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Project aims to increase understanding of health claims on food packaging

12th Nov 2020 - 07:00
The ‘Health Claims Unpacked’ project, funded by European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Food, has launched a digital platform to improve customer understanding of health claims on food packaging.

The objective of the project is to create resources to help policy makers, food manufacturers and retailers communicate more effectively about the health benefits of food. 

The ‘Health Claims Unpacked’ project is being led by Professor Rodney Jones, Professor of Sociolinguistics at The University of Reading and supported by partners across Europe including the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF).

Jones said: “Already we have been able to use initial findings from the research to gain a better understanding of what consumers look for when it comes to health claims on food packages, allowing us to begin formulating best practice guidelines for manufacturers and retailers.

“By the end of this project, we hope to have developed an insightful, data-driven resource that will enable the food industry to communicate health claims more effectively, for the benefit of both the brands and their consumers.”

The ‘Health Claims Unpacked’ project aims to help people make sense of health claims on food packages so they can make healthier choices. The new activity ‘what would you buy?’ will help the project team understand consumer purchasing behaviour and trends.

Another activity, ‘Same or Different’, has also been updated to gather data on how consumers’ perceptions of how the meaning of a claim can be altered by very specific changes to the wording of health claims on food packaging.

The team advises using verbs rather than noun phrases where possible, for example ‘Calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones’ instead of ‘Calcium is needed for the maintenance of healthy bones’, as this makes it clearer to consumers what the nutrient is doing.

Different age groups respond to health claims differently. For example, older people have more health ‘concerns’, whereas younger age groups have more health ‘goals’.

Dr Stacey Lockyer, senior nutrition scientist at BNF, added: “Health claims on food packaging provide important information about how foods or drinks may affect our health.

“Therefore it is critical that these are presented in a way that enables us to make fully informed choices. Although there is a rigorous scientific assessment of the health claims made on our food, what the claim means may not always be clear to consumers because of the wording.

“Through the research findings of this project, we hope to find ways of helping food manufacturers to make claims on foods easier to understand, helping people to choose appropriate foods for themselves as part of a healthy diet.”

The project will run until the end of the year and the team is encouraging as many people as possible to get involved with the research to enhance the data available. The activities take around 15 minutes to complete and they can be accessed here:  

Written by
Edward Waddell