Tuesday, September 11, 2007

FDA Considers Color Code for Food Labels, But Not for Drug Labels

The "Food" part of the Food and Drug Administration (aka, FDA) lately seems more interested in promoting public health and safety than the "Drug" part.

According to an AP story, "On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration [invited] food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts and its overseas counterparts to share how front-label symbols, like the 'traffic light' system used in Britain, can improve public health" (see "FDA Asks Groups to Consider Food Labels").

The "Traffic Light" system adopted by the UK Food Standards Agency that the FDA is talking about is illustrated on the left.

Of course, nothing may come of this, just as nothing came of FDA's promise in 2004 for a "Drug Watch" site that would make it easier for consumers to find emerging safety information about the drugs they are consuming (read FDA's promise here: "FDA Drug Watch Site Guidelines"; then read about its promise reneged here: "Drug Safety - A Mere Asterisk to the FDA").

After the FDA's initial promise, when it asked the public for comments (that it promptly ignored, except for the comments against the idea from the drug industry and its lobbying/PR minions), I submitted a proposal that is very similar to the "Traffic Light" system the UK uses for food labels (see "Proposal for a Drug Risk Advisory System").

My system was based on the Homeland Security color-coded risk system, which was popular back then (see image at right).

I think such a color-coded system would be helpful in communicating drug risk information to the public. It gives a high-level summary of risk that even health jargon "illiterate" consumers can understand at a glance. Unlike other proposed symbols for drug risk, ie, the black triangle, a color-coded scheme allows some nuance about the level of risk.

If you are interested, you can read more about my idea and see my comments to the FDA here: "Proposal for a Drug Risk Advisory System."

Obviously, if consumers need help understanding food labels, they need much more help understanding drug labels!

Therefore, it would be nice if the "Drug" part of the FDA "invited" drug companies, medical experts, consumer advocacy groups and watchdogs (woof!) to consider my color-coded drug risk alert system or a system modeled after the UK "Traffic Light" scheme for drugs.

Yeah, that could happen! I guess we are stuck with the antiquated "Black Box."

4 comments:

  1. Don Ukila10:04 AM

    John - have you seen the risk rating system at iGuard.org? My wife was directed to it by her pharmacist last week and it seemed really good. Maybe you should look for royalties!

    Web 2.0 versus the FDA, I know which one I'm betting on.

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  2. The issue that I see with your traffic light system for pharma is that there is no constant for a given chemical's safety within a particular person's extant chemistry. Which is to say, there are few to no 'green light' across the board cases.

    Just as a quick example, I imagine that Aspirin might rate a green light - only my wife is allergic and that green light med would cause her great consternation or even grave illness. Similarly many medications are reactive, produce compound effects within the body, or otherwise alter the chemistry of a body in ways that are more complex than any green-yellow-red system could convey accurately.

    I see that the idea is to help people understand risk better, but I think the method you posit introduces risk of a far mroe insidious variety. Better to just promote literacy and ask that people try to - you know - pay attention to what they put in their bodies. Try asking a doctor or reading a book, it's much more informative than a misleading EZ-chart.

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  3. I think it is a great idea, and like you said, Obviously, if consumers need help understanding food labels, they need much more help understanding drug labels.

    The previous commenter made the point that "no constant for a given chemical's safety within a particular person's extant chemistry. Which is to say, there are few to no 'green light' across the board cases." -This is true, but is just a general guideline much like the system the FDA has implemented for food labels. It is a warning that would alert users in which a large group who has suffered adverse events. It may or may not affect or pertain to the individual, but it will at least urge them to ask there doctor and investigate the matter.

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  4. I think such a color-coded system would be helpful in communicating drug risk information to the public. It gives a high-level summary of risk that even health jargon "illiterate" consumers can understand at a glance.

    ReplyDelete