12 January - 20 June 2016

Front of pack health symbols and product nutrient profiles

19 November 2014

A team of Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto has stated in a recent paper that, in general, products that have been marketed with front of pack (FOP) health symbols, are not in fact any healthier than those without. 

Front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition rating systems and symbols are a form of nutrition marketing used on food labels worldwide.  The problem, they suggest, is that there are little to no minimum standards to ensure that those products which bear such symbols are actually healthier. 

Using a database of over 10,000 packaged foods over ten food categories and 60 subcategories, they compared the amount of calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar in products with the symbols to those without.  Any difference that was greater than 25% was deemed to be nutritionally relevant.

Surprisingly perhaps, those products with FOPs showed no uniform significant difference.  In fact, none of those products with FOP were considered to have an overall better nutritional value than products without such packaging.  It would seem that FOPs are mainly being used for marketing purpose; the public have a positive perception of products bearing the labelling.  As a result, establishing minimum standards may be a worthwhile step to benefit public health strategy and ensure that such labels are meaningful. [Food Navigator]

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