Country Differences in the History of Use of Health Claims and Symbols

Sophie Hieke*, Nera Kuljanic, Laura Fernandez, Liisa Lähteenmäki, Violeta Stancu, Monique Raats, Bernadette Egan, Kerry Brown, Hans van Trijp, Ellen van Kleef, Erica van Herpen, Andrea Gröppel-Klein, Stephanie Leick, Katja Pfeifer, Wim Verbeke, Christine Hoefkens, Sinne Smed, Léon Jansen, Anita Laser-Reuterswärd, Živa KorošecIgor Pravst, Anita Kušar, Marija Klopčič, Jure Pohar, Azucena Gracia, Tiziana Magistris, Klaus Grunert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Health-related claims and symbols are intended as aids to help consumers make informed and healthier food choices but they can also stimulate the food industry to develop food that goes hand in hand with a healthier lifestyle. In order to better understand the role that health claims and symbols currently have and in the future potentially can have, the objective of the CLYMBOL project (“Role of health-related claims and symbols in consumer behaviour”, Grant no 311963) is to investigate consumers’ understanding of health claims and symbols, and how they affect purchasing and consumption [1].

As part of this endeavour, it is important to understand the history of use of claims and symbols in Europe. What have consumers been exposed to and how were these health-related messages used and discussed among the public? In this study, we interviewed key stakeholders across Europe about how health claims have been regulated in their country, how health symbols have been and currently are being treated, what form of monitoring there is or should be and how both health claims and symbols have been debated in the public opinion. In 26 European Union (EU) Member States, opinions from 53 key informants from up to three different stakeholder groups were gathered: national food authorities, representatives of the food industry, and consumer organisations.

While 14 Member States reported (at least partial) regulation of the use of health claims and/or symbols before the introduction of the EU Regulation (EC 1924/2006) on nutrition and health claims made on foods [2], mandatory reporting of use had only been in place in three EU Member States. A number of voluntary codes of practice for health claims and/or symbols (i.e. pre-approval or justification when challenged) was said to be in use in 15 Member States. There are only a few national databases on health claims and symbols available, the data for which is often incomplete. Only eight Member States reported having some form of database from which information about health claims and symbols could be extracted. The stakeholders interviewed expressed a strong interest in measuring the impact of health claims and symbols, particularly research into the effects on consumer behaviour (e.g. awareness and understanding, attitudes towards products carrying claims and symbols and purchase/consumption effects), public health (health outcomes and changes in national health status due to the introduction of claims and symbols on food products) and economic aspects including sales, return on investment and reputation measurements. Public debates were said to have evolved around the topics of consumer understanding of claims, acceptance as well as trust in the information presented but also the effects on vulnerable groups such as children and elderly consumers. Another field of debate was said to have been the question of the effectiveness of health claims and symbols. Lastly, stakeholders reported that public debates focussed mainly on the legislative aspects, i.e. how to apply the EU Regulation (No 1924/2006) with regards to wording issues, the evaluation process at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the status of various claims and the nutrient profile modelling to be introduced in Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-168
JournalEuropean Journal of Nutrition & Food Safety
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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