The CLYMBOL (Role of health-related CLaims and sYMBOLs in consumer behaviour) research looked at claims made on 2034 packaged foods and drinks in the UK, Spain, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Germany.
The researchers found almost twice as many foods carry nutrition claims as health claims at 21% and 11%, respectively.
Of the health claims, 8% were for children’s development and health but these were only seen on less than 1% of the total foods.
Use of claims varied widely across countries and products.
The biggest claimers
Perhaps not surprisingly the 'foods for specific dietary uses', which includes infant formula and meal replacements, had the highest proportion of nutrition, health and symbolic claims at 78%, 71%, and 24%, respectively.
Indeed the highest number of claims found on a single product was on two baby foods in Germany and Spain, which each used 17 claims.
Almost a third of cereal and cereal products and beverages carried nutrition claims. This was followed by dairy products, edible oils and fish products and sugars, honey and related products.
These categories were also high on the list for health claims but with slightly lower frequency.
Claims on the bloc
Nutrition claims refer to terms like ‘low fat’ and ‘high fibre’ while health claims refer to statements like ‘vitamin D is needed for the normal development of bones’.
The proportion of nutrition claims was highest in Spain, where 74% of all claims seen were nutrition claims.
This was followed by the Netherlands (64%), the UK (62%), Slovenia (61%) and Germany (55%).
The difference in the proportion of health claims varied less across the five countries but was highest in Slovenia and Germany (both 37%), followed by the Netherlands (31%), Spain (24%) and the UK (21%).
Spain had the highest proportion of children’s development and health claims while none were found on foods sampled in the Netherlands.
The UK had the highest proportion of disease risk claims and Germany the lowest with only one such claim found.
Within nutrition claims, more than a third referred to vitamins and minerals, like ‘enriched with important vitamins and minerals’.
Meanwhile 22% referred to vitamins specifically, with ‘high in vitamin C’ the most common. 13% referred to minerals, of which calcium was the most common.
About a quarter of nutrition claims (24%) referred to fat content in some way, 12% to sugar and 9% to fibre.
Another 36% referred to unspecified nutrients, for example ‘complete nutrition for optimal growth’ and 21% referred to the whole food without specifying a nutrient.
The study was conducted by researchers from the European Food Information Council in Brussels, University of Oxford and University of Surrey in the UK, Saarland University in Germany, Agrifood Research and Technology Centre of Aragon in Spain and the Nutrition Institute and University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.
Beginning in 2012, the four-year CLYMBOL project seeks to provide insights into how claims are actually being used in Europe following the introduction of the nutrition and health claim regulation in 2006.
The researchers said this latest paper would provide “baseline data” for policy makers and the food industry to monitor the use of claims on food packaging.
The CLYMBOL consortium consists of 14 partners from nine countries.
Vol. 8, Iss. 3, p. 137, doi:10.3390/nu8030137
“Prevalence of Nutrition and Health-Related Claims on Pre-Packaged Foods: A Five-Country Study in Europe”
Authors: S. Hieke, N. Kuljanic, I.Pravst, K. Miklavec, A. Kaur, K. A. Brown, B. M. Egan, K. Pfeifer, A. Gracia and M. Rayner