Nutrient Profiling

Nutrient profiling is the science of classifying or ranking foods according to their nutritional composition for reasons related to preventing disease and promoting health. Nutrient profiling can be used for various applications, including marketing of foods to children, health and nutrition claims, product labelling logos or symbols, information and education, provision of food to public institutions, and the use of economic tools to orient food consumption.

For instance, nutrient profiling can be used to generate criteria for descriptions of foods falling into two main types:

  • descriptions that refer to the nutrient levels in foods e.g. ‘high fat’, ‘low fat’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘source of fibre’, ‘high in fat, sugar or salt’, ‘energy dense, nutrient poor’; or
  • descriptions that refer directly to the effects of consuming the food on a person’s health e.g. ‘healthy’, ‘healthier option’, ‘less healthy’, ‘good for you’.

Though nutrient profiling does not address all aspects of nutrition, diet and health it is a helpful tool to use in conjunction with interventions aimed at improving diets in a region or country. One example of a common use of nutrient profiling is in food labelling schemes aimed at helping consumers better understand the nutrient composition of foods and, on the basis of this understanding, identify foods that are healthier options.

These schemes and other uses of nutrient profiling have been employed by governments, food producers and retailers, researchers and nongovernmental organizations such as health charities for more than 20 years.

WHO is working with international experts and partners to provide guidance in developing or adapting nutrient profile models. The aim of the work is to harmonize nutrient profile model development to produce consistent and coherent public health nutrition messages for the consumer and ultimately improve nutrition and public health.

Nutrient profiling is one mechanism that Member States can use in implementing the set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children that were endorsed by the 63rd World Health Assembly (WHA63.41). Developing guidance on nutrient profiling can also contribute to the implementation of Objective 3 of the NCD Action Plan (WHA61.14) as well as the implementation of actions which may be recommended by the forthcoming United Nations High-level meeting on noncommunicable disease prevention and control to be held in New York City 19-20 September 2011.

Meeting report