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  • HealthClaimsUnpacked

In English, please!

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Chris Ryder, University of Reading

It seems as though it's hard enough wording health claims the right way when we're just thinking about the words that we already understand. But some claims can be quite scientific-sounding, with benefits that it might take us a while to process, if we even understand them at all:

  • Calcium contributes to normal neurotransmission

  • Vitamin B6 contributes to normal cysteine synthesis

  • Olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress

Oxidative stress ... to quote one of our focus group volunteers, "What the hell is that?!", while another offered helpfully, "I have regular stress..."

And it's not just the benefits – sometimes the substances themselves are unknown to people. One substance, which does indeed contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress, is selenium, the nutrient you never knew you were lacking. None of our volunteers had heard of it except one, who had a feeling it might be radioactive!

The upshot is that, while consumers might like to know that there's a well-researched basis for health claims, blinding them by science is not the best way to achieve this. The words become meaningless, and so you might have wasted an opportunity to boast about the benefits of your product.

But it may even be worse than that – all the complicated terminology can actually seem calculated to some consumers, as though it's been put there to deliberately confuse them. On the other hand, one of our volunteers suggested that, if a product is covered in scientific-sounding words that they don't understand, then it must be healthy!

What do you think? Is a scientific approach good or bad? How do you think manufacturers should find that middle ground between blinding with science and dumbing things down too much? Let us know your thoughts by clicking on the Contact Us link above.

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