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Nutrition

System Developed to Rank Order Foods on Overall Nutritional Quality

Top nutrition scientists from throughout North America have developed what is believed to be the world's most sophisticated system to rank order foods on the basis of overall nutritional quality.

The system, called the 'Overall Nutritional Quality Index,' or 'ONQI' for short, uses a simple scoring method designed to be posted on supermarket shelves and on food product packaging to enable consumers to select more nutritious and healthy foods

ONQI is the work of a team of 12 leading nutrition experts from the United States and Canada, over a period of roughly two years. The group was convened, and the effort directed, by Dr. David L. Katz, co-founder and director of the CDC funded, Yale University - Griffin Hospital Prevention Research Center, and a nationally recognized authority in nutrition and chronic disease prevention. The project was fully supported independent of all commercial interests by Griffin Hospital, a non-profit community hospital in Derby, CT, where the Prevention Research Center is housed.

The team of consulting experts involved in developing the ONQI includes past presidents of the American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association; the current president of the American Cancer Society; and top academic experts in topics from nutritional biochemistry, childhood diabetes and obesity, to epidemiology, among them the inventor of the glycemic index, and the originator of the traffic light diet guidance system.

The ONQI is designed to generate a single score on a scale of 1 to 100 representing overall nutritional quality, for any food or recipe. Approximately 30 nutrients, both those with favorable health effects such as fiber, and those with unfavorable health effects such as added sugar, are included in the sophisticated ONQI formula, which also includes a variety of weighting coefficients that reflect the importance of various nutrients to health, and their associations withspecific health outcomes.

"No question, when you look at the details of the ONQI, it's complex" said Dr. Katz. "The sophistication of the formula we devised sets it apart from other work on this issue. But the ONQI is a perfectly simple, turnkey system to use. The complexity powers it, just like a rather complex engine powers the cars most of us drive quite easily. Just like with that car, when it comes to using the ONQI, you can basically turn the key and go. "

"Given the rising toll of nutrition-related health conditions in the U.S., in particular obesity, it is important to provide consumers with a simple standard regarding food choices that is as reliable as it is easy to understand. The ONQI is a labeling system that can help everyone make healthier choices in every food category quickly and easily," said Dr. Walter Willett, a member of the ONQI expert panel, and Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"The ONQI is supported by a large volume of independent research. It directly empowers people to make better choices, and yet avoids the 'good food/bad food' label that many in both nutrition circles and the food industry object to," observed Dr. Rebecca Reeves, past president of the American Dietetic Association. "This system certainly can help consumers make healthier choices within any food category. It's important that it is the product of scientists working independently of any commercial interest. It is a source people can really trust."

The ONQI is primarily intended to guide choices within a given food category, by identifying, for example, which bread, or breakfast cereal, or pasta sauce is the most nutritious as compared to other, similar products. But the large amount of nutrition information entered into the formula makes the ONQI universal, so it can compare the nutritional quality of foods across categories as well.

"People can improve their diets, and their health, both by changing the categories of foods they eat most - for example, by eating more fruits and vegetables - and by making better choices within a given category, including snack items and desserts. The ONQI is designed to do both. You can, in fact, compare apples to oranges (oranges win), or apples to marshmallows," Dr. Katz noted. But of more practical value you can compare one box of kid's breakfast cereal to another, cut right past all the marketing hype, and get to the truth at a glance."

Griffin Hospital has partnered with Topco Associates to make the ONQI available through thousands of retail grocery stores across the nation beginning in the second-half of 2008. The ONQI will be launched in supermarkets as well as on the Internet in collaboration with one or more of the premier providers of health content on the World Wide Web.

Plans have been developed for an on-line system that will allow consumers to obtain the nutritional score and rank for virtually any food, to generate shopping lists, to access and make-over recipes, and to build and entire meal plan that incorporates personal preferences and health conditions, and is optimized for health.

"Partnering with Topco and its member companies will allow us to bring the ONQI to millions of consumers nationwide," said Patrick Charmel, president and chief executive officer, Griffin Hospital. "Together, we will help Americans make better food choices."

"Today's consumers are often overwhelmed with the number of choices they have in the supermarket, and the number of competing claims about health and nutrition. The ONQI is an easy to use, transparent and credible system to help them make healthy food choices. However, it will only work if retailers and manufacturers elect to adopt a standardized system. If the food industry gets behind a uniform labeling approach and adopts consistent standards, it will make a world of difference for every consumer." observed Dr. Keith Ayoob, a nutrition expert at the Albert Einstein Medical College.

For more information on the Overall Nutritional Quality Index, visit www.onqi.com.


© 2008 Health Resources Publishing