EU project to test how well health claims are understood by consumers

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Health claims Nutrition

EU project to test how well health claims are understood by consumers
A new EU project aims to tackle how consumers interpret health claims and symbols on food products in the hope of developing future guidelines on how such claims can be used to strengthen informed choice, healthy eating and industrial competitiveness.

The EU-funded project kicks off a four-year odyssey into the mostly unknown territory of consumer understanding of health claims this week today – with the goal of developing long term strategies and guidelines of how to use EU approved health claims on food products.

The CLYMBOL (‘Role of health-related claims and symbols in consumer behaviour’) project aims to shed new light on how consumers interpret health information on food labels, and how this affects their purchasing and consumption behaviour.

Speaking with this publication Professor Dr Klaus Grunert, scientific advisor to the project, explained that there is currently a lack of research focus on the way in which health claims and health symbols affect consumers.

“Health claims and symbols are aids to help consumers identify foods that are healthier options, but we know little on how they impact consumer behaviour,”​ said Grunert. “We have had all this debate about health claims, but is has all been about the scientific substantiation of the health effects.”

“In the legislation – of course – it also says that it has to be understandable by consumers – and nobody has really dealt with what that means or how to check that,”​ he said.

Grunert explained that the project aims to achieve a better understanding of how consumers are affected by health claims and symbols in their context on food packages, in order to formulate guidelines “partly for public policy but also for the food industry so that they can formulate health claims and symbols in such a way that they are to the benefit of both consumers and the industry.”


The research team will create a set of methodologies to measure the role of health claims and symbols in consumer behaviour, drawing on the latest developments in cognitive and behavioural science.

“We will start by looking at the history of health claims in different countries in the EU, and at different types of health claims and symbols,”​ said Grunert, who explained that the team will then use that information to develop methodologies “for finding out how to measure the three main areas that we want to look at, namely: consumer understanding, its effect on purchases, and the effect on consumption and food intake.”

“We will look at methodologies and test them against each other,” ​Grunert. “Not only for our own benefit but also as something we can hand over to stakeholders in the sector. Because we believe that the industry on one hand and the regulatory authorities on the other hand do need some methods that they can use to check the requirements.”

The advisor said the project aims to derive in depth knowledge, “not least about the interaction about those three.”

“Because I think that is another thing that has been very neglected in the debate in health claims.”

“The health claim on a product is always in a context, and that involves all the other information on a product, in terms of other information on the labels, the branding, the pictures used,”​ said Grunert. “It’s all of these things together that have an effect on the consumer.”

“We need to look not just at health claims and health symbols in isolation, but look at how these claims and symbols and other context on the package affect understanding purchasing and consumption.”

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