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Public Prefer Food Traffic Lights

Oct 17, 2007
A survey by the Netmums website has found that the majority of people support the "traffic lights" nutrition guide on food packaging, rather than the percentage figures of guideline daily amounts (GDA) that much of the food industry uses.

The survey found that 80% of 17,000 parents backed the traffic lights food labelling system which offers a simple red, amber and green guide to nutrition. The findings come as the British Medical Association announced its backing for the traffic light idea and The National Heart Forum said that the GDA markings are complex and misleading.

GDA supporters say their system provides people with more detailed information and that the traffic lights are too crude and simplistic. Many in the food industry prefer giving the GDA for things like calories, sugars and fat.

Cathy Court, a director of Netmums, said the strength of the traffic lights scheme was its simplicity. She said some of the parents who responded to the survey stressed that the easy-to-use nature of the scheme made it ideal to use with their children. She said: "An important thing nowadays is to get your children to understand what healthy food is. People could actually use it to teach their children about healthy food, and work out healthy options together."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA head of science and ethics, said: "It is absolutely essential that it is simple, that you don't need to sit down and start trying to work out what that percentage means. And the traffic lights system is something you can even see from a distance, so you can start to hone in on the foods that are predominantly green or green and amber, and just cut down on the foods that are marked red."

The independent watchdog the Food Standards Agency has also called for the wider industry to adopt traffic light labelling. Rosemary Hignett, FSA head of nutrition, said the evidence so far pointed to that consumers not running scared of red markers, as feared by critics of the traffic light scheme. She said: "They are using the information to balance their shop. They are not interpreting the red as "don't buy". They are interpreting it as "high in fat, salt or sugar - therefore don't eat too much of this product. So they are using it in a very sensible way, in fact."

Tesco have insisted that they are not seeking any competitive advantage by sticking with GDAs and that it was convinced that its approach was better for working out a balanced diet through the day. It also said traffic light labelling might appear simpler at first, but that the GDA approach was more likely to change customer behaviour, and encourage a switch to healthy products.

However, supporters of both methods of Nutrition Information delivery think that their schemes encourage healthy eating.
About the Author
Guide to Nutrition explores the issue of nutrition and health so that you can find out more information about what you eat and the effect it has on your life. For more information please visit http://www.guide-to-nutrition.com
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