New findings from a large, European study revealed a strong association between junk food consumption and the risk of developing cancer. In order to help consumers make healthier choices, the team behind the study supported the implementation of a simple, color-coded labeling system around the world.

The study titled "Nutritional quality of food as represented by the FSAm-NPS nutrient profiling system underlying the Nutri-Score label and cancer risk in Europe: Results from the EPIC prospective cohort study" was published in the journal PLOS Medicine on Sept. 18.

Labeling system

The Nutri-Score, five-color nutrition label, uses a system designed by the British Food Standard Agency.  The label essentially scored foods on their nutritional quality, giving them a grade on the scale of A (highest nutritional quality, represented by a dark green color) to E (poorest nutritional quality, represented by a dark red color). 

The objective of the new study was to provide scientific evidence of the value of the aforementioned system, researchers stated. The application of Nutri-Score was currently not mandatory, though it received support in both France and Belgium.

Research method

The study was led by the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research. By using the same system as the Nutri-Score, the research team examined and graded the diets of nearly half a million people from ten European countries. 

Next, they tried to identify trends by looking at cancer rates among the participants. After adjusting for factors like smoking, family history of cancer, and BMI, the researchers found "a lower inherent nutritional quality of the food consumed was associated to a higher risk of developing a cancer."

Cancer link

The data revealed a higher risk of colorectal, respiratory tract, and stomach cancers among people who followed a diet with a low Nutri-score i.e. people who ate the most junk food. Gender differences were also observed in which men were strongly associated with the risk of developing lung cancer while women were linked to a higher risk of liver and postmenopausal breast cancers.

"Overall, this adds support to the relevance of using [the British nutritional system] as an underlying nutrient profiling system for the simplified nutrition label Nutri-Score," said Mélanie Deschasaux and Mathilde Touvier, authors of the study.

Prevention guidelines

Besides quitting smoking, guidelines by the American Cancer Society recommended adequate physical activity and a healthy diet above all to reduce the risk of cancer. The new findings suggested the Nutri-Score could prove to be beneficial for prevention efforts by informing consumers who seek to make healthier choices when purchasing foods.

Given that some companies have voluntarily started using the labeling system, there was hope the European Union may consider implementing it. 

"Similar discussions are also ongoing in North and South America, Canada, and Australia," Deschasaux and Touvier added.