The Map Is Not the Territory – How Poor Food Labelling Contributes to Negative Health Outcomes
Date Posted:31 December 2016
Last month, we discussed some of the disappointing findings of the 2016 CSIRO Healthy Diet Score report, and offered some reasoning as to why Australia’s diet scored so poorly in overall nutrition.
Last month, we discussed some of the disappointing findings of the 2016 CSIRO Healthy Diet Score report, and offered some reasoning as to why Australia’s diet scored so poorly in overall nutrition. An aspect worth investigating further is how inaccurate or deliberately misleading food labelling gives consumers a false sense of security in their diet. Lifestyle factors and individual choice do seem to be the predominant underlying causes of a nutritionally incomplete diet, but the CSIRO itself highlighted ignorance as a major contributing factor to people falling short of the benchmark in its report.
A difference in scale
Fundamentally, much of the blame lies with regulatory organisations who have allowed the food industry to set their own serving sizes for each product. This leads to a situation wherein more than half of food and beverage products sold at major supermarket chains exceed the (unenforceable) Australian Dietary Guidelines recommendation that a single serve of any food item not exceed 600kJ. Under this system, both a 250ml cup of Coca Cola from a two-litre bottle and a 375ml can of Coca-Cola are considered to be one standard serve, despite the latter containing 50 per cent more of the same product. The authors of the study themselves indicated that confusion over serving size was a likely contributor to the national obesity epidemic.
Knowing is more than half the battle
The incompleteness of the current industry-regulated labelling system and the wilful misdirection that food companies engage in could both be countered by rolling out a new framework for the food and beverage industry to follow. As mentioned last week, the National Review of Food Labelling in October 2009 recommended implementing a traffic light labelling system that would indicate numerically and with easy to spot colours whether the product had a low, medium or high (unhealthy) level of certain nutrients such as fat, sugar, salt and more. This recommendation was categorically rejected by the Australian Food and Grocery Council – the peak industry body representing food and grocery manufacturers and processors – in favour of their own widely implemented Dietary Intake Guide system.
In the absence of a robust, informative labelling system clearly indicating the content of the product relevant to medically-supported dietary guidelines, it is up to healthcare officials and practitioners to make people aware of the potentially negative effects of consuming some foods. To assist educators and physicians in enhancing public understanding of what constitutes a good diet, Mentone Educational offers a range of nutritional charts, tools and guides. Browse our selection today.
 Hendrie, G., Baird, D., Golley, S., Noakes, M. (2016). CSIRO Healthy Diet Score 2016. p. 38
 Haskelberg, H., Neal, B., Dunford, E., Flood, V., Rangan, A., Thomas, B., ... & Gill, T. (2016). High variation in manufacturer-declared serving size of packaged discretionary foods in Australia. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(10), 1810-1818.
 Han, E. (2016). Huge variations found in what food manufacturers say is a serving size: research. The Age. [online] Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/huge-variations-found-in-what-food-manufacturers-say-is-a-serving-size-research-20161206-gt55ox.html [Accessed 15 Dec. 2016].
 Gill, T., Louie, J. and King, L. (2011). Food industry digs in heels over traffic light labels. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/food-industry-digs-in-heels-over-traffic-light-labels-311 [Accessed 15 Dec. 2016].