the plan also is devoted to new labeling, definitions and information that the FDA is looking to put in place to educate Americans about the nutritional content of what they’re eating.
“Make no mistake: Every American has a right to choose what they want to eat, healthy or not,” Califf said. “Our role at the FDA is to give people access to the facts so that they can make informed choices.”
Califf and Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, shared some of the plans to use policy to try to improve public health as the conference opened. The nation’s problems stemming from food are multifaceted, Mayne said, so the solutions also need to be.
“Government certainly has a role in getting healthy foods to everybody, and then making healthier choices the easier choices,” she said.
Labeling is a powerful tool the FDA can use to better inform consumers, Mayne said.
The federal government recently proposed a new definition of “healthy” that more closely aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Mayne said the agency is also working on a regulated front-of-package seal, which consumers can use to quickly tell when a food item meets the “healthy” standard. Additional front-of-package labeling that Mayne said the FDA plans to develop would help consumers quickly determine how nutritious food products are.