No Fat, No Sugar, No Salt . . . No Problem? Prevalence of "Low-Content" Nutrient Claims and Their Associations with the Nutritional Profile of Food and Beverage Purchases in the United States.J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017 Sep; 117(9):1366-1374.e6.JA
Nutrient claims are a commonly used marketing tactic, but the association between claims and nutritional quality of products is unknown. The objective of this study was to examine trends in the proportion of packaged food and beverage purchases with a nutrient claim, whether claims are associated with improved nutritional profile, and whether the proportion of purchases with claims differs by race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
This cross-sectional study examined nutrient claims on more than 80 million food and beverage purchases from a transaction-level database of 40,000 US households from 2008 to 2012. χ2 Tests were used to examine whether the proportion of purchases with a low/no-content claim changed over time or differed by race/ethnicity or household socioeconomic status. Pooled transactions were examined using t-tests to compare products' nutritional profiles overall and by food and beverage group.
Thirteen percent of food and 35% of beverage purchases had a low-content claim. Prevalence of claims among purchases did not change over time. Low-fat claims were most prevalent for both foods and beverages (10% and 19%, respectively), followed by low-calorie (3% and 9%), low-sugar (2% and 8%), and low-sodium (2% for both) claims. Compared to purchases with no claim, purchases with any low-content claim had lower mean energy, total sugar, total fat, and sodium densities. However, the association between particular claim types and specific nutrient densities varied substantially, and purchases featuring a given low-content claim did not necessarily offer better overall nutritional profiles or better profiles for the claimed nutrient, relative to products without claims. In addition, there was substantial heterogeneity in associations between claims and nutrient densities within food and beverage groups.
Variations in nutrient density by claim type and food and beverage group suggests that claims may have differential utility for certain foods or nutrients and, in some cases, may mislead about the overall nutritional quality of the food.