Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Where will the consumer go if the scientific community works in connivance with the industry in supporting health claims that are not substantiated or proved? The latest controversy in the US regarding the alleged role of the American Heart Association (AHA) in giving certificate to processed food products as heart healthy when they were really unhealthy products if critically scrutinized, refuses to fade away soon. The bitter legal fight, recently reported from New York concerns the healthiness of a famous brand of soup which has been given the "Heart Check" certification by the Association in spite of it containing high levels of Sodium supposed to be a villain in diseases like blood pressure, kidney disease, heart attack and stroke. Since the Association is collecting a hefty fee for awarding such certificates, many consumer right activists feel that it is unethical and illegal. Here is a take on this issue which can be expected to be fought bitterly in the coming days. 

"At the center of the federal lawsuit is the "Heart-Check" certification by the American Heart Association,  and whether it rightfully conveys that a product carries particular health benefitsThe lawsuit says the nonprofit group lets Campbell and other companies use the "Heart-Check" label on products that run counter to its stated mission, in exchange for fees. The American Heart Association says its goal is to fight cardiovascular diseases and stroke. To earn its "Heart-Check" certification, the group's website states that products must have no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving. But the website also notes elsewhere that "low sodium" is defined as having 140 milligrams or less per serving, the lawsuit notes. "The AHA, for a fee, abandons its general, non-commercial dietary and nutritional guidelines," the lawsuit states. A can of Campbell's "Healthy Request" condensed Chicken Noodle Soup, which bears the certification mark in question, is listed as having 410 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving. The lawsuit notes that there are two or more servings per can, meaning there would be at least 820 milligrams of sodium in a can. A representative for the American Heart Association, Amit Chitre, said in an email that the group doesn't make recommendations on what qualifies as an appropriate level of sodium for an individual serving. The group simply states on its website that people should aim to eat 1,500 mg of sodium or less per day. The lawsuit states that the AHA's seal of approval misleads people into thinking in that products made by Campbell "possess some cardiovascular benefit not enjoyed by products that have not been certified by the AHA." It states the only difference is that Campbell pays money for the certification."

It is just not correct to call a soup healthy if its one serving provides almost 30% of the daily intake of sodium recommended by many health pundits and international nutrition agencies. Imagine the effect of a single can of this soup being consumed in a day which can soak the consumer with more than 50% of the daily allowed sodium in the diet! A low sodium food product containing no more than 10% of the RDA for sodium is considered as healthy and AHA should have looked into the sodium content as one of the parameters for certifying products as heart healthy. As rightly said in the legal suit, other products containing same amount of sodium manufactured by others without the Heart Check certification will have a disadvantage in the market because of their unwillingness to pay for AHA certification. It will be interesting to wait for the decision of the court as and when it is pronounced. One can only consider such controversies unhealthy especially when scientific bodies indulge in selling their seal of approval in such arbitrary fashion!  


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