As a trendsetter, the American Heart Association's heart-check mark is in no need of a pacemaker. The well-known logo enjoys seniority among the current generation of healthful food icons, and continues to get high marks from consumers looking for foods low in fat and cholesterol, and high in fiber.
“Unaided consumer awareness was 69% in 1998, very early on in the program,” said Sherry Nielsen, the organization's director of food certification. “Today, the various research provided by food manufacturers shows awareness running between 92% and 96%.”
The heart-check mark had the endorsement business virtually to itself when it was introduced in 1995 as part of the AHA's partnership with the Food and Drug Administration to promote the consumption of healthful foods. Putting health claims and nutrition information on packaging was a relatively new practice. Indeed, the Nutrition Facts panel had been introduced only the year before.
Today, the AHA — manufacturers pay a fee for the right to use the logo on approved products — finds itself defending its reputation and what critics say are outdated criteria. The logo is presently found on products like high-sugar kids' cereals and other foods that contain partially hydrogenated fats — trans fats. In response, Nielsen noted there is no convincing evidence in any government or private study showing that sugar plays a role in coronary heart disease; similarly, there are no criteria for trans fat levels in AHA-approved products because regulators have yet to establish a Daily Value for it. For now, trans fats will remain part of the AHA's total fat computation.