Warning on 'misleading' food labels

By on 25/06/2014 in News

A Birmingham healthy eating expert has backed calls to ban food firms from putting 'misleading' healthy eating labels on food packed with sugar and salt.

Birmingham Public Health dietician Eleanor McGee says many people are unaware that many 'low fat' options on supermarket shelves contain far more sugar than their standard equivalent, while other apparently healthy options contain high levels of salt.

Furthermore, ‘buzzwords’ such as ‘wholegrains’ and ‘anti-oxidants’ can make shoppers think a food is healthy when, despite having some nutritional benefits, it may also be high in sugar or salt.

Now the Local Government Association has called on the EU to ban misleading labels and to set caps on the amount of sugar, salt and fat a food product can contain if it is to be marketed with any claims of nutritional or health benefit.

Under EU rules, food companies are allowed to make claims that have been accepted as clear, accurate and substantiated. The problem is that these claims can be made on any foods regardless of the overall nutritional quality.

Well-known products which are often marketed as low-fat in the UK, and are ultimately covered by European regulations, include yoghurts, cheese, dressings and processed meat products. It takes on average just 15 seconds for a consumer to decide on a supermarket purchase and most buys are done on ‘auto pilot’.

Birmingham Public Health Nutrition Lead, Eleanor McGee, said: “If a product is marketed as ‘low fat’, many shoppers will instantly feel it is the healthy option. But in many cases that’s far from the truth as these products are often high in sugar and salt.

“People need clear information to ensure they don’t unwittingly buy unhealthy products when trying to do the right thing.

“Obesity is a crisis that we need to tackle on many fronts. Individuals, health professionals, politicians and the food industry must work together.”

Cllr Katie Hall, Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “We are calling on the European Commission to deliver on its long-held promise to introduce robust, scientifically-validated nutrient profiling and provide consumers with a balanced and accurate picture of what they are buying. We also want the British Government to put pressure on the Commission. Manufacturers should be prevented from marketing a product as ‘low fat’ when they are actually laden with added sugar and salt.

“Obesity is one of the biggest public health crises this country has ever faced and it is imperative that consumers are given the full picture when it comes to buying food. This is all about enabling shoppers to make informed choices.”

Useful information

How do I know if a food is high in fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt? http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/food-labelling.aspx

Tips for a lower-salt diet http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/goodfood/pages/cut-down-salt.aspx

Why cut down on sugars? http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/sugars.aspx

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