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Informing consumer choice is vital to the levelling up health agenda

Informing consumer choice is vital to the levelling up health agenda

Currently used in France, Danone say it's time for solutions like Nutri-Score that could have a real impact in the UK | Credit: Alamy

Rachel Bradford, Nutrition policy manager | Danone UK

4 min read Partner content

If we are serious about levelling up, we must give everyone the opportunity to make more informed nutrition choices.

The post-pandemic recovery presents an opportunity to rethink and reset how we consume food and drink, and the choices we make. The health of individuals, their families, and their communities has come into sharp focus. As a nation we can go back to our old habits, or we can embrace fresh ways of thinking, building on the new-found momentum of making better health choices.

The Department of Health and Social Care will shortly be publishing its response to front-of-pack nutrition labelling in the UK. This represents a critical moment to challenge how we as consumers engage with the food and drink we purchase. Despite decades of multiple interventions – between 1992 and 2020 the UK Government published 14 obesity strategies – we have failed to get to grips with the UK’s obesity problem, and risk sticking with the status quo.  

At Danone we have seen first-hand the merits of Nutri-Score.

Studies show the current multiple traffic scheme can leave consumers confused. Nutrient-specific labels have been consistently found to be poorly understood by consumers, particularly those with lower educational levels, due to the high cognitive workload needed to interpret them.  The scheme can portray conflicting messages about what we should and should not eat, and vilify certain foods and nutrients. Improving nutritional intake requires access to clear and concise information that promotes moderation and balance. We believe this is a healthier approach to food and drink rather than demonising certain products that can be enjoyed as part of a well-rounded diet.

There is a credible alternative. Based on the latest science and with our rich history of working in international markets, at Danone we have seen first-hand the merits of Nutri-Score. This scheme uses an easily understandable format and design, providing clear nutritional information at first glance. Nutri-Score is a five-colour coded scale from A to E, each signalling the overall nutritional value of a product. The first panel, a dark green letter A, shows products with the highest nutritional value. The final panel, a red letter E, indicates those with lower nutritional value. Each product is scored based on a UK derived scientific algorithm that considers the nutrients to reduce, like sugars, saturated fat and salt, and the nutrients to increase, such as fibre, protein, fruit, vegetables and nuts.

Consumer evidence shows that the accessibility of Nutri-Score enables shoppers to make more informed choices. Understanding is far greater amongst those from lower socio-economic groups that are often in most need of support, but are the hardest to reach. A study conducted in 2018 showed Nutri-Score outperforming the multiple traffic light scheme. It was shown to be more easily understood by consumers, who were more able to rank the healthiness of food. It was also shown to influence consumer’s choices at the point-of-purchase towards healthier choices.

A national debate is underway on how we build back better and how we learn from the lessons of the pandemic to improve our health and that of those around us. If we are serious in our commitment to levelling up, we must first recognise that without improving health outcomes, we will fail to help people realise their potential and ability to contribute to society.

It is clear as restrictions are lifted across England this week that, we have a choice: to continue with the old ways of working that we are familiar with; or support innovative solutions that can start to make a difference. Nutri-Score is not a silver bullet to all our health issues, and there are many challenges ahead; but policymakers can send a strong message that as we emerge from the pandemic, we stand ready to do things differently.

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