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Healthier Food Labelling

Earlier this year I wrote an Australian Medicine column advising members that obesity was a key priority area for the AMA’s Public Health & Child and Youth Health Committee. I noted that a number of AMA submissions had been developed in the areas of nutrition and obesity.  The AMA’s Position Statement Obesity – 2009 highlights the need for a multifaceted approach to obesity in Australia, and calls on Government to employ measures that make it easier for consumers to make healthy choices.

19 Aug 2012

Earlier this year I wrote an Australian Medicine column advising members that obesity was a key priority area for the AMA’s Public Health & Child and Youth Health Committee. I noted that a number of AMA submissions had been developed in the areas of nutrition and obesity. 

The AMA’s Position Statement Obesity – 2009 highlights the need for a multifaceted approach to obesity in Australia, and calls on Government to employ measures that make it easier for consumers to make healthy choices.

In order to make healthier food choices, people need effective food labelling that provides the right health information in the right way. Studies show that many consumers find the current approach (the Nutrition Information Panel) to be too technical, difficult to understand, and confusing (if not misleading) – and that’s if you can read it. By contrast, Front of Pack Food Labelling aims to provide consumers with ‘at a glance’, easy to understand and comparable information about packaged food items. 

Views have differed about the best approach to Front of Pack Food Labelling in Australia, with many health-related organisations, including the AMA, voicing support for the Traffic Light approach, while many food producers and retailers have supported the Percentage Daily Intake approach.  Not surprisingly, this was a key issue identified in Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (the Blewett Review), which was handed down in December 2011. 

As a way forward, the Government has undertaken to bring key stakeholders together (in the Front of Pack Labelling Stakeholder Working Group) in order to develop a new Front of Pack Labelling system. The AMA was recognised as a key stakeholder in this area and I now represent the AMA on the Working Group, which is chaired by Federal Department of Heath and Ageing Secretary Jane Halton. The Working Group aims to develop a Front of Pack Food Labelling approach that health groups and the food industry can support.

Meetings of the Working Group have been productive and have included the development of agreed objectives and principles that will guide the group in the development of the preferred labelling model. Terms of reference for two sub-groups have also been agreed. They focus on technical design and implementation aspects.  At this stage it is hoped that the Working Group will have an agreed proposal for Front of Pack Labelling finalised early in 2013. 

The introduction of Front of Pack Labelling will need to be supported by a significant and well-targeted public education campaign.

It is pleasing to see the Government, health groups and the food industry working towards the development of a Front of Pack Food Labelling system, which ultimately aims to assist consumers in making healthier food choices. 

While no one believes that Front of Pack Food Labelling is a panacea to address obesity in Australia, it is an important component, and will help to raise public awareness of the importance of energy consumption and nutritional value to their diet. I look forward to being able to keep members updated about progress on this matter of considerable interest for public health.

 

 


Published: 19 Aug 2012