Fat-Fighting Mission Will Continue to Fail With Labels

It has emerged from a Lateline report last night that an agreement has nearly been reached between public health experts and food businesses for a new food-labelling regime. The system, if adopted, appears likely to be legislated by government in 2013 in a bid to arrest the growing obesity epidemic in Australia.

It had been hoped by those involved in public health that a s0-called ‘traffic light’ system would be adopted for use in the fight against obesity.

This system would have seen processed foods labelled with either green, orange or red dots. Under this scheme, if a product had a green dot it was perfectly okay. If food had an orange label it would have meant ‘be careful, this food is just a little on the naughty side’. Red would have meant, ‘danger, danger, you are clogging your arteries as we speak’.

Instead, the purported compromise would see a ‘star system’ pursued on labelling of processed foods. This idea would be much like the way that movies are often reviewed. There would be a five-star system and the more stars there are, the better the product for you in terms of health.

Ostensibly, both the star system and the traffic light solution are meant to be quick and simple ways of identifying foods that are good, bad or downright dangerous if consumed too much. Frankly though, neither of them actually understand the obesity problem and the reasons for it, nor will colourful marks or star-charts actually help the obesity problem.

Neither the stars nor the red, orange and green ‘lights’ would say how much of a product should be consumed. Of course, if you’re only eating foods with green and rarely orange or red, then this probably will not matter so much. It still is possible however, for people to become overweight through lack of exercise despite some pretty healthy choices.

In this way the Recommended Dietary Intake, or RDI labelling of foods clearly trumps the other two methods advocated by health lobby groups. This form of nutrition information shows the fat, salt and sugar content at the very least and gives a very handy outline of the proportion of these elements in terms of the recommended consumption of the average person.

It is the clearest way of labelling how much of a particular product the average person can consume before it becomes over-consumption and would not leave people confused as to how much food any given person could digest in a relatively safe manner.

But of course, there is a problem too with foods that have the RDI on the packaging and that is time, a point acknowledged recently in response to the fat tax in Denmark failing to work. This is not about how long it takes to eat food, but how long it would take for people to add up the numbers. People are time-poor, and because of that, any form of labelling will effectively be redundant.

Time is also an important factor in the sense that fast food, more often than not, unhealthy, is much quicker for people who are busy with work and other commitments.

Other issues relating to ease of access are also an important part of the equation when thinking about how to cut the fat. Both the prevalence of unhealthy foods and the low costs are significant impediments to a healthier Australia.

The time has come to think past fancy labelling and other government-imposed nonsense. Those kinds of policies, despite supposed research to the contrary, simply will not work.

However, if any food labelling has to continue to exist, then it should be based on the RDI of fat, sugar and salt in particular. This appears set to be superseded.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at tbridgey@gmail.com or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on November 28, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Load food with sugar, fats and salt and little homo sapiens’ evolutionary design will tempt him to stuff it in his face for times of scarcity. That is his nature and its hardwired into his genome.
    What is unacceptable is food companies’ deliberately targeting homo sapiens’ weaknesses in the avaricious drive to make money.
    The care little should they turn out obese — hey, the government has to take care of the medical implications and the cost of dealing with the collateral damage caused by obesity!

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