The use of a health claim triggers the need for further statement(s) in the labelling, presentation or advertising of the food in question. These relate to the general importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, the pattern of consumption required, and any cautions against consumption by certain people or excessive consumption.
Claims that make reference to a rate or amount of weight loss are not permitted. Nor are those that include endorsements by doctors, health professionals and associations other than national associations of medical, nutrition or dietetic professionals and health-related charities.
Types of health claims
- Well-established general function
These refer to the role of a nutrient in physical or mental functions, including in weight control by reducing the sense of hunger or the availability of energy from the diet. They are based on established science and are well understood by the average consumer, e.g. 'thiamine contributes to the normal function of the heart'. Over 200 of these claims have been approved and the conditions for their use were published in May 2012 in Commission Regulation (EU) No 432/2012.
- Novel general function claims
There is a separate application and approvals procedure for general function claims based on newly generated scientific data or where protection of proprietary data is sought. So far, four health claims have been approved under this procedure, e.g. 'Cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow'.
- Reduction of disease risk or referring to children
The application process for approval of these claims is more rigorous than for general function claims and limited numbers have so far been approved. An example of an approved reduction of disease risk health claim is: 'Barley beta-glucans has been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease'.
An example of an approved health claim referring to children's development and health is: 'Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age'.
- Non-specific health claims such as 'healthy' or 'superfood' can only be used on products which legitimately carry an approved health claim of one of the above types.