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What about the “semaphore”?

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What about the “semaphore”?

A study on the perception of the Nutri-score system.

The Nutri-score nutrition labelling system is expected to be definitively adopted in 2022 as part of the Farm to Fork strategy planned by the European Commission. The semaphore system, which is derived from nutrition tables developed by the UK Foods Standards Agency, was proposed by France in 2014 and adopted on a voluntary basis in 2017. The system will be mandatory for all food products and is currently in experimental use in six EU countries, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain, and Switzerland; there are numerous heated discussions between those in favour and those who would like to replace it with the NutrInform battery, a system approved in Italy by Interministerial Decree and also supported by Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Latvia and Romania. We've already discussed both at length in our article "New labelling systems in the EU"; In this article we'll focus on a research carried out by Morgane Fialon, Mathilde Touvier, Pilar Galan and Serge Hercberge of the University Sorbonne Paris Nord and Jordi Salas-Salvadò and Nancy Babio of the University Rovira i Virgili of Reus in Spain, and published on 17 September in the international scientific journal Foods, to verify the usefulness of the Nutri-score semaphore system in the evaluation, choice and purchase of edible fats and particularly olive oil.

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The research and results.

The Nutri-Score is a synthetic, graded, colour-coded nutritional label on the front of the pack, with five categories from dark green/A to dark orange/E, designed to inform consumers about the overall nutritional quality of foods, help them compare products and make healthier choices at the time of purchase; in this classification, olive oil is given category C. The study, funded by public grants from the French National Cancer Institute (INCa, n° PREV19-017) and the University Sorbonne Paris Nord, was conducted on a total of 486 Spanish adults recruited through a web-based panel provider, Pureprofile, of whom 51.4% were men, 32.5% were individuals over 54 years old and 38.1% had a university degree; among all participants, 13.6% stated that they had a very or mostly unhealthy diet and 58.5% stated that they had no or little knowledge about nutrition. At the beginning of the survey, participants were asked to provide information on gender, age, education level, household size, self-assessed diet quality and self-assessed level of nutrition knowledge. Then, participants had to answer questions related to the perception and understanding of the Nutri-Score; the study mainly focused on questions related to the perception of added fats and participants were presented with pictures of seven vegetable oils and butter with their corresponding Nutri-Score. All were asked to answer specific questions about the usefulness of the Nutri-Score for differentiating the nutritional quality of added fats, which added fat they considered to have the best nutritional quality and which they would buy most frequently. This was followed by questions about how the Nutri-Score might influence their future olive oil purchases compared to their current purchases, and whether they were in favour of displaying the Nutri-Score on the olive oil packaging. 79.8% of the participants stated that the Nutri-Score was useful to recognise differences in nutritional quality, 89.1% considered olive oil to be the healthiest of the eight fats proposed and 86.2% stated that they would buy olive oil more frequently. After providing the participants with the information that the Nutri-Score C is the best grade among the added fats, 10.7% of the participants stated that they would consume more olive oil than they did at the time of the survey, 71.4% that they would consume as much olive oil as before and 77.8% that they were in favour of putting the Nutri-Score on olive oil packages.

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Conclusions.

The results showed that the vast majority of Spanish consumers who participated in the research considered the Nutri-Score useful in recognising differences in nutritional quality between added fats. Olive oil, which is rated Nutri-Score C like rapeseed oil, was preferred to the latter by Spanish consumers and only 4.1% responded that rapeseed oil was the added fat with the best nutritional quality. The research confirms that the Nutri-Score doesn't seem to have a negative impact on the perception of olive oil by Spanish consumers and doesn't influence their behaviour in relation to the recommendation to favour olive oil among added fats. This recommendation is linked to epidemiological studies, especially meta-analyses [1-2-3] and interventional studies, which consistently show a beneficial association between olive oil consumption, as part of the Mediterranean diet, and health, particularly in relation to the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Some meta-analyses published in the scientific literature [4,5,6] also support the health benefits of rapeseed and walnut oils in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, as their consumption is associated with healthier blood lipid profiles, which is why many countries recommend olive oil, rapeseed oil and walnut oil among vegetable oils. The results of the research therefore show that the display of the Nutri-Score semaphore label on olive oil containers is well accepted and understood by the majority of participants who seem to understand that the letter C is the best grade an added fat can achieve. Surely more effective communication highlighting the health benefits of olive oil consumption could avoid misunderstandings among the small percentage of consumers who seem to have some difficulty in understanding how to use the Nutri-Score. 

  1.    1. Guasch-Ferré, M.; Hu, F.B.; Martínez-González, M.A.; Fitó, M.; Bulló, M.; Estruch, R.; Ros, E.; Corella, D.; Recondo, J.; Gómez-Gracia, E. Olive Oil Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Med. 201412, 1–1. 
  2.    2. George, E.S.; Marshall, S.; Mayr, H.L.; Trakman, G.L.; Tatucu-Babet, O.A.; Lassemillante, A.-C.M.; Bramley, A.; Reddy, A.J.; Forsyth, A.; Tierney, A.C.; et al. The Effect of High-Polyphenol Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 201959, 2772–2795. 
  3.    3. Fernandes, J.; Fialho, M.; Santos, R.; Peixoto-Placido, C.; Madeira, T.; Sousa-Santos, N.; Virgolino, A.; Santos, O.; Carneiro, A.V. Is Olive Oil Good for You? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis on Anti-Inflammatory Benefits from Regular Dietary Intake. Nutrition 202069, 110559. 
  4.    4. Amiri, M.; Raeisi-Dehkordi, H.; Sarrafzadegan, N.; Forbes, S.C.; Salehi-Abargouei, A. The Effects of Canola Oil on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis with Dose-Response Analysis of Controlled Clinical Trials. Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc. Dis. 202030, 2133–2145. 
  5.    5. Kris-Etherton, P.M. Walnuts Decrease Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Summary of Efficacy and Biologic Mechanisms. J. Nutr. 2014144, 547S–554S. 
  6.    6. Ghobadi, S.; Hassanzadeh-Rostami, Z.; Mohammadian, F.; Zare, M.; Faghih, S. Effects of Canola Oil Consumption on Lipid Profile: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 201938, 185–196.