The European Association for the Study of Obesity investigated the legality of on-pack nutrition and health claims routinely found on commercially available meal replacement shakes for sale in the UK and found that over 75 percent are in violation of EU Nutrition and Health Claims regulations.
Britain is the most obese nation in Western Europe, with rates rising faster than any other developed country. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that almost two-thirds (63%) of UK adults are overweight or obese, making the UK weight-loss market a €26 billion business. In Europe, sales of meal replacement products are estimated to reach €940 million by 2020.
For their work, the nutrient composition, legal compliance, and consumer understanding of on-pack health and nutrition claims for all commercially available 'meal replacement for weight control' shakes sold in the UK in 2017 were examined. On-pack information was assessed for its compliance with composition, labelling, and nutrition and health claims in line with EU regulation.
The researchers found that only 10 of the brands provided enough information to demonstrate that they met all the EU compositional and labelling requirements and the majority of products did not meet the basic compositional criteria necessary to be called a 'meal replacement for weight control'.
Results also showed that more than 90% of products made at least one nutrition claim on pack and just over half made at least one health claim--yet 79% of these claims were not compliant with EU regulations. In order to gauge their understanding of on-pack nutrition and health claims, internet-based questionnaires were completed by volunteers who were currently or had recently been engaged with the LighterLife weight loss programme. Of 240 respondents (44 men), three quarters (75%) reported being on a diet within the last 6 months.
The claims most likely to be reported as being understood by responders included common weight loss messages such as "low fat" (95%), "low calorie" (95%), and "high protein" (94%). In contrast, only around half of those questioned understood the claims: "protects against chronic diseases" (48%) and "low GI" (53%) - neither of which are authorised, nor should be on pack.
Interestingly, despite a relatively high overall reported level of understanding of on-pack claims, the majority of claims were perceived as being false.
The authors note that they only looked at one type of product--single serve meal replacement shakes--which is not representative of the entire sector.
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