Today, a variety of innovative policy approaches are being considered to improve the quality of nutrition in the country. The Traffic Light System for Food Labeling is one of these ways. Is this, however, the ideal approach for supporting us in improving our dietary intake? Are there any other options?
If yes, how might we approach our food consumption more effectively? This article will shed light on one of the UAE’s efforts to improve the UAE’s population’s nutritious consumption while also providing a more efficient method.
Media and educational campaigns, labeling and consumer information, economic incentives and disincentives, food assistance programs, local environmental changes, and direct restrictions and mandates are among the approaches to improve diet quality in the UAE.
Further, these approaches are brought together under the unified umbrella of the National Nutrition Strategy 2017-2021, which works hand in hand with globally approved frameworks that aim to enhance the nutritional status of the world’s population.
In September 2019, the UAE Cabinet approved the Traffic Light Food Labeling system, an initiative led by the National Program for Happiness and Well-being in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Prevention to improve the UAE’s population nutritional intake.
The system is one of the front-of-package labeling (FoPLs) options and is adapted from the UK Traﬃc Light System. BIt aims to improve public health and raise community awareness by encouraging people to adopt a healthy lifestyle with food choices.
It instructs pre-packed food companies to print colour-coded labels on the front of the food packets based on their ingredients and nutrient content, mainly fat, saturated fat, sugars, salt, and energy content. The policy covers canned, solid, and liquid foods and excludes fresh foods, fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. The program has been voluntary thus far, with mandatory adoption beginning on January 1, 2022.
This system can accelerate the reformulation of both healthier and less nutritious foods while retaining a high level of transparency and accountability.
Despite this, the basic flaw with the Traffic Light Labeling System is that it is optional at the moment. As a result, if companies choose to print nutritional labels, there is currently no clear guidance on how to do so, which may cause consumer confusion.
Besides that, it is a redundant tool because the majority of information is already available on the back of the packaging. Thus, while the system has certain advantages, it also has some drawbacks, making it a system that should not be used as the primary mean of improving nutrient intake.
A better system with higher results is the Nutri-Score. One of the FoPL alternatives that consolidate all nutritional information about food into a single simple score. This approach has been adopted voluntarily in France, Belgium, Spain, and Germany as of today. Nutri-Score is a simplified label that uses a five-colour summary score to rank foods from “A” (green) to “E” (red), with “A” being the healthiest option. Letters are provided in this approach to improve accessibility for colourblind individuals and to allow for a greyscale base in the rare case of the black and white packaging.
Additionally, if compared to the Traffic Light Labeling System, Nutri-Score is a more balanced and intuitive system that requires less understanding to decipher. It incorporates both positive and negative nutrition components into the calculation (fiber, pluses, protein, and other micronutrients). Indeed, it enables a holistic understanding of the nutritional value of the product at hand.
Although Nutri-Score is a relatively new labeling system, research published in Nutrients demonstrated that Nutri-Score consistently outperformed all other FoLPs in conveying information on the nutritional quality of foods and so assisting consumers in making informed purchasing decisions.
The sole disadvantage of this system is the ambiguity of the scoring mechanism used for the calculation. As a result, consumers may find it difficult to concentrate on a particular nutrient of interest.
In a nutshell, while the Traffic Light Food Labeling system will be mandatory from January 1, 2022. It instructs pre-packed food companies to print nutritional labels on food packets in the form of traffic light colours.
Nutri-Score is a simplified label that uses a five-color summary score to rank foods from A (green) to E (red) and has been adopted voluntarily in France, Belgium, Spain, and Germany. Research evidence demonstrates that Nutri-Score has consistently outperformed all other front-of-pack nutritional labels.
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