The objective of this study was to develop a transparent system for defining ‘less healthy’ foods to underpin effective policy to reduce noncommunicable diseases in Samoa, replacing a fatty-meat ban lifted for accession to the WTO. In the absence of nutrition survey data, we calculated nutrient availability using food acquisition data from Samoa's Household Income and Expenditure Surveys. Together with published literature and local food composition data, we identified foods and nutrients (i) consumed in amounts greater than those recommended for good health and (ii) with a demonstrated causal link to health conditions of concern. Nutrient thresholds were developed based on desired level of decrease per nutrient per person necessary to reduce population intake in line with specific targets. We found average energy and sodium consumption to be higher than recommended, and foods high in sugar and saturated fat being consumed in large amounts. We selected a threshold-based, category-specific model to provide straightforward policy administration and incentivise healthy production and import, and then applied and tested nutrient thresholds across 7 threshold groups. The validation process indicated that the development of a nutrient profiling system to identify less healthy food items in Samoa provided a stronger basis for local policymaking. This study contributes to global understanding of approaches to developing a robust and transparent basis for policies to improve diets in lower income countries, and is relevant to other settings with high rates of noncommunicable diseases and similar resource and data constraints.

This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)