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Public Health. 2011 Oct;125(10):717-24. doi: 10.1016/j.puhe.2011.07.004. Epub 2011 Sep 3.

Improvement of the nutritional quality of foods as a public health tool.

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  • 1INRA-ALISS, 65 Boulevard de Brandebourg, 94205 Ivry sur Seine, France.



To assess the potential contribution of improving the nutritional quality of processed foods on individuals' nutritional intake and food supply. This paper also discusses the means to encourage firms to implement these reformulations, particularly in public/private partnerships.


The French Observatory of Food Quality was created by the Government for the quantification and follow-up of food reformulation by the food industry. This nutritional composition database on branded products was matched with two consumption databases: TNS Kantar Worldpanel, which provides details on quantities bought and food expenditures; and INCA 2, an individuals' food consumption survey completed by the French Food Safety Agency. Three food groups were considered: breakfast cereals (355 items in 2008), biscuits and pastries (1805 items in 2008), and bread-based products (620 items in 2009).


First, the variability in nutrient composition within food categories was determined, which made it possible to consider several food composition modification scenarios within each category. The formulation of the food items with the lowest nutritional quality was modified to three different levels to improve the overall level of quality in a given category. Second, the quantities of sugars, fat, fibre and sodium delivered to the French market through breakfast cereals, biscuits, pastries and bread-based products were calculated for each scenario. Finally, the distribution of individuals' nutrient consumption from the three food groups among the French population was assessed.


These scenarios generated important improvements of 1-22% (increase in the amount of fibre or decrease in the amounts of sugars, fat and sodium delivered to the market), depending on the scenario, the food group and the nutrient considered. Improvement of the products with the lowest nutritional quality would also lead to significant variation in individuals' nutrient consumption for the average adult and child consumers of the three groups (range 4.2-18.8%, depending on the scenario, the food group and the nutrient considered).


Encouraging the reformulation of foods, especially for products with the lowest nutritional quality in each category of processed foods, is a worthy target for health policy makers. The methodology presented in this paper provides information for negotiations between policy makers and firms to quantify commitments in terms of their potential impacts on individuals' nutrient intake, and to check that the firms' commitments are actually met.

Copyright © 2011 The Royal Society for Public Health. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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