Nutr Bull. 2023 Oct 28. doi: 10.1111/nbu.12640. Online ahead of print.
We investigated the extent of alignment between ‘healthiness’ defined by a food classification system that classifies foods and beverages primarily by their nutrient composition, the Health Star Rating (HSR) and a system that considers only the degree of processing of the product, the NOVA classification system. We used data for 25 486 products contained within the George Institute for Global Health’s Australian 2022 FoodSwitch Dataset. Agreement between the two systems in the proportion of products classified as ‘healthier’ (HSR ≥3.5 or NOVA group 1-3) or ‘less healthy’ (HSR <3.5 or NOVA group 4) was assessed using the κ statistic. There was ‘fair’ agreement (κ = 0.30, 95%CI: 0.29-0.31) between both systems in the proportion of all products classified as healthier or less healthy. Approximately one-third (n = 8729) of all products were defined as ‘discordant’, including 34.3% (n = 5620) of NOVA group 4 products with HSR ≥3.5 (commonly convenience foods, sports/diet foods, meat alternatives, as well as products containing non-sugar sweeteners) and 34.1% (n = 3109) of NOVA group 1-3 products with HSR <3.5 (commonly single-ingredient foods such as sugars/syrups, full-fat dairy and products specially produced to contain no ultra-processed ingredients). Our analysis strengthens the evidence for the similarities and differences in product healthiness according to a nutrient-based classification system and a processing-based classification system. Although the systems’ classifications align for the majority of food and beverage products, the discordance found for some product categories indicates potential for confusion if systems are deployed alongside each other within food policies.