Diet studies: better protection for consumers

ANSES deciphers our diet

ANSES regularly conducts large-scale studies on the food consumption of the population (INCA). Their results are essential because, along with the other reference tools used by ANSES (TDS, CIQUAL, Oqali), they make it possible to assess the nutritional intakes of the population and how well their nutritional needs are being met, as well as the risks associated with the presence of chemicals in food. Based on all this information, which is compared to expert assessments in scientific studies available both for France and the rest of the world, ANSES issues its recommendations and in doing so protects consumers on a day-to-day basis.

In order to assess risks in the field of diet and nutrition, ANSES needs detailed information on food consumption habits, on the nutritional composition and contamination of the foods consumed, and on lifestyle habits (physical activity, consumption of food supplements, preparation and storage of foods, etc.). ANSES uses a variety of tools for this, including individual and national food consumption surveys (INCA), studies on exposure to chemicals through the diet (TDS), and a multitude of reference data on the nutritional composition of foods (CIQUAL).

Thanks to the information provided by these tools, the Agency can assess risks and issue recommendations that are also essential for setting public health priorities in the areas of diet and nutrition, as well as food safety.

Understanding the details of food consumption: the INCA surveys

The INCA surveys are national studies of individual food consumption that are undertaken every seven years.

The involve gathering information on food consumption in as much detail as possible, as well as habits in terms of behaviour (physical activity, consumption of food supplements, food preparation and storage, etc.) for a representative sample of the population in metropolitan France. They provide a detailed snapshot of the population's food consumption habits and behaviour.

In 1999, the first INCA survey covered around 3000 individuals over 3 years of age.

In 2006-2007, the consumption patterns of more than 4000 participants were described.

In 2014-2015, the third INCA survey, which for the first time included children under 3 years of age, described the consumption of 1993 children from birth through to 17 years of age, and 2121 adults from 18 to 79 years of age.

Thanks to the INCA surveys, the diet of the population can be positioned with regard to the National Programme for Nutrition and Health (PNNS) recommendations and the priorities of France's nutritional policy can be pursued, modified and/or reinforced.

Assessing consumer exposure to contaminants: the Total Diet Studies (TDS)

The objective of the total diet studies is to determine exposure through food to chemicals: plant protection product residues, environmental contaminants, heat-induced contaminants, natural toxins, additives, trace elements or minerals, for example. By combining the data obtained with data on food consumption (INCA), it is possible to estimate consumer exposure.

Such data is needed to assess consumer health risks and to enable the government to make informed decisions regarding risk management (control and regulation) on the national, European and international levels.

The first TDS was conducted by INRA between 2001 and 2005, in partnership with ANSES, and drew on the data in INCA 1. ANSES then conducted a second TDS between 2006 and 2011, drawing on INCA 2. Lastly, ANSES conducted a third TDS specific to children under 3 years of age, between 2010 and 2016.
In parallel with the total diet studies, data from national surveillance and control plans are also collected and standardised by ANSES (Contamine database). These additional data are essential to ANSES's risk assessment work.

Knowing what foods contain: the CIQUAL table

ANSES manages the French reference database on the nutritional composition of foods. The CIQUAL table lists the contents of 61 nutritional components (proteins, fats, starches, etc.) found in more than 2800 food products.

The CIQUAL table is available online and is a source of reference information which is both practical and available free of charge to all people who wish to eat a balanced diet. It is also a resource that can be used by health professionals (nutritionists, dietitians) to devise personalised menus and recommendations for their patients.

When the nutritional composition of foods and the eating habits in France are known, it is then possible to estimate the nutritional intakes of the population and identify the population groups most at risk (excessive fat or saturated fatty acid intakes, diets lacking in calcium, iron, etc.).

Oqali: detailed monitoring of the nutritional quality of the food supply

Oqali, formerly known as the "Food quality observatory", conducts overall monitoring of the food supply by objectively measuring changes in nutritional quality. It is run jointly by the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and ANSES.

Oqali's aims are to:

  • collect and analyse nutritional and socio-economic data on foods;
  • monitor changes in the nutritional quality of the food supply including the retrospective dimensions wherever possible;
  • provide insights for and assess public and private actions with a view to continuous improvement of the food supply;
  • provide information for concerted action between the public authorities and companies (charters committing professionals to nutritional progress, action plans, etc.) and monitor their implementation.

Oqali's involvement in the European joint action JANPA

Based on its experience with Oqali, ANSES oversaw the "Monitoring of nutritional information and promotion of the reformulation of foods" technical work package of the European Joint Action on Nutrition and Physical Activity (JANPA), whose aim is to halt the rise of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents by 2020.   The objective is to share best practices concerning nutritional information displayed on food packaging, use these data for public policymaking and ensure they are understood by consumers.

Find out more: JANPA European Joint Action

Essential tools for risk assessment

The INCA surveys, TDS, data from national plans, CIQUAL table and Oqali are helping to improve knowledge of the population's nutrition habits, and of food contamination and nutritional composition.

Based on these results, and also on the data it collects and the other studies and expert appraisals it carries out, ANSES is able to issue recommendations that target each population group.