Labeling Systems Like Nutri-Score Could Save Lives, Researchers Say

Researchers across Europe demonstrated that consuming foods with a higher nutrient profiling score was associated with an increased mortality.

Photo: Red Burn
Sep. 25, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis
Photo: Red Burn

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There is a clear link between food pro­fil­ing sys­tems and health­ier food choices, accord­ing to new research pub­lished in the British Medical Journal.

Using data col­lected from a large pop­u­la­tion sam­ple, the researchers demon­strated that adopt­ing food label­ing sys­tems based on the Food Standards Agency nutri­ent pro­fil­ing sys­tem (FSAm-NPS) could have an effect on over­all mor­tal­ity.

The con­sump­tion of food which does not get good grades for its nutri­tional qual­ity by Nutri-Score is asso­ci­ated with higher mor­tal­ity.- Pilar Galan, researcher, Université Paris 13

Since the French-born Nutri-Score front-of-pack (FOP) label­ing sys­tem is derived from the FSAm-NPS, researchers believe that their results should be con­sid­ered by the European Union while it is in the process of choos­ing a com­mon FOP sys­tem for its mem­ber states.

Serge Hercberg, the cre­ator of Nutri-Score, was one of 55 researchers involved in the study.

See Also: Italy Reiterates Opposition to Nutri-Score Label

By using the data col­lected in 10 dif­fer­ent coun­tries by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, the sci­en­tists con­cluded that con­sum­ing foods with a higher FSAm-NPS score (lower nutri­tional qual­ity) was asso­ci­ated with a higher mor­tal­ity for all causes and for can­cer and dis­eases of the cir­cu­la­tory, res­pi­ra­tory and diges­tive sys­tems.”

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EPIC is a mas­sive cohort study, involv­ing more than 521,000 adults whose health was fol­lowed for more than 17 years. Scientists deter­mined that the data of more than half a mil­lion adults col­lected for can­cer and nutri­tional research could be specif­i­cally exam­ined to test the impact on mor­tal­ity of their food choices.

A score was cal­cu­lated for every 100 grams of food, which took into con­sid­er­a­tion the amount of sug­ars, sat­u­rated fatty acids, sodium, energy, fiber and pro­tein in the food. The type of food (i.e. fruits, veg­eta­bles, legumes or nuts) also had an impact on the score.

The dietary index was then cal­cu­lated for each par­tic­i­pant for all foods con­sumed. The higher the score, the lower the over­all nutri­tional qual­ity of the diet.

Of the 501,594 adults con­sid­ered, those with the higher score showed an increased risk of mor­tal­ity. They scored an aver­age of 760 in the FSAm-NPS dietary index, while those whose choices were health­ier scored 661.

In a note com­ment­ing on the results, Hercberg, who is also a pro­fes­sor of nutri­tional epi­demi­ol­ogy at Sorbonne Paris Nord University, said that the results were largely unchanged after fur­ther analy­sis, sug­gest­ing that the find­ings with­stand scrutiny.”

Critics of Nutri-Score argue that the sys­tem is too sim­plis­tic and does not take all of a food’s nutri­tional qual­i­ties into account.

For exam­ple, Italian oppo­nents argue that extra vir­gin olive oil — one of the key­stone ingre­di­ents of the Mediterranean diet – receives a C’ from Nutri-Score, lower than other cook­ing oils since its antiox­i­dant and polyphe­nol con­tent are not taken into account by the algo­rithm.

However, Pilar Galan, a nutri­tional and epi­demi­o­log­i­cal researcher at the Université Paris 13, rebuffed this argu­ment in a tweet and said the con­sump­tion of food which does not get good grades for its nutri­tional qual­ity by Nutri-Score is asso­ci­ated with higher mor­tal­ity.”

She also empha­sized the rel­e­vance of the results due to the many socio-demo­graphic fac­tors taken into account and their impact on the lifestyle of the par­tic­i­pants.

The authors con­cluded that their study sup­ports the rel­e­vance of FSAm-NPS to char­ac­ter­ize health­ier food choices in the con­text of pub­lic health poli­cies (eg, Nutri-Score) for European pop­u­la­tions.”

This is impor­tant con­sid­er­ing ongo­ing dis­cus­sions about the poten­tial imple­men­ta­tion of a unique nutri­tion labelling sys­tem at the European Union level,” the authors con­cluded.





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