Publication Details

This article was originally published as Williams, PG, Communicating health benefits - do we need health claims?, The Australian Journal of Dairy Technology, 60(2), 2005, 193-195.


Many countries are now permitting health claims on foods and Food Standards Australia New Zealand is developing new regulations to permit their use in Australia. However there is no clear understanding of how consumers use health claims and their likely impact on consumer food behaviour or health. More research is needed, but a review of previous studies allows some common conclusions can be drawn. Health claims on foods are seen by consumers as useful, and when a product features a health claim they view it as healthier and state they are more likely to purchase it. Consumers are sceptical of health claims from food companies and strongly agree that they should be approved by government. Consumers do not make clear distinctions between nutrition content claims, structure-function claims and health claims. Consumers generally don’t like long and complex, scientifically worded claims on foods; they prefer split claims – with a short succinct statement of the claim on the front of pack and more detail provided elsewhere. At present about 8% of Australian products carry a health or related claim, a level not much less than in the US, where more high-level claims are permitted. It may be that manufacturers will continue to prefer to use nutrient content or structure function claims in Australia and New Zealand, which will be easier to substantiate and more consumer-friendly than high-level disease-related health claims.