The nutrient quality and labelling of ready-to-eat snack foods with health and or nutritional claims.
Bursey, Andrea Susan.
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Aim: The incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and obesity in South Africa is increasing at an alarming rate. The nutrition transition and urbanisation has contributed to the adoption of a diet of highly processed, convenience foods. The development of nutrient marketing has the potential to influence purchasing and consumption behaviour. Nutrient content and health claims are prevalent across convenience foods, it is important to determine whether these claims are accurate and whether these foods possess superior qualities to other similar products to prevent the misleading of consumers. This study was conducted to determine the nutrient quality and labelling of South African-produced ready-to-eat (RTE) snack foods displaying health and or nutrition claims. Objectives: To determine: the types of claims displayed on RTE snack foods and the accuracy of these claims; the average nutrient content per category of snack food items; the accuracy of reported total energy content compared to the energy content calculated using the conversion factors in the R146 labelling legislation; and the eligibility of current claims once the R429 legislation is implemented. Method: A descriptive analysis method was used in this study. The study sample consisted of 93 South African-produced RTE snack food products displaying health and or nutrition claims on the label. The following product categories were included in the study: oat, corn or rice cakes; crisps or chips; pretzels and crackers; protein snack bars; fruit bars or snacks; energy or high-performance bars; trail mix; chocolates; biscuits and popcorn. The compliancy of each type of claim, according to the R146 labelling legislation, was investigated. The mean nutrient content per product category was calculated and compared to the mean across the sample. The reported total energy content was compared to the calculated total energy content, as specified in the R146 legislation. The nutrient profile score of products in the sample was analysed using the proposed R429 nutrient profiling model (NPM) to determine whether current health and nutrition claims will be valid once the new legislation is implemented. Results: Nutrient content claims were the most commonly displayed health and or nutrition claim amongst products, twenty three out of 91 (25.3%) nutrient content claims displayed were non-compliant according to the R146 labelling legislation. Items with comparison claims were compliant according to the legislation, however the overall nutrient profile of two of the items with claims were desirable. In terms of the calculated versus reported total energy content, 64 products (68.8%) had a higher reported total energy content than calculated using conversion factors. The R429 NPM deemed that only 22 (23.7%) of the products would be eligible to make health and or nutrition claims once the R429 legislation is implemented. Conclusion: The results found in this study highlight the need for more stringent regulation of nutrition labelling in South Africa. The proposed R429 labelling legislation may have a drastic effect on current nutrition labelling amongst food manufacturers. It can be concluded that the claims displayed on RTE snack food products are not always accurate and regulatory compliance is therefore important to stipulate amongst food manufacturers. A multi-pronged approach including the strengthening of public nutrition education may be needed to improve food choices which may reduce the incidence of NCDs and obesity in South Africa. The standardisation of front-of-package (FOP) labelling with the proposed legislation may improve the current labelling practices in South Africa. This study has highlighted areas where work can be done to improve public health in South Africa.