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Are Some Low-Cal Food Claims Big Fat Lies?

Americans have been obsessively counting calories and studying food labels as obesity threatens to take over as the leading cause of preventable death. Are some food manufacturers taking advantage of the growing calorie-concious society by misleading customers in ways that may be causing them to pack on extra pounds? Although critics stated that food labels, for the most part are truthful, the doughnut and frozen dessert companies have been accused of bending the rules regarding labeling and advertising claims. Well-known brands such as Pizzeria Uno restaurants, Promise margarine, Mrs. Fields cookies and Eskimo Pie ice cream were publicly challenged by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly false fat, calories, sugar and cholesterol claims.

Cases of Misleading Food Claims

  • Eight owners of CremaLita frozen dessert chains have been charged with alleged "deceptive and misleading trade practices."
    • Robert Ligon, 69, who ran a Kentucky-based company, that operated under different names, received a sentence of 15 months in federal prison after he was found guilty of allegedly relabeling conventional doughnuts he purchased from a vendor as low-fat and then shipping them to health food stores.
    • Vernon L. Patterson pleaded guilty to charges of misbranding food products and mail fraud after he was found repackaging and reselling day-old pastries.

    Some experts have called for more strict enforcement of food-labeling fraud and claimed that food manufacturers were making money by deceiving people with false claims. Examples of misleading labeling included claims the product was "natural," when they often contained artificial ingredients and a popular brand of "blueberry" waffles which contained artificial coloring, not the blueberries. One of the ways health officials attempted to rectify the problem of food labeling was by seeking "voluntary complaince" by restaurants to list the number of calories in their dishes and by requiring food manufacturers to make the total number of calories more easily understood on food labels.

    The Federal Trade Commission is taking a positive step in the right direction by going after food manufacturers, who are marketing their foods with misleading claims. False low-fat and fat-free claims should not be tolerated and stricter labeling guidelines is one way to counter these cases of fraud. Obesity is threatening the health of a staggering 61 percent of American adults and is putting them at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, depression and several forms of cancer. Unfortunately, nearly all of the traditional approaches and latest diet crazes such as the Atkins diet and low-fat diets to relieving obesity don't work very well and usually result in failure. The good news is that obesity is 100 percent preventable by following a proper eating plan and regular exercise program.

    ABC News May 4, 2004 A

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