British Journal of Nutrition

Review Article

Consumer understanding of nutrition and health claims: sources of evidence

Peter D. Leathwooda1, David P. Richardsona2, Peter Strätera3, Peter M. Todda4a5 and Hans C. M. van Trijpa6a7 c1

a1 Nestlé Research Centre, P.O. Box 44, 1000 Lausanne, Switzerland

a2 DPR Nutrition Limited, 34 Grimwade Avenue, Croydon, Surrey, CR0 5DG, UK

a3 Südzucker, Wormser Strasse 11, 67283 Mannheim, Germany

a4 Indiana University, Department of Psychology, 1101 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

a5 Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany

a6 Unilever Food and Health Research Institute, Olivier van Noortlaan 120, 3133 AT Vlaardingen, The Netherlands

a7 Wageningen University, Hollandseweg 1, 6706 KN Wageningen, The Netherlands


Provided that they are scientifically substantiated, nutrition and health (NH) claims linked to food products can help consumers make well-informed food choices. The new European legislation on NH claims made on foods entered into force on 19 January 2007. The law sets out conditions for their use, establishes a system for their scientific evaluation, and will create European lists of authorised claims. An important aspect of this proposed legislation is that it states, in article 5.2, ‘the use of nutrition and health claims shall only be permitted if the average consumer can be expected to understand the beneficial effects expressed in the claim’. The present review examines consumer understanding of NH claims from a consumer science perspective. It focuses on the type of data and information that could be needed to provide evidence that the average consumer adequately understands a particular NH claim. After exploring several different methodologies, it proposes a case-specific approach using a stepwise procedure for assessing consumer understanding of a NH claim.

(Received March 19 2007)

(Revised April 18 2007)

(Accepted April 26 2007)


c1 Correspondence: ILSI Europe a.i.s.b.l., Avenue E. Mounier 83, Box 6, 1200 Brussels, Belgium; fax +32 2 762 00 44; email


Abbreviations: EU, European Union; NH, nutrition and health