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Health Claims: Historic Use and Today’s Practice

Historic Use of Health Claims and Current Debate

Before the Regulation No 1924/2006, the EU countries had different laws and practices concerning health claims on food products. The public opinion on health claims was positive in some countries, whereas in other countries the attitude has been more negative. It is therefore important to know the different prerequisites of the EU countries while assessing health claims and symbols and their effects on purchasing and consumption. CLYMBOL researchers interviewed key stakeholders in 26 EU countries and collected data on the historic use of health claims and symbols. Before the Regulation 1924/2006, health claims (at least partially) had been regulated on national level in 13 of the interviewed EU states. Before 2006, health claims were mainly found on food supplements and mostly referred to heart health, digestion, the immune system, bone health and general health and well-being. The most reported symbols in all countries were the Dutch Choices logo, the Nordic Keyhole, tooth-friendly logos and a variation of heart symbols, often issued by national heart foundations. The experts stated that public debates primarily centred on legislative aspects, specifically how to employ the Regulation (No 1924/2006) concerning verbalisation, but also the evaluation process of health claims by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the status of various claims. Nutrient profile modelling in Europe is also a much discussed topic according to the interviewed stakeholders.

 

Health Claims, how common are they?

CLYMBOL found that 20 to 35% of food products carry a claim, with nutrition claims being the most common, followed by health claims and health-related ingredient claims (substances which are not nutrients but may have a nutritional or physiological effect). The most common health claims were nutrient and other function claims (47% of all health claims) and 5% were disease risk reduction claims. 8% of the health claims were targeted towards children’s health, but these were found on less than 1% of all sampled food products. These are the findings of a CLYMBOL multinational study (in Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, the UK) which aimed to find out how many food and drink products currently on the market carry claims and symbols and what types of claims can be found. Most health claims were non-specific, meaning the compound responsible for the claimed effect was not specified. The highest occurrence of nutrition and health claims was found in the baby food category where 78% of products carried a nutrition claim and 71% carried a health claim. Cereal products had the highest prevalence of nutrition claims (31%) after baby food products, followed by beverages (31%) and dairy food (28%). The food categories with the least prevalence of nutrition claims were convenience foods (9%) and egg products (0%). In addition, when analysing the nutritional composition of the foods in this data base, results showed that food products carrying health claims were slightly healthier than products without. More detailed results are currently being written up for publication and we will notify you on our website when they are available.

 

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