A health claim involves whether or not some type of food or food component can affect a disease or health-related condition.  In other words, a health claim can be a label on a product that says how the food is beneficial in helping to prevent or treat some kind of health condition.  For example, your orange juice container may have a health claim on it about how the number of servings of orange juice each day can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Keep in mind that just because a food label states some benefit, this does not make that statement a health claim.  A health claim does not include a claim of general benefit to one’s health, but rather how the product helps against a particular disease or other disorder.  A statement on your milk container saying “milk helps build strong bones” is not a health claim.  However, if the statement said something about milk helping to reduce the risk osteoporosis, that would be considered a health claim.

Do Health Claims Have to be Authorized First before They Can be Put on a Food Product Label?

Health claims must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before the manufacturer is allowed to put the claim on one of their food products.  There are two ways of obtaining FDA approval:

  • First, the manufacturer can come up with a health claim based on independent scientific studies and evidence.  The claim along with the evidence can be submitted to the FDA.  The FDA then investigates the claim based on the evidence and decides whether the claim accurately portrays the evidence provided.  If the FDA feels the health claim is truthful and not misleading, they allow the claim to be put on the product
  • The second way to have a claim authorized by the FDA is to derive the claim from an “authoritative statement” made by a scientific body of the federal government or the National Academy of Sciences.  The manufacturer then merely has to notify the FDA of the claim and of the official source from where it was derived, and the FDA will approve the statement

What Should I Do if I Have Purchased and Consumed a Food Product That Has an Untruthful or Misleading Claim on its Packaging?

First you will want to write a complaint to the manufacturer of the product as well as file a complaint with the FDA.  You may also want to contact a consumer attorney.  Your attorney can inform you of your options, including your entitlement to money damages in a lawsuit against the manufacturer.