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Trusting and using health claims

As we have seen in the last few Steps, health claims on food products can only be used to highlight scientifically proven health benefits associated with consuming those foods. But, do you understand and trust these claims?

The regulation states that the use of health claims is only permitted if you as a consumer clearly understand the beneficial effects expressed in the claim [1]. Despite this essential aspect of the legislation, there is speculation over the extent to which consumers really do understand the wording of the health claims. If consumers don’t understand or trust health claims, then they’re not able to use them to make informed choices about what they buy and eat.

Here are two projects set up to tackle this problem.

Unpacking Health Claims - Developing a Digital Toolkit to Enhance the Communication of Scientific Health Claims

Health claims unpacked logo - a yellow and orange graphic of a split paper bag?

One of the projects, funded by EIT Food, is aiming to improve the communication of health claims by asking consumers to participate in various activities via a web-based digital toolkit - an app called Health Claims Unpacked. This project brings together a unique combination of researchers and professionals with expertise in linguistics, information design, health and nutrition, behavioural economics, and computer science. The project gathers information that will help to develop principles and recommendations for ensuring that health benefits of food are communicated more effectively on food packaging [2].

You can take part if you’d like! Sign up to complete the activities here. There are a total of three activities that should take about 20-30 minutes. The app will help you to identify and understand health claims more easily, encourage you to consider them from the point of view of people with specific health goals, and have your say in how you think health claims should be presented.

The impact of health claims

Clymbol logo with the letters spelled out in purple, the 'y' being a green tick and the 'o' being a circular graphic of a person with a trolley. Under the letters are the words: claims, symbols, consumers

Health claims and symbols on food packages are intended to help consumers identify foods that are healthier options, but little is known about their impact. The EU-funded FP7 project: Role of health-related CLaims and sYMBOLs in consumer behaviour (CLYMBOL), which ran from 2012-2016, aimed to shed light on how consumers interpret health information on labels, and how this affects their purchase and consumption behaviour.

One of the project’s findings was that the role of health claims can be improved by optimising their relevance, their understandability, and tailoring them to specific consumers groups to whom they may be especially relevant. CLYMBOL researchers also showed that health claims currently available on the market have little public health relevance because consumers pursuing healthy eating goals select healthy products despite claims, and consumers that public policy makers would like to reach (vulnerable groups, overweight/unhealthy etc) don’t pay attention to the claims on-pack and consequently are not impacted by them.

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Food Labels

EIT Food

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