In the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands consumers were able to differentiate between the various health and nutrition claims on food items that are required by EU regulation, said study led by an international team of researchers led by the University of Surrey.
This regulation differentiates between nutrition claims (i.e. a claim that states that a food contains a particular element) and health claims (i.e. claims implying a health benefit of consuming a food).
The level of evidence needed to support a health claim is more extensive as it needs to substantiate that the health benefit exists. However, there is doubt as to whether consumers make a distinction between these two types of claims.
Researchers believe that regulators need to consider making information available to ensure consumers' knowledge and beliefs are correct and well-informed so they can understand and respond appropriately to claims in the marketplace.
Professor Monique Raats, Director of the Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre at the University of Surrey, who led the research, said: "Labelling food products with health claims could help people make better food choices but what we have found is that they don't always interpret claims in the way we assume they do. It is important that consumer perspectives are taken into consideration when developing policy."