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European Journal of Nutrition & Food Safety, ISSN: 2347-5641,Vol.: 6, Issue.: 3 (July-September)


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


Sophie Hieke1*, Nera Kuljanic1, Laura Fernandez1, Liisa Lähteenmäki2, Violeta Stancu2, Monique M. Raats3, Bernadette Egan3, Kerry Brown3, Hans Van Trijp4, Ellen Van Kleef4, Erica Van Herpen4, Andrea Gröppel-Klein5, Stephanie Leick5, Katja Pfeifer5, Wim Verbeke6, Christine Hoefkens6, Sinne Smed7, Léon Jansen8, Anita Laser-Reuterswärd9, Živa Korošec10, Igor Pravst10,11, Anita Kušar10,11, Marija Klopčič11, Jure Pohar11, Azucena Gracia12, Tiziana de Magistris12 and Klaus G. Grunert2

1European Food Information Council, Sablon Tower, Rue Joseph Stevens 7, 1000 Brussels, Belgium.

2MAPP Centre, Aarhus University, Bartholins Allé 10, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.

3Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU27XH, United Kingdom.

4Marketing and Consumer Behaviour Group, Wageningen University, Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN Wageningen, The Netherlands.

5University Saarland, 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany.

6Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent University, 9000 Gent, Belgium.

7University of Copenhagen, Nørregade 10, 1165 København, Denmark.

8Schuttelaar and Partners, Zeestraat 84, 2518 AD, Den Haag, The Netherlands.

9This Work was Carried Out when Anita Was Still Working at the Swedish National Food Agency, Livsmedelsverket, Box 622, SE-751 26 Uppsala, Sweden.

10Nutrition Institute, Tržaška Cesta 40, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia.

11University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical University, Groblje 3, 1230 Domžale, Slovenia.

12Agrifood Research and Technology Centre of Aragon, Avda. Montañana 930, 50059 Zaragoza, Spain.

Article Information


(1) Dr. Morten Poulsen, Head of research group, Div. of Toxicology and Risk Assessment, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark.

(2) Prof. Mary Ward, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland.

(3) Prof. Bernhard Watzl, Head, Department of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition, Max Rubner-Institute, Karlsruhe, Germany.


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.

Keywords :

Health claims; health symbols; history of use; Europe.

Full Article - PDF    Supplementary Files    Page 148-168

DOI : 10.9734/EJNFS/2016/20758

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