Nutrition & Health Claims: Considerations for Brands when Working with Healthcare Professionals
11th August 2022
Written by Dr. Kathryn O'Sullivan, HRS Communications
Since writing this article, some of this information has changed post-Brexit. Please refer to this article for updated information.
In 2006 the EU adopted regulations on the use of nutrition and health claims for food and drink sold in the EU to ensure they are clear, accurate and based on evidence accepted by the whole scientific community.
The aim is to enhance the consumer’s ability to make informed and meaningful choices.
A 2017 survey found a quarter of all foods sold in Europe carry some sort of claim. A “claim” is any message or representation whether written, in picture, graphic or symbol form, which states or suggests that a food has particular characteristics.
Even brand names can be a claim, for example Detox Tea. Claims shouldn’t encourage excess consumption of a food, suggest that a varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients, or refer to changes in bodily functions which could give rise to or exploit fear in the consumer.
There are two types of claims under these regulations:
Nutrition claims state or suggest that a food has beneficial nutritional properties, such as no added sugar or high in vitamin A.
A health claim is any statement that health benefits can result from consuming a given food, for instance that brand X is a source of vitamin A which can help reinforce the body’s natural defences.
Under the authorisation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) the EU has established criteria for making nutrition claims.
To make a source of vitamin nutrition claim, for example, the product must provide at least 15% of the reference intake (RI) as defined by EFSA. For health claims, there is a register of approved claims that any brand is able to use throughout the EU providing it meets certain criteria. This register is ever evolving as new claims are added as they are approved.
All these approved claims have undergone a long and exhaustive assessment of the scientific evidence to support them. It is illegal to make a nutrition or health claim that has not been approved for use by EFSA even if there is scientific evidence to support it. Claims which make reference to recommendations of individual doctors or health professionals are prohibited as are claims about rate or amount of weight loss achieved by eating a particular food.
All brand communications targeting consumers is covered by this legislation. This includes:
- Social media posts
- Printed content (i.e. brochures/leaflets)
- Radio and television adverts
- Advertorials, etc.
However, unlike consumer communications, brand communications targeting healthcare audiences is not covered by these regulations.
Thus, brand marketing aimed at healthcare professionals can promote evidence-based findings that might not appear on the approved list of the EU register.
At HRS Communications, we offer nutrition marketing strategies targeting healthcare professionals; for example, doctors, dietitians, dentists and nurses. This provides the opportunity for brands to promote the health and nutrition benefits of their products even if they cannot do so directly to the consumer.
For example, there is currently no EFSA approved health claim for fibre and constipation, despite the wealth of evidence available. We know that 80% of people don’t eat enough fibre in the UK and constipation is a common complaint. Pharmacists tend to promote laxatives rather than high-fibre foods, despite a food-first approach being a better long-term strategy.
Communicating the benefits of fibre to opinion formers like pharmacists could be a route for a high-fibre breakfast cereal to ultimately educate consumers on bowel regularity and diet.
Similarly, a probiotic and gut health claim has not been approved. Developing nutrition marketing programs for healthcare professionals can provide an opportunity for probiotic brands to promote indirectly to the consumer. Of course, it goes without saying that nutrition marketing programs to healthcare audiences must be evidence-based and not misleading.
For best practice, where approved nutrition and health claims exist, these should be used in healthcare communications.
In summary, brand nutrition communications can play an important role in helping consumers choose a healthy diet. However, it is essential that any consumer communications comply with the EFSA legislation and those targeting health care professionals are truthful and evidence based.
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