POSITION PAPER ON FRONT-OF-PACK LABELS:“directive” versus “informative” approaches.

Lorenzo M. Donini, Elliot M Berry, Frans Folkvord, Léon Jansen, Frédéric Leroy, Ömer Şimşek, Fabio Fava, Marco Gobbetti, Andrea Lenzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Front-of-pack labels (FOPLs) aim at communicating to consumers the health value of food items in support of public health policies. Two main types can be discerned: directive and semidirective FOPLs using color schemes (e.g., Nutri-Score) and informative FOPLs (e.g., Nutrinform Battery). Directive approaches tend to show a “wear-out effect” and, additionally, they tend to have various underlying conceptual problems. Usually, their nutritional scores are calculated using changing, arbitrary algorithms and involve a reductionist set of parameters of debatable validity. Thus, they overstate the effects of selected nutritional factors, such as saturated fat and energy, while overlooking the food matrix and the more holistic aspects of nourishment. Moreover, they do not reflect the portion that is consumed, ignore the preparation steps at home, and fail to serve as a useful basis for composing a healthy diet. Also, so long as the nutritional formulations match the algorithmic standards, they tend to allow ultra-processed products. Thus, this might confuse and mislead consumers. Overconfidence in green-colored labels could even result in unbalanced dietary choices, whereas avoidance of red products may eliminate certain foods from the diet that are rich in essential nutrients (e.g., cheese), leading to opposite results than aimed for. The latter is particularly relevant to vulnerable populations, such as the young, pregnant women, and older adults, or for individuals with specific needs. Taken together, directive FOPLs such as Nutri-Score contradict the declared intent of the European Commission to empower consumers to undertake healthy and balanced diets based on easily accessible and robust information. Although informative systems usually also keep the focus on a few selected nutritional parameters, they have are less paternalizing and obviate the need to classify foods as healthy or unhealthy. They also focus attention on the individual portions that are consumed (even if the definition of portion size remains contentious). Given the importance of dietary patterns, rather than individual foods or nutrients, directiveFOPLs of the Nutri-Score type represent a regretful case of nutritionism. Finally, attempts to associate the adoption of a FOPL with an improvement in the health status are few and mainly applied in virtual settings; none of which are longitudinal, nor have they been able to identify a causal link.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111861
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

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  • Front-of-pack labeling (FOPL)
  • NutrInform Battery
  • Nutri-Score
  • Eating pattern
  • Nutrient composition
  • Nutrition information
  • Overall balanced diet


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