Food labeling: Diabetics urge companies to use the same system, UK survey shows

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09 Mar 2018 --- Around three-quarters of people with diabetes believe that a universal food labeling system on the front of food products would make it easier for them to make healthier choices. This is according to a Diabetes UK survey conducted among 7,406 people with diabetes about what would help them manage their condition. 

Seventy-three percent of respondents said that if all cafes, restaurants and takeaways used the same food labeling system, it would help them make healthier choices.

At the moment, the group notes, clear and consistent food labeling is not compulsory. Companies do not have to provide any information on the front of their goods, and one in three products in shops do not have clear traffic-light labels.

Traffic-light labeling assigns a red, amber or green value in relation to fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, as well as giving information on the calories in a product, to help consumers find out what is in the food and drink that they’re buying.

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Image credit: Diabetes UK

In another survey of 2,121 UK adults in the wider public, nine out of ten people said that traffic-light food labeling helps them make healthier decisions. And only three in ten people (29 percent) feel they have enough information about what’s in their food, Diabetes UK reports. 

Independent evidence from the UK Food Standards Agency shows that the traffic-light system works better than other labels to help shoppers make healthy choices when buying food. Cochrane also published evidence that calorie labeling on menus in restaurants and cafes could help people to reduce the number of calories they consume.

Knowing the carbohydrate content of food is also essential for people with diabetes who make adjustments to their insulin dose by counting their carbs. That’s why, as part of Diabetes UK’s Food Upfront campaign, they are also calling for carbs to be displayed clearly and consistently on all pre-packaged foods and drinks.
 
To help people make better choices at home and while eating out, Diabetes UK is calling on the government to commit to introducing the following: 

•    Calories to be labeled on menus in key high street restaurants, cafes and takeaways, with carb content available online or when you ask for it in store.
•    Carbohydrates to be labeled on the back of products, per portion and as prepared. 
•    Front-of-pack traffic light labeling to be used on all pre-packaged foods sold in the UK.

The launch of the Food Upfront campaign follows on from new advice issued by Public Health England about the number of calories people should aim to consume per meal, per day. The new guidance states that adults should aim for 400 calories at breakfast, 600 at lunch and 600 at dinner.

“People living with diabetes have told us that they want more information about what’s in the food and drinks they buy, and effective food labeling will help make it easier for them to manage their condition well, especially when they’re out and about,” says Helen Dickens, our Assistant Director of Campaigns and Mobilization.

“We also know that consistent and clear food labeling can help all of us to make informed and healthy choices. With around two-thirds of adults in the UK classed as overweight or obese, and therefore at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions, it’s really important that we have measures in place that help make it easier for all of us to lead healthier lives.” 
 
“That’s why we are calling for the government to introduce mandatory traffic-light labeling, and to make it compulsory for restaurants, cafes and takeaways to clearly display the calorie information on their menus. The British public overwhelmingly support this move, so we look to the government today to demonstrate a commitment to the health of the nation by implementing these measures,” she adds.

Also in diabetes related news, new research, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology Journal, has put forward that diabetes can be broken down into – at least – five groups. This goes beyond the classification of diabetes as being two-fold, Type 1 and Type 2, and could lead to significant future treatments tailored to patient’s needs. 

“This is the step to more individualized medicine. We have been surprised at the immediate and enthusiastic response to this research from clinicians, for example,” Professor Leif Groop of Lund University Diabetes Centre tells NutritionInsight.

by Lucy Gunn