Video: FDA questions Cheerios health claims

  1. Transcript of: FDA questions Cheerios health claims

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: And now to the popular breakfast cereal , Cheerios . A lot of you are probably eating a bowl as I speak , but now its makers are under fire for the FDA for apparently going too far with the cereal's cholesterol -lowing -- lowering claims. NBC 's chief science correspondent Robert Bazell has details.

    ROBERT BAZELL reporting: Cheerios have been around so long that few remember life without them as a breakfast option .

    BAZELL: Recent ads have targeted adults because soluble oat fiber , a key component, can help reduce cholesterol .

    BAZELL: But......from the Food and Drug Administration to General Mills , the manufacturer, says the health claims have gone too far. The big problem is those claims about how much cholesterol can be reduced in how many weeks. They're repeated on the box. The FDA says those are drug-like claims that can only be made after studies have been submitted to the agency and approved. The statement General Mills said, "The science is not in question and we look forward to discussing this with the FDA and to reaching a resolution." But many nutrition experts say the three grams of soluble fiber in a typical serving the Cheerios is not the complete answer to controlling cholesterol .

    Dr. LESLIE CHO (Cleveland Clinic): Three grams of cereal in the morning isn't really going to help you. Now, it's obviously better than eating something that's very high in fat or high in sugar, but really we need to be mindful of our overall diet.

    BAZELL: Food experts say there is no question Cheerios is a healthy food, but the Obama administration's FDA is starting to take a harder look at product claims. For TODAY, Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.

    VIEIRA: And Dr. Nancy Snyderman is the NBC 's chief medical editor. Dr. Nancy , good morning to you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Meredith.

    VIEIRA: I sound like I have Cheerios in my mouth. I can't talk this morning. So General Mills , the maker of Cheerios , say, ` Look , we've been using this message as a selling point for two years now about how Cheerios lowers cholesterol ,' and they have also been using the message about the fact that the cereal is heart-healthy for 12 years. The FDA 's known about that...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    VIEIRA: ...and approved that. So why now make this an issue?

    SNYDERMAN: I think there's a new bureaucrat lurking in some basement closet. I have the letter here from the FDA . I have read it numerous times now basically wrist-slapping General Mills . There are two points they make. That Cheerios can't make this claim without saying, "and other plant foods." So whole grains "and other plant foods" can help reduce cholesterol and that they don't say Cheerios , as part of a low- cholesterol , low-fat diet. I think this is going to end up being a wrist-slap change your labeling, but enough.

    VIEIRA: So what does the research really show about Cheerios and its connection to having any impact on cholesterol ?

    SNYDERMAN: Well, the interesting thing is we do know that whole grains can lower cholesterol , so I get that we have to have science to prove this, and this is a very interesting nexus now where the FDA is saying this product is almost claiming that it's a drug. And if you're going to claim that you're a drug, you have a higher bar to set. But I think there's going to be a lot of push-back from Cheerios precisely because of the 12 years -- like, look, we don't hurt anybody. There's not a safety issue here. If you eat a whole grain in addition to larger, better diet with fruits and vegetables, what's the big deal ? And I think they are going to come to some mutual agreement where there's a labeling change on this and nothing else. But I was with a bunch of scientists last night, and I must say, a lot of scientists were saying, we get the need for research...

    VIEIRA: OK.

    SNYDERMAN: ...but at some point, don't we have to worry about bigger issues like salmonella and food chain safety, etc., etc.? This is going to not look so good for the FDA I think in the long run.

    VIEIRA: All right, Dr. Nancy Snyderman .

    SNYDERMAN: Pick a good fight.

    VIEIRA: All right, and this ain't one of them.

    SNYDERMAN: This is not one of them.

updated 5/13/2009 9:27:21 AM ET 2009-05-13T13:27:21

Federal regulators are scolding the maker of Cheerios, saying it made inappropriate claims about the popular cereal's ability to lower cholesterol and treat heart disease.

The Food and Drug Administration says in a warning letter to General Mills that language on the Cheerios box suggests the cereal is designed to prevent or treat heart disease. Regulators say that only FDA-approved drugs are allowed to make such claims.

Among other claims, the labeling states: "you can lower your cholesterol 4 percent in six weeks."

General Mills said the health claims on Cheerios have been approved for 12 years and the FDA's complaints deal with how the language appears on the box. The company said in a statement that the science was not in question.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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