`New Research Rekindles Debate on Nutri-Score’s Effectiveness - Olive Oil Times

New Research Rekindles Debate on Nutri-Score’s Effectiveness

By Paolo DeAndreis
Feb. 20, 2024 15:24 UTC

The heated debate about Nutri-Score reached new heights in recent weeks.

As new research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) val­i­dated the effi­cacy of Nutri-Score, another analy­sis sug­gested the oppo­site about the French-born front-of-pack label­ing sys­tem (FOPL).

Nutri-Score is a traf­fic-light-style FOPL that uses a com­bi­na­tion of five coor­di­nated col­ors and let­ters to rate the health­i­ness of a pack­aged food item based on its fat, sugar, salt and calo­rie con­tent per 100-gram or mil­li­liter serv­ing. The Green A’ indi­cates the health­i­est option, while Red E’ denotes the least healthy.

See Also:Nutri-Score Founder Says Olive Oil Will Never Attain the Highest Rating

In recent years, Nutri-Score has been adopted by sev­eral European coun­tries and has long been con­sid­ered the most likely can­di­date to become the only manda­tory FOPL across the European Union, which is still far from reach­ing a final deci­sion.

According to the OECD research pub­lished in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Obesity Review, Nutri-Score appears to be the best option among the cur­rently used FOPLs on the mar­ket for com­bat­ing the obe­sity epi­demic and pro­mot­ing health­ier eat­ing habits.

The OECD research backed by the European Commission affirms that Nutri-Score might pre­vent nearly two mil­lion cases of non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases in the E.U. from 2023 to 2050.

According to the researchers, adopt­ing Nutri-Score might lower annual health­care spend­ing com­pared to other FOPLs and improve pro­duc­tiv­ity for work­ers of all ages.

The research is based on a review of the exist­ing lit­er­a­ture and a sim­u­la­tion that deter­mines the pos­si­ble impact of the expan­sion of the ana­lyzed FOPLs across the entire European Union.

Still, accord­ing to a recent paper pub­lished by PharmaNutrition, the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture about Nutri-Score is biased and more exten­sive inde­pen­dent research on the FOPL should be con­ducted.

The two Dutch authors pub­lished their study as a pre-proof arti­cle, mean­ing it was peer-reviewed but could be fur­ther revised before offi­cial pub­li­ca­tion.

The researchers wrote that most stud­ies sup­port­ing Nutri-Score’s effi­cacy were car­ried out by devel­op­ers of Nutri-Score, whereas the major­ity (61 per­cent) of stud­ies con­ducted inde­pen­dently from the devel­op­ers showed unfa­vor­able results.”

The researchers ana­lyzed 104 sci­en­tific papers that inves­ti­gated the effi­cacy of Nutri-Score. Each was clas­si­fied as favor­able, unfa­vor­able or neu­tral toward the FOPL.


The paper notes that the stud­ies favor­able to Nutri-Score were authored by 52 researchers employed or con­nected” with Nutri-Score’s devel­op­ers, with an addi­tional 19 nei­ther employed nor con­nected.

Looking at the unfa­vor­able stud­ies, 30 researchers had no con­nec­tion with Nutri-Score’s devel­op­ers. Four oth­ers did.

Even though the the­o­ret­i­cal effect of Nutri-Score is val­i­dated on a multi-nutri­ent algo­rithm (FSA-NPS), there is no real-life evi­dence of any ben­e­fi­cial effects of Nutri-Score on this algo­rithm across a com­plete super­mar­ket range,” the researchers wrote.

The FSA-NPS is the nutri­ent pro­fil­ing sys­tem intro­duced by the British Food Standards Agency. The devel­op­ment of Nutri-Score was also based on a ver­sion of this sys­tem, mod­i­fied for food label­ing pur­poses, known as FSAm-NPS.


The arti­cle’s authors, Stephan Peters and Hans Verhagen, stated that the 2021 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization, favor­able to Nutri-Score adop­tion, also included con­tri­bu­tions from Nutri-Score devel­op­ers.

Among the authors cited as con­trib­u­tors by the IARC inves­ti­gat­ing the cor­re­la­tion between Nutri-Score and can­cer or mor­tal­ity was Serge Hercberg.

The emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of nutri­tion at Sorbonne University is also a nutri­tional epi­demi­ol­ogy research team mem­ber and founder of Nutri-Score.


Serge Hercberg

According to Hercberg, the new arti­cle pub­lished by PharmaNutrition lacks sci­en­tific foun­da­tions.

He told Olive Oil Times that the arti­cle had con­cep­tual and method­olog­i­cal prob­lems, incor­rect clas­si­fi­ca­tion of sci­en­tific papers, biased pre­sen­ta­tion and dis­cus­sion and false accu­sa­tions and state­ments.”

Hercberg also warned that authors attack pub­lic researchers and stud­ies pub­lished in peer-reviewed jour­nals that are dis­turb­ing the inter­ests of food com­pa­nies, sug­gest­ing that aca­d­e­mic researchers involved in Nutri-Score’s val­i­da­tion might have con­flicts of inter­est and their con­clu­sions should be dis­qual­i­fied on the pre­text that their sci­en­tific work led to Nutri-Score’s devel­op­ment a few years ago.”

See Also:Hundreds of Scientists Support Adoption of Nutri-Score Labeling System

Hercberg accused the arti­cle’s authors of work­ing for food com­pa­nies that have been involved in lob­by­ing bat­tles against Nutri-Score for many years.”

He cited the Dutch Dairy Association and the Food Safety & Nutrition Consultancy, two enti­ties men­tioned in the paper among the cred­its of the two authors.

According to Hercberg, the Dutch Dairy Association includes sev­eral com­pa­nies opposed to Nutri-Score, while the con­sul­tan­cy’s clients include the European Association of Sugar Manufacturers.

It appears that the real objec­tive of the authors is to down­play the link between eco­nomic con­flicts of inter­est or study fund­ing from food com­pa­nies,” Hercberg wrote. This is a sig­nif­i­cant over­sight, as such con­flicts of inter­est are well known to influ­ence study out­comes.”

Peters told Olive Oil Times how in the debate, the Dutch Dairy Association is framed by the sci­en­tists involved in Nutri-Score as an oppo­nent of Nutri-Score. Actually, we are not.”

We are com­pletely in line with the opin­ion of the Dutch food-sci­en­tific com­mu­nity,” he added. We think that Nutri-Score should be in line with food-based dietary guide­lines before being intro­duced and that its effect on con­sumers should be proven inde­pen­dently.”

Peters said the rea­sons for their research come from the fact that both him­self and Verhagen are involved in the inde­pen­dent sci­en­tific com­mit­tee of the for­mer Dutch front-of-pack logo Het Vinkje in the Netherlands.”

This FOPL has been removed from the Dutch mar­ket because it was too con­fus­ing for con­sumers,” Peters said. Now Nutri-Score is being intro­duced, and we pledge for a suf­fi­ciently good sci­en­tific sub­stan­ti­a­tion of the logo before intro­duc­tion.”

The sci­ence behind Nutri-Score is still very biased,” Peters and Verhagen wrote. Therefore, we advise that inde­pen­dent sci­en­tists do future research and that the assess­ment of its health effects and effi­cacy are car­ried out by an inde­pen­dent sci­en­tific author­ity like the European Food Safety Authority.”


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