Regulating Health Foods

Regulating Health Foods

Policy Challenges and Consumer Conundrums

Jill E. Hobbs, Stavroula Malla, Eric K. Sogah and May T. Yeung

With ageing populations, rising incomes and a growing recognition of the link between diet and health, consumers are interested in new food products, supplements and ingredients with purported health benefits. The food industry has responded with new food innovations, formulations and enhancements that comprise the growing health food market, manifesting the need to design regulatory frameworks to govern valid health claims.

Chapter 2: What are ‘health foods’?

Jill E. Hobbs, Stavroula Malla, Eric K. Sogah and May T. Yeung

Subjects: development studies, agricultural economics, economics and finance, agricultural economics, health policy and economics


The health food products sector is plagued by a lack of consensus or harmonization across countries with respect to the terminology used to describe and define these foods. Terms such as functional food, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals, natural health products (NHPs), food for special dietary use and novel food are used; each term often has slightly different meanings or synonyms with subtle differences. What may be considered an NHP in one country may be known as a functional food in another and a nutraceutical but not a dietary supplement elsewhere. That same NHP may be considered an over-the-counter product in one country, a prescription drug in another and banned in a third. As such, a prevailing state of confusion exists in the industry internationally, making informed choices difficult for consumers and complicating the efforts of both regulators and researchers alike. Firms wishing to diversify beyond their home markets must navigate a different regime of definitions, terminology and regulations in each potential new market. In order to reduce potential reader confusion for the remainder of this book and to inform the subsequent discussion of health claims regulations, this chapter explains terminology used to define the ‘health food category’ across a number of countries, including the USA, Canada, EU, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Korea and Taiwan. The US FDA does not provide a legal definition for functional food.

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