BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 08:08 GMT
Labels 'key to tackling obesity'
Shoppers in supermarket
Different food labelling systems have emerged
Ministers have told the food industry a "single, simple" product labelling system is the key to tackling obesity.

Major retailers and food producers use a combination of systems from traffic light codes to guideline daily amounts.

But the government has said it wants them to agree to abide by the findings of an independent expert panel which is currently looking into the issue.

It comes as ministers prepare to unveil a range of measures making up their anti-obesity strategy for England.

The cross-government strategy for England will make it clear that a uniform approach is needed to food labelling.

We are a super-tanker heading in the wrong direction and it will take time to turn that around
Professor Mike Kelly, of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence

The Food Standards Agency favours a traffic light system which uses red, amber and green labels to signify whether the food is good for you.

But the watchdog has failed to get the agreement of industry, which has used a mix of different methods.

Many favour guideline daily amounts, which are percentages of sugar, salt and fat per serving.

Consumer groups have complained that such systems are too complicated.

Major retail groups, including Tesco and Asda, have told the BBC they are not yet prepared to abide by the findings of the independent group examining the issue, despite the government's call.

Consensus needed

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "In this country we are probably ahead of the world in food labelling.

"Our retailers and our food manufacturers have looked at this in a very clear way and said 'Our consumers do want information'.

"The problem is there are three systems. We are saying we want to work with the industry and have an independent review by experts to see which of these three systems is the most effective. Then we hope that we can convince the industry to go for one system."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the traffic light system was too simplistic.

"If we are going to achieve a consensus in this country which we can then try to drive through on a Europe-wide basis, the thing we are going to need is combined traffic light and guideline daily amounts to help people construct their diets."

Mr Johnson will unveil government's obesity strategy in parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

He told the BBC that obesity was "probably the biggest public health threat that we face."


In the UK, nearly a quarter of adults and over a tenth of children are obese after sharp increases in the last decade.

The strategy is likely to include measures to encourage cookery lessons in schools and allocate 30m to help create a series of healthy towns with comprehensive cycle routes and pedestrian areas.

Ministers also want to see councils use their planning powers to prevent fast-food outlets setting up near schools.

It comes as the NHS advisory body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, has made recommendations about how planners, designers and architects can help create an environment that promotes physical activity.

Durham - In the first 12 months following introduction of road charging there was a 10% rise in pedestrian activity
Central London - Improvements to cycle network led to 30% increase in cycling over three years
Skjovoeland (Norway) - Handful of streets turned into no-go areas for cars - prompted a steep rise in cyclists and pedestrians

The advisers said more priority should be given to cyclists and pedestrians when it comes to street design, including narrower roads, more cycle networks and wider pavements.

The advisers also pointed out simple measures such as signposting where stairs are rather than just highlighting lifts could make a difference.

NICE official Professor Mike Kelly said society had now reached a "watershed".

"We are a super-tanker heading in the wrong direction and it will take time to turn that around."

But public health experts questioned the government's track-record on tackling obesity.

The topic was a central plank of the government's 2004 public health White Paper, but the Faculty of Public Health said less than half of the promised 300m extra funding materialised.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health, which represents public health specialists, said: "We have had a lot of rhetoric on tackling obesity.

"But what we need now is good local schemes in place. That requires both financial and strategic support."

Per 100g
Per 100g
Per 100g
Fat 0-3g Between 3g
and 20g
20g and over
Saturated fat 0-1.5g Between 1.5g
and 5g
5g and over
Total sugars 0-5g Between 5g
and 15g
15g and over
Salt 0-0.3g Between 0.3g
and 1.5g
1.5g and over
Source: Food Standards Agency

The different types of labels on food

Beating the bulge (again)
23 Jan 08 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific