The government has announced that a consistent system of food labelling will be in place across all supermarkets by the start of 2013, clearly indicating the healthiness, or not, of the foods we buy.
It’s the latest Government initiative to tackle the increasing obesity crisis in the UK, which costs the NHS around £4 billion a year. Britain is fast becoming one of the world’s laziest nations and experts hope making us more aware of the levels of unhealthy fats, salt and sugar in our food will help curb our expanding waistlines.
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To do this, they’re planning a simple visual representation of ‘good’, ‘medium’ and ‘bad’ food in the traffic light colours green, amber and red, which they hope will make people take notice.
But will it make families and individuals healthier?
Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville thinks it’s a great start, as nutritional information will be more available to busy individuals in an instant. “I think it’s brilliant because it’s so obvious and in your face that it drives customers to make healthier choices.
“But the best thing is that it might make manufacturers change what they make. If their food comes with a lot of red traffic lights, they then change their recipe – because they don’t want their food to look like it’s bad. It should force them to start putting healthier food on the shelves.”
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The idea of a compulsory system of ‘traffic light’ labelling of food products was rejected by the European parliament in 2010 but several supermarkets and manufacturers, including Tesco, Morrison, Kellogg’s and Nestle began to label levels of salt, sugar, fat and calories voluntarily.
Earlier this year BBC documentary The Men Who Made Us Fat investigated how some food manufacturers wielded their power to avoid labelling food with this clear, colour-coded information about its health credentials.
At the time the Food and Drinks Association, which represents the industry, insisted foods such as cheese and cereal shouldn’t be ‘demonized’ with an overly simple red, amber and green categorisation.
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Public Health Minister Anna Soubry thinks the move will see big changes, saying: "By having a consistent system we will all be able to see, at a glance, what is in our food. This will help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake.
"Obesity and poor diet cost the NHS billions of pounds every year. Making small changes to our diet can have a big impact on our health and could stop us getting serious illnesses - such as heart disease - later in life."
Dr Marilyn added: “It means that if you pick up a food that’s mostly red, you’re hopefully choose to have mostly green for the rest of the day. I hope it becomes compulsory across all manufacturers.”
But the move hasn’t been universally welcomed. Some suggest that it oversimplifies diet and doesn’t focus on nutrition as a whole or make a differentiation between good and bad fats.
Will traffic light labelling change your buying habits? Head to Twitter to tell us what you think - @YLifestyleUK.