Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The crunch of Cheerios is that of two worldviews clashing

The FDA, which regulates prescription medications, also regulates health claims made by food manufacturers. In this case the makers of Cheerios have been called on the carpet, so to speak, for claiming that eating the cereal can reduce the risk of heart disease. An opinion article in The Wall Street Journal reports, “their mistake (the makers of Cheerios) was boasting that the cereal could help reduce the risk of heart disease ‘by lowering the ‘bad’ cholesterol.’”  While there may be some sound science behind that claim, the opinion piece goes on to report that the main issue was “making specific reference to cholesterol levels, something that’s typically treated by a drug.” In the larger sense the issue is whether to regulate or not to regulate, which is a topic members of our advertising class have been discussing over the past week or so. If you were to read the 38 comments on the Web that were associated with the Journal article you would experience the vitriol of politically conservative readers who think the government goes to far in regulating both food and drugs. But we are presently living in times where the FDA is more activist on such issues and consumers can expect health claims by food manufacturers to be more closely scrutinized than in the recent past. No one would argue that presenting the health benefits of food is a bad thing, especially when it comes to nutrition and diet. But when manufacturers make claims that place that product in the role of medications, conflicts arise – is it a food or is it a drug? Again, in the larger scheme, the issue relates to how restrictive the FDA should be with regard to health claims made by food manufacturers, and it gives students of advertising an opportunity to see the political pendulum swing from the right to the left.


Alexander said...

This discrepancy of health claims made by food and drug companies is a perfect example of advertising minimizing the information it offers to the consumer. Arguments are made on both sides of this debate as to whether their should be equal standards of regulation for both food and drug advertising. I believe that the solution to this issue, however, is simply information. Drug companies are held to particularly high standards by the FDA regarding how they advertise their products. For the same reason I believe that as soon as food products make any claims about its health benefits then they should be held to the same standards as drugs. They should immediately be responsible for the specific scientific data and research that support the claims of their advertising, similar to say prescription drugs. By advertising these bold claims without the necessary backup information required in the drug industry is equally unethical.

brianne said...

In order for someone to lower their cholesterol, they need to take some sort of prescription drug. Cheerios is a type of breakfast food and in no way a drug. Yet, if they are claiming or making "specific reference to cholesterol levels" then I believe this advertisement should be regulated. A consumer should be aware that by simply eating an ample amount of Cheerios without taking any drugs will lower their high cholesterol. The message, although it has some medical backup, is confusing and misleading to the average consumer shopping in a grocery store.