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Nutrient profiling (NP) models aim to assess the nutritional quality of individual foods, according to their energy content and nutrient composition. NP models, initially created to prevent obesity in high-income countries, have tended to penalize dietary energy by giving lower ratings to foods containing excessive calories, fat, sugar, and salt. Energy-driven NP models may need to be reconceptualized for use in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) where hunger, undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies continue to be issues of public health concern. Consistent with the position of the WHO that the purpose of NP methods is to address an identified public health problem, NP models intended for use in LMIC ought to address inadequate intakes of vitamin A, B vitamins, folate, calcium, iron, iodine, and zinc and the frequent lack of high-quality protein. Those models of nutrient density that feature beneficial nutrients (high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements) may be better suited to LMIC needs than are some current NP models that are wholly based around nutrients to limit. NP models intended for LMIC and global use will also need to take food fortification into account. The challenge for LMIC public health agencies is how to balance the future risk of excess “empty” calories against the continuing danger of inadequate nutrients and micronutrient deficiencies that persist at the population level.

Adam Drewnowski, Daniel Amanquah, Breda Gavin-Smith, Perspective: How to Develop Nutrient Profiling Models Intended for Global Use: A Manual, Advances in Nutrition, 2021;, nmab018, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmab018