Natural Foods Merchandiser

FDA puts consumer awareness on health claims to the test

Consumers are more likely to consider buying a product if its label includes a health claim and names the nutrient responsible for the benefit.

That's one preliminary finding from research compiled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and released on its Web site in May. The report, Experimental Study of Health Claims on Food Packages, evaluates and compares consumers' reactions to various types of health claims, such as structure/function claims and dietary guideline statements. The study's purpose was not to test the public's savvy in the grocery aisle, according to the report's author Jordan Lin, a consumer science specialist with the FDA. "It was more for comparing the different kinds of claims found in the marketplace," he said.

The two-part survey first collected information on consumer awareness of foods, nutrients and the foods' possible health benefits. This information set the stage for the second phase, which involved gauging reactions to 18 different food labels. The study focused on three foods (yogurt, orange juice and pasta) and two nutrients (calcium and potassium), and asked a combination of questions about these products and substances regarding their effect on health.

All respondents, for example, recognized calcium, and two-thirds said yogurt helped reduce the possible effects of osteoporosis. Most had also heard of potassium, but only about a quarter associated it with orange juice and reducing hypertension. One out of 10 people thought pasta was effective at reducing heart disease.

Lin said the FDA will use the research to improve its understanding of consumer responses to health claims. The full report can be found at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 7/p. 15

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