Beneficial nutrients seen as more important than negative, finds study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Consumers consider the level of beneficial nutrients as more important when selecting food products than energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, which should be consumed in moderation, according to a new study that could help inform food labelling debates.

With the new health and nutrition claims regulation, as well as on-going debates over food information, the communication of foods’ nutrient content on labels has become a hot topic in Europe.

The study’s objective was to study the perceived importance of ‘qualifying’ nutrients versus ‘disqualifying’ nutrients, and differences in perceived importance between consumer groups from difference cultural backgrounds.

Qualifying nutrients are defined as nutrients whose presence would qualify products to carry a health claim, such as fibre, vitamins, minerals, protein, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Conversely, disqualifying nutrients are those which, if present in high levels, would be likely to stand in the way of a health claim: energy (calories), sugar, fat, saturated fat, salt.

The findings will be useful to food manufacturers and retailers, governments, and NGOs as they work to decide what information should be included on food labels to what audience, say the researchers, in order to increase their potential use and eventually have an impact on food choices.

Pan European study

The study involved the collection of data in six European countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Poland and Spain. There was a total of 4828 participants, all aged between 20 and 70 years, with between 798 and 826 from each country.

The participants completed an electronic questionnaire covering behaviour and attitudes to food purchasing in general, attitudes to traditional foods in particular, and personal data on lifestyle, general interests and socio-demographics.

The team found there were significant mean importance values between the qualifying and disqualifying nutrients. On a seven point scale the qualifying nutrients scored a mean of 5.2, and the disqualifying ingredients scored a mean of 4.9.

“This indicates that, in general, consumers perceive the nutritional value of foods as important when selecting foods, and even more important for qualifying nutrients than for disqualifying nutrients,”​ they wrote.

Vitamins and minerals scored an importance mean of 5.6 – whereas saturated fat led the disqualifying nutrients with a mean of 5.2.

Energy and fibre, with means of 4.6 and 4.7 respectively, were seen as less important.

Some gender differences were observed, however. Women consistently reported higher importance scores for all nutrients, and the greatest difference in perceived importance was seen for disqualifying nutrients.

The presence of children in a household had only a small effect on perceived importance of qualifying and disqualifying nutrients.

Country of residence had more of an effect on importance of qualifying nutrients than disqualifying. Spanish and Polish consumers gave the most importance to both qualifying and disqualifying nutrients, while Norwegian consumers gave the least.


Food Quality and Preference

DOI: 10.1016.j.foodqual.2011.02.002

European consumers’ perceived importance of qualifying and disqualifying nutrients in food choices

Authors: Hoefkens, C., Verbeke, W., Van Camp, J.

Related topics Science Labelling

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