Displaying the Nutri-Score in advertisements would lead to healthier food choices

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(© Image: Depositphotos)
(© Image: Depositphotos)
For the first time, a study by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Aix-Marseille Université and Sorbonne Paris Nord University, including specialists in the fields of communication, nutrition, epidemiology and public health, has shown that displaying the Nutri-Score on food products in advertisements would lead consumers to choose healthier foods. This work was published on April 16 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Advertising for foods high in sugar, fat or salt encourages consumers to buy and consume them, increasing the risk of obesity and chronic disease. Combating the harmful effects of advertising for foods of unfavorable nutritional quality is a recognized public health objective. With this in mind, researchers at Aix-Marseille Université and Sorbonne Paris Nord University investigated the impact of Nutri-Score advertising on the choice of foods purchased and consumed.

This work is based on a randomized controlled trial involving 27,085 participants from the NutriNet-Santé cohort, divided into three groups by drawing lots. Participants in the first group were exposed to advertisements for foods with contrasting nutritional qualities in nine different food categories (cereals, drinks, breakfast, bars, cookies, savoury snacks, cold meats, ready-to-eat meals and desserts) in which the Nutri-Score was displayed. The second group was exposed to the same ads, but without the Nutri-Score displayed. In the third group, participants were not exposed to the ads (control group). All participants were asked to answer a questionnaire on the Internet concerning their perceptions of all the products and their intentions to buy and consume them.

The results showed that when the Nutri-Score was displayed in advertisements (compared to when the Nutri-Score was not displayed) :

  1. Perceptions of foods were better for those classified Nutri-Score A or B (of the most favorable nutritional quality), with stronger intentions to buy and consume them.
  2. On the contrary, perceptions were less positive, with lower intentions to buy and consume products with Nutri-Score D or E (of poorer nutritional quality).
  3. There was little or no effect on perceptions and purchase and consumption intentions for foods of intermediate nutritional quality (Nutri-Score C).

"This research is the first to show that displaying the Nutri-Score in advertising messages would genuinely help consumers to direct their choices towards foods of better nutritional quality, more favorable to health. Regulations making it compulsory to display the Nutri-Score in food advertisements could therefore be an effective public health measure in the fight against the obesity epidemic and nutrition-related chronic diseases among adults and children. This measure could perfectly complement another measure recommended by a multitude of public health organizations: a ban on daytime advertising of Nutri-score D and E food products targeting children," points out Prof. Didier Courbet, first author of the publication.

Reference: Courbet, D., Jacquemier, L., Hercberg, S., Touvier, M., Sarda, G., Kesse-Guyot, E., Galan, P., Buttafoghi, N., & Julia C.. A randomized controlled trial to test the effects of displaying the Nutri-Score in food advertising on consumer perceptions and intentions to purchase and consume. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 21, 38 (2024).