Weekly comment

Warning signs: reconsidering shock tactics

Related tags Nutrition Fsa

Here's a possible new marketing angle for food and beverage
manufacturers: "Food can kill".

Now I grant you, it's a little lacking in marketing savvy, but just a week after the UK's Food Standards Agency rejected using cigarette-style health warnings on cheese and butters, should we be so quick to dismiss shock tactics to promote health? After all, saturated fats are linked to a number of health defects, particularly heart disease, so to suggest that they are any less of a concern to our health than alcohol or cigarettes seems churlish. Unlike cigarettes of course, a balance of food types are needed to ensure a healthy diet. This is a notion reflected nutrient profiling systems, which take into account any health benefits of foods that may also have high contents of fats or sugars. Nonetheless, some of these products, even when considering their nutritional value, can be threatening if not consumed in moderation. Cheese in particular can certainly be part of a healthy diet, with even some sugars and fats having their own roles, but balance, as many nutritionists and health experts will attest, is a key factor here. Health warnings, particularly on the foods that contribute little of any nutrition benefit, would serve as the most direct form of making a consumer aware of the health affects that excess consumption of a specific food would have. Granted, like any man, I would be tempted take up arms against another who besmirched my favourite variety of cheese, or sugar glazed-baked goods. However, the truth is, as much as we love these products, if unchecked, they can cause some serious problems for health and people must be aware of this. It is perhaps this emotional attachment to our favourite foods that underlay the media headlines gloomily predicting the use of health warnings on foods like butter or cheese. The FSA quickly countered that it was not recommending, and had no plans to introduce the health warnings on butters and cheeses and a number of other everyday foods. Yet with further research to be undertaken, and no decisions on how to proceed with the scheme, the FSA should not have had to rule out any form of solution, especially when it relates to consumer health. The food equivalent of a "smoking causes lung cancer"​ message may be divisive, but we should still not reject it out of hand on these grounds. While debate rages over the effectiveness of cigarette packet-based health warnings, research suggests the more comprehensive the warning used on national packets, the greater the health knowledge was as well. The study published in the journal Tobacco Control in 2006, said that despite some limitations in testing, the use of large, graphic warnings on cigarette packaging was overall an effective way of increasing health knowledge.​There is of course a lot to consider before the FSA is expected to announce its plans for how to tackle saturated fat reduction in 2009. However, at such a relatively early stage of research, any solution to raise awareness of dietary health, including detailed warnings of the impacts on our bodies, should be just as valid as any other. Neil Merrett is a staff reporter for DairyReporter.com, and has written on a number of issues for publications in both theUKandFrance. If you would like to comment on this article, please e-mail Neil.Merrett 'at' decisionnews.com.

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