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First Newsletter, December 2015

Welcome to the 1st newsletter of the CLYMBOL project. CLYMBOL is now in its final year and many of our studies have been completed. In this newsletter we will take you through some outcomes from two of our work areas "Current status of health claims and symbols: Product supply" and "Current status of health claims and symbols: Consumer needs and wants". We are also introducing you to two of our lead researchers, Dr Igor Pravst and Dr Monique Raats who talk about their research and what impact they hope it will have. If you are interested in more in depth information on CLYMBOL results, don't miss out on registering for the final conference which takes place on 15 June 2016.

Register for the final conference here.


The CLYMBOL Project in a Nutshell

An unhealthy diet is a risk-factor for many illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. To improve people's diet and public health, one option is to encourage consumers to make healthier food purchasing decisions. Health claims and symbols on food packages are designed to help inform consumers to make a healthy choice, but do they really have an impact? CLYMBOL ("Role of health-related claims and symbols in consumer behaviour") is a project which researches exactly that. The project, funded by the European Commission, started in 2012 and ends in 2016. There are several partners from different European countries involved who are known for their expertise in cognitive consumer psychology, economics, marketing, nutrition and public health. The research project will result in several scientific publications. A list of already published articles, which includes open access papers, can be found here.


Health Claims: Historic Use and Today's Practice

In 2006, the EU issued a Regulation (No 1924/2006) on how health claims and symbols are allowed to be used. Before 2006, EU member states had their own rules about using claims and symbols and practices differed widely. CLYMBOL has been looking at how countries used health claims before the Regulation came into play, in order to better understand the history of use, its differences across Member States and how this may have influenced the public debate around this topic.

CLYMBOL has also looked at how often claims are used in Europe. Surveying food and drink products in Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and the UK, we found that about 20 to 35% of the food products carry a claim. Most of these claims were nutrition claims (64%), only 29% were health claims. These claims were mostly phrased in a non-specific manner, meaning no specific food component responsible for the benefit was mentioned. Interestingly, first results of the analysis of the nutritional composition of these foods showed that food products with health claims were found to be slightly healthier compared to products without health claims. Analysis is still ongoing, e.g. we are looking into the individual nutrients of foods with and without claims as well as which of these products we sampled would be allowed to carry a health symbol.


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Attitudes, Motivation and Ability to Read and Understand Health Claims

People prefer short and comprehensible claims as a set of qualitative studies found out. Several factors influence consumers' trust, attitude and understanding of nutrition and health claims. People trust claims on food products more when they are familiar with the nutrient or substance within the claim and when the claim is relevant to their personal situation. Claims with a lot of information were often not read and claims using "scientific" language were often not understood. Added to that, the average consumer seems to not differentiate between a health and a nutrition claim as professionals and the legislation do. Results of another CLYMBOL study showed that while reading claims, consumers do not only use the information in the claim. They also seem to draw upon personal beliefs and additional causal knowledge to make inferences. It could also be shown in a recollection study that images on packages can represent a claim and even affect people's beliefs about the healthiness of the product.

CLYMBOL researchers also analysed to what extent health claims relate to the public disease burden, as one goal of using health claims is to improve public health. However, it seems that the majority of claims does not refer to diseases like cardiovascular diseases and cancer, which burden society the most.

The European consumers' main motivation for noticing health-related claims is their need for information. People who cared very much about their health showed more motivation to read and mentally process health claims. Also people concerned about a healthy diet were similarly motivated to notice health claims. Study participants were more inclined to deal with specific health claims when they thought the mentioned health benefit as important for their personal health. People who were more familiar with health claims tended to be more able to understand specific health claims. Also, the more motivated someone is to make use of claims, the better their ability to process claims is, and vice versa. Substantial differences in consumers' motivation and ability to process health claims was noticeable across the ten European countries where this representative study was carried out.


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Researcher Portraits: Dr Igor Pravst and Dr Monique Raats

In this newsletter we introduce Dr Igor Pravst from the University of Ljubljana and Dr Monique Raats from the University of Surrey.

Igor PravstDr Pravst's research focuses on food sciences and nutrition, particularly in connection with the composition and labelling of foods, including functional foods, and the stability of nutrients. He is the lead researcher of CLYMBOL's work area "Current status of health claims and symbols: Product supply" and has been part of the project from the beginning. Part of his research for CLYMBOL included mapping the presence of health claims and symbols on the market and their context.

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Monique Raats-shortenedDr Monique Raats is an expert in the area of public health and behavioural nutrition research and her research covers a wide range of topics, e.g. food choice, policy development, food safety. For CLYMBOL, she researched how consumers make sense of health claims and the used cognitive mechanisms. She also analysed the influence of images on food packages.


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Don't miss the Final Conference!

CLYMBOL's researchers will present the outcomes of their studies at the final CLYMBOL conference on June 15 2016 at Stanhope Hotel in Brussels. They will also discuss the toolbox, developed within the project, for European stakeholders to monitor the impact of health claims and symbols through validated methods. Additionally, participants will partake in a stakeholder workshop to discuss the project findings and its implications for public policy but also for the food industry – with a live voting to collect real-time feedback.

Learn more about the conference here and sign up now for free.


Questions?

If you have questions about the CLYMBOL project or health claims in general, check out our FAQ page on our website. We answer recurrent questions about CLYMBOL, e.g. where to find results of the project or why CLYMBOL is relevant for the public. It also explains what health and nutrition claims are and presents basic information about them.

Read the FAQs


Next Newsletter

Our second newsletter will provide you with even more results of the CLYMBOL project. To not miss out on new results and current events, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
 
If you want to get in touch with the team, don't hesitate to send us an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


 
The CLYMBOL Team