Can links be drawn between Nutri-Score and ultra-processed food?

In France, new research has sought to compare the well-known front of pack (FOP) nutrition labelling scheme Nutri-Score (both its initial and updated version) with the Nova classification system.

Researchers from Sorbonne Paris Nord University and France’s public health agency (Santé Publique France) applied both Nutri-Score algorithms and Nova to 129,950 food products in the OpenFoodFacts database to compare their classifications.

The findings do suggest a trend, but whether the two systems should be compared as complementary health measurements is up for debate.

Nutri-Score updates impact scoring of Nova categories

When foods were ranked using the initial Nutri-Score algorithm and the Nova classification system, the researchers found that 77.9% of foods categorised as ‘ultra-processed’ also received medium to low Nutri-Score ratings.

When using the updated Nutri-Score algorithm, 87.5% of ‘ultra-processed’ products received medium to poor Nutri-Score ratings.

How do Nutri-Score and Nova assess food and drink products?

Nutrition labelling scheme Nutri-Score was developed in France in 2017. Its algorithm ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ products to +40 for those ‘less healthy’. Based on this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding code: from dark green (A) to dark orange (E).

The Nova classification system was developed two years later in Brazil by professor of nutrition and public health at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The system splits levels of food processing into four classifications: from raw and minimally processed foods; to processed culinary ingredients; processed foods; and ultra-processed foods. This last category is an ‘industrial creation’ by definition.