Traffic light labels a win for consumers' health

Friday 28 January, 2011

A leading coalition of health groups, the Obesity Policy Coalition, has applauded the food labelling review's recommendations for traffic light labelling on front of food packages and fast food menus as a victory for consumers and the health of Australians.

Jane Martin, senior policy adviser for the Obesity Policy Coalition said that traffic light labelling would help consumers make informed and healthier food choices at a glance.

"The evidence shows that traffic light labels are easier to use and less confusing than other schemes. They are also better understood by consumers with lower literacy or from lower socio-economic and culturally diverse groups; empowering them to make healthier food choices.

"Traffic light labels cut through the marketing spin used by manufacturers to confuse consumers about the true nutrition content of foods.

"While it's recommended that traffic light labels be introduced initially on a voluntary basis, we encourage all manufacturers to participate and help improve the health of Australians," said Ms Martin.

"If all manufacturers got on board it would be a major win for Australians who are consuming more and more processed foods at the expense of fruit and vegetables," said Ms Martin.

Ms Martin urged Australian Governments to heed the panel's recommendations and act quickly to develop a traffic light labelling scheme that can be used by manufacturers, stating that traffic light labels were also very popular with the general public.

Recent Cancer Council Victoria research indicates that 87% of Australian consumers are in favour of traffic light labelling on food packaging.

The OPC also welcomed the recommendation that health and nutrition claims (e.g. 'high in protein') are only allowed on healthy products that meet established nutrition criteria.

"If implemented this recommendation will put a stop to sugary cereals touting their 'high fibre' and 'high protein' qualities while ignoring the fact that the box is full of sugar.

"It may also be the end of those ubiquitous '99 percent fat free' claims that scream from high sugar products on supermarket shelves," said Ms Martin.

Ms Martin was particularly pleased by the recommendation for the establishment of an oversight body, the Food Labelling Bureau, to monitor food labelling compliance and undertake research and consumer education.

About the Cancer Council Victoria public opinion survey

A random sample of 1,521 adults who were the main grocery buyer, residing in private households in metropolitan and regional areas across all Australian States and Territories were surveyed in 2010.

About the Obesity Policy Coalition

The Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies which are concerned about the escalating levels of overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

The Obesity Policy Coalition partners include Diabetes Australia - Vic, Cancer Council Victoria, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.

Updated: 28 Jan, 2011