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Do nutrition labels promote healthier food choices

Media Release
September 28, 2009

Does nutrition labelling promote healthier food choices?

There is much debate about the best way to label food with nutrition information – on the front, on the back, with detailed nutritional analysis or simple health claims. But do any of these help New Zealanders make better food choices? Or are we in danger of increasing the amount of information given to shoppers, without giving practical help?

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) in Brussels attempted to answer these questions by looking at the labels of thousands of food products and observing and talking to thousands of shoppers across 27 European countries. Dr Josephine Wills, Director General of EUFIC, is visiting New Zealand to share these findings at this year’s New Zealand Nutrition Foundation AGM in Auckland on 1st October.

”Our research shows consumers know quite a bit about the nutrition content of food” says Dr Wills, “but consumers tend to exaggerate what not to eat, rather than focusing on foods being good for them. Unfortunately, most people we observed and questioned did not look at the nutrition labels, with only around a quarter taking note of the nutritional information; this being directly linked to their level of interest in healthy eating. What’s needed is a way of motivating those not interested but who most often need the information to improve their health.”

Just as in New Zealand, a wide range of nutrition labelling systems is being used on food packaging across Europe. Whilst the major systems used in Europe were all equally able to help shoppers identify the healthier product, EUFIC’s research suggests those relating to guideline (recommended) daily amounts were used most, whereas colour-coded systems, such as the traffic lights pioneered in the UK, can be open to misinterpretation, with consumers not sure what the colours mean.

Local labelling experts, Jenny Reid from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and Dean Stockwell from Food Standards Australia New Zealand, will also be giving an update on the New Zealand situation at the Foundation’s AGM, ensuring continued debate on this vexing dilemma.

ENDS

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