January 30, 2023
The rising consumption of processed foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar has led the policy makers to raise alarm and consider the serious problem that it is posing to the health of the consumers. It is widely believed that front of pack nutrition labelling is an effective and straightforward method for deterring the consumption of ultra-processed foods that are high in Calories, Fat, Sugar and Salt per serve. It is important that front of pack label (FOPL) is well designed to be maximally effective at enabling consumers to select a healthier diet.
The World Health Organization recommends mandatory and voluntary nutrition labelling systems that are displayed on the front of packages or on store shelves as a way to prevent non-communicable diseases. These systems have already been adopted in a number of countries. Most labelling systems opt to either only highlight products with unhealthy amounts of certain nutrients or only highlight healthy products. Front of pack nutrition labelling indicates nutrition quality of the food in the form of key nutrition indicators and guides consumers make more informed choices. When nutrition information is noticeable and easily understood, it can drive consumers to make a healthier choice and can also encourage food and drink companies to improve the nutritional quality of their products. Different types of front of pack nutrition labels are prevalent around the world varying from colour coded traffic light label, health star rating or nutri-score label.
Referred to as traffic light indicators, the information is displayed on the front of pack label as energy only or energy plus fat, saturates, sugar and salt. The colours help consumers to understand how ‘healthy’ a product is. The red, amber and green colours, green being the healthier choice, are set to provide an at-a-glance view of fat, saturates, sugars and salt levels in a portion of a food or drink. The traffic lights are widely understood by consumers but there are aspects of the label that consumers find confusing, such as reference intakes, energy and portion size. The criteria are calculated per 100g/ml. This can sometimes make it harder to choose the healthier option between similar products as they may both show up red for a nutrient, for example regular and reduced-fat cheese may both have a red for fat.
In this front of pack labelling system, the score is achieved by calculating negative points from energy, saturated fat, sugars, sodium and positive points depending on the proportion of fruits, vegetables and nuts, fibers and proteins. Overall points equating to a letter A-E to rank the foods nutrient quality. This system is helpful to consumers as they can compare the overall nutritional quality of foods. Positive nutrients such as dietary fibre and fruit and vegetable content are included in the product evaluation. However, this FOPL system does not help consumers looking out for specific nutrients such as salt or sugars.
Front-of-pack labelling for Australia and New Zealand, the government has approved the Health Star Rating system as an interpretative FOPL system. It assesses the nutritional profile of packaged foods, based on widely accepted risk-increasing and beneficial components, and assigns a rating from 0.5 to 5 stars. The Health Star Rating Calculator's algorithm is a nutrient profile model that evaluates key "negative" public health concerns (energy, saturated fat, salt, and total sugars) and "positive" components (protein, fibre, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes) to provide a summary score. The scores are then transformed into a rating by scaling them with the HSR categories. Studies have shown that consumer understanding of the HSR system compared to other FOPL systems like traffic light labels performed better on consumers’ food choices, willingness to pay and on discrimination between ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods.
Other types of Front-of-pack labelling used are the Nordic keyhole system which is the oldest FOPL system first introduced in Sweden, it identifies nutrients like total fat, saturated and trans fat, added sugar, salt, dietary fiber, wholegrains, and is displayed on front of pack on the basis of overall assessment of healthiness. The Choices logo is the single food choice logo for The Netherlands and is accepted as positive front-of-pack label for food and beverage products. It takes into account the level of saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, added sugars, salt, and fibre, as compared with similar products within its category.
In India with the increasing number of non-communicable diseases, the Indian Nutrition Rating (INR) system is introduced as the choice of FOPL by Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in a draft released on September 20, 2022 and is aimed at guiding consumers to choose healthy food. The Indian Nutrition Rating system is similar to the health star rating in Australia and New Zealand, a star rating FOPL system which rates the overall nutritional profile for packaged food by assigning it a rating from ½ star (least healthy) to 5 stars (most beneficial), more stars indicate that the product is better enabling consumers to make healthier decisions. India's dietary guidelines recommend that people limit their intake of fat, salt, and sugar. The challenge is to make sure that the food labels are designed in a way that makes it easy for consumers to see and understand the nutritional content of the food. The front of pack should list the calories per serving, the amount of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt. It should also list the percent of the recommended daily intake for each of these nutrients. The necessity for Front of pack labelling for India is brought on by the country's changing dietary patterns, increased consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods, and a growing market. It will be useful in the fight against the rising rate of obesity and numerous non-communicable diseases. The labeling will also increase the level of transparency for food companies and will help build consumer confidence. India has a long way to go in the development and implementation of a mandatory FOP nutrition labelling system, but it is a step in the right direction.
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Front of pack labelling http://nidirect.gov.uk/articles/front-pack-labelling#:~:text=Front-of-pack%20nutrition%20labelling,is%20in%20a%20food%20product
Front of pack nutrition labelling in India. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(20)30031-1/fulltext#:~:text=National%20Health%20Policy.&text=Front%2Dof%2Dpack%20nutrition%20labelling%20is%20widely%20considered%20to%20be,they%20intend%20to%20make%20mandatory.
Front of pack labelling around the world https://www.igd.com/articles/article-viewer/t/front-of-pack-labelling-around-the-world/i/23126#:~:text=There%20are%20many%20different%20types,in%20use%20around%20the%20world.&text=Front%20of%20pack%20(FOP)%20nutrition,consumers%20to%20make%20healthier%20choices.
Global front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes: Impact on marketing strategies https://www.raps.org/news-and-articles/news-articles/2020/6/global-front-of-pack-nutrition-labeling-schemes-im
Shreya Shah (MSc Food Science & Nutrition)
Shreya is creative and likes keeping things organized, and usually spends her spare time reading novels.