Published on May 15, 2012

Debate: How to label food?

A long-standing debate about how to label sugar, fat, salt and calories on foods has recently been re-ignited. With increasing rates of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles becoming part of a wider problem for the UK, nutritional food labelling is now a hotly debated topic.

To tackle the problem of how to label foods, the government have called plans for supermarkets, food manufacturers and health experts to join forces and take part in a consultation over the next 12 weeks. The consultation will decide what the best system is to label the nutritional content in food, best suited to all parties – the public, manufacturers and retailers. The key is consistency – the most popular systems are the ‘traffic light’ coding, with red indicating unhealthy foods and green healthy, and more detailed GDA (Guideline Daily Amounts) percentages. The government are hoping to develop a system to be placed on all foods, creating a consistent and simple system.

The re-ignition of the debate comes at a time rife with health-related problems for the public living in the UK. Sugary food and drinks are particularly a problem for unhealthy lifestyles, for example, smoothies are part of our ‘five a day’, yet the high sugar intake is often a cause for dental decay and other related health problems. Therefore, a clear and simple system for consumers is what’s needed in order to help the public decide what foods are best to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

As Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, reiterates: “We’re great fans of traffic lights, the simpler the better”. She also said, with everyone using the same system this would be “enormously” helpful, as people are often put off by “having to adjust to a different label every time you look at a different food”.

So think about the last time you went shopping – what labels did you look out for? Do the red and green colours help guide your food choices or are you more likely to pay attention to percentages? We’d love to hear from you on this one, as these changes will affect all of us – comment below or tweet us @stockdalemartin.

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