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December 1, 2011
Our Perception of Health Label Claims Is Strongly Influenced By Our Belief in Personal Benefits

The way consumers perceive the relevance of health claim labels has a strong influence on their attitudes towards personal benefit and willingness to buy products, suggest researchers.

The study -- published in Food Quality and Preference -- reports that the relevance of a health claim has strong influence on consumer perceptions of personal benefit to them, and their willingness to buy products with such health claims.

An international team of researchers, led by Dr Moira Dean from Queen's University Belfast, found that the impact of relevance is much stronger when the health risks are relevant to self than when it is relevant to those close to oneself -- especially when the claim promises a targeted risk reduction with detailed information about function and health outcome.

"Previous experience with products with health claims and interest in nutritionally healthy eating promoted the utility of all claims, regardless of whether they were health or nutrition claims … However, to be influenced by health claims consumers also need to have a positive attitude towards functional food products," wrote Dean and her colleagues.

Understanding Claims

The EU legislation (Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006) controls the use of nutrition and health claims in products by necessitating that claims should be based on sound scientific findings and approved by the EU Commission before use.

Researchers have found that among the top herbs -- label information differed greatly from product to product. And as far as recommended dosage and ingredients, fewer than half were consistent with certain "benchmark" recommendations.

As a result of this legislation, consumer perception of health claims and nutrition information has been widely studied. However the researchers noted that "we still know relatively little about how motivational factors affect claim perception, and how relevance and attitudes to healthy eating influence perceptions of health and nutrition claims."

As a result, Dean and her team investigated how perceived relevance influences consumers' responses to specific disease risk reduction health claims, general health claims and nutrition claims.

Study Details

As part of the study, the research team presented two types of health claim; a benefit claim and a risk reduction claim -- with different messages and different levels of information.

The benefit claim promoted overall general well-being, while the risk reduction claim made a strong promise to mitigate negative consequences by reducing a specific disease risk.

Dean and her colleagues reported that the relevance of claims was shown to increase the influence of both types of claims -- in terms of perceived healthiness of the product, benefit to me, and likelihood to buy.

However, they noted that when consumers were sub-divided into groups depending on the level of relevance, those with high relevance to 'self' gave higher ratings for benefits and likelihood to buy, compared to those with relevance to 'others'.

"This indicates that respondents in this study recognised the benefit of the product to themselves," said Dean and her team.

The researchers concluded that the relevance of a health claim has a strong influence on perceptions of personal benefit and willingness to buy products.

However, they noted that the impact of relevance is much stronger when the health risks are relevant to self than when it is relevant to those close to oneself, "especially when claims promise a targeted risk reduction with detailed information given about the function and health outcome."

Food Quality and Preference


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