Cheerios: Cereal or Cholesterol Drug?

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nestle may13 cheerios box post.jpg

Image by Marion Nestle

It looks like the FDA is finally getting around to looking at the absurd health claims on boxes of breakfast cereals. And about time too, I'd say. For starters, the FDA picked on General Mills' Cheerios.  Cheerios boxes display banners claiming that if you eat this cereal, you will reduce your cholesterol by 4% is 6 weeks. This, General Mills says, is "clinically proven." Yes, but the trial on which General Mills bases this claim substitutes one serving of Cheerios for each of two meals a day. Hey--that ought to work!

In its warning letter, the FDA says that if Cheerios lowers cholesterol, it is claiming to work like a statin drug. If Cheerios acts like a drug, it has to be treated like a drug. Cheerios, says the FDA, "is not generally recognized as safe and effective for use in preventing or treating hypercholesterolemia or coronary heart disease. Therefore...it may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application."

So what's going on here? I collect cereal boxes and I'm guessing that I bought the one shown here at least two years ago. The boxes have changed since then but similar claims appear on the Cheerios website. Maybe in this new administration the FDA can get a grip on silly and misleading health claims. Let's hope.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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