The impact of food reformulation on nutrient intakes and health, a systematic review of modelling studies

BMC Nutr. 2019 Jan 7;5:2. doi: 10.1186/s40795-018-0263-6. eCollection 2019.


Background: Unhealthy diet is a risk factor for adverse health outcomes. Reformulation of processed foods has the potential to improve population diet, but evidence of its impact is limited. The purpose of this review was to explore the impact of reformulation on nutrient intakes, health outcomes and quality of life; and to evaluate the quality of modelling studies on reformulation interventions.

Methods: A systematic review of peer-reviewed articles published between January 2000 and December 2017 was performed using MEDLINE, ScienceDirect, Embase, Scopus, Cochrane, and the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination of the University of York. Additional studies were identified through informal searches on Google and specialized websites. Only simulation studies modelling the impact of food reformulation on nutrient intakes and health outcomes were included. Included articles were independently extracted by 2 reviewers using a standardized, pre-piloted data form, including a self-developed tool to assess study quality.

Results: A total of 33 studies met the selected inclusion criteria, with 20, 5 and 3 studies addressing sodium, sugar and fats reformulation respectively, and 5 studies addressing multiple nutrients. Evidence on the positive effects of reformulation on consumption and health was stronger for sodium interventions, less conclusive for sugar and fats. Study features were highly heterogeneous including differences in methods, the type of policy implemented, the extent of the reformulation, and the spectrum of targeted foods and nutrients. Nonetheless, partial between-study comparisons show a consistent relationship between percentages reformulated and reductions in individual consumption. Positive results are also shown for health outcomes and quality of life measures, although comparisons across studies are limited by the heterogeneity in model features and reporting. Study quality was often compromised by short time-horizons, disregard of uncertainty and time dependencies, and lack of model validation.

Conclusions: Reformulation models highlight relevant improvements in diets and population health. While models are valuable tools to evaluate reformulation interventions, comparisons are limited by non-homogeneous designs and assumptions. The use of validated models and extensive scenario analyses would improve models' credibility, providing useful insights for policy-makers.

Review registration: A research protocol was registered within the PROSPERO database (ID number CRD42017057341).

Keywords: Decision-analytical models; Fat intake; Food reformulation; Modelling; Nutrition policies; Public health; Sodium intake; Sugar intake.