diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 24, 2008

The UK government yesterday launched a multi-million pound campaign to try to cut levels of obesity across Britain. Because too many of us are fat bastards, and we're all going to die. Obviously. The new campaign contains lots of sensible ideas, most of them old favourites, and most of which chubby and would-be-chubby people will ignore. And then there's this one...
"A single, simple and effective approach to food labelling used by the whole food industry, based on the principles that will be recommended by the FSA in light of the research currently being undertaken."
At the moment, as you've probably noticed, there are two competing approaches to presenting nutritional information on the front of packaged food. One is simple, and the other is a bit more complicated. One is favoured by the government and used by most supermarkets, and the other is favoured by sellers of nutritionally dodgy food and used by Tesco. But only one scheme can win out. And I'm quite surprised by which I prefer.

Traffic lights
traffic lightsThis is the straight-forward system, with the backing of the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health. Pictured is the Sainsbury's version, which looks like a Trivial Pursuit counter (but with proper full fat cheese). Five major nutritional types are depicted, and you can tell at a glance whether you should be cramming this food down your gullet or not. Green = good; amber = occasionally; red = imminent death. Very useful for quickly identifying which of several identical ready meals is jammed full of nasty salt and killer calories, and which isn't quite so bad. But not very useful if you're colour blind. And, ludicrously, the colours have nothing to do with the actual amount of fat/salt/etc inside the packet. The numbers do, but the colours don't. The colours are based on 100g of food, whether the packet contains 100g or not. A tiny pack of ten peanuts would show up red, for example, because 100g of peanuts have a lot of calories. But a huge bucket of fizzy drink might only show amber, because a mere 100g of fizzy drink (one third of a can) isn't going to kill you. It's all a bit basic, a bit broad-brush, a bit over-simple.
All about the traffic light system

Guideline Daily Amounts
GDA percentagesAnd this is the complicated system, with the backing of Tesco, Kellogg's, Nestlé and other stodge-peddling multinationals. Pictured is the label from a steak and mushroom pie I ate earlier, with figures based on recommended daily consumption. There are lots of pretty traffic light colours, but oddly these are completely irrelevant. Sugar may be coloured red, but it's actually the sugar in this pie that's the least unhealthy ingredient. Look, the fat content is huge, and that's for just a quarter of the pie. Eat half of the pie and you'd be eating a day's saturated fat all in one go. I like this label because it's based on actual portion size, and the figures depicted can (and do) actively stop me from eating too large a slice. But the label also contains supposedly difficult mathematics (ie percentages), which is enough to scare off most shoppers. If half the adult population can't quickly interpret this label in a supermarket aisle, then it's not going to provide any motivation to buy the healthy option. Shame.
All about the Guideline Daily Amounts system

I fear that, in the government's new drive to enforce one single food labelling system, lowest common denominator design will win out. Labels will show less information rather than more, because more information confuses stupid people. Red, amber, or green, that's all we'll get. But it won't really be enough. When every pizza in the freezer cabinet shows red for saturated fat, who's to spot that the triple-cheese feast is the real killer. Once I've bought my amber Pringles, what's to stop me from eating the entire tube? Obesity isn't just about what the nation eats, it's about how much. Fat chance of us winning the battle.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream