THERE IS A CLEAR CORRELATION between food, diet and disease. An outgrowth of this from the food industry side has been the plethora of food products marketed with associated health claims.
The emergence of the functional food market also shows acknowledgement from food industry partners that nutritional components impact health. Herbal and homeopathic remedies long have been used in medical and health practices worldwide for their role in health improvement, ailment management and prevention.
But this is where a lot of the promising work that has been done begins to tail off. And this is where I think the Food and Drug Administration wants to do more, working in collaboration with the scientific community, to develop a framework that maximizes the public health value of food and diet as a tool for mitigating and even preventing disease.
We have seen a lot of innovation in food production. Innovations in food preparation and in packaging, for example, are something busy people are willing to pay more for, and changes in production or delivery that allow other advances - whether it's fresher produce and poultry or a longer shelf life for bread - are all advances that have expanded choices and commanded consumer attention.
Now, we might say that our public policies on nutrition don't have anything to do with these advances, or that we're already doing our best to provide variety and innovation in food production given the state of nutrition science. But given all of the unhealthy diet choices people make and the difficulty people have in getting information about the health benefits of their individual food choices, as well as the growing burden of diseases that we know are impacted by diet and lifestyle, I'm not sure that we should settle for that.
And one problem, I believe, is that we aren't doing as much as we can in getting the latest, truthful, non-misleading, science-based information about health and diet to consumers, and we're not doing a great job of encouraging innovations in food and medical technology that can help make it easier for consumers to eat a nutritious, balanced diet given their other lifestyle choices.
My own clinical experience has taught me that diet can make a profound difference in how people experience disease, and the scientific advances we're all seeing every day remind us that diet can be a powerful tool for preventing disease and illness in the first place.
We're going to need creative ideas if we're going to take advantage of it. That means new and creative approaches to making health information available to consumers on the foods they eat. And even more innovation aimed at producing food products that don't just taste better or look better, but products that are also better for you. The public health challenges that we face today are great, but the opportunities to make a real difference for the health of the public have also never been greater.
The bottom line is this: If food producers can't sell their products based on a truthful claim about the nutritious value, then that doesn't leave a lot of incentive for them to develop those kinds of products in the first place.
Scott Gottlieb is deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. His views are excerpted from remarks he delivered at the annual conference of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.