Nutrient Profiling

Policy Position

FDF believes the effectiveness of nutrient profiling as a tool within public health policies is dependent on the purpose of the profile and how the profile is developed. To support this view, FDF has developed a set of scientifically based principles, which we believe should be considered when developing a nutrient profiling model:
  1. it should have a clear and unambiguous objective for tackling a clearly defined end point, e.g. obesity, blood pressure, heart disease, etc.
  2. it should consider all nutrients (not foods) relative to the objective, appropriately balanced according to their expected impact on the defined end point, based on a high standard of scientific evidence
  3. if designed for a defined population should be based on the average within that population (e.g. bodyweight, activity level)
  4. it should consider actual consumption patterns, taking account of amounts typically consumed and may include frequency
  5. it should be capable of identifying significant differences in nutrient composition within and between foods, thereby encouraging appropriate reformulation or new product development appropriate to the objective
  6. it should be understandable by those expected to comply but does not necessarily have to be understood by consumers
  7. it should be sufficiently robust, as a rule, so as to avoid the need for exemptions
  8. it should avoid absolute adjectival parameters in its design or execution e.g. ‘healthy', 'unhealthy', 'good', 'bad', etc.
  9. it can be a category based scheme if appropriate for the objective
  10. it can use thresholds, algorithms, or some other numerical system provided they levels are based on generally accepted scientific evidence and any comparative impact on individuals foods is proportionate.

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Background

Nutrient profiling is a means of categorising foods according to their nutrient composition. Profiles are usually developed in the context of a public heath policy to enable classification of foods for example as ‘healthy’ or ‘less healthy’.

Dependent on the purpose of the model, and the role of different foods within a given population’s diet, the importance of different nutrients, and different levels of those nutrient, may vary. This is why we believe it is essential that before a model is used there is a clear objective in place.

It is also why we do not believe that a universal nutrition profiling model, one that applies to all foods in any diet, is an effective means to judge whether an individual food is ‘healthy’.

Currently the World Health Organisation (WHO) is undertaking work to develop principles and a framework for developing nutrient profiling models. As a first part of this work a review has been undertaken to catalogue nutrient profiling models currently in use. 118 models were identified, with 63 of these meeting the WHO inclusion criteria and only about a third of those having been validated. Further details of this work have yet to be published.

Nutrient Profiles are currently used in the UK as part of Ofcom rules on which foods can be advertised to children. They are likely to be used in the future to restricted the types of foods nutrition and health claims can appear on.

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Last reviewed: 24 Mar 2015