When is a health claim not a health claim?
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Chris Ryder, University of Reading
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has approved about 260 scientifically-backed health claims that food manufacturers can use on their products. They say that a health claim is any that "states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food, or one of its constituents and health". But is that really how health claims are regulated?
There is another category of statements known as nutrition claims, which may be put on a food product if a certain threshold is met. These are things like High in fibre! or Low in fat! – they’re not making a link to your health here.
On the other hand, you could argue that nutrition claims imply that they are good for your health, because otherwise there'd be no point in the manufacturer putting it on the package, would there? If you saw High in sugar! on a pack, it might take you a little by surprise because it sounds like they're proud of this fact, whereas we’re used to thinking of high-sugar products as ones we should avoid.
And it’s not just the words that you need to watch out for. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) once banned an advert from one manufacturer after it showed images of their product running marathons and lifting weights. It was argued that this suggested it was good for your health, but the product had no health claims on to it to back this up.
In another case, a high-energy food product was not allowed to use an arrow curving upwards, because that implies that the product increases your energy even though there was no scientifically-backed health claim to support it.
Do you think it's clear when something is a health claim and when it's not? Do you find yourself believing that a product is more healthy because of its nutrition claims or imagery, even if there are not official EFSA health claims on it? Let us know your thoughts and experiences by clicking on the Contact Us link above.