No 'one size fits all' for health claims

March 10, 2014
Sophie Hieke - No 'one size fits all' for health claims

Health claims and symbols on food products could have a positive impact on public health. But there's no clear view yet on what works best.

Health claims and symbols on could improve . At least, that is according to consumer researchers. But how they can best do that as effectively as possible is still a mystery. The EU-funded project CLYMBOL hopes to have the answer by the time it is completed in 2016. Sophie Hieke, head of the department of consumer research at EUFIC, the European Food Information Council in Brussels, who is also the project coordinator talks to CommNet about how best to understand the response of consumers to health claims.

What attracted you to focus on health claims?

We are looking at health claims and symbols because we see this type of information as aids to help consumers identify foods that are healthier options. We want to shed some light on how consumers interpret this type of information.

But how will these health claims help the consumers?

When you enter a supermarket many products contain health claims. And it is up to you whether you use that information. Often, we use it unconsciously or without being aware of it influencing our decisions. What was initially considered marketing information is now being regulated because it does have a substantial effect on consumer choices. And we, as researchers, believe it's important to better understand what that effect is. Only then, will we be able to derive meaningful recommendations.

So health claims and symbols can indeed improve public health?

But we do believe there is a potential to support and improve public health. But at the moment we do not know yet. We do not have sufficient data to understand what works best. What we also see is that it is almost never enough to just have the information on the packaging. The real challenge is to combine information provided in the packaging with other methods of communication and also education.

How many different health claims and symbols are there in Europe approximately?

Currently, this is difficult to tell. A first list of 222 approved health claims has been published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last year and subsequently approved by the European Commission. Now, manufacturers are required to only put the approved health claims on their packaging. But a lot of products are already in the market. And they either carry different claims or do not carry the claims yet. It will take time before all products in Europe can comply with this first list of approved claims. This process will be repeated in the future, as there are many more claim dossiers that have been submitted to EFSA for approval. We are in a transition phase.

Are the claims and symbols generally understood by the consumers?

Our research project was called into life to answer this exact question. There has been lot of fragmented research in the past decades comparing one or two countries, or one or two health claims. But none of these studies has had the sheer size and scope of our EU-wide project. We will be able to undertake this research across multiple countries, with a number of renowned academics in this field. We will also be able to look at many more and different claims and symbols all over Europe.

Do you have any idea yet what a 'good' health claim or symbol should look like?

Generally, there is no such thing as one size fits all. People are different. Situations are different… Mood has an effect, appetite, the presence of children… Nationality and level of education can play a role… It is a bit like the search for a golden middle path; the right level of simplicity, something that is easily understood while still offering enough relevant information. All of these aspects are combined to help and guide us toward healthier choices.

Will your findings be put into practice?

It is a project that attracts a lot of attention, mainly due to it being a sensitive topic for all the stakeholders. We will develop guidelines for EU policy directed at health claims and symbols. And we will publish a set of methods for policy makers, industry and consumer organisations to help them assess the effect of and symbols.

Explore further: Tobacco industry claims 'plain' packs won't work based on weak evidence

More information:

Related Stories

Tobacco industry claims 'plain' packs won't work based on weak evidence

February 12, 2014
Tobacco companies lack strong, relevant evidence to support their claims that standardised (plain) packaging of tobacco products in the UK won't work, finds research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Endo Health to pay $192.7M in gov't settlement

February 22, 2014
Endo Health will pay almost $193 million to resolve claims that it improperly marketed the shingles treatment Lidoderm for unapproved uses like treating lower back pain.

Stressful compensation claims contribute to poor recovery after injury

February 13, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Compensation claimants who have stressful claims recover more slowly than those who have less stressful experiences, a Monash-led study has found.

EU plans more tests for horsemeat in food

February 14, 2014
The EU will carry out a second round of tests to see if horsemeat is being passed off as beef, after a scandal last year rocked public confidence in food safety standards.

Pomegranate juice claims deceptive, US rules

May 21, 2012
Pomegranate juice has not been proven to be an effective treatment for cancer, heart disease or erectile dysfunction, US regulators said Monday, calling a company's ad claims deceptive.

Recommended for you

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.