Washington, D.C., 19 February 2016 (PAHO/WHO) — New criteria to define what is "too much" sugar, salt and fat in processed food and drinks are presented in a new PAHO Nutrient Profile Model launched yesterday by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The model is intended to help governments develop more effective policies to encourage healthy eating. The overall objective is to improve unhealthy dietary patterns in the Americas that are contributing to the growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
"The PAHO Nutrient Profile Model provides a way for governments to identify unhealthy products and use public policies to discourage their consumption while making it easier for consumers to focus on traditional diets based on fresh or minimally processed foods," said PAHO Assistant Director Francisco Becerra.
"We have data showing that the consumption of nutrient-poor, calorie-rich ultra-processed foods in countries of the Americas is directly related to growing rates of overweight and obesity," said Chessa Lutter, PAHO Senior Advisor on Food and Nutrition.
The model defines processed foods as food products that are industrially manufactured using salt, sugar or other ingredients to preserve them or make them more palatable. Ultra-processed foods are defined as industrially formulated food products that contain substances extracted from foods (such as casein, milk whey, and protein isolates) or substances synthesized from food constituents (such as hydrogenated oils, modified starches, and flavors). Drawing on the best scientific evidence available, the model classifies processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages as having "excessive" amounts of sugar, salt and fat according to the following criteria:
- Excessive sugar if the amount of added sugars is 10% or more of total calories
- Excessive fat if the calories from all fats are 30% or more of total calories
- Excessive saturated fat if calories from saturated fats are 10% or more of total calories
- Excessive trans fat if calories from trans fats are 1% or more of total calories
- Excessive sodium if the ratio of sodium (in milligrams) to calories (kcal) is 1:1 or higher.
The model also specifies that products whose ingredients include artificial or natural non-caloric or caloric sweeteners should be defined as "containing other sweeteners."
The new criteria are meant to be applied to all processed and ultra-processed foods, ranging from pickled vegetables and lunch meats to chips, ice cream, flavored yogurts, cereals and cereal bars. The criteria do not apply to unprocessed or minimally processed foods such as fresh or frozen vegetables, legumes, grains, fruits, nuts, roots and tubers, meat, fish, milk, and eggs, or to freshly prepared dishes made with those foods.
The new criteria will help governments implement regulations on marketing of unhealthy foods to children and define standards for foods served or sold in schools. Other policies supported by the new criteria include front-of-package labels that alert consumers to products or beverages that contain excessive sugar, salt or fat; taxation of unhealthy products such as sugar-sweetened soda; and changes in agricultural subsidies and social programs that encourage production and consumption of fresh, whole foods.
To identify the nutrients to be included in the model and identify the cut-offs for each, PAHO convened a group of top nutrition experts, chaired by Ricardo Uauy of Chile and Dan Ramdath of Trinidad and Tobago. Other members of the expert group included Carlos Monteiro of Brazil, Juan Rivera of Mexico, Lorena Rodriguez of Chile and Mike Rayner of the United Kingdom.
PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.