Where have all the health claims gone?
Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Chris Ryder, University of Reading
So you've done it – you've learned that health claims are based on science; you've learned how they're regulated; you understand how to spot them by the link between the food and your health; and you can disentangle them when they're heavily re-worded by manufacturers. There's just one problem: where on Earth are they?!
It's true that some companies like to shout about the health benefits of their product, and will put their claim in huge letters on the front of the pack. That's great, but in these cases the claim is often heavily re-worded or transformed – which can be a good thing, so long as it's still obvious to people that it's a genuine health claim.
Some companies prefer to put their health claims near the nutrition information panel or the ingredients. That makes sense too – a lot of people will look there to find out if the product is healthy, so they might also read the health claim along the way.
And yet, quite often, the health claim is actually tucked away in the deepest darkest corner of the food packaging. Sometimes it's at the very bottom of the back of the pack, and other times it's even on the actual base of the pack. It's almost as though they want to hide them from consumers – but why? Surely they should be proud about it?
The fact is that a lot of times, the health claim is just there so that the product can be linked to health in other ways. A package or advertisement can get banned if it makes links between the product and health when there is no health claim present. However, if a product has a health claim about calcium (for example), it can then be associated with health in many other ways, even if they have nothing obvious to do with calcium.
So in some ways the health claims aren't there to promote the actual benefits of a product, but instead so that the manufacturer can promote the product in other ways. To paraphrase one of the representatives we met from food companies, "the front is for the consumer, the back is for us"!
Do you think health claims should be easier to find on packaging? Is it OK to link products to health in general ways that aren't so clearly linked to the specific benefit of the health claim? Give us your feedback using the Contact Us link above.