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Ultra-processed foods have the worst nutrient profile, yet they are the most available packaged products in a sample of New Zealand supermarkets

  • Claire M Luiten (a1), Ingrid HM Steenhuis (a1), Helen Eyles (a2), Cliona Ni Mhurchu (a2) and Wilma E Waterlander (a2)...
Abstract
Abstract Objective

To examine the availability of packaged food products in New Zealand supermarkets by level of industrial processing, nutrient profiling score (NPSC), price (energy, unit and serving costs) and brand variety.

Design

Secondary analysis of cross-sectional survey data on packaged supermarket food and non-alcoholic beverages. Products were classified according to level of industrial processing (minimally, culinary and ultra-processed) and their NPSC.

Setting

Packaged foods available in four major supermarkets in Auckland, New Zealand.

Subjects

Packaged supermarket food products for the years 2011 and 2013.

Results

The majority (84 % in 2011 and 83 % in 2013) of packaged foods were classified as ultra-processed. A significant positive association was found between the level of industrial processing and NPSC, i.e. ultra-processed foods had a worse nutrient profile (NPSC=11·63) than culinary processed foods (NPSC=7·95), which in turn had a worse nutrient profile than minimally processed foods (NPSC=3·27), P<0·001. No clear associations were observed between the three price measures and level of processing. The study observed many variations of virtually the same product. The ten largest food manufacturers produced 35 % of all packaged foods available.

Conclusions

In New Zealand supermarkets, ultra-processed foods comprise the largest proportion of packaged foods and are less healthy than less processed foods. The lack of significant price difference between ultra- and less processed foods suggests ultra-processed foods might provide time-poor consumers with more value for money. These findings highlight the need to improve the supermarket food supply by reducing numbers of ultra-processed foods and by reformulating products to improve their nutritional profile.

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Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Email w.waterlander@nihi.auckland.ac.nz
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Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
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