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Will the new food labelling system help fight the obesity epidemic?

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A traffic-light food nutritional food labelling system is to be introduced across the UK over the next 18 months. The consistent colour coded labelling will show much fat, salt, and sugar and how many calories are in each product. 

The traffic light nutritional label

A colour coding of red, amber or green is assigned according to the Department of Health and Food Standards Agency policy. For example, a red fat label would mean the product is high in fat.

The labels will also show figures that identify the level of fat, salt and sugar in terms of grams and as a percentage of the recommended daily maximum for adults.

Campaigners believe a simple, clear and consistent nutritional labelling system will help combat the obesity crisis. The idea is that consumers are given nutritional information that can be interpreted at a glance.

Major retailers, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Waitrose have all signed up to the scheme and will display the labels on their own-brand food products. Food manufacturers, Nestlé, Mars, PepsiCo and Premier Foods have also agreed to sign up to this voluntary labelling system.

However, other major companies such as Coca-Cola and Cadbury have not signed up, citing that they believed the use of guideline daily amounts was a better labelling system.

It has been suggested the new labelling system will aim to reduce the £5.1bn a year spent by the NHS on obesity-related illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes.

A red fat label would mean the product is high in fatWhen I go food shopping I have a habit of looking at the nutritional label (whatever format) if there is one. I cannot remember when I started doing this (probably when I started studying pharmacy all those years ago). I have to admit it took me a while to get to grips with the different styles of labelling. Some are rather misleading, for example, 3.8g of saturated fat per 100g in a microwave meal that weighs 300g means consuming over 10g of saturated fat if you eat the whole thing. Some might say that is sneaky and deceptive food labelling.

At the end of the day, consumers have to bother to read the label and consciously make healthy choices for any labelling system to work, but a simpler and more consistent form of food labelling is surely a small step in the right direction in the war against obesity.

Perhaps now is the time for all health professionals to familiarise themselves with nutritional food labelling so that they are ready to give lifestyle advice to patients on a healthy, balanced diet.

 

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