In this guest post public health minister Anna Soubry explains why the government has agreed to front-of-pack traffic light labelling for food to enable us to make informed choices about what we eat.
It seems that today, we have an abundance of choice, but so little time to choose. That’s why when we’re choosing, we need the information to be clear, obvious and appropriate.
Most of my supermarket shopping involves a bit of a list and a mad dash up and down the aisles – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I want to make healthier choices but I haven’t got the time to go through complicated information. That’s why clear front-of-pack food labels are so important – it helps us to make the best choice.
Salt, fat, sugar and calories
Most supermarkets’ own-brand and many manufacturers’ foods already have forms of front-of-pack labelling which use a variety of graphics and information to show how much salt, fat, saturated fat, sugar and calories are in the food we are buying.
Of course this is useful, but if you buy lunch from one retailer, and then dinner from somewhere else, you see different information presented in a different way. It’s confusing and unclear, and it’s limiting our ability to make better decisions.
We know that obesity is a leading cause of serious diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and we now have some of the highest levels of obesity in Europe. Our poor diet and ill health are costing the NHS billions of pounds each year – this is why we all need help to make better decisions about the food we’re eating.
Front of pack food labels
Earlier this summer, the Department of Health asked retailers, manufacturers, health charities and members of the public for their views on what a useful and clear front of pack labelling system should look like. Responses from industry and charities, such as Which? and the British Heart Foundation, were clear that a combination of information is needed.
This is why I announced this week that we are proposing a system which includes colour coding and guideline daily amount percentages. With that information we can see at a glance which foods may be high in salt, fat and sugar, and how much food we buy contributes towards our recommended daily amounts.
Uniform food labelling system
One clear, uniform system across industry makes perfect sense. It means that for the first time, regardless of where we are shopping, we’ll be given the same nutritional information, presented in the same way.
This information is so crucial because small changes to our diet can have such a huge impact on our health. For example, if we all cut our average salt intake by 1.6 grams a day, more than 10,000 premature deaths could be prevented every single year.
I am not interested in demonising foods – the vast majority of foods can very easily be incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet. Front-of-pack nutrition labelling helps us to identify healthier options, keep track of what we are eating, and recognise when we need to eat certain foods in smaller portions or less frequently.
This change to the labelling of the foods we buy could have a real, positive impact on the way we shop, and ultimately make it very easy for us to live healthier, longer lives.
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from public health minister Anna Soubry MP. All opinions expressed here are Anna’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.