NutriScore and three other nutritional labels compared. OECD study

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NutriScore

Simple, immediate, understandable to all, the NutriScore system surpasses in effectiveness the other three models competing to become the only European method of synthetic nutritional declaration on the front of the label (FOPNL, Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling).

The superiority of NutriScore emerges from a review (Devaux et al., 2024) conducted by a group of OECD researchers and published in Obesity Review. (1)

NutriScore and other FoPs compared, the OECD study

A systematic review compares the results of four types of nutritional logo in terms of reduction in the energy intake (kcal) of food purchases and consequent advantage both on the health of populations and on public health costs.

The selection includes

– a graduated scale such as Nutri-Score, already present in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain (2)

– an approval logo such as Keyhole, available in Denmark, Sweden and Lithuania

– a color-coded nutrient-specific label such as Nutri-Couleurs

– a specific label for a non-coloured nutrient such as Nutri-Repere.

The comparison results, calories

The first element of comparison – based on scientific literature – concerns the reduction of calories in food purchases ‘guided’ by a FOPNL nutritional logo. It emerges that:

  • Nutri-Score reduces the total calories of the basket of packaged products by -3%
  • Keyhole, -2,28%
  • Nutri-Repere, -0,86%
  • Nutri-Couleurs, indifferent (+0,07%).

The impact on health

The impact on health of the four FOPNL systems is estimated to result in a reduction of several thousand cases of diseases over the next 28 years. The effects of a high-calorie diet, rich in saturated fats, sugars and salt reverberate on the body mass index (BMI, Body Mass Index) and on pathologies such as diabetes, stroke, ischemic heart disease, cancer, depression, dementia, musculoskeletal disorders (DMS), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cirrhosis, alcohol dependence and injury.

Again, according to the OECD study, NutriScore stands out. If implemented across all European countries, it is estimated that it would prevent a total of 1.125.000 cases of AMD musculoskeletal disorders, 530.000 cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD), 161.000 cases of diabetes, 69.000 cases of dementia and 42.000 cases of overweight-related cancer , in the period 2023-2050.

These effects are one third lower for Nutri-Repere, the only logo with an estimable effectiveness.

Up to 10 years of extra life

Another positive effect of the implementation of FOPNL is the gain in years of life:

– NutriScore wins the comparison again, with an increase in life expectancy in all EU countries, ranging from 9,7 years per 100.000 people in Ireland to 33,9 per 100.000 people in Bulgaria. On average across EU countries, this logo would add around 18,1 years of life per 100.000 people by 2050,

– Keyhole would add about 16,4 years of life per 100.000 people

– Nutri-Repere, 4,3 years of life per 100.000,

– Nutri-Couleurs, insignificant.

Less healthcare spending

People who live with an obesity-related disease require continuous medical care, with related costs for the health systems that are directly responsible for it, such as the Italian one.

Regarding healthcare spending, researchers estimate that different FOPNLs could reduce average annual healthcare spending in EU countries in measures of

– NutriScore, 0,050%

– Keyhole, 0,052%

– Nutri-Repere, 0,017%

– Nutri-Couleurs, 0,003%.

The best performance would therefore be from NutriScore, with a significant reduction in healthcare spending in all countries, from 0,035% in the Czech Republic to 0,084% in the Netherlands. Overall, OECD researchers argue, NutriScore would save 0,93 euros per capita per year in health spending, from 0,19 euros in Estonia to 2,22 euros in the Netherlands.

More productivity with the NutriScore nutritional logo

The introduction of Nutriscore seems also to improve productivity, estimated in number of full-time equivalent workers (FTEW).

The calculations simulate the benefits of a corrective nutritional logo of diet and health on the risk of (justified) absenteeism due to illness, inefficiency (with sick individuals, even if physically present at work, not fully productive), early retirement.

NutriScore marks the best result. On average, across EU countries, it is estimated to lead to an annual workforce increase of +10,6 FTEW per 100.000 individuals of working age.

From the voluntary to the mandatory logo

Respect for commitments undertaken by the Commission led by Ursula Von Der Leyen with the Green Deal and the European plan to fight cancer is still awaited and is crumbling as the June 2024 electoral date approaches.

The surrender to the lobbies also appears obvious on the adoption of a harmonized nutritional logo. OECD researchers insist on underlining that the positive effects already recorded on the application of FOPNL logos on a voluntary basis would be amplified by their mandatory implementation.

Marta Strinati

Footnotes

(1) Devaux M, Aldea A, Lerouge A, Vuik S, Cecchini M. Establishing an EU-wide front-of-pack nutrition label: Review of options and model-based evaluation. Obes Rev. 2024 Feb. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13719

(2) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. NutriScore, a report by 320 scientists to urge the European Commission. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 12.5.23

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".