DIETARY SUPPLEMENT PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGN SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN BY FDA
This article was originally published in The Tan Sheet
DIETARY SUPPLEMENT PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGN SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN BY FDA to provide the public with "accurate, scientifically objective" information about the benefits and risks of supplements, the agency's Task Force on Dietary Supplements concluded in its final report. Made publicly available in conjunction with the June 18 issuance of proposed regulations implementing the Nutrition Labeling & Education Act for dietary supplements ("The Tan Sheet" June 21, pp. 1-11), the task force report recommends that "FDA carry out a long-term, comprehensive education campaign targeting the general public, specific populations at risk, as well as current and potential users of these products." The task force advised that FDA should "take affirmative steps to educate the public, providing accurate, scientifically objective information about the safety, proper use, benefits and risks" of dietary supplements. Since "many questions remain unanswered," the report recommends that FDA "reveal when it has incomplete information or when warnings are needed." Consumers also will "need as much help as possible interpreting this information to avoid unnecessary exposure to risks and to maximize their ability to make wise health choices in the marketplace," the task force maintained. "Given that 60 mil. Americans take supplements daily, it is essential that people be as informed as possible of the appropriate and safe use of these products," the FDA task force declared. "Currently, consumers have no way of distinguishing truthful statements from half-truths or total falsehoods." The task force suggested that FDA establish an internal working group to implement an education campaign made up of representatives from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, the offices of Consumer, Health, Public and Regulatory Affairs, and "other appropriate agency components." The responsibilities of the working group, according to the report, should include: "Identifying target populations"; "establishing and/or coordinating coalitions"; "designing visual and written materials"; "determining message content and accuracy"; "identifying communication mechanisms for target audiences"; and "coordinating conferences, workshops and other meetings." To reach specific populations of dietary supplement consumers, the task force pointed out that "special avenues of communication will be needed to relay information in less traditional ways." For example, the report noted that FDA could disseminate information at health food stores and via health-oriented newsletters and television programs. In general, an education campaign should "customize" information, "taking into account literacy levels, print size, complexity of messages and language, cultural and religious differences," the report advises. In addition, FDA should "institutionalize the education process," the task force suggested, "so that consumers, especially those at risk, will receive important messages on a continuous basis or when new information emerges." A public education initiative, the report concludes, should go beyond consumers and also educate "health professionals, manufacturers, retailers and other relevant groups."
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