Natural Foods Merchandiser

Congress Throws Cash at Nation's Weight Problem

Legislative Update

First it was the three-martini lunch to get the ax, now it's the three-hamburger dinner. U.S. legislators, who once limited the amount businesspeople could deduct to get tipsy at lunch, are now concerned with how much Americans eat.

Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., introduced a bill in late July that would give a minimum of $255 million from 2003 to 2007 to various government agencies to help curb the growing American trend toward obesity.

If the bill is passed, the Institutes of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services would use the money to identify risk factors for obesity and analyze government food assistance programs. They would also help state governments with nutrition and exercise programs.

In another effort to address the nation's diet, a congressional government reform committee investigated the implementation of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. In a late July hearing titled "When Diets Turn Deadly: Consumer Safety and Weight-Loss Supplements," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate oversight subcommittee on governmental affairs, said he wants to modify the current DSHEA definitions of dietary supplements to "highlight the difference between vitamins and minerals, potent herbal products that act like drugs, and animal derivatives."

He also favors excluding "steroid precursors like andro" from the supplements category, and asked for Food and Drug Administration determination as to whether supplements containing ephedra are a health hazard and if their sale can be restricted, particularly to minors.

In June, the U.S. government hired the nonprofit research institution Rand Corp., headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., to review all scientific reports on ephedra's safety. Results are scheduled to be presented to the National Institutes of Health this fall.

Durbin said he would press for legislation to establish a scientific commission to address supplements' safety. He's also in favor of requiring supplements manufacturers to report adverse reactions to their products, and wants the FDA to develop GMP regulations for supplements.

Michael McGuffin, president of the Silver Spring, Md.-based American Herbal Products Association, testified that members of his group already engage in self-regulation.

In Other News

  • The preliminary Senate budget bill calls for a 15.9 percent increase in funding next year to NIH. Of the proposed $27.2 billion, $114.5 million would go to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

  • Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced a bill to impose fines for misinformation and branding violations regarding allergen information on food labels.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture will give $4.1 million in grants to 21 state agencies for nutrition training programs. The grants will be used for nutrition education for children who participate in the national school lunch program and the child- and adult-care food program.

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has dedicated $190 million to a media campaign aimed toward promoting healthier lifestyles for children. The program, which will be run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is designed to encourage physical activity in children aged 9 to 13.

    Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 9/p. 5

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