A study published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has found up to two-thirds of packaged food products frequently sold in the European Union contain too much sugar, salt and fat, and not enough fibre.
The JRC assessed packaged foods against marketing-related nutrition standards developed by European public- and private-sector organisations.
Working from a 2016 database covering 20 EU countries, the JRC scientists evaluated the nutritional composition of 2,691 products in five product categories (breakfast cereals, ready meals, processed meat, processed seafood, and yogurts).
It found that between half to two-thirds of all the products analysed were ineligible for marketing to children because of a high level of unhealthy ingredients.
The JRC found that many breakfast cereals and yogurts were too high in sugars, while processed meat, processed seafood, and ready meals had too much salt. Breakfast cereals did not have sufficient fibre and yogurts were too high in total and saturated fat.
“This is a matter of concern and may explain, in part, the high child obesity rates and health and economic burden of chronic diseases,” it said.
It suggested “balanced measures” are need to achieve gains for public health and called for “product innovation and reformulation of foods” as a strategy to improve the nutrient balance of the food supply.
“The JRC study shows that efforts at scale are needed and repeating this analysis over the coming years could help monitor the necessary progress to achieve gains for public health,” it said.
The JRC study was based on two nutrient profile models. One model was developed by the private sector (EU Pledge) and the other by the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe (WHO Europe).