Objective: Proposed Australian regulation of claims on food labels includes requirements for products carrying a health claim to meet nutrient profiling criteria. This would not apply to nutrition content claims. The present study investigated the number and healthiness of products carrying claims and the impact of the proposed regulation.
Design: Observational survey of claims on food packages across three categories: non-alcoholic beverages, breakfast cereals and cereal bars. Nutrient profiling was applied to products carrying claims to determine their eligibility to carry health claims under the proposed regulation.
Setting: Three large metropolitan stores from the three major supermarket chains in Sydney, Australia were surveyed in August 2011.
Subjects: All claims on 1028 products were recorded. Nutrition composition and ingredients were collected from the packaging, enabling nutrient profiling. The proportion of products in each category carrying claims and the proportion of these that did not meet the nutrient profiling criteria were calculated.
Results: Two-thirds of products in the three categories (ranging from 18 to 78 %) carried at least one claim. Of those carrying health claims, 31 % did not meet the nutrient profiling criteria. These would be ineligible to carry these claims under the proposed regulation. Additionally, 29 % of products carrying nutrition content claims did not meet the nutrient profiling criteria.
Conclusions: The number of products carrying nutrition content claims that did not meet the nutrient profiling criteria suggests that comprehensive regulation is warranted. Promotion of unhealthy foods using claims is potentially misleading for consumers and hinders their ability to select healthier foods. Implementation of the proposed regulation represents an improvement to current practice.