Your milkman is free to exclaim that milk does a body good. But if he tells you that milk also helps prevent osteoporosis, he may soon be in trouble with the Food and Drug Administration. Under a proposed rule change, the agency could classify such a statement as a "disease claim," which can be made only about FDA-approved drugs.
Under a 1994 law, manufacturers of dietary supplements and food products are already prohibited from claiming to cure or treat a disease--defined by the FDA as "damage to an organ, part, structure, or system of the body such that it does not function properly (e.g. cardiovascular disease)."
This means that products cannot be represented as able to "cure cancer" or "treat arthritis." But manufacturers can make more general claims about health effects, as the milk example illustrates.
The FDA is now proposing to expand its "disease claim" definition to include "any deviation from the normal structure or function" of the body. The new definition is potentially limitless. As Dr. Stacey Zawel, a food safety expert with the Grocery Manufacturers of America, points out, any health claim for a product will have something to do with its effect on the body's "structure or function."