The largely Euro-sceptic UK press had a field day over an apparent Brussels ruling that claims in packaging and advertising for bottled water that drinking water can aid hydration were not permissible. But was this accurate reporting or a case of partially informed journos getting the wrong end of the stick? Omar Bucchioni reports.
Who: European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
When: November 2011
Law stated as at: 30 November 2011
Recently several newspapers wrote articles concerning the approval of health claims relating to water and hydration making quite eye-catching titles which were not quite as justified as they might have first appeared (here are two examples):
What actually happened:
Following an application from Prof. Dr. Moritz Hagenmeyer and Prof. Dr. Andreas Hahn submitted pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy evaluated the scientific data submitted by the applicants and issued an opinion on the scientific substantiation of the following proposed health claim:
“Regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance”.
The application was filed pursuant to EU Regulation (EC) No 1924/20065. This lays down that no “disease risk reduction” claim can be made in advertising or packaging for any food or drink unless this has first been analysed by EFSA and accepted by them to be true and not misleading.
What EFSA had to say
Regulation (EC) No 1924/20065 defines reduction of disease risk claims as claims which state that the consumption of a food “significantly reduces a risk factor in the development of a human disease”. It follows that, for reduction of disease risk claims, the beneficial physiological effect (which the Regulation requires to be shown for the claim to be permitted) results from the reduction of a risk factor for the development of a human disease.
EFSA noted that dehydration was identified as a disease by the applicants. Dehydration is a condition of body water depletion.
The EFSA Panel noted that the proposed risk factors “water loss in tissues” or “reduced water content in tissues” were measures of water depletion and thus are measures of the disease (dehydration). Since no clear evidence had been supplied that proved the proposition that regular consumption of water could materially prevent (as opposed to delay) water loss in tissues or reduced water content in tissues, EFSA determined that the proposed claim did not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006.
Why this matters:
The exact motivation of the professors who lodged the EFSA application remains unclear, but in spite of eye-catching headlines in some newspapers, it seems that in reality EFSA has taken quite a sensible approach with this opinion.
The overall message is that although generally good for health, water alone cannot prevent dehydration although it might delay it. So the key is to drink water and consume necessary minerals like salt just before (or as) you need them.
The British Soft Drinks Association which represents the interests of producers and manufacturers of soft drinks including carbonated drinks, still and dilutable drinks, fruit juices and bottled water issued the statement (here) below which presents the wider picture as regards the Professors’ application and is helpful as to what bottled companies and advertisers should consider in order to be on the safe side:
“Drinking water is good for health
The stories in some of the newspapers do not quite capture the whole picture regarding the approval of health claims relating to water and hydration.
The European Food Safety Authority has been asked to rule on several ways of wording the statement that drinking water is good for hydration and therefore good for health. It rejected some wordings on technicalities, but it has supported claims that drinking water is good for normal physical and cognitive functions and normal thermoregulation. These recommended claims are awaiting formal confirmation from the European Commission.
EFSA recommends that, to benefit from the effects of drinking water, one should consume at least 2 litres of water a day, or 2.5 litres for a man. Water is the major component of all soft drinks.
Dehydration can reduce mental and physical performance but the wide range of soft drinks available means that it is easy, convenient and enjoyable to drink enough to stay properly hydrated.”
More info at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/1982.htm