Low nutritional quality food scores linked to cancer risk

By Melanie Hinze
The consumption of food products with lower nutritional quality is associated with a higher risk of developing cancer, according to a large multinational European cohort study published in PLOS Medicine.

Specifically, low nutritional quality diets were associated with higher risks of cancers of the colon­-rectum, upper aerodigestive tract and stomach, lung for men and liver and postmenopausal breast for women.

The researchers used the Nutri­Score – a five­-colour nutrition label, derived from the Nutrient Profiling System of the British Food Standards Agency (modified version) (FSAm­-NPS) – to score food items usually consumed by participants. They then averaged these scores to obtain the individual FSAm­-NPS Dietary Index (DI) scores for each participant.

Dr Nicole Kiss from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, Melbourne, said, ‘Finding an association between a nutrition quality score and the development of a number of cancer types is interesting and indicates the potential for this type of point of sale nutrition education to have a long­-term health impact.’

However, she said this was just the first step and we were yet to see if such a system could positively affect people’s health or the development of cancer.

The study included 471,495 adults from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), a multicentre, prospective cohort study that enrolled participants from 10 European countries between 1992 and 2000.

Overall, 49,794 incident cases of cancer were recorded during follow up, most often in the breast, prostate and colon­-rectum.

The study showed that a higher FSAm­-NPS DI score – reflecting a lower nutritional quality of food consumed – was associated with a higher risk of total cancer.

Absolute cancer rates in those with high and low FSAm-NPS DI scores were 81.4 and 69.5 cases/10,000 person­-years, respectively.

Regarding Australia, Dr Kiss noted that the Health Star Rating, the labelling system used in this country, can in some cases be misleading for consumers trying to make healthy food choices, although it is a step in the right direction.

‘At this stage, the best approach health professionals can take is to promote the choice of fresh, whole and minimally processed foods as much as possible,’ she told Medicine Today.
PLoS Med 2018; 15(9): e1002651; https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002651.