Moral and Ethical Considerations of Health Claim Regulation in Food Advertising

As American society has become more conscious of the connection between diet and health, the food industry has capitalized on this cultural shift by incorporating an increasing number of health claims into the advertising of its products, while simultaneously designing new functional food products to cater to consumers who are searching for more healthy choices. In this paper, I begin by examining the various types of health claims, how consumers tend to interpret them, and the potential problems and benefits of such claims. I then introduce the universal moral frameworks that are relevant to health claims in food advertising. I also briefly survey the historical efforts of governmental agencies (i.e. the FDA and FTC) to regulate labeling and advertising across the industry, focusing specifically on how effective they have been in enforcing ethical and utilitarian standards in regards to health claims. Finally, I introduce an alternative systems approach from the field of public health that is highly compatible with Mill’s utilitarianism, Rawl’s veil of ignorance, and Nodding’s relational ethics principles. This approach emphasizes a new language of interdependence and care in regards to food advertising, education, and production.