What’s a health claim?— published: 10-08-2010
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently filed a complaint against POM Wonderful products due to deceptive advertising. POM Wonderful has claimed that its products will reduce (or treat) heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. The FTC says that these claims are not supported by scientific research.
So, what’s a health claim and what’s considered acceptable advertising as such?
A health claim statement has to have a food substance, food, or dietary ingredient, and a health condition or disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain health claims that, based on scientific evidence, show a link between a food or supplement and a health condition or disease. Health claims cannot state that a food product or supplement can treat or cure a disease. It may claim to minimize a disease risk; for example, a product advertised as low sodium can state the approved claim that “diets low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a disease associated with many factors.”
Health claims shouldn’t be confused with structure/function claims. These claims do not have to be approved and reviewed by the FDA, yet they must be truthful in stating that a substance maintains structures and/or functions of the body. We see these claims on many fiber-rich products, like “fiber maintains bowel regularity,” or a dairy product stating that “calcium builds strong bones.” Unlike health claims, structure/function claims cannot be linked to a health-related condition or disease. Also, an important point to keep in mind: if a dietary supplement label makes a structure/function claim, it must also state this disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
There are also nutrient content claims. These describe the amount of a nutrient in a product. Descriptions such as free, low, high, and rich in are used, or other terms that describe the nutrient content to that of the content in another product, such as reduced, lite, less, or more.
Manufacturing companies want consumers to buy their products. We, as consumers, must be savvy as we try to choose products that are healthy for our families and us. False health claims are used on food products as well as dietary supplements. They claim to help us lose weight, cure diseases, and prevent memory loss. The FDA has not approved claims that focus on the treatment of diseases. They have, however, set forth regulations to authorize health claims after the scientific evidence has been presented and reviewed.