Rate That Food!
From Peaches to Pop Tarts, Shoppers Could Easily Check The Numbers — And Make Better Choices — With This Proposed System
by Kathy Sena
This seems like a no-brainer to me, if it was done well: Grocery shoppers in a new study report that a 1-to-100-point food- rating system would help them more easily choose what goes into their carts. But a nutrition index alone isn’t enough to change the buying and eating habits of U.S. consumers, says a health-behavior expert who was not part of the study.
About 800 adults participated in online marketing research and two-hour focus groups about the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System. The system, based on the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI), uses an algorithm to score foods based on the nutrients they contain. It’s is described in a recent issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
“In developing the system, we included nutrients of known scientific importance,” including vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, fat, sugar, sodium, cholesterol and antioxidants, says David Katz, M.D., leader of the ONQI development team and the study’s lead author. Katz is director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University-Griffin Hospital in Connecticut.
The system also examines the documented health effects for each nutrient. Fiber- and antioxidant-packed spinach merits a score of 100, for example, but sugar-laden soda receives a one.
“All too often, patients stumble over the hype on the front of food packaging. They also have difficulty taking the factual details on the back — in the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list — and applying them to making healthy food choices. Most people simply lack the nutritional expertise to do this,” Katz says.
Ninety-three percent of consumers in the study agreed that the food scoring system would influence their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. Two-thirds said they would be more likely to shop at a store that had the scoring system compared with one that did not, the researchers found.
“The value of the index is more for the scientific audience rather than the consumer at this point,” says Dawn Wilson, Ph.D., a professor and health-behavior researcher at the University of South Carolina. She says that although the authors conducted an extensive review of the literature, had an expert panel and tested the index against other established indices, they did not examine how well the index predicts changes in health outcomes over time.
“A simple nutritional index is not going to keep consumers from buying or eating the foods they like,” says Wilson. “Dietary behavior changes require a much more sophisticated approach than simply trying to educate consumers about the nutritional quality of foods.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but if I saw this 100-point rating system, and if I knew if was well-researched and carefully applied, I’d use it.
Kathy Sena is an award-winning health and parenting writer and the mother of a 13-year-old son. Visit her website at www.kathysena.com and check out her blog, Parent Talk Today, at www.parenttalktoday.com.