On September 27, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it has begun a public process to redefine the term “healthy” on food labels.

As part of the public process, the FDA is soliciting input from consumers and businesses on their understanding of the term “healthy” and what it should signify when placed on food labels. Specifically, the FDA wants to know what current dietary recommendations should be reflected in the definition of “healthy” and what consumers expect from foods that are labeled “healthy.” Along with soliciting written input from the public, the FDA will also hold public forums on the issue and engage with food manufacturers as well. As the redefinition process continues, food manufacturers can continue to use the “healthy” label for foods that meet the FDA’s current definition.

The FDA’s current guidelines recommend that food manufacturers use the “healthy” label to describe foods that: (1) are not low in total fat, but have a fat profile makeup of predominantly mono and polyunsaturated fats; or (2) contain at least ten percent of the Daily Value per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) of potassium or vitamin D.

According to the FDA, the decision to redefine “healthy” was spurred by evolving public health recommendations on nutrition and is part of a broader, ongoing plan to help consumers make informed food choices and to encourage the food industry to develop healthier foods. Recently, the FDA has issued warnings to food manufacturers regarding their potential misuse of the “healthy” label, which prompted public debate on the meaning of the term. For example, in April 2015, the FDA notified KIND bar maker KIND, LLC, that certain of its bars labeled “healthy” did not satisfy the current definition of that term. In May 2016, the FDA reconsidered its position in light of KIND’s argument that its use of the term “healthy” was a reflection of the company’s corporate culture and philosophy, not a nutritional claim.