New research from the University of Surrey finds consumers may not intentionally differentiate nutrition and health claims on food the same way regulatory experts do.
A team of international researchers investigated whether consumers in the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands were able to differentiate between the various health and nutrition claims on food items that are required by EU regulation.
Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation EC No 1924/2006 and similar regulations aim to eliminate claims not backed by evidence, potentially misleading claims from about foods and provide an appropriate level of consumer protection. The level of evidence needed to support a health claim is more extensive as it needs to validate that the health benefit exists. However, there is doubt as to whether consumers make a distinction between these two types of claims.
Researcher found that consumers’ pre-determined beliefs about nutrients and their relationship with health outcomes are key drivers in the way they interpret and understand claims. When nutrients in the claim are familiar and personally relevant to the consumer there is the potential for them to ‘upgrade’ the nutrition claims to health claims simply based on their previous knowledge.
Researchers believe that regulators need to consider making information available to ensure consumers’ knowledge and beliefs are correct and well-informed so they can understand and respond appropriately to claims in the marketplace.
“Labelling food products with health claims could help people make better food choices but what we have found is that they don’t always interpret claims in the way we assume they do. It is important that consumer perspectives are taken into consideration when developing policy,” said Monique Raats, research lead and director of the Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre at the University of Surrey.