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 8 May 2019), 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 Choices logo, a voluntary, industry-initiated scheme, is widely used in Czech Republic and Poland. The logo identifies healthier options in each food group. Products must meet nutritional criteria set by an independent scientific committee. In the Netherlands, the Choices logo was introduced in 2006, but is no longer supported by the Government. In Belgium, the logo was introduced in 2007 but is no longer supported by the Government. The logo was introduced in the Czech Republic in 2011, and in Poland in 2008.
Vyth, EL et al. (2009) A front-of-pack nutrition logo: a quantitative and qualitative process evaluation in the Netherlands. Journal of health communication, 14(7), 631-645
Vyth, EL et al. (2010) Actual use of a front-of-pack nutrition logo in the supermarket: consumers’ motives in food choice. Public health nutrition, 13(11), 1882-1889
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.
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
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.
Added December 2019: Since January 2018, the Amsterdam municipal government introduced a ban on the promotion of unhealthy food for children and teenagers up to 18 years at metro station billboards, sports events and activities for children subsidised by the municipality.
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.
On 23 January 2014, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport signed an agreement with trade organisations representing food manufacturers, supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and caterers to lower the levels of salt, saturated fat and calories in food products. The agreement includes "ambitions" for the period up to 2020 and aims to increase the healthiness of the food supply. Under the agreement, the aim is to reduce the amount of salt consumed in food from 9g to a maximum of 6g a day by 2020. Regulations set the maximum level of salt in bread (see below).
Temme EHM (2017) Salt reductions in some foods in the Netherlands: monitoring of food composition and salt intake. Nutrients 9, 791
In 2012, the Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport further reduced the maximum salt content in bread to 1.8% per 100g dry matter (amendment to Commodities Act Decree, Nov 2012), which came into effect 1 January 2013. The maximum level of salt in bread has gradually decreased over time (2.5% in 2009, 2.1% in 2011, 1.9% in 2012).
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.
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 (India, US), plates (Australia, 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. Canada’s new food guide, launched in 2019, provides guidance on what to eat, as well as how to eat. This includes recommendations on healthy eating habits that encourage people to cook more often, to be mindful of their eating habits, to use food labels, to cook at home and to eat meals with others. The new food guide is an online suite of resources that provides information targeted to different audiences, including the general public, health professionals and policy makers.
Details on the content of national dietary guidelines can be found on the FAO database on Food-based dietary guidelines.
The Netherlands Nutrition Centre (part of the National Institute for Public Health) runs online public awareness campaigns to encourage healthier food choices. Examples of campaigns include Balansdag (Balance Day), launched in 2006 as part of the campaign Maak je niet dik (Do not get fat) started in 2002 – encouraging people to compensate for overeating one day by eating healthy meals with no snacks and moving more the next day to balance out calorie intake, and Het Nieuwe Eten (New-style Eating), launched on 29 December 2008 – encouraging people to make step-by-step changes at their own speed. Recipes and tips are provided.