INCA studies

The role of food in the increased risk of certain diseases, such as cancer, obesity or cardiovascular disorders, and in their prevention, has now been established scientifically. To improve prevention of these diseases and the general health of the French population, it is essential to fully document the foods people eat and their nutritional status. To this end, ANSES carries out an Individual and national study on food consumption (INCA study) every seven years, sponsored by the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. 

INCA studies are an essential tool in risk assessment. These studies provide an overall picture of the food consumption patterns of the population in mainland France at a given point in time. In conjunction with surveillance plans and the ANSES databases on the composition of foodstuffs (several million data items), this information helps to determine intakes of beneficial substances present in food, such as vitamins, essential fatty acids, and so on, as well as ingested doses and exposure to harmful substances that are also likely to be present in food, including heavy metals, pesticide residues, and toxins.

The various INCA studies and how they have been used

INCA studies are carried out every seven years: INCA 1 (1998-1999), INCA 2 (2006-2007) and INCA 3 (2014-2015).

On the basis of these studies, ANSES carries out scientific assessments that specifically make it possible to ensure that regulations protect the entire population from these risks, including people who prefer certain food types, such as regular consumers of “low-fat” products, or fish and seafood, and those who are more vulnerable, like young children and the elderly. When necessary, the work carried out by the Agency enables the health authorities to amend current regulatory provisions. INCA studies also help to evaluate the health impact of public health measures adopted in the area of food. 

The data provided by the INCA 2 study were used by ANSES to analyse and estimate the health risk related to a wide range of substances that may be present in food (mercury, lead and other heavy metals in food and water), and to assess the risk related to intake of pesticide residues and artificial sweeteners, etc. This study was also used to analyse the risks and nutritional benefits of various foodstuffs, such as fruit and vegetables, salt, and omega-3 fatty acids, and to characterise eating patterns in children and adolescents based on socio-economic factors.

Many scientific teams within research organisations such as the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) or the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), and several university teams, particularly in Europe, have used the results of the INCA 2 study for food research purposes. The data provided by the INCA 2 study are also used by international organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to perform risk analyses.

INCA 3 study

In 2017 ANSES published the third INCA study.

The INCA 3 study includes a number of new features and improvements, such as the inclusion of children under three years of age, a study of consumption of food from organic agriculture and from individual production, as well as a more precise food description system that will be used to refine nutritional intake estimates and risk assessments in various areas, including migration of substances from packaging and the consumption of raw food. This study provides ANSES with up-to-date, detailed information to measure exposure to health risks, and helps to assess of the third National Nutrition and Health Plan (PNNS 3), launched in France in 2011. The study provides information on whether the recommendations in this programme were followed by consumers, as well as useful information enabling the ministries to decide whether the priorities for food and nutritional policy in France should be maintained, reinforced or adjusted.