Food and Behaviour Research

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The Healthfulness of the US Packaged Food and Beverage Supply: A Cross-Sectional Study

Baldridge AS, Huffman MD, Taylor F, Xavier D, Bright B, Van Horn LV, Neal B, Dunford E (2019) Nutrients  2019 July, 11(8), 

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The US food supply is dominated by highly-processed packaged food and beverage products that are high in energy, saturated fat, sugar, and salt.

We report results of a cross-sectional assessment of the 2018 US packaged food and beverage supply by nutritional composition and indicators of healthfulness and level of processing. Data were obtained through Label Insight’s Open Data database, which represents >80% of all food and beverage products sold in the US over the past three years.

Healthfulness and the level of processing, measured by the Health Star Rating (HSR) system and the NOVA classification framework, respectively, were compared across product categories and leading manufacturers.

Among 230,156 food and beverage products, the mean HSR was 2.7 (standard deviation (SD) 1.4) from a possible maximum rating of 5.0, and 71% of products were classified as ultra-processed.

Healthfulness and level of processing varied substantially by category (range: HSR 1.1–3.9; 0–100% ultra-processed) and manufacturer (range: HSR 0.9–4.6; 26–100% ultra-processed). The US packaged food and beverage supply is large, heterogeneous, highly processed, and generally unhealthy.

The wide variability in healthfulness and level of processing demonstrates that opportunities exist, through reformulation or replacement, for large-scale improvements to the healthfulness of the US packaged food and beverage supply. 


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