July 17, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Science And Technology

The Smart Buyer's Guide to Avoiding Processing Mistakes

Concern is growing about the impact of ultra-processed foods on our health. These are foods that have been heavily modified from their original form and often contain high levels of salt, sugar, and added unhealthy fats (HFSS foods). They are designed to be very tasty, making them difficult to resist and often leading to overconsumption. As these foods become more prevalent in our diets, it is crucial to find effective ways to identify and regulate them to promote healthier eating habits.

A recent study led by Professor Barry Popkin along with Dr Donna Miles, Dr Lindsey Taillie and Dr Elizabeth Dunford from the University of North Carolina has introduced a novel method for identifying ultra-processed and high-content foods. of added salt. , sugar and saturated fats. This research, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas, aims to help policymakers more effectively address unhealthy food products.

Over the past decade, global concern has increased over the consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF), which are industrial products designed to be highly palatable and often high in unhealthy ingredients. Current methods for identifying UPF, such as the NOVA classification system, focus on the level of processing of foods, while the criteria for foods high in salt, sugar and fat (HFSS) emphasize nutritional content but not prosecution. The lack of a combined approach has posed challenges to creating comprehensive food policies.

The researchers examined four approaches that combine elements of the UPF and HFSS criteria to create a simpler and more effective method for identifying unhealthy food products. Using nationally representative data from NielsenIQ on food purchases by US households, they compared the mean proportion of product volume considered UPF and HFSS foods based on different criteria.

In their findings, half of the products purchased were considered UPF, while just under half were classified as HFSS. The study found a notable discrepancy when products identified as UPF were not captured by the HFSS criteria, and vice versa. By integrating the HFSS criteria with elements of the UPF definitions, such as the presence of sweeteners, colors, and non-nutritive flavors, they achieved complete agreement in identifying products as UPF and HFSS.

Professor Popkin explained the motivation behind the study: “Our goal was to create a simple and accurate method that policy makers can use to identify unhealthy food products, considering both their nutritional content and the degree of processing.” This combined approach simplifies the identification process, ensuring that no harmful product goes undetected. He also used Codex classes of additives, an approach that all food companies must legally follow.

The study emphasized the need for a consistent and practical definition of UPF for regulatory purposes. The inclusion of additives commonly found in UPFs, such as non-nutritive colors and sweeteners, along with the HFSS criteria, provides a robust approach for policy interventions. This approach aligns with recent trends in dietary guidelines that increasingly consider levels of food processing along with nutritional content.

The implications of this research are important for public health policies. The researchers showed that the combination of HFSS and UPF criteria can effectively combat unhealthy foods, which is crucial for developing comprehensive strategies to combat diet-related chronic diseases. The study findings support the implementation of more effective food labeling systems and regulatory measures to reduce the consumption of harmful foods.

In summary, Professor Popkin and colleagues' innovative policy approach bridges the gap between the identification of ultra-processed foods and those high in unhealthy nutrients, offering a comprehensive solution for policymakers. By simplifying the identification process, this method can help guide future regulations and public health initiatives to promote healthier food options and reduce the prevalence of diet-related health problems.

Magazine reference

Popkin, Barry M., et al. “A policy approach to identifying ultra-processed food and beverage products high in added salt, sugar, and saturated fat in the United States: a cross-sectional analysis of packaged foods.” The Lancet Regional Health – Americas, 2024. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lana.2024.100713

About the Author

Barry M. Popkin developed the concept of Nutrition Transition, the study of dynamic changes in our environment and how they affect dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends, obesity and other nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. His research program focuses globally (both in the US and in low- and middle-income countries) on understanding changes in the stages of transition and related programs and policies to improve population health. with this transition. He is now actively involved in working on the design and evaluation of programs and policies globally in an attempt to reduce the demand for unhealthy foods and increase the demand for healthy, minimally processed and real foods. He has received more than a dozen major awards for his global contributions, including: World Obesity Society 2016: Population Science and Public Health Award, the best global public health researcher with significant service contributions; 2015; UK Rank Science Prize; and the Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award from the Obesity Society. He has published more than 640 articles in peer-reviewed journals and was ranked by PLOS as one of the world's most cited scholars among 7 million scholars in 2017 (ranked number 203 out of 6.8 million or among the top 0.003% of scientists in the world). world; H-193; quotes 221,197).

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