Firstly, for those that were counting, I apologise for this very belated blog post. My bi-monthly posts have rather taken a back sit recently, but all for good reason – I promise! In October last year, I became part of the team at Wild Card Public Relations. Whilst part of my job description is as a Junior Account Executive, I am also their in-house dietitian and nutritionist. The last few months have therefore been very much about hankering down and getting my teeth into the job but it is now time to bring the Your Health Hunter blog back to life. It would be worth mentioning however that Your Health Hunter is still very much operational but primarily on a weekend basis!
With half of January already behind us, any New Year’s resolutions should be by now firmly established. However, it is important for us to not just re-evaluate our lifestyle choices in January – this should be an instinctive and enjoyable thing we do 365 days a year. For many losing weight by making healthier choices is a key goal but unfortunately not that easy due to the mixed messages regarding health that are all around us. For example, using food labels to choose foods with less sugar or fat is a simple and quick way to help us make healthier food choices. Unfortunately however, many consumers fall at this first hurdle as food and drink labels within the UK often vary in the range of nutritional information they provide. Indeed, research shows that consumers find these conflicting messages confusing, which has important implications on consumer choice as food labels are an essential tool in helping consumers make informed decisions about the food they buy.
It was encouraging therefore that in June 2013, following consultations with food businesses, NGOs and academics, the Department of Health released new voluntary guidelines for creating standardised front of pack labelling. Under this system a consistent traffic-light coding system is used on front of packaging to determine the energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content of food portions, in conjunction with the percentage contribution a typical serving makes to your Reference Intakes (RIs). RIs are a guide to the maximum amount of energy and nutrients we need to consume/day and are displayed as a percentage to represent the maximum daily intake a portion of that food accounts towards your RI.
The traffic light labeling operates by the different colours clearly identifying whether the fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt content of that food is ‘good’(green) ‘OK’ (amber) or ‘bad’ (red). This allows us, at a glance, to establish whether that product is something we should keep as a treat or conversely could enjoy on a more regular basis.
Despite being voluntary, this scheme has had a good uptake, with many high profile manufactures and supermarkets adopting the new front of back labeling initiative. The fact that front of pack food labeling has now been made one of the pledges under the Public Health Responsibility Deal may also be a reason why companies have generally reacted positively to the scheme. Regardless of uptake, this voluntary, standardised scheme is going to enable us to make healthier choices, by comparing the same kinds of foods to see if there is a healthier option.
The more universal this scheme becomes the more we will be able to wave good bye to confusing, mixed labeling messages and say hello to clear, easy to understand ones, that could make a real difference to our everyday eating habits.