What food labels can do for us

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The Nutr-Score label, widely used on food products across Europe, can help people make healthier choices. Image credit: Jörg Carstensen/photo alliance via Getty Images.
  • Nutrition claims on food packaging can lead to misconceptions about the overall health value of foods.
  • A survey of more than 1,000 people suggests Nutri-Score – a nutritional score added to products across Europe – can prevent misconceptions about food health caused by sugar claims.
  • The authors suggest that the Nutri-Score label should be mandatory when making nutrition claims on a food.

Sugar is widely known as one of the most addictive substances in our food.

As a result, sugar consumption in the United States has steadily increased over the past decade.

The average daily intake of added sugars for an adult in the United States in 2017-2018 was 17 teaspoons a day. This is much higher than the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended intake, which is 9 teaspoons per day for men and 6 teaspoons a day for women.

This is a concerning trend, as excessive sugar consumption is associated with several health risks, including overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and chronic inflammation.

Experts have tested several methods to help people reduce their sugar intake, including nutrition labelling. One such label is the Nutri-Score label, widely used in Europe, a color-coded labeling system that ranks foods from A to E (best to worst) using a system of traffic lights (from green to red).

In a new study, researchers show that the Nutri-Score label can more accurately represent the nutritional value of foods, avoiding health misconceptions that can be caused by advertising sugar claims, such as “sugar-free”. added”.

The researchers recommend that the Nutri-Score label be mandatory when using nutrition claims. Their findings appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

With growing consumer awareness of the health risks associated with excessive sugar consumption, companies are stepping up efforts to reduce the sugar content of their foods and beverages.

Companies also often use these discounts as advertising claims on product packaging, such as “no added sugar” or “30% less sugar.”

However, marketing claims like these can lead consumers to make incorrect assumptions about the overall nutritional value of the food. For example, just because a particular brand of breakfast cereal claims to have “reduced sugar” doesn’t mean it’s a healthy food. This is called the “health halo” effect.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Kristin Jürkenbeck, explained for Medical News Today:

“The health halo effect means that a single characteristic is understood to signal an overall favorable nutrient profile. Marketing claims, such as 30% less sugar or high protein content, can overestimate the health value of a food product. These buzzwords make foods appear healthier in the consumer’s perception than they actually are.

In their study, Dr. Jürkenbeck and his team assessed whether food labeling – specifically the Nutri-Score label used in Europe – could help prevent these false assumptions.

To assess the impact of Nutri-Score on food perceptions, researchers conducted an online survey of 1,103 people in Germany.

In the survey, respondents were asked to rate the nutritional profiles of three products – the instant cappuccino, the chocolate muesli and the oatmeal drink – from very healthy to very unhealthy.

Participants were randomly assigned different product claims, such as no added sugar, less sweet, or 30% less sugar.

They received these claims with and without the accompanying Nutri-Score label.

The results showed that consumers pay the most attention to ingredients when buying food, followed by sugar and fat content, confirming the importance of sugar when consumers choose what to buy.

Participants ranked chocolate muesli as the most unhealthy product, followed by instant cappuccino and oatmeal drink, which had a positive health image.

Importantly, the researchers also found that participants’ health ratings of foods changed based on nutrient claims.

For example, in the case of chocolate muesli, health checks improved when the 30% less sugar claim was present, confirming the health halo effect.

However, when the Nutri-Score label was also displayed – a score of C or D on the scale – it corrected for the effect of the claim.

“The study shows the great difficulties encountered by consumers in assessing the nutritional quality of food in a realistic way”, sums up Dr. Jürkenbeck.

His article recommends that the Nutri-Score label be made mandatory, at least when marketing claims are made on the packaging, to avoid misleading consumers about the health value of a food.

The researchers say other measures such as sugar taxes would also help, but would be more difficult to implement.

“An interpretive label like the Nutri-Score can counteract the effects of sugar claims, which can make foods appear healthier than they are. The Nutri-Score allows consumers to better rank foods according to their health value.

– Dr. Kristin Jürkenbeck

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