Nutrient profiling key to public health policies

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

The next government must do more to improve Britain’s poor dietary habits: UK Coronary Prevention Group
The next government must do more to improve Britain’s poor dietary habits: UK Coronary Prevention Group

Related tags Public health Nutrition Snack

The next UK government must do much more to tackle Britain’s poor dietary habits, according to the UK Coronary Prevention Group (UKCPG), a charity dedicated to preventing heart disease through healthy lifestyles.

The UKCPG has called on all political parties to clearly lay out their stalls on public health before May’s general election.

In a report issued today (Friday March 13), the charity identified a range of measures that it claimed would help improve population dietary patterns. With more than seven out of 10 middle-aged adults overweight and nearly half suffering high blood pressure, it criticised the present government for not being serious about improving the nation’s dietary health.

“We have identified 200 opportunities for taking a grip on UK food supplies and helping consumers, especially those on lower incomes, to make healthier choices,”​ said the UKCPG’s chair of trustees, Professor Philip James.

‘Government must play a critical role’

“From better public food services to investment in research; from fast food menus to food company contracts, government can and must play a critical role in shaping the quality, availability and pricing of our food.”

The report urged greater use of techniques such as ‘nutrient profiling’ to evaluate and assess the likely impact of government policies.

Nutrient profiling is a method for evaluating specific individual foods for their contribution to the achievement of population dietary targets. It takes as a starting point the set of food-based dietary guidelines developed by national authorities for promoting public health, and provide a formula by which any given food product can be evaluated for its contribution towards achieving, or undermining, adherence to the dietary guidelines. While nutrient profiling is currently used in some areas, this is quite limited and the UKCPG would like this approach far more widely applied.

The UKCPG report has also identified examples of projects that undermine good health because they were not subjected to a nutrient profiling. These included public grants made to a number of food companies both large and small, including Nestlé, Mondelēz and Pepsico, to help them develop their snack and confectionery businesses.

Some of these grants are greater than the amounts spent by local health services tackling overweight in adults and children,​” claimed James. “And there are anomalies with the application of VAT – table salt is zero-rated, so are cake-mixes and drinking chocolates, but you have to pay standard rate VAT on roast almonds, dried fruit and mineral water, even though these are much better for you.”

Commenting on the report, consumer group Which? food expert Sue Davies said: “With two-thirds of the population now overweight and many people struggling to make healthier choices, more action needs to be taken by the food industry.

“The government must step up the pace and breadth of change and intervene more directly where voluntary action is failing to tackle issues such as irresponsible food promotions.”

‘Responsibility Deal has failed’

Eric Brunner, Professor of social and biological epidemiology at University College London and another UKCPG trustee, added: “A recent shopping survey suggests consumption of sugar and saturated fat has started to climb back upwards. The voluntary approach to food and health policy, based on ‘Responsibility Deals’ with the food industry has failed.”

The report called for joined-up policies on health, and urged a root-and-branch analysis of government policies and their impact on health.

The government has stated its support for ‘health in all policies’ but we have seen little evidence that it is taking this seriously,” ​said James. “As the parties line up for an election, we need to know where they stand and what they will do.”

The UKCPG report ‘Nutrient profiling: changing the food of Britain’​ and a shorter briefing paper have been produced in association with the World Obesity Federation. Both documents are being launched at an event in London today (Friday March 13) called ‘Nutrition in Britain: time to get serious’. The report is also available online at


Food and Drink Federation's view:

“There is no question that we face a public health challenge in the UK and, disappointingly, with its narrow focus on nutrient profiles, CPG’s suggested approach contributes little to this debate,”​ a spokeswoman told “An extension of nutrient profiling to address every different setting, population group and nutrient, would be prohibitively complex to achieve. The suggestion that food policy discussions should exclude food producers is equally naïve. Producers are key partners, bringing their technical expertise and resource to enable practical implementation of government policies be that updating of recipes, provision of clear on-pack labelling or offering products in a range of portion sizes.

“Authors forget that beyond providing energy and nutrition, food and drink is for many an enjoyable part of life, bringing people together, adding to celebrations and offering new and pleasurable experiences. Examples given to criticise public grants to food businesses small and large, from enterprising farmers to innovative confectioners, betray the anti-industry sentiment which characterises this report.”

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