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Keeping Score

Nutritional scoring programs in grocery stores can positively impact shopper selections.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, poor diet and physical inactivity are the most important factors contributing to an epidemic of overweight and obesity affecting all segments of our society. The study further reports that even in the absence of overweight, poor diet and physical inactivity are associated with major causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. And even with adequate resources, many Americans still consume less than optimal intake of certain nutrients. Because of these facts, it is imperative for the food industry to make changes in order to educate consumers and provide opportunities for them to make healthier food choices.

Some leading grocery retailers and manufacturers across the country have collaborated and gotten on board to assist consumers in making healthier food choices. There are a number of nutritional rating systems that have been implemented on site in order to make reading food labels easier and with the hopes that shoppers will ultimately make healthier selections.

Scoring Programs in Stores Now

"Great for You": This was developed specifically for Walmart as an icon to help consumers identify fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, and lean meats. It also helps identify foods that are lower in total trans and saturated fats, sodium and added sugars.

NuVal Nutritional Scoring System: An independent panel of nutrition and medical experts developed this system to help consumers determine the nutritional value of foods Scoring is based on weighing the good (protein, calcium, vitamins) with the not-so-good (sugar, sodium, cholesterol). Some retail chains that have implemented this system include Meijer, HyVee, and Market Street.

The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI): Used by Whole Foods Market mostly for beans, grains, produce and nuts, scoring is based on how many nutrients a food provides per calorie.

Guiding Stars: This program identifies nutritional value and assigns each item an appropriate number of stars, crediting foods that have more vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, whole grains, and less fats, cholesterol, sugar and sodium. The Guiding Stars program is currently found in the Hannaford grocery chain as well as the University of New Hampshire dining services.

SimpleNutrition: Developed for Safeway stores, this scoring system identifies foods that meet certain nutrition criteria by assessing products that include nutrient levels that may negatively impact health (total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugars) and those levels that may provide health benefits (certain vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber).

Proven Effective

Recent research found that when items on grocery store shelves use labels with text and color, it may assist in consumer comprehension of nutritional information as well as potentially prompt them to choose healthier items. In addition, studies have also found that reading the labels on food products is linked to obesity prevention. However, additional research is still necessary to assess the tangible effects shelf labeling has on consumers' shopping and eating behaviors.

While nutritional labeling on grocery store shelves has the potential to positively impact consumers' food choices and ultimately improve their nutrient consumption, it can be confusing given the lack of continuity. It may benefit the food industry to develop a single, national approach in order to prevent shoppers from getting confused from using a variety of different programs. One comprehensive program would allow retailers to connect with shoppers as a group, and while the competitive advantage of having a program would be minimized, the strong social implication and positive public relations for the grocery industry would be invaluable.

In the meantime, consumers need to be taught about the programs currently implemented in their local grocery stores in order to make meaningful and more knowledgeable food selections. An educated and healthy shopper is a valuable one.

Kim Blum, MS, RD is the owner of KB Nutrition, a consulting company dedicated to providing professional and reliable nutrition services to restaurants, companies, families and individuals. She can be reached at [email protected].

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