Applying Nutrient Profiling Systems to Packaged Foods and Drinks Sold in Jamaica: an assessment of the nutrient content and thresholds of Jamaican pre-packaged foods

Poor diets remain a leading cause of obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases. Like many low- and middle-income countries Jamaica is experiencing high rates of weight gain and increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes among adults and children. In response, Jamaica and other island states of CARICOM (a regional and political consortium of Caribbean island States including Jamaica) have embarked on a multi-sectorial, multi-level approach to combatting this health epidemic. These include an update of food labeling systems being led by the CARICOM Regional Organization of Standards and Quality (CROSQ). However, others include front-of-package (FOP) warning labels, and protecting children’s right through comprehensive school nutrition policies to guarantee them safe and nutritious food especially in and around schools.

The main aim of this study was to undertake a performance assessment using the WHO/Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Nutrient Profiling System (NPS). NPSs are often used to classify beverages and foods using pre- defined nutrient threshold limits for the purpose of differentiating between unhealthy ultra-processed beverages/foods versus healthier, unprocessed and minimally processed versions. By understanding these threshold levels a variety of other applications are open for consideration including front-of-package (FOP) warning labels, unhealthy beverage or food taxes, and marketing restrictions. The selected nutrients of concern (NOC) are usually aligned with a country’s desired diet and nutrition goals. In Jamaica, these NOC are sugars, sodium, total fat, saturated and trans fats, and artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners since these are currently associated with the diseases having the greatest public health impact.

This is the first study in the Caribbean region that applied two existing NPSs (PAHO and the Chilean Model) to a large sample of pre-packaged beverage and food products sold in Jamaica. Results showed the majority of foods and beverages had NOC exceeding healthy thresholds, with the PAHO NPS having a larger percentage of products being categorized as having excess NOC. These excesses were mostly due to sugars and sodium, however a large share of products had multiple nutrient excesses making them liable to carrying 2, 3 or 4 FOP warning labels. The combination of different nutrients included under each NPS, and the reference units used, partially explain the different results.

No formal assessment of the nutrient content or thresholds of Jamaican pre-packaged, processed foods has been reported in the published literature, and this is the first study of it’s kind in the Caribbean. Regardless of the NPS used these results support advocating for accurate and updated food labeling systems, healthier food and beverage reformulations, and for improvement in food processing and procurement practices. By understanding these performance attributes policymakers will be guided towards developing policies that provide Jamaican consumers with healthier food environments.

CAIHR RESEARCHERS: Suzanne Soares-Wynter, Stacey Aiken-Hemming

CITATION: Soares-Wynter, S.; Aiken-Hemming, S.-A.; Hollingsworth, B.; Miles, D.R.; Ng, S.W. Applying Nutrient Profiling Systems to Packaged Foods and Drinks Sold in Jamaica. Foods 2020, 9, 65;