Should nutrient profile models be 'category specific' or 'across-the-board'? A comparison of the two systems using diets of British adults.
Scarborough P., Arambepola C., Kaur A., Bhatnagar P., Rayner M.
BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Nutrient profile models have the potential to help promote healthier diets. Some models treat all foods equally (across-the-board), some consider different categories of foods separately (category specific). This paper assesses whether across-the-board or category-specific nutrient profile models are more appropriate tools for improving diets. SUBJECTS/METHODS: Adult respondents to a British dietary survey were split into four groups using a diet quality index. Fifteen food categories were identified. A nutrient profile model provided a measure of the healthiness of all foods consumed. The four diet quality groups were compared for differences in (a) the calories consumed from each food category and (b) the healthiness of foods consumed in each category. Evidence of healthier diet quality groups consuming more of healthy food categories than unhealthy diet quality groups supported the adoption of across-the-board nutrient profile models. Evidence of healthier diet quality groups consuming healthier versions of foods within food categories supported adoption of category-specific nutrient profile models. RESULTS: A significantly greater percentage of the healthiest diet quality group's diet consisted of fruit and vegetables (21 vs 16%), fish (3 vs 2%) and breakfast cereals (7 vs 2%), and significantly less meat and meat products (7 vs 14%) than the least healthy diet quality group. The foods from the meat, dairy and cereals categories consumed by the healthy diet quality groups were healthier versions than those consumed by the unhealthy diet quality groups. CONCLUSIONS: All other things being equal, nutrient profile models designed to promote an achievable healthy diet should be category specific but with a limited number of categories. However models which use a large number of categories are unhelpful for promoting a healthy diet.