What is a health claim?

June 30, 2021

In our last blog we explained what nutritional analysis is and what is meant by a nutrition claim (high fibre, low fat etc.). You might also have heard about another type of claim on labels - “Health Claims”. A health claim is any statement about a relationship between food and health(1). And what do we mean by a “claim”? It is any message or representation including pictorial, graphic or symbolic representation which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular characteristics(2).

A typical example of a Health Claim would be: “this drink will help you feel more energetic” or “this food will help you concentrate” or “Vitamin D is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children”. The term ‘probiotic’ is a health claim and interestingly, there are no EU approved health claims for probiotics, so you cannot use the term “probiotic” to market a food.

Sound familiar?

Broadly speaking, there are four types of health claims:

  1. Reduction of disease risk claims – in other words, a claim that eating a food will reduce your risk of disease;
  2. Claims referring to children’s development and health – for example, calcium is good for children’s growth;
  3. Health claims other than disease risk reduction and children’s development and health;
  4. General health claims, these claims relate to the effect of a substance on a body function.

So what can and cannot be claimed about a food? It’s clear that Health Claims may not:

  • suggest that your health could be adversely affected unless you eat the food
  • make reference to the rate or amount of weight loss
  • suggest or imply that the consumption of a food or one of its constituents significantly reduces a risk factor in the development of human disease

For example, you could say that a food is a source of Vitamin D or Calcium, but the you cannot claim that it either prevents or cures osteoporosis.

You might ask why legislation is needed for any of this, surely its common sense? The reasons are to allow consumers to make informed food choices, by ensuring that they receive accurate information and are not misled. Also, claims made on foods must be clear and understandable by the average consumer. As a consumer, it’s worth noting that claims that exaggerate a food’s expected health benefits and/or are not adequately substantiated by scientific evidence, are not permitted.

The label must tell you how much and how often you ned to eat the food in order to get the health benefit, and there are foods that are prohibited from making any health claims, such as alcohol.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and for more information take a look at these resources:

  1. https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/health_claims_en
  2. Simon Pettman, European Advisory Services https://eas-strategies.com
  3. Information on Nutrition and Health Claims, April 2021, published by: the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and available for free download from www.fsai.ie
  4. European Commission - https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims_en
  5. Probiotic Health Claims - https://www.fsai.ie/faq/probiotic_health_claims.html