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Managing calorie intake with food packaging

Updated on December 22, 2017

Nutrition Labels

Currently, in the UK, food packaging features a red light system which displays nutritional information and reference intakes. These refer to recommended daily guidelines and relate these to the item in question.

As an example: if the item you are looking at has 60% of your recommended daily sugar intake, that figure will be highlighted in red.

This system was designed to help people make healthy choice and understand more about what nutrition their food actually offered.

Nutritional Information
Nutritional Information | Source

Is This System Working?

There has been some success with this system. Particularly with ready meals and other fast foods, it has helped people understand the nutritional value of their meals, or lack there of. It also makes it easier to make comparisons between brands. For example, when buying pizza it makes it easier to choose the option with less salt.

It is also thought that having this information so clearly displayed has encouraged manufacturers to use healthier recipes and use fewer saturated fats, salts and unnecessary sugars. They know customers will be put off by an amber or red light on the packaging so they are more likely to alter their recipe and produce something healthier.

So Why Change It?

Often, manufacturers will list their nutritional information with regards to one portion of the package. This means, rather than showing nutritional information for the 1 litre bottle of fizzy pop, it will show the information for one 250ml serving of the bottle. Some people see this as misleading and think it is simply a way for manufacturers to avoid red labels.

Another issue is that most people do not want to stand in the supermarket and make multiple calculations and compare all of the different options. A lot of shoppers will be focused on the prices and value and don't want to add to their sums. Mental arithmetic is not appealing at the best of times, never mind when you are trying to do your shopping in a busy supermarket.

What Is The New Suggestion

The Royal Society for Public Health have proposed a new labeling system which is based on imagery and exercise. The new system would replace unattractive maths equations with icons representing how much physical activity would be required to burn off the calories in the item.

This may be one packet of crisps equaling a 30 minute run, or one slice of pizza equaling a 20 minute cycle.

This idea is that this new design will help people make healthier decisions with their food, and also choose to partake in more physical activity by leaving these suggestions in the consumer's mind.

What Will It Look Like?

Activity Equivalent Labeling
Activity Equivalent Labeling | Source

Will It Work?

It is likely that the images will mean more to a wider range of people. And if it speaks to a wider audience it should, in theory be more effective than previous labeling systems.

However, the traffic light colour coding system was initially thought to be easy to understand and useful for consumers. After several years in operation, it has become a little less noticeable and has become easy for customers to ignore. It is possible that the same will happen for these activity equivalent icons.

This is especially true as it will likely still reference the activity equivalent in relation to one serving of the item. The aspect of mental arithmetic which is such a turn off for customers could still be an issue.

In Conclusion

This system could be a beneficial icon to have on packaging. It encourages and active lifestyle and anything that tries to combat rising obesity levels should be seen as a good thing.

Further experimentation is going to be required but the proposed activity equivalent labeling is certainly a step in the right direction.

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