Traffic light health warnings

What are they?

Discussed this morning on talkback radio, the Obesity Policy Coalition is lobbying government to introduce regulations that would require traffic light labels on the front of food packaging and fast food menus. A red traffic light label would mean high levels of sugars, fats or salt, an orange label would mean medium levels and a green label low levels. This is in response to a study performed by the group into the effect packaging has on parents’ buying habits. According to the study, parents are twice as likely to buy a product that has healthy-sounding words on its package like “nutrients” or “fibre” and two a half times as likely if the product is also endorsed by a sports star.

What do we think?

This is yet another example of the Australian Nanny State trying to regulate positive lifestyle decisions into its populace. Rather than trusting parents to be capable of ignoring marketing hyperbole, the very idea of the traffic light labels reveals the implicit expectation that parents are too stupid to look after the best interests of their own children.

So what if an unhealthy food is backed by a sports star or a cereal box has the word “fibre” splashed across its front? We live in the information age, one where parents must learn to do what their children have been doing from the moment they learned to pick up a computer mouse: to filter information. Food packaging already lists its contents’ key nutrient indicators; do we really need them to also be festooned with garish traffic lights that render in lowest-common-denominator graphic format what anyone with half a brain can already learn just by reading the back of the box?

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