Confused Rope

Health Claims Handy for Confusing Consumers

What does it mean when a food label says the product is healthy? For the last six months, more than a thousand public comments have poured into FDA. Two answers rise to the top. Health claims on a food label seem to be good for a bump in sales and for confusing consumers.

Peculiar Advice for Misleading People

Take, for instance, this paper published in Acta Psychologica Sinica. The authors concluded that consumers aren’t very good at estimating how many calories are in any given food. They are easily mislead by things like health claims. When a food has claims about less salt, they found that consumers assume it has fewer calories.

They went on to offer this advice to food marketers:

This study has shown some insight for companies. By making food products less salty, sales may increase not only because it may seem healthier to consumers but it may also cause consumers to underestimate the amount of calorie intake.

In other words, low salt equals healthy equals don’t worry about the calories. Buy more.

Advice from Nutrition Professionals

And so it is that both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Nutrition advised FDA to be cautious about claims that a food product is “healthy.” The Academy said it well in their comments:

We are concerned that the term “healthy” has the potential to cause consumer confusion because it seems to imply that a single food should meet all dietary needs, which is not the case for non-medical foods.

In a nutshell, that’s the problem. Pretending that one single food can make you healthy is deceptive. It’s all of what you eat that counts – the total dietary pattern.

Stamping “healthy” on a food label might be good for sales. But it’s not good for health. And it’s a bit of a lie.

Click here, here, and here to read more.

Confused Rope, photograph © turbo.beagle / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


April 30, 2017

3 Responses to “Health Claims Handy for Confusing Consumers”

  1. April 30, 2017 at 6:22 am, Lluis Serra Majem said:

    The first link brings you to
    which is a chinese paper about salty foods.
    Please correct

    • April 30, 2017 at 8:01 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Lluis. You are correct. And that is the study I meant to link. Health claims about lower salt fool consumers into thinking a food has lower calories.

  2. April 30, 2017 at 8:09 am, Al Lewis said:

    Kind Bars are touted as healthier than Clif Bars because they have fewer carbs and calories. That’s due partly to having more nuts instead — but partly because they are smaller.