US Agency Permits Qualified Health Claim for Yogurt

16 May 2024

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently permitted yogurt producers to make a health claim on containers of their products.

Yogurt is a food made from milk and special bacteria.

Dannon yogurt sits on display in a market in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Dannon yogurt sits on display in a market in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The claim is that eating yogurt might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a health problem linked to how the body uses sugar for fuel. Type 2 diabetes is believed to affect about 38 million Americans.

Danone North America is the U.S. division of a French food company that makes several popular yogurt products. In 2018, the company asked the FDA for permission to make what is known as a "qualified health claim" about yogurt.

In March, the FDA said it would not object to such a claim. The food agency said that there is some evidence to support the claim that eating at least 900 grams of yogurt per week might reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

However, the agency said there is not "significant scientific agreement" about the claim.

What is a ‘qualified health claim'?

A "qualified health claim" means that the health effects have not been supported by wide scientific agreement.

Food producers are permitted to make some claims about the healthfulness of their products, but they also must include additional information to prevent misleading the public.

The FDA has permitted "qualified health claims" on dietary supplements since 2000 and on foods since 2002. The policy formed after the FDA faced legal action in the 1990s because it did not permit food companies to put any health claims on products that the agency did not approve. Lawyers successfully argued that such bans violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Rather than fight in court, the FDA created a new term, separate from "authorized health claims." These claims, the agency says, are supported by scientific agreement.

Examples of "qualified health claims" include claims that eating some kinds of cocoa might reduce heart disease. Another example is that cranberry juice might cut the risk of repeated urinary tract infections in women.

Yogurt and type 2 diabetes

In the case of yogurt, Danone submitted information from studies that observed people over time. The yogurt company found a link between eating yogurt and fewer signs of diabetes. The FDA agreed that there is "some credible evidence" that eating yogurt as a whole food has good health effects but not because of any one nutrient that it contains. In other words, there is no direct evidence that yogurt can prevent diabetes. There is only indirect evidence that eating yogurt may be connected to reducing signs connected to an increased risk of the disease.

The FDA says that it will not object to a qualified health claim rather than authorizing it.

Critics questioned the use of such a claim. They say it is not based on research that proves yogurt reduces Type 2 diabetes risk.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. It is critical of the qualified health claim related to yogurt. It said no single food can reduce the risk of a disease that is tied to overall diet.

It even warned that the claim might raise the risk of diabetes. The center said people might eat more yogurt products that include added sugars including cookies and pretzels—even if they do not have the claim on their containers.

Marion Nestle is a food policy expert at New York University. She said qualified health claims based on limited evidence are "ridiculous on their face."

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Jonel Aleccia reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

qualified –adj. provided with a condition or an exception

dietary supplement –n. a class of products whose sales are based on the belief that they are good for a person's health

authorized–adj. officially approved by a qualified agency

urinary tract –n. the path from the bladder that urine takes to go out of the body

credible –adj. something that can reasonably be believed

advocacy –n. the activity of supporting a cause or a group of people through several means

ridiculous –adj. not serious

on their face idiom from only what is known at first