Functional foods and health claims: A public health policy perspective
Lawrence M., Rayner M.
Objective: To propose a policy framework for the regulation of functional foods and health claims within a public health context. Design: This article reviews the empirical evidence and public health principles associated with functional foods and health claims to analyse the issues, challenge the assumptions that have emerged and explore options for moving forward. Setting: Functional foods and health claims are among the more controversial and complex issues being debated by food regulators internationally. Proponents of functional foods and health claims state that functional foods may reduce health care expenditure and health claims are a legitimate nutrition education tool that will help them inform consumers of the health benefits of certain food products. Conversely, opponents of these developments respond that it is the total diet that is important for health, not so-called 'magic bullets'. Moreover, they argue that health claims will enable manufacturers to indulge in marketing hyperbole and essentially blur the distinction between food and drugs. This topic provides a valuable case study of public policy in relation to food and health. Conclusion: The need to maintain a general prohibition on health claims while accommodating specific exemptions supported by scientific substantiation is recommended. Nutrition education and monitoring and evaluation are integral to the proposed regulatory framework. The intention of this policy position is to encourage research and development of innovative food products while avoiding an inappropriate medicalization of the general food supply.