As you might already be aware, the Environmental Working Group has released a report titled, “How Much Is Too Much? Excess Vitamins and Minerals in Food Can Harm Kids’ Health.” The report claims that young children are at risk of consuming too much of three nutrients: vitamin A, zinc, and niacin, and that the FDA “must set percent Daily Value levels that reflect current science.” We are offering this backgrounder to provide interested journalists with nutrition-related resources and information about the history and role of fortification in our food supply as well as specific information on the nutrients discussed.
Fortified foods play an important role in meeting nutrient needs and improving public health. Data from the National Health and Nutrient Examination Survey (NHANES) demonstrate that Americans do not receive key nutrients from food alone. The majority of the U.S. population does not ingest the daily requirements of fiber, vitamin D, and vitamin E, and more than one-third of Americans do not meet the requirements for vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium. Research has shown that without enrichment and/or fortification and supplementation, many Americans do not achieve the recommended micronutrient intake levels set forth in the Dietary Reference Intakes.
Breakfast cereals are common fortified foods and have been shown to augment intake of various micronutrients that are lacking in Americans’ diets, such as vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. There is a large body of scientific evidence that indicates a positive relationship between nutrient intake and breakfast cereal consumption. Moreover, studies suggest that the consumption of ready-to-eat cereals is associated with increased nutrient intakes and lower body mass index (BMI).
As such, nutrients that are supplied through fortification of food assist many Americans to meet the daily requirements of many vital micronutrients. Packaged foods that have been fortified with healthful components can provide additional avenues for Americans to meet nutrient requirements and improve health. The contribution of the fortification of food has enhanced the overall nutritional status of millions of Americans.
- Is Food Fortification Necessary? A Historical Perspective and Food Fortification in Today’s World provide context on the historical origins of food fortification in the U.S. and provides some unique insights into its contribution to improved public health.
- Functional components in food, whether naturally occurring or fortified, provide many healthful benefits:
- Vitamin A may contribute to maintenance of healthy vision, immune function, and bone health, and also may contribute to cell integrity.
- Niacin (B3) helps support cell growth and helps regulate metabolism.
- Zinc aids cellular metabolism, supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence and is required for the proper sense of taste and smell.
Additionally, IFIC has also conducted consumer research on functional foods, including fortified foods that may be of interest. The 2013 International Food Information Council Functional Foods Consumer Survey reveals that despite consumers’ reported knowledge about nutrition, the majority (67 percent) believe they fall short of meeting “all or nearly all” of their nutrient needs. The survey shows significant disconnects between people’s beliefs about whether they are getting sufficient amounts of many specific nutrients and the reality of their diets, as judged by the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommended by experts.
- A comparison between the survey’s findings about perceptions of diet adequacy (by specific nutrient) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data shows wide chasms between how many believe their intakes are adequate versus the actual DRIs. For nutrients such as vitamin D (68 percent perception vs. 32 percent consumption), potassium (61 percent vs. less than 3 percent), and fiber (67 percent vs. 5 percent), the discrepancy between perception and reality is quite stark.
- When consumers were asked how much they like the idea of getting health promoting nutrients and food components from foods with naturally occurring benefits and fortified foods (with cost and taste being equal), consumers are more likely to prefer the fortified food avenue when it’s for their children rather than themselves only (67 percent for children vs. 61 percent for themselves).
- Half of consumers (53 percent) believe it is worthwhile to eat fortified foods compared to foods that are not fortified.
The following experts are available to receive media inquiries for stories you may be writing on food fortification:
Johanna Dwyer, DSc, RD
Professor of Medicine, Tufts Schools of Medicine and Nutrition
Senior Nutrition Scientist, National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
Expertise: fortified foods, dietary supplements; functional components; evaluation of safety risks
Julie Jones, PhD, CNS, ISN
Professor Emeritus, College of St. Catherine
Expertise: functional components, labeling
Roger Clemens, DrPH, CNS, FACN, FIFT
Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Associate Director, Regulatory Science Program, School of Pharmacy, University of Southern California
Expertise: functional foods, food safety and toxicology
The International Food Information Council Foundation is dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good. The IFIC Foundation is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. Visit http://www.foodinsight.org.