WE KNOW THAT
The European Commission would like to introduce Nutriscore, a front-of-pack labeling system already used in France (where it was invented), to reduce obesity and diseases related to poor nutrition. For the Commission, it is a tool of public policy.
However, there is no scientific evidence proving its effectiveness. Instead, we should fear the unintended consequences of recipe reformulation, the use of GMOs, and so on.
OUTDATED AND DANGEROUS
The few arguments in favor of the Nutriscore algorithm have already been dismantled by many scientists.
- I have already demonstrated that it is a system that inhibits freedom of choice and critical thinking, humiliates diversity, and, above all, is outdated (link).
- Technological advancements (AI and IoT) and scientific developments allow us to personalize our diet and avoid tools like Nutriscore, traffic light labels, or rating stars.
However, our reasoning cannot convince Nutriscore supporters. By rejecting the scientific method and preferring ideology, they are not open to evaluating (and refuting) other arguments and changing their minds. We can try to provoke them by demonstrating the logical inconsistency of their weak arguments.
Let’s do a logical and fun exercise that demonstrates the inconsistency of the concept of front-of-pack rating systems like Nutriscore. Let’s pretend that Nutriscore is an effective tool that can guide consumers towards healthy products that limit the use of fats, salt, and sugar in favor of fibers, proteins, vitamins, etc. (Let’s set aside the debate on the fact that fat, salt, and sugar are essential in a balanced diet).
Hooray! The reduced consumption of unhealthy nutrients and the increase in healthy ones will contribute to reducing obesity.
WHAT WE KNOW
The nutrients we consume are not the cause of obesity. The problem is the quantity of nutrients we intake, which is influenced by other variable factors.
- The causes of obesity are indeed multiple, such as lifestyle, metabolism, and DNA. Each of us have a very different lifestyle, metabolism, and DNA. It is the wonder of humanity and living species, even inanimate ones.
- The problem is not the nutrients themselves or their quantity, but the quantity we consume in relation to lifestyle, metabolism, DNA, etc.
If – as we have agreed to believe – the algorithm that regulates Nutriscore works with the nutrients we consume, it should also work with other factors that contribute to causing obesity.
For example, we should apply the algorithm to all the activities and objects that define our lifestyle. We can instruct the algorithm with a positive or negative score for each factor that characterizes the activities and objects in our life.
Everyone is free to list the objects used in their daily lives that contribute to their lifestyle. For each object, we can apply an objective evaluation criterion that allows us to assign colors and letters, such as +/- n if that object or activity contributes to making us more sedentary or active, leading to +/- calorie consumption, for example.
As it is a playful exercise, everyone can freely think about the score to assign to objects and activities: sofas, chairs, desks, stairs, escalators, cars, bicycles, electric bicycles, scooters, mobile devices, video game consoles, more or less interactive video games, streaming platforms, and so on. Each object will be assigned a score.
If we associate a number with a color (green, orange, red) and a letter (A-E), we have obtained the Lifescore.
RED OR GREEN?
What score would you give to your mobile device? To the couch at home? To the video game console or streaming platform? And to the scooter or electric bicycle? If the algorithm applies to each ingredient, then it should apply to every object that influences our calorie consumption.
Let’s try to think about the consequences if each object had to display a red or green label. What would you do? Would you give up using it or use it for less time? Suppliers of these products and services would undoubtedly be driven to modify their design and functions to obtain the green label, compromising quality and creativity.
We have obtained an algorithm that helps us measure how healthy or unhealthy the objects in our lives are. It would be a consistent public policy tool with Nutriscore.
Even the Lifescore like all evaluative systems, would be a failure. The problem is not the sofa, the stairs or the elevator, the video games or the mobile devices, but rather how we use them. Similarly, for obesity, the problem is not the nutrients.
We can use ANYSCORE we want, but the problem still lies with each of us.
This exercise, albeit clumsy, is a provocation, of course. But let’s stay vigilant in case someone – from Brussels or Paris – takes it seriously.