Does Nutri-Score encourage healthier food choices in Morocco?

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Could Nutri-Score prove an efficient tool in Morocco? GettyImages/Bihlmayer Fotografie
Could Nutri-Score prove an efficient tool in Morocco? GettyImages/Bihlmayer Fotografie

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Fresh research has sought to determine whether Nutri-Score is effective in helping consumers judge the nutritional quality of food.

In Morocco, rates of obesity are on the rise. In 2007, 13.2% of the population was considered obese, whereas according to 2018 data, that figure has since increased to 20%.

Acknowledging this upwards trajectory, the government made nutritional declarations – specifying food and drink calories and various nutrients – mandatory back of pack. However, concerns have been raised that such labelling is inaccessible and ‘difficult for consumers to use’.

Elsewhere, countries are turning to front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labelling schemes to encourage consumers to make healthier food choices. In Europe, the most popular is Nutri-Score.

Could Nutri-Score prove an efficient tool in Morocco? Research funded by the World Health Organization (WHO) has sought to find out.

What is Nutri-Score?

Nutri-Score was first developed in France in 2017. It has since been adopted in Belgium, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

The scheme ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ product to +50 for those that are ‘less healthy’. On the basis of this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding colour code: from dark green (A) to dark red (F).

Several studies have indicated the effectiveness of Nutri-Score in its capacity to discriminate foods based on their nutritional composition.

While the label is not without its skeptics – manufacturers of single-ingredient products, such as olive oil​ and cheese​, argue it discriminates against some traditional foods – research suggests​ it is the most effective in helping consumers judge nutritional quality.

To date, no such research has been undertaken in the context of the Maghreb, and in particular Morocco.

Rating yogurt, biscuits and cold cuts

Fresh research supported by the Ministry of Health in Morocco and the WHO has sought to determine the effectiveness of Nutri-Score compared to four other labels of nutritional information used around the world.

These include: Reference Intakes; Warnings (the health warning symbol used in Chile), Nutri-Score, Health Star Rating, HSR (used in Australia and New Zealand); and Multiple Traffic Light (as championed by the UK).

Five nutrition labels were selected: Warning, Nutri-Score, Health Star Rating, HSR, and Traffic Light. Image source: Archives of Public Health

A total of 814 consumers participated in the study. Three product categories – yogurt, biscuit, and cold cuts – were tested. Within each food category, a set of three products with distinct nutrient profiles (high, medium and low quality) were selected.

Participants were asked which product they would prefer to buy, and to rank them according to their nutritional quality. This task was undertaken twice: both with and without the help of nutrition labels.

Nutri-Score the preferred label

Findings revealed that Nutri-Score was associated with the highest improvement in the ability to correctly classify foods based on their nutritional quality. The scheme improved responses by more than 30% for all food categories tested.

Concerning how the labels were perceived, Nutri-Score also appeared to come out on top. Overall, the scheme received the highest number of positive responses regarding the ease of being spotted, to be understood, and to provide rapid information.

A total of 64.9% of respondents ranked Nutri-Score as their preferred label. Just 7.1% ranked it as their least preferred.

“These results are…consistent with studies showing that Nutri-Score is strongly supported by consumers and appears as the preferred format compared to other labels especially by populations with the lowest levels of nutritional knowledge,” ​noted the study authors.

The fact that Nutri-Score is based on colours was also noted as an advantage, as the labelling scheme is ‘understandable by everyone’, even those who cannot read.

“The Nutri-Score therefore appears useful in raising awareness of nutrition among Moroccan consumers, improving their understanding of the nutritional quality of foods, stimulating the purchase of healthier foods and having an impact on the nutritional quality of food.”

Source:Archives of Public Health
‘Comparison of appropriateness of Nutri-Score and other front-of-pack nutrition labels across a group of Moroccan consumers: awareness, understanding and food choices’
Published 6 May 2021
Authors: Hassan Aguenaou, Laila El Ammari, Maryam Bigdeli et al.

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