Magazine article Amber Waves

Obesity and Other Health Concerns Lead Food Companies to Step Up Health and Nutrient Claims

Magazine article Amber Waves

Obesity and Other Health Concerns Lead Food Companies to Step Up Health and Nutrient Claims

Article excerpt


* After falling during the 1990s, the percentage of new food and beverage products making voluntary health- and nutrition-related claims began rising in 2002.

* In 2010, 43 percent of new foods and beverages claimed to be low in fat, high in fiber, or formulated with some other positive nutrition or health attribute.

* New products bearing a health- and nutrition-related claim contained smaller quantities, on average, of six nutrients thatAmericans are advised to eatless of, such as sodium and added sugars, compared with all new products.

With tens of thousands of different foods and beverages available to U.S. food shoppers, companies compete for customers through a variety of means-pricing strategies, advertising, shelf placement, coupons, and more. Food companies also seek to woo shoppers by including voluntary health- and nut rit ion-related (HNR) claims on their products. Companies hope claims such as "low fat," "sodium free," and "contains 32 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving" will not only provide consumers with information about their products but differentiate them from their competitors' products and boost sales.

A recent ERS analysis found that between 25 and 44 percent of new food and beverage products carried at least one HNR claim on an annual basis from 1989 to 2010. However, use of the claims displayed divergent trends over the period. From 1989 to 2001, the percentage of new products with at least one HNR claim trended downward, from 34.6 percent in 1989 to 252 percent in 2001 .After 2001, this percentage showed a marked reversal, increasing to 43.1 percent in 2010. A deeper examination of the number and types of HNR claims used on new products reveals how Government policies, new health and nutrition information, and changing consumer preferences can shape the types of nutrition information disclosed by food companies to promote their products.

Food Labeling Regulations Can Limit Nutrition and Health Claims...

In the early 1990s, Congress passed the most significant piece of food labeling legislation in recent history-the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA).This legislation established labeling regulations that require nearly all packaged products to carry the Nutrition Facts label. The regulations, which are implemented and interpreted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also identify which voluntary HNR claims are allowed and under what circumstances they can be used. For example, "good source of fiber" may be used if the product contains 10 to 19 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber per serving. FDA also established specific requirements for claims made about the health benefits of certain nutrients. Companies that make nutrient claims are required to highlight excessive levels of nutrients that Americans are advised to consume less of.

The objectives of the NLEAwere to reduce consumer confusion about food labels and to help consumers make healthy food choices. The Act was intended to increase the reliability of HNR claims on labels by making it more difficult for food companies to make

unsubstantiated claims. By increasing the credibility of positive product claims, the NLEA aimed to provide an incentive for manufacturers to produce healthier food choices.

ERS researchers used a database maintained by Datamonitor Group, a business information and market analysis company, to analyze trends in usage of HNR claims; the role of HNR claims as a way to compete for sales; and the effects of changes in the marketing environment, such as the provisions of the NLEA, on companies' use of HNR claims. The Datamonitor database contains information about new food and beverage products introduced in the United States (see box, What Is a "New" Product?"). The downward trend in new products with HNR claims, from 34.6 percent of all new products in 1989 to 252 percent in 2001, suggests that implementation of the NLEA in 1993/94 may have restricted use of such claims. …

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