The application of a new classification of food based on degree and purpose of processing: a quantitative study of Norwegian food sales from a representative sample of retail stores


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Høgskolen i Oslo og Akershus

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Master i samfunnsernæring


Background and aim: Although generally recognized that increased consumption of processed foods is contributing to the obesity epidemic, industrial processing is generally underestimated or overlooked in frameworks for studying diet and health. To close this gap in research, a new classification of food (NOVA) has recently been proposed, describing foods and dietary patterns in terms of extent and purpose of industrial processing. Research has shown that highly processed foods –“ultra-processed products”- dominate diets in high-income countries, and that these are unhealthy diets. The domination of ultra-processed products in diets has been seen in the context of the food system, characterized by a lightly regulated global food industry with profit interests in increasing sales of these products. The aim of this study is to assess food sales in Norway, applying the new classification of food. Methods: The new classification was applied to food sales data from a nationally representative sample of retailers. Foods were grouped into NOVA1 minimally processed foods, NOVA2 culinary ingredients, and NOVA3 ready-to-consume products (processed and ultra-processed products). Data from September 2005 and 2013 were analysed in Norway as a whole, in six geographical regions, and in three retail concepts. The analysis included 795 306 sales of food items. Indicators were share of purchases and expenditure for these food groups. Results: NOVA3, with more than 70% of purchases and 60% of expenditure, dominated food sales. NOVA1 accounted for 12% of purchases and 30% of expenditure. Sweets, snacks and desserts were most frequently purchased food items and accounted for the largest expenditure share both in 2005 and in 2013. Sweet ultra-processed products combined (food and beverages) accounted for every third purchase in 2013, and were purchased two and a half times more often than minimally processed food. Share of purchase and expenditure on NOVA groups changed minimally in favour of NOVA1 and in disfavour of NOVA3 between 2005 and 2013. Conclusions: The present study indicates that Norwegian diets are dominated by ready-to-consume products to an extent that is likely to be contributing to rising rates of overweight, obesity and related non-communicable diseases. Policy measures should aim at decreasing consumption of ready-to-consume products


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