Innovative solutions for informed choices

Nutrition Institute in cooperation with Consumer association of Slovenia and Jožef Stefan Institute started a new research program »Innovative solutions for informed choices: A tool to encourage healthier choices by supporting consumers to monitor and evaluate food composition data.« Information on food labels may support consumers in the selection of foods with a health-beneficial composition if they are read, understood and used by the consumer in the selection of foods. This is especially relevant after the legislation entry into force that regulates mandatory nutrition labelling on pre-packaged foods.

The importance of this type of information is also highlighted in the National Program on Diet and Physical Activity for Health 2015-2025. In the framework of the Innovative Solutions for Informed Choices program, we will address these challenges, on the one hand, we will raise awareness among population to read and use information on food labels, and on the other hand, encourage the food business operators to reformulate food products and consequently, to improve the supply of foods with better nutritional profile. The program is financed by the Ministry of Health in the Republic of Slovenia.

Program is founded by:

MZZ

Innovative solutions for informed choices: A tool to encourage healthier choices by supporting consumers to monitor and evaluate food composition data

Participating organisations:

Program is founded:

(Co-founding programs on Diet and Physical Activity):

  • 2017 - 2019

Program description:

Encouraging consumers to consider the nutritional composition of foods in the selection of foods represents a great potential for protecting public health. On the one hand, consumers choosing healthier options is more beneficial in supporting their health and of their household members, and on the other hand, increasing consumption of healthier foods influences the availability and affordability of such foods for other residents. Increased demand leads to greater interest in the production of such foods for producers, higher sales can lower production costs (production of larger batches), while commercial companies are also prepared to offer better shelves for their products to larger areas of their shelves. All together represents a circle, which is governed by the consumer choices. The more consumers will encroach on healthier foods, the greater it will be healthier food products availability and the competition.

A major change for consumers in recent years is that since December 2016 for most of the pre-packaged foods food nutrition labelling is mandatory. This means that consumers have easy access to information on food labels, based on which they can assess the appropriateness of the nutritional quality of the food. Nonetheless, the healthy choice for citizens is still a great challenge due to different causes. The key problem in this is mainly consumer’s lack of knowledge, they often do not read food labels, or they are not able to critically evaluate the information presented on the label. Based on Regulation (EC) No. 1169/2011, food business operators must provide on pre-packaged foods nutritional information, such as energy and the individual nutrients, but it is a relatively demanding task for the consumer to independently interpret whether the amount of nutrients contained is high, low or adequate according to his needs. The research results have shown that nutrition labelling on food labels represents a potential for improvement in dietary habits, however the significantly higher potential for improvement of dietary habits is achieved with the interpretation of nutritional value with various tools, as for example - Food Traffic Light Labelling System. While ensuring consumers proper understanding of food labels, there are also several other challenges, like use of voluntary elements on labels, which may be misinterpreted, or like problems of readability (specially for visually impaired), since the font size on food labels is relatively small. Based on the developments in the field of modern information and communication technologies, the most developed countries have set up some smart phone applications to aid consumers on previously described problems that are extremely rapidly developing.

The overall objective of the program “Innovative Solutions for Informed Choices” is to encourage people of Slovenia to monitor food composition data and to facilitate their interpretation of this information, and consequently promoting healthier choices and food reformulation. The objective will be achieved with providing people the use of modern technologies (smart phone application) easy and quick access to data on food composition, while at the same time we will also facilitate their interpretation of the data and thus promote healthier choices. In practice, this will mean that with the help of a smartphone and for this purpose developed smart phone application, the consumer will scan the product EAN code and receive feedback information on the product composition, including the interpretation of the nutritional information based on the nutrient profiling Food Traffic Light Labelling System. For this purpose, an up-to-date food composition database will be established.

The main activities of the proposed program are:

  • (1) the establishment of an appropriate database with information on the composition of pre-packaged foods in accordance with European standards. The food composition data will be pooled from (1) existing food databases, (2) data to be provided directly by food business operators, (3) and from the additional data collection directly at points of sale with crowdsourcing (user involvement when an application is in place).
  • (2) Developing a smart phone application that will enable consumers to quickly and easily interpret nutrition information on pre-packaged foods - without coping the data from labels. In practice, this will be an upgrade to an existing application Veš kaj ješ? (Do you know, what you eat?), which has not yet included a link to such a complex database.
  • (3) Promotion of the smart phone application and support activities to encourage residents to read food labels, including through a developed smart phone application.

The smart phone application is being developed at the Jožef Stefan Institute, and an extremely large initial challenge represents the setup of a database completed with data on the food composition, which is the basis for the smart phone application. On the market, there are dozens of thousands different foods available, the direct use of other international databases is not possible because large number of local food products in our market, as well as products of multinational companies may vary widely between countries.

The database will combine existing national databases, including the Open Platform for Clinical Nutrition database, which will cover all the most commonly-purchased foods. Additionally, food business operators are also invited to provide information to ensure that their portfolio is up to date.

In the project, we also cooperate with GS1 Slovenia, an independent and non-profit organization in the field of global standards, in frames of which the global GDSN e-catalog is synchronized, this is the base for granting a bar code to an individual food product. The database model will comply with GS1 global standards, which will facilitate the input and exchange of data. All manufacturers, which will forward the nutrition information of foods to the global e-catalog GS1 GDSN, will be able to share this data in an automated way without any additional work. Application users will be able to take care of the database updates. Foods that will not be found in the database will be proposed to users for entry, and manufacturers will be able to edit the data for their products.

More information:

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Nutrition institute is engaged in research and education in the field of nutrition and advising the food industry in the formulation and labeling of foods. In the scope of the institute, research group Healthy Nutrition is established, which performs research on food and nutrition.