Food companies’ use of voluntary health- and nutrition-related (HNR) claims on product labels declined during the 1990s, but began rising again in 2002, according to a new article from USDA’s Economic Research Service. And the types of claims reflect the evolution of consumer preferences and health concerns.

Somewhat ironically, the decline in use of HNR claims during the 1990s resulted, in part, from Congressional passage of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA). This legislation established labeling regulations that require nearly all packaged products to carry the Nutrition Facts label. The regulations also specify which voluntary HNR claims are allowed and under what circumstances they can be used.

The share of new products with HNR claims declined from 34.6 percent of all new products in 1989 to 25.2 percent in 2001, and the percentage of new products that carried HNR claims fell in 12 of 16 food categories. The decline suggests implementation of the NLEA could have discouraged manufacturers from using such claims if their products did not meet the requirements.

That trend shifted after 2002 however, and by 2010, 43 percent of new foods and beverages claimed to be low in fat, high in fiber, or formulated with some other positive nutrition or health attribute.