July 11, 2011 – The New York City Health Department along with 35 health authorities and organizations called on the federal government today to track nutrients in the U.S. food supply by building a public and product-specific national nutrition database. The database would provide consumers with easy access to the nutrition information already required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on packaged food labels. An article by the Health Department, “Sodium and Potassium Intake: Mortality Effects and Policy Implications,” in today’s edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine lays out the argument to make this nutrition information public.
“It is important to have accurate, current and comprehensive nutrition information available so that consumers can make healthy choices while we analyze whether policies and voluntary efforts to improve the food supply are really working,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. Commissioner Farley and Dr. Lynn Silver, director of the Office of Science and Policy, co-authored the newly-released Archives commentary. According to Dr. Silver, “Such a system would allow us to track changes in key determinants of health such as sodium, trans fat and saturated fat over time, and would foster competition for healthier products, driving the entire food supply to be healthier.”
The leading causes of death in New York City and across the nation are preventable, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. The food we consume is one of the most important factors that can protect against – or increase the risk of – chronic disease. Much of the U.S. food supply is undergoing a significant shift in product formulation, such as reducing sodium content, eliminating artificial trans fat, and changing portion sizes. No existing nutrition database is publicly available, product-specific, up-to-date and comprehensive, so consumers do not have access to one reliable source of nutrition information. While consumers can see nutrition information on products when they shop, there is no way to see what other options may exist at other stores. Having this access is important for anyone seeking healthier options. It can help to track calorie intake and allow for consumers to compare nutrient information between specific products.
More than 35 cities, states, and health organizations have signed on to a statement calling for the FDA, in coordination with other federal agencies, to create a national nutrition database. Accurate and up-to-date nutrition information could be maintained in a cost-efficient manner by simply requiring industry to submit their products’ Nutrition Facts label information when changes are made to foods sold in the U.S. The FDA can help consumers make informed decisions by ensuring that the information is easily accessible and all in one place on the web.
“The American Heart Association agrees strongly with the need for more scrutiny over the U.S. food supply and coordinating this effort among several government agencies. The overconsumption of unhealthy foods and beverages contributes to serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease – the number one killer in the United States. Americans deserve the opportunity to make informed choices about what they eat and to understand how the food supply is changing,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.
“To make wise decisions, consumers need accurate, current information about the nutritional content of packaged and restaurant foods,” said Chuck Bell, programs director of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. “The National Nutrition Database will provide a comprehensive snapshot of all products that are on the market, to help consumers compare nutrition information, and choose products that best serve their needs. Consumers will also benefit because researchers, medical professionals and journalists will be able to use the database to analyze trends and provide recommendations and advice. This is a forward-looking, 21st century idea that builds on current federal efforts to inform the public, and promote healthy dietary practices."
"Across the country, cities and states are working hard to ensure that everyone has access to healthy choices. Providing easy access to nutrition information in one place empowers consumers to make informed decisions about the foods and beverages they choose. This is an important step toward creating a healthier food environment for all," said Jonathan E. Fielding, director of Public Health and health officer, Los Angeles County.
The public health authorities and national health organizations that have signed on to today’s statement to the FDA are listed below. All are members of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), a broader partnership of cities, states, and national health organizations to reduce population sodium intake by 20 percent over five years. The NSRI created two nutrition databases for packaged foods and restaurant foods in order to track changes in nutrients over time and realized the feasibility and value of a publicly-accessible national nutrition database.
National Nutrition Database Supporters
State of Alaska Division of Public Health
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
Arkansas Department of Health
Association of Black Cardiologists
Boston Public Health Commission
Broome County Health Department
Chicago Department of Public Health
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Cook County Department of Public Health
Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
Houston Department of Health and Human Services
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
Maricopa County Department of Public Health
Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support
National Association of Chronic Disease Directors
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Hispanic Medical Association
National Kidney Foundation
New Mexico Department of Health
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
New York State Chapter of the American College of Cardiology
New York State Department of Health
North Dakota Department of Health
Northwest Kidney Centers
Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Philadelphia Department of Public Health
Rhode Island Department of Health
Society for the Analysis of African-American Public Health Issues
Summit County Health Department
Utah Department of Health
Wisconsin Heart Disease and Stroke Alliance