Public Health Nutrition

Public Policies

Choosing front-of-package food labelling nutritional criteria: how smart were ‘Smart Choices’?

Christina A Robertoa1 c1, Marie A Bragga1, Kara A Livingstona2, Jennifer L Harrisa1, Jackie M Thompsona1, Marissa J Seamansa1 and Kelly D Brownella1

a1 Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, PO Box 208369, New Haven, CT 06511, USA

a2 New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, NY, USA

Abstract

Objective The ‘Smart Choices’ programme was an industry-driven, front-of-package (FOP) nutritional labelling system introduced in the USA in August 2009, ostensibly to help consumers select healthier options during food shopping. Its nutritional criteria were developed by members of the food industry in collaboration with nutrition and public health experts and government officials. The aim of the present study was to test the extent to which products labelled as ‘Smart Choices’ could be classified as healthy choices on the basis of the Nutrient Profile Model (NPM), a non-industry-developed, validated nutritional standard.

Design A total of 100 packaged products that qualified for a ‘Smart Choices’ designation were sampled from eight food and beverage categories. All products were evaluated using the NPM method.

Results In all, 64 % of the products deemed ‘Smart Choices’ did not meet the NPM standard for a healthy product. Within each ‘Smart Choices’ category, 0 % of condiments, 8·70 % of fats and oils, 15·63 % of cereals and 31·58 % of snacks and sweets met NPM thresholds. All sampled soups, beverages, desserts and grains deemed ‘Smart Choices’ were considered healthy according to the NPM standard.

Conclusions The ‘Smart Choices’ programme is an example of industries’ attempts at self-regulation. More than 60 % of foods that received the ‘Smart Choices’ label did not meet standard nutritional criteria for a ‘healthy’ food choice, suggesting that industries’ involvement in designing labelling systems should be scrutinized. The NPM system may be a good option as the basis for establishing FOP labelling criteria, although more comparisons with other systems are needed.

(Received September 27 2010)

(Accepted February 09 2011)

(Online publication May 16 2011)

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Email christina.roberto@yale.edu

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