We developed the NOURISHING framework to highlight where governments need to take action to promote healthy diets and reduce overweight and obesity.
The framework is accompanied by a regularly updated database (last updated 21 February 2018), providing an extensive overview of implemented government policy actions from around the world.
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The evidence suggests people who want to eat well use nutrient lists to choose healthier options. Interpretative labels help them when they find the labels hard to understand. Nutrition labels also create incentives for food manufacturers to reformulate their products, so helping populations more broadly by increasing the availability of food of higher nutritional value.
Clear standards are also needed on the use of nutrient and health claims. Evidence shows these claims alter the perception people have of these products – making it essential that they do not mislead.
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*Most other countries follow Guideline CAC/GL 2-1985 from the Codex Alimentarius Commission in requiring nutrition labels only when a nutrition or health claim is made and/or on food with special dietary uses
EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers, passed in 2011, requires a list of the nutrient content of most pre-packaged food to be provided on the back of the pack from 13 December 2016. This Regulation is also applicable in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein as members of the European Economic Area. In Switzerland, nutrient content labelling is only mandatory for products bearing nutrient or health claims or sold to the EU (but most manufacturers already label nutrient content on their food products voluntarily).
The Swedish government set nutritional criteria for the use of the Keyhole logo established in Sweden in 1989 and launched as a common Nordic label on 17 June 2009 in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The Lithuanian Ministry of Health signed the agreement to join the Keyhole programme in 2013 and approved criteria for products to bear the logo in 2014. In Iceland, the programme entered into force in November 2013. The aim of the Keyhole logo is to help consumers choose products that contain less fat, salt and sugar. Use of the logo is voluntary, but products must conform to the nutrition criteria, which are identical among participant countries of the programme. New, stricter requirements came into force on 1 March 2015, with a transition period until 1 September 2016 for products adhering to the old requirements. Under the new requirements, Keyhole products will need to contain less salt, sugar and saturated fat, and more whole grains. For the first time, criteria were introduced for maximum salt content in meat and fish products.
EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers, passed in 2011, permits EU Member States to develop voluntary guidelines for front of pack nutrition information, to be used in addition to the mandatory nutrition information on the back of pack. Information on energy value, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content is permitted. Different styles of presentation (eg % Guideline Daily Allowances or traffic lights) are permitted. This Regulation is also applicable in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein as members of the European Economic Area and Switzerland based on its bilateral agreements with the EU.
Regulation 1924/2006 establishes EU-wide rules on the use of specified nutrient content and comparative claims (ie levels of fat for a low fat claim). As of January 2010, only nutrition claims as listed in the Regulation’s annex are permitted. In theory, these nutrition claims may only be used on food defined as "healthy" by a nutrient profile. This nutrient profiling restriction was due to be implemented in 2010 but no model has yet been established. Therefore, permitted nutrition claims can be used as long as the conditions for use of the claim as set out in the annex are met. Once nutrient profiles are established, nutrition claims may only be used on food products deemed "healthy", though two notable exceptions will apply: nutrition claims referring to the reduction of fat, saturated fats, trans fats, sugars and salt/sodium will be allowed without reference to a profile for the specific nutrient, provided the claims comply with the conditions of the Regulation; and a nutrition claim may be used even if a single nutrient exceeds the nutrient profile as long as a statement in relation to this nutrient appears on the label in close proximity to, on the same side and with the same prominence, as the claim (the statement must read: 'High [name of nutrient] content'). This Regulation is also applicable in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein as members of the European Economic Area; Switzerland amended its foodstuff law based on its bilateral agreements with the EU to include permitted EU nutrient claims.
Regulation 1924/2006 (applicable as of July 2007) establishes EU-wide rules on the use of health claims (claims on nutrient function, disease risk reduction and children’s health). Companies may only use health claims that are substantiated and authorised by the European Commission and Member States (various regulations authorising health claims to date). The European Food Safety Authority is responsible for verifying the scientific substantiation of claims; it has done so for claims currently in use and continues to do so for claims that are proposed and applied for by companies that want to use health claims in the EU. In theory, health claims may only be used on food defined as "healthy" by a nutrient profile. This nutrient profiling restriction was due to be implemented in 2010 but no model has yet been established. Therefore, permitted health claims can be used as long as the conditions for use of the claim as set out in the respective regulations are met. Once nutrient profiles are established, health claims may only be used on food products deemed "healthy". This Regulation is also applicable in Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein as members of the European Economic Area; Switzerland amended its foodstuff law based on its bilateral agreements with the EU to include permitted EU health claims.
We know from the evidence that making fruit and vegetables available in schools increases consumption. There is also evidence that food standards to restrict availability have the effect of reducing consumption of the restricted food.
For these actions to be effective for all children, they need to be sustained over time and accompanied by complementary behaviour change communication techniques, such as "modelling", school gardens, and communication to all stakeholders involved in the provision and consumption of school food. Worksites and healthcare also present strong potential for improved eating among adults.
Updated February 2018: The EU School Fruit Scheme, launched in the 2009-2010 school year, merged with the EU School Milk Scheme on 1 August 2017 into one legal framework based on the Regulation on the new School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme (Regulation EU No 2016/791). The scheme is funded through the EU’s common agricultural policy and supports the distribution of fruit, vegetables and milk and milk products to schools across the EU as part of a wider programme of education about European agriculture and the benefits of healthy eating. It provides financing to Member States based on the number of school children and level of development of the country. The implementation of the programmes is at the discretion of national or regional governments, but to receive funding, they must distribute fruit, vegetables and milk products in schools and implement educational measures, such as farm and market visits, educational material distributed to teachers and interactive games on education and nutrition, and regularly monitor and evaluate implementation. Foods containing added sugars, salt, fat, sweeteners or artificial flavor enhances are exempt from the scheme: as an exception, limited quantities of added sugar, salt and fat are allowed if they are approved by the Member States' health/nutrition authorities. The Member States determine the frequency and duration of the distribution of the food.
European Commission, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development. Evaluation of the European School Fruit Scheme Final Report. Brussels, 2012
European Court of Auditors. Are the school milk and school fruit schemes effective? Special Report No. 10. Luxemburg, 2011
Empirical estimates show that food prices influence, to a varying degree, how much food people buy. Targeted subsidies have been shown to help overcome affordability barriers to healthy food for people on low incomes. Incentives, like financial rewards or price discounts, have also been shown to encourage people to switch to healthier options.
Emerging evidence from implemented taxes, as well as modelling studies, indicate the potential for effectiveness to reduce consumption. Given food choices are influenced by a whole host of factors, especially in modern, complex food markets, taxes must be designed very carefully to maximise effectiveness.
In October 2011, Denmark introduced a tax of 16DKK (around $2.70) per kg of saturated fat for products exceeding 2.3g saturated fat per 100g fat. Taxed products included meat, animal fat, dairy products, margarine and spreads, edible vegetable oils and fats as well as items containing these products. The tax was abolished as of 1 January 2013.
Smed S et al. (2016) The effects of the Danish saturated fat tax on food and nutrient intake and modelled health outcomes: an econometric and comparative risk assessment evaluation. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70, 681-686
Bødker M et al. (2015) The Danish fat tax—Effects on consumption patterns and risk of ischaemic heart disease. Preventive Medicine 77, 200-203
There is clear evidence that the advertisements children see influence their food preferences and habits. There is also a lot of evidence that children and adolescents around the world are exposed to a whole host of other promotional techniques, whether on a billboard or through a phone or computer.
Emerging evidence shows that restrictions work to reduce children’s exposure to marketing, but this depends on the criteria used in the restrictions. Given the role played by parents and caregivers in what children eat, consideration is needed of how they are also influenced by promotional activities.
The Danish Code of Responsible Food Marketing Communication was issued by the Forum of Responsible Food Marketing Communication, a cooperation between Danish industry organisations of the food and beverage, retail and media sectors. The Code is a voluntary, self-regulatory initiative effective since January 2008, applicable to food and beverage marketing to children aged 13 and under via media outlets (TV, radio, internet, SMS, newspapers, comic books). The Code sets guideline limits for salt, sugar and fat content in ten food categories. It is recommended that food products exceeding these limits should not be marketed to children. Food manufacturers themselves determine if their products are suitable for marketing to children. Compliance is checked by the secretariat of the Forum. The Danish government follows the results of the Code, and annual status meetings are held between the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Forum.
We are all influenced by the food that is available and affordable when we grow up, and the habits of the people around us. That’s why people in different countries and communities consume differently. We know that when the food supply changes, so does what people eat. This is why we need to improve the quality of the food supply. Evidence from salt reduction indicates that people’s tastes can change.
A law introduced in 2003 prohibits the sale of products containing trans fats, a move that effectively bans its use in products destined for sale on the Danish market. The law is enforced by local authorities under the supervision of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration. Persons infringing the law may incur a fine or imprisonment, and companies can be prosecuted according to the Danish Penal Code.
Restrepo BJ, Rieger M (2016) Denmark’s Policy on Artificial Trans Fat and Cardiovascular Disease. Am J Prev Med 50(1) 69-76
Leth T et al. (2006) The effect of the regulation on trans fatty acid content in Danish food. Atherosclerosis Supplements 7(2), 53-56
Awareness is one precursor to eating well. The evidence suggests that public campaigns can boost awareness. To influence consumption, they need to be sustained and use multiple channels.
New countries added February 2018: Food-based dietary guidelines are an information and communication tool involving the translation of recommended nutrient intakes or population targets into recommendations of the balance of food that populations should be consuming for a healthy diet. They typically promote increased intake of fruit and vegetables and limited intake of salt/sodium and sugar. They may also include guidance on physical activity and healthy weight, and provide guidelines for different population groups. Countries use various formats of presenting the guidelines including cooking pots (Guatemala, Paraguay), pineapples (Fiji), pyramids (Australia, India, US), plates (Colombia, UK), pagodas (China), spinning top (Venezuela), traditional African house (Benin) and circles (Argentina). Some countries have started to include sustainability criteria in their dietary guidelines (eg Germany in 2013, Finland and Brazil in 2014, Sweden and Qatar in 2015, the Netherlands and UK in 2016). Brazil’s revised dietary guidelines, launched in 2014, present food- and meal-based recommendations that take into account cultural dimensions and promote the consumption of minimally processed food as well as health, wellbeing and sustainable food systems, and recommend avoiding ultra-processed food. Details on the content of national dietary guidelines can be found on the FAO database on Food-based dietary guidelines.
Governments in these countries manage, or are involved in, fruit and vegetable campaigns that promote the consumption of a certain number of fruit and vegetable portions a day, often "5 a day" (eg Argentina, Chile, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Tonga) but also "6 a day" (Denmark), "Go for 2&5" (Western Australia), “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters” (United States) or 5–10 (France).
Capacci S, Mazzocchi M (2011) Five-a-day, a price to pay: An evaluation of the UK program impact accounting for market forces. Journal of Health Economics 30(1), 87-98
Carter OBJ et al. (2011) ‘We’re not told why – we’re just told’: qualitative reflections about the Western Australian Go for 2&5® fruit and vegetable campaign. Public Health Nutrition 14(6), 982-988
Pollard CM et al. (2008) Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption: success of the Western Australian Go for 2&5® campaign. Public Health Nutrition 11(3), 314-320