Driving consumer health via better front-of-package labels: Study

Can front-of-package labeling help customers make healthier choices?

Improved labeling on beverages may help consumers make healthier choices, according to a recent Australian study.

The study, titled Analysis of Front-of-Pack labelling systems on packaged non-alcoholic beverages for Australian consumer guidance, looked at three different front-of-pack nutrition labeling systems in Australia. These are in place to help consumers make healthier food choices, focusing on reducing sugar intake.

According to researchers, there were inconsistencies between these labeling systems. While one label, the Health Star Rating system, was found to be more suitable, the study said there still needs to be refinements of this system.

“Labelling simplicity, health representativeness, marketplace utility and consumer comprehensiveness are important considerations for future labelling development,” researchers wrote in the report.

Researchers applied each system with established criteria and standards on 31 different pre-packaged beverages representing eight different subcategories, including fruit and vegetable juice drinks, soft drinks and liquid breakfast.

The study was printed in the Dietitians Association of Australia’s Nutrition and Dietetics.

Researching different systems

The three labeling systems researchers looked at included:

  • The Traffic Light System, which uses green, amber and red to represent low, medium and high levels of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. The system includes beverage-specific criteria.
  • % Daily Intake, a system that calculates the percentage of nutrients provided in one serving of the food for an average male adult.
  • Health Star Rating, which is the most recent system and looks at levels of energy, fat, salt and sugar on a five star system.

Researchers compared the labels for comprehensiveness, consistency and utility by contrasting a beverage’s nutritional information with label features. They also looked at individual labeling system with types of beverages.

For TLS, the most recommended drinks included Mt. Franklin bottled water, Pepsi Max, Coca-Cola Diet and Lipton Ice Tea, which %DI shared with Coca-Cola diet and Pepsi Max flipped. The most recommended drinks of the HSR system included Golden Circle—tomato, V8 — Vegetable, Nudie — 10.5 oranges and E&T—apple, carrot, ginger.

“There were variations with the %DI compared to TLS where liquid breakfast was ranked much lower in the %DI system than in the TLS and also slight variations among fruit juice beverages,” the study found. “In the HSR system, however, juice and flavored milk were placed higher than water which was followed by the majority of the diet beverages, then the other beverages including soft drinks and energy drinks.”

System has flaws; which is best?

Researchers wrote that the TLS system alone may make it “difficult for a consumer to interpret and make a decision about which beverage product is healthier,” as it does not include energy as a criterion.

The %DI system offers more potential than the other system, researchers said, but fails by only showing the daily value of energy on most packaging.

The HSR system has a larger numbers of nutritional factors and components considered and presented in the most simplistic way. However, researchers were concerned that juice rated so high, thereby masking the sugar content.

“Plain bottled water did not score well compared to other beverages and is represented with only two stars in the HSR system,” researchers wrote. “Since water is indeed a healthy drink, this demonstrates that the HSR system may be better designed to score foods than beverages. Further evaluation and modification would be recommended. From a public health perspective, water and other healthier drinks should be promoted by FOP labelling.”

In future studies of beverage labeling, researchers want to study how each front-of-package label does on the marketplace. They believe the utility of integrated labels should also be further investigated, thereby spawning a newly-developed system using color coding and percent intake.

Source Nutrition and Dietetics

Analysis of Front-of-Pack labelling systems on packaged non-alcoholic beverages for Australian consumer guidance

DOI: 10.1111/1747-0080.12257

C. Yang, X. Liu, P. Ford, S. Leishman, L. Schubert

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