Implied Nutrition Health Claims

A Way to Get the Message Across
~ March 2008 No.216 ~

The role of the can, box or package that your food comes in is changing. Packaging used to be a way of ensuring that you got a clean, dry and contamination free food product. Food manufacturers use bright colours and tantalizing pictures of what’s inside to catch your eyes as you travel down the grocery store aisle; catch your eyes, make you stop and put the package in your cart.

The food package and its label have now been turned into an education tool. As consumers learn more about the links between what they eat and their health, they want to know more about what “what’s in the box”. Over time, the food label has become a source of ingredient and nutrient content information. Consumers can now compare the nutrients in similar products as a way of improving their diet and as a way of avoiding unhealthy ingredients such as salt and saturated fats.

Knowing what ingredients are in a food is one thing, but saying that a food contains ingredients that are good for health is another. Most government health regulatory agencies require a great amount of scientific data before they will allow a food manufacturer to put a label health claim on their product. Only after it is clear that there is a consensus in the scientific community about the beneficial effects, will a label health claim be approved. Currently, few foods carry a label health claim. The time and money for a company to bring together all of the scientific data, and then submit a dossier for approval has been a big deterrent. So what can be done?

Many food manufacturers are resorting to implied or suggested health claims. They are depending on the consumer to make the link between their product and good health. Sometimes it is the name of the product itself that implies its benefit. Pictures on the label contribute to the process; parts of the body that are targeted often appear prominently. More and more it can be just a word or two that is used to get the good health message across. “Contains omega-3,” “contains fibre”, “now with probiotic”, or “no cholesterol”, are examples where it is left up to the consumer to make the connection. No health benefit is mentioned, nor whether the level of the mentioned active ingredient is found in high enough quantities to be effective. This advertising strategy depends on the consumer making the purchase based on the belief that omega-3, fiber, probiotics etc. are good. The consumer essentially has heard or read that omega-3, fibre, and probiotics are good for health. She or he does not necessarily know what the ingredients are or the mechanism behind the suggested health benefit, but the marketing strategy has worked.

As good nutrition can help with a pre existing condition, some food claims don’t improve health. This is a case of buyer beware. Implied claims may not be supported by scientific evidence, and so making a food purchase based on a catchy name or the fact that one of the high profile bioactive ingredients is prominent on the label may not be the best thing to do.

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Last modified

July 13 2016