Food advertising and food labelling

Food advertising and food labellingOver the weekend I got into a bit of a disagreement on a Facebook post. I try not to jump in on posts where I see some confusion or misguided advice. But, on this occasion, I felt I had to.

The post was signing the praises of the national campaign Change 4 Life. Now don’t get me wrong I am not entirely against this campaign. Any campaign that raises awareness of health when it comes to food and movement is a plus in my book. But there are elements that are just so wrong (in my opinion).

100 Calorie snacks

Now, I am not a fan of counting calories. I advise adults to re-train their relationship with food to stop viewing it numerically. So why would we encourage it with children? In my view we just shouldn’t.

But there’s more! The types of 100 calorie snacks;

  • Sugar free jelly
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Scotch pancake

Of course, this campaign also advises the increased consumption of fruit and veg. It would be daft not to! But these 100 calorie snacks are all nutrient devoid. Therefore regardless of how many calories they contain they offer little nutritional gain. Only the low-fat yogurt has anything of any form of vitamins and minerals to bring to the party.

Just like the sugar tax this campaign advocates switching from sugar to artificial sweeteners. By instead choosing low sugar/low calorie and diet versions. In my opinion the over use of artificial sweeteners is contributing to our overall health problems. It is confusing for parents and consumers.

Let’s look at an example

Whilst out with my little boy we needed to stop for lunch. The drinks option for him was a no added sugar juice made from concentrate or a flavoured water. Neither were a suitable choice because they both contained artificial sweeteners. Now when you are not used to these everything tastes of chemicals as they have a very synthetic taste.

We opted instead for a Naked Green smoothie containing; apples, banana, kiwi, mango, pineapple, spirulina, chlorella, spinach, ginger, blue green algae

Food advertising and food labellingNow I know fruit contains fruit sugar! But believe me there’s a lot of nutrients in this. We were also sharing so the portions were fine. How did this green nutritious drink fare on the Change 4 Life app?

The visual implies that there are 12.4 sugar cubes in this drink and offers alternative suggestions in the low sugar drink swap. This means that potentially someone scans this green smoothie assumes someone has added 12 lumps of white refined sugar in and opts for an artificially sweetened nutrient devoid drink instead.

Therefore, people find food labelling confusing, food is so much more than calories – we are living in an obese yet largely malnourished society and switching to sugar free will not help this.

The Change 4 Life campaign launched in 2009 since then we have seen a large increase in children developing Type 2 Diabetes – Helen Dickens, Diabetes UK Interim Director of Type 2 Diabetes Prevention, said:

“Type 2 diabetes typically develops in adults over the age of 40, so it is extremely worrying that we are seeing more young people develop the condition.”

The current obesity stats are worrying, and the future looks even more bleak!

“more than 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they begin school, and 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school” (Public Health England) and the NHS predicts that half of the UK will be obese by 2030 – that’s this generation of children becoming obese adults.

The link with children’s weight is linked to the maternal health with 58% of women of childbearing age (16 to 44 years) in England were either overweight or obese (source Public Health England).

I mentioned empty calories and with good reason! The approach of simply counting calories and demonising a nutritious smoothie offering a nutrient devoid calorie free option instead is fuelling the rates we are seeing of malnutrition. This no longer applies to countries who are starving, in fact after the Global Nutrition Report of 2016 the World Health Organisation (WHO) redefined the meaning of malnutrition as ‘bad diet’. It is entirely possible to be both obese and malnourished.

So, this is all very alarming but what is the solution?!

  1. Stop treating food numerically and look at it nutritionally
  2. If you are eating the right nutrients you/your child will feel full/feel energised/manage cravings/have stable moods and get vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals
  3. Ditch the chemicals – your gut microbiome will thank you for it
  4. Learn about food – once you know what goes in to some food items you genuinely won’t want to eat them, and you certainly won’t want your child to eat them!

I fear this blog is a bit of a rant and I don’t mean it to be! I am all for a national campaign to promote awareness of our worrying and declining health I just wish it was a bit clearer and more educational on the nutrient side of things.

I talk about all of this and more in my award-winning nutritional cook book ‘How Food Shapes Your Child’ and in my webinars.

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