Researchers have used a new nutritional labeling system to tie a diet low in nutritional quality with increased risks of a number of types of cancers.

The Nutri-Score logo is based on the British Food Standards Agency’s Nutrient Profiling System, which is calculated for each food or beverage using a 100-gram content measure for energy (calories), sugar, saturated fatty acids, sodium, fiber and proteins. The profiling system has been used in the UK to regulate food advertising to children since 2007.

Simple though it may be, the Nutri-Score system has not been adopted by the European Union or any other nations, according to Mélanie Deschasaux and Mathilde Touvier, authors of a new study on the system and members of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team in the Epidemiology and Statistics Research Centre at Université Sorbonne Paris Cité.

The aim of the new study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, was to provide scientific evidence of the value of the British Food Standards Agency system as an underlying basis for the Nutri-Score system, Deschasaux and Touvier said.

The researchers examined the diets of 471,495 adults from 10 European countries through the Nutri-Score lens. They used the British Nutrient Profiling System to calculate a Nutri-Score for the usual diet — the self-reported foods and beverages commonly eaten — of each participant.

A total score reflecting a lower-nutritional-quality diet was associated with a higher risk of total cancer: Cancer rates among those with the highest junk food scores were 81.4 cases per 10,000 person years (separately, the rate for men was 115.9 and for women, 66.6), versus 69.5 cases per 10,000 person years (89.6 for men and 61.1 for women) among those with the lowest junk food scores. (Person years is an estimate of time for all the participants in the study that allows researchers to measure cancer risk regardless of how long a person remained in the study due to death or other factors.)

People who ate the most junk food showed a higher risk of colorectal, respiratory tract (lips, mouth, tongue, nose, throat, vocal cords and part of the esophagus and windpipe), and stomach cancers. Separately, men showed a higher risk of lung cancer, and women showed a higher risk of liver and postmenopausal breast cancers.

Because people who eat junk food might be overweight or do little exercise, and both of those qualities are linked to cancer, might the study’s finding be a result of other factors and not diet alone? Read more…

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