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.