Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, the eternal unfinished

nutrition and health claims

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution asking the Commission to finally clarify the outstanding issues relating to the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR). (1)

1. Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, introduction

According to a study conducted by CLYMBOL and financed by the European Commission, 26% of food products circulating within the single market are accompanied by a nutritional or health claim. And 18% of new products entering the market have this indication. (2)

These are voluntary declarations which have the power to make a product more attractive and therefore influence consumers’ purchasing choices. To guarantee consumer health and prevent different national regulations from limiting the free movement of goods and correct competition, Regulation (EC) no. 1924/06. (3) That, however, almost 20 years after its entry into force, there are still pending issues.

2. Nutrition claims and health claims

For ‘indication means ‘any message or representation that is not mandatory under community or national legislation, including figurative, graphic or symbolic representations in any form, which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular characteristics‘ (art. 2, par. 2, letter l).

Such indications or ‘claims’ are divided into two categories, ‘nutritional claims’ and ‘health claims’, and must not

  • be false, ambiguous or misleading,
  • raise doubts about the safety of other foods,
  • encourage excessive consumption of an item,
  • state or suggest that a varied and balanced diet does not provide all the necessary nutrients, e
  • refer to changes in bodily functions that may give rise to fears in the consumer (art. 3).

2.1 Nutritional information

Nutrition information are those ‘claims’ that state, suggest or imply that a food has particular beneficial nutritional properties, relating to the caloric value or the content of a nutrient. For example, ‘high in protein‘ or ‘low in fat‘.

The permitted nutrition claims are only those listed in the Annex to Regulation (EC) no. 1924/06 and only if they comply with the values ​​set out in the Annex.

2.2 Health claims

Health claims state, suggest or imply that there is a relationship between a food category, a food or one of its components and health. They must always be accompanied by:

  • a wording relating to the importance of a varied diet and a healthy lifestyle,
  • the quantity of food consumption necessary to obtain the indicated benefits,
  • possibly, a statement addressed to people who should avoid consuming the food, e
  • a warning for products that could pose risks if consumed in excess (art. 10)

Allowed those contained in the list adopted by the European Commission and which are based on scientific evidence and well understood by the consumer. Claims relating to the reduction of a risk of disease and those referring to the development and health of children which have been previously authorized are also part of this category (art. 14).

3. The unresolved issue of nutritional profiles

The great unfinished of the NHCR is article 4 which provided for the definition of the ‘nutritional profiles’ by the Commission by 19 January 2009. The nutritional profiles should have taken into account various nutritional aspects of the food, in particular the content of fats, sugars and salt, the occasions of consumption and the role of the food within the overall diet. According to the provisions of the regulation, only foods that had a certain nutritional profile could present claims.

In 2008 EFSA presented its first opinion on the definition of nutritional profiles, confirming the importance of their adoption in 2022. (4,5) In fact, in the absence of nutritional profiles, a food can boast the presence of a component beneficial to health even if it exceeds thresholds for specific nutrients such as fats or sugars. The consumer is therefore provided with partial information and is unable to make healthy, informed and sustainable choices, even with regard to products intended for children.

Furthermore, the European Parliament highlights the lack of a systematic, science-based approach that encourages consumers to switch to healthier diets by increasing the consumption of plant-based foods, such as fruit and vegetables, legumes and cereals. Information campaigns should be developed, particularly for children and adolescents in schools, teaching them the value of healthy and balanced diets.

4. Limiting the so-called ‘halo effect’

It was noticed that consumers are more attracted to their purchases by products that promote better health on the label. It is the so-called ‘halo effect’, which creates an automatic association between the declaration of healthiness and better nutritional characteristics. As a result, consumers may overconsume a nutrient with potential interactions with specific treatments or may develop or aggravate eating disorders.

To avoid such effects, the European Parliament proposes to include minimum and maximum use thresholds on the product labels of all foods and, in particular, food supplements that make health claims, together with the recommendation to consult a healthcare professional before consuming the supplements food.

5. ‘Front of package’ labels

Another unfinished one is the single European FOPNL (Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling) system, which the Commission had undertaken to present by 2023, but was hindered by the Big Food lobbies. (6) These labels have indeed proven effective in helping consumers choose healthier foods and drinks for their health. (7)

And the perfect tool would already be ready, that is, the NutriScore. As demonstrated by the scientific report presenting over 100 bibliographical references published on March 11, 2023. The studies have demonstrated the validity of the algorithm used by the NutriScore logo and its greater effectiveness compared to other forms of FOPNL in guiding consumers to choose foods with better nutritional properties. (8,9)

6. Regulate health claims on online platforms

When the NHCR was adopted, social media did not yet play such a preponderant role in the advertising and sale of food products. Today, on the contrary, they are the main tool through which, especially young people, they inform themselves and are reached by food advertising. Parliament therefore underlines the need to ensure that the Claims Regulation is applied across online platforms to avoid the circulation of unauthorized or misleading nutrition and health claims. (10)

It is considered necessary to evaluate a Community approach to counteract the exposure of children and adolescents to advertisements for processed and ultra-processed foods high in fat, sugar or salt on radio, television and in the media. (11)

7. Claims relating to botanical substances

Further gap legislation concerns botanicals, i.e. plant extracts in foods and food supplements whose legislation is not harmonized in all Member States. Each state will then have its own list of authorized substances and decide whether the plant substance can be labeled as a ‘food’ or a ‘medicine’.

The European Commission should have ruled by 31.1.2010 on over 3000 requests for claims on botanicals. However, the procedure was suspended and EFSA was unable to continue its work on evaluating and authorizing the claims. This means that pending or negatively assessed health claims can be used freely on the European market, posing a danger to European consumers. (12)

8. Sweeteners

The European Parliament invites the Commission to also address the issue of sugar substitutes. In fact, many consumers, aware of the risks associated with the widespread consumption of sugar, are oriented towards purchasing products containing alternative sweeteners. However, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified aspartame as a human carcinogen. While non-sugar sweeteners appear to be linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and all diseases linked to increased body weight. (13)

The Commission European should therefore evaluate the possibility of limiting the use of the nutritional claim ‘no added sugars’ for those products that contain sweeteners or high levels of free sugars to protect the health of consumers.

Alessandra Mei


(1) European Parliament resolution of 18 January 2024 on the implementation of Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006 relating to nutrition and health claims made on food products

(2) Sophie Hieke, Nera Kuljanic, Igor Pravst, Krista Miklavec, Asha Kaur, Kerry A. Brown, Bernadette M. Egan, Katja Pfeifer, Azucena Gracia, and Mike Rayner (2016). Prevalence of Nutrition and Health-Related Claims on Pre-Packaged Foods: A Five-Country Study in Europe. Nutrients 8, no. 3:137.

(3) Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods

(4) EFSA NDA Panel (2022). Scientific advice related to nutrient profiling for the development of harmonized mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labeling and the setting of nutrient profiles for restricting nutrition and health claims on foods. EFSA Journal 20(4):7259, 

(5) Dario Dongo. Improve diet and public health with useful news on the label. EFSA opinion on nutritional profilesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.4.22

(6) Dario Dongo. Kellogg’s, misleading nutrition claims and the UK legal battleGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.5.22

(7) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, the tools for calculating the nutritional profiles of food and beverages. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.7.23

(8) EU scientists & health professionals for Nutri-Score. Why the European Commission must choose the Nutri-Score nutrition label – a public health tool based in rigorous scientific evidence – as the harmonized mandatory nutrition label for Europe 11.5.23.

(9) Marta Strinati. NutriScore, a report by 320 scientists to urge the European CommissionGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.5.23

(10) Dario Dongo. Junk-food advertising on TV and on the web, WHO recommendationsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 3.4.17

(11) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Junk food, the British government proposes a ban on online advertisingGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.11.20

(12) Dario Dongo. Health claims on botanicals, the Court of Justice clarifiesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.10.20

(13)  Marta Singed. ‘Sugar free’? Synthetic sweeteners are useless and harmful, WHO warnsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 15.5.23

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Graduated in Law from the University of Bologna, she attended the Master in Food Law at the same University. You participate in the WIISE srl benefit team by dedicating yourself to European and international research and innovation projects.