UNDERSTANDING FRONT-OF-PARK WARNING LABELLING: NUTRIENT PROFILE MODELS AND IMPLEMENTATION

According to World Health Organization (NCD Uganda country Profile 2019), NCDs in Uganda are estimated to account for 33% of all deaths and for every Ugandan citizen, the probability of dying prematurely from NCDs is 22%. Premature mortality from NCDs is estimated at a total of 97,600 NCD deaths in 2016 where, 49,700 were males and 47,800 females whereas the risk of premature death between 30–70 years was 24% in males and 20% in females giving an average of 22 % in year 2016.

Although this is the case, food and nonalcoholic beverage industry enjoy free an unfettered space in Uganda to produce, offer for sale, promote and advertise all products with no restriction or regulation for warning labelling.

Do you know that 90% of children in Uganda consume food high in salt, fat and sugars? These are nutrients of critical concern that cause diet related NCDs like obesity, type 2 diabetes, blood pressure among others.

Uganda has no clear and functional regulatory frameworks (policies, strategies, models, and regulations) in place to alert the public to the excess of critical nutrients in food and sugar sweetened beverages. Additionally, there is no law or policy in Uganda prohibiting the food sector from promoting, advertising, or marketing unhealthy diets to children.

Nonetheless, the food business enjoys great commercial freedom with regard to goods, services, marketing, and food processing. This makes Uganda a hub for foods high in fat, salt, and sugar, along with trans fats, without any restrictions on marketing, and without any taxes aimed at encouraging a healthy diet. This indicates that each Ugandan person has a 22% chance of dying prematurely from one of the diet related NCDs .

Unhealthy diets, which are high in trans and saturated fats, added sugars, salt, and other unhealthy ingredients and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fibre, and micronutrients, are a primary cause of overweight, obesity, and diet-related Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), and are a significant cause of death worldwide. Statistics of NCDs in Uganda show there has been a steady increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the preceding decade.

The Uganda 2023 National NCD Steps Survey found a high magnitude of the risk factors affecting Uganda’s population. For instance, the prevalence of unhealthy diet consumption was 88.9% for both males and females. .

The survey also revealed a higher prevalence of high body mass index (BMI) as evidenced by a high rise in overweight from 14.9% to 23% and obesity from 4.5% to 9.3%. These are key predisposing factors to Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. The burden of high blood pressure was at 23.5% while the Diabetes burden increased from 1.4% to 3.3% of the population. These are strong drivers of NCD morbidity and mortality currently standing at about 35% of all the reported deaths.

Ugandas current food environments are characterised by increased availability, accessibility, cost, and promotion of highly processed foods heavy in saturated fats, trans fats, sugars, or salt, and are partially to blame for obesity concerns. The government and other key stakeholders need to establish a food environment that supports a healthy diet. It is necessary to empower customers to make better dietary choices. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended Front-of-pack (FoP) labelling on foods and beverages that present nutrition information clearly to help consumers make healthier choices and it discourages labelling in a misleading manner, or one likely to create an incorrect impression about the composition of the product.

Uganda is in a dire state when it comes to regulation of ultra-processed food. During the Parliamentary Nutrition Week, the Assistant Commissioner of Nutrition at the Minister of Health emphasized “ We are encouraging foods to be labelled. For example, if food has been processed, we are encouraging the processors to put a label on it showing the nutrients contained in it. So, if the food has a high amount of salt, we want that to be indicated so that when the consumer is going to buy that food, they know that surely I am going for that food but it is not very safe for my consumption.”

Front-of-the-pack labelling (FOPL) is a key policy tool that is used in the regulation of these products. At the heart of this are the Nutrient Profile Models (NPMs) and Front-of-Pack Warning (FOPW) labels, which work hand in hand to convey essential nutritional information to consumers.

[1] https://www.who.int/news-room

[2] NCD Risk Factor STEPS Survey Uganda 2023–19th November 2023

[3] “Is the adoption of FOPL for food products legally and politically feasible for Uganda?” Economic Policy Research Centre Policy Brief by Blessing Atuhaire, Mary Kajumba and Madina M Gulaba”

[4] New Vision “Govt to Regulate the sale of processed foods” By Henry Sekanjako May 22, 2023

Nutrient Profile Models (NPMs):

NPMs serve as the backbone of front-of-pack labeling systems by establishing criteria for classifying the nutritional quality of food products. These models typically take into account key nutrients such as sugar, salt, saturated fats, and sometimes additional nutrients like fiber or protein. By assigning points or scores to various nutrients based on their health impacts, NPMs create a standardized framework for evaluating the overall nutritional profile of foods.

The criteria set by NPMs vary across different regions and regulatory bodies. For instance, the Nutrient Profiling Model developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) focuses on limiting the intake of nutrients associated with noncommunicable diseases, such as added sugars, sodium, and saturated fats.

NPMs play a crucial role in identifying foods that exceed established thresholds for unhealthy nutrients, thereby warranting the inclusion of Front-Of-Pack Warning Labels.

NPMs serve as beacons of guidance. They enable us to distinguish between foods that nourish our bodies and those that may harm our health in the long run.

Imagine standing in front of a supermarket shelf, surrounded by countless products attracting your attention. How do you know which ones are truly good for you? This is where nutrient profiling models come into play. By providing a standardized way to assess the nutritional quality of foods, they equip us with the knowledge needed to make healthier choices.

Moreover, nutrient profiling models have broader implications beyond individual decision-making. They serve as invaluable tools for policymakers, healthcare professionals, and public health advocates in designing strategies to combat malnutrition, obesity, and diet-related diseases. By identifying foods that contribute positively to our health and those that harm it, the NPM is a starting point for targeted interventions and policies aimed at promoting overall well-being.

Embracing the concept of a Nutrient Profiling Model may seem overwhelming at first. It requires us to rethink our relationship with food and be more discerning about what we consume but the benefits far outweigh the initial effort.

By familiarizing ourselves with the Nutrient Profiling Model and incorporating its principles into our daily lives, we take a proactive step towards a healthier future for ourselves, our families, and our communities. We become agents of change, shaping a food environment that prioritizes nutrition and fosters well-being for generations to come.

Front-of-Pack-Warning (FOPW) Labelling:

This involves the use of warning symbols or icons to indicate high levels of critical nutrients, such as sugar, salt, or saturated fats. The symbols are usually displayed in a prominent position on the front of the packaging, drawing immediate attention to potential health concerns associated with the product.

Front-Of-Pack Warning Labelling is so important because it can cut through the noise and complexity of food labeling, offering a straightforward way for consumers to navigate the often confusing landscape of nutritional information.

These labels serve as a clear and concise signal to consumers, indicating that the product in question may not align with their nutritional goals and may pose risks to their health if consumed in excess.

In a world where processed and ultra-processed foods often dominate the market, it can be challenging for consumers to know which products are truly nourishing and which ones are loaded with unhealthy ingredients. Front-of-pack warning labels stop the confusion and provides a simple and effective way for consumers to identify foods that may contribute to poor health outcomes.

Front-Of-Pack Warning Labelling isn’t just about empowering individual consumers. It also has broader implications for public health. By raising awareness of the nutritional quality of foods and highlighting potential health risks, these labels have the potential to drive positive changes in dietary habits at the population level. They can help reduce the consumption of unhealthy foods, decrease the incidence of diet-related diseases, and ultimately improve the overall health and well-being of our communities.

Of course, implementing Front-Of-Pack Warning Labelling is not without its challenges. It requires collaboration between policymakers, public health experts, and the food industry to develop standardized systems that are clear, accurate, and meaningful to consumers. It also requires a commitment to transparency and accountability, ensuring that warning labels are based on sound scientific evidence and reflect the true nutritional profile of foods.

But despite these challenges, the benefits of Front-Of-Pack Warning Labelling are clear. It empowers consumers to make healthier choices, it raises awareness of the potential health risks associated with certain foods, and it contributes to a culture of wellness and well-being in our society.

In conclusion, Nutrient Profile Models and Front-of-Pack-Warning labeling represent powerful tools for empowering consumers to make healthier food choices and combatting rising burden of diet-related Non-Communicable Diseases. By providing clear and adequate information about the nutritional content of food products, these labeling systems have the potential to drive positive changes in dietary behaviors and improve public health outcomes in Uganda.

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