Published: March 2017

ID #: CAS027

Journal: J Acad Nutr Diet

Authors: Taillie LS, Ng SW, Xue Y, Busey E, Harding M

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Nutrient content claims, which characterize the level of a nutrient in a food (e.g., “low-sugar”), are a commonly used marketing tactic. The association between claims, the nutritional quality of products, and consumer purchases is unknown. This study examined low-content nutrient claims on more than 80 million packaged food and beverage purchases from a transaction-level database of 40,000 U.S. households from 2008 to 2012. It found that 13 percent of food and 35 percent of beverage purchases in 2012 had a low-content claim. Low/no-fat claims were most prevalent for both, followed by low-calorie, low-sugar, and low-sodium claims. The proportion of purchases with any nutrient claim did not change significantly between 2008 and 2012. Products with the highest prevalence of nutrient claims in 2012 were fruits among food purchases (36.6%) and dairy-based drinks among beverage purchases (71.1%). Packaged food purchases with any nutrient claim had lower mean energy, sugar, fat, and sodium density relative to purchases with no nutrient claim. They did not, however, necessarily have better nutritional profiles or the lowest mean levels for that nutrient compared to products without claims. These findings suggest that low-content claims can mean different things for different products, which can make it difficult for consumers to know whether products are truly low in a given nutrient, or just relative to other products.

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