According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2016 – and from this figure, 650 million were obese.
Obesity is closely linked to health problems such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD), diabetes and even musculoskeletal disorders. This can have debilitating effects on a nation’s productivity and the well-being of its population.
The good news, however, is that governments and other stakeholders all over the world are introducing measures to nip obesity in the bud.
Calorie countsThe US government has finally ruled that commencing May 2018, every food and drink must be labelled with calorie counts. This includes restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and even pizza delivery chains.
The rationale of the law is to help people make choices for themselves when they become aware of how many calories certain foods contain. Even though this measure has met with some resistance – particularly amongst food sellers – the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not backing down. It has only entertained complaints regarding the difficulties of displaying calories at takeout chains, self-service buffets and non-restaurant food locations.
Therefore, in order to assist businesses to abide by the law, it has posted preliminary specific guidelines on calorie-labelling online. The agency is seeking feedback for the next 60 days before finalising them.
“When you arm consumers with reliable information, they are going to make better decisions, smarter and more informed decisions about their diet,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “Providing this information is more important now than ever because more people are eating their meals away from the home.”
Major food franchises such as McDonald’s and Subway have already started displaying calorie counts at their physical stores. However, it would take more time before this ruling applies to non-traditional food outlets, such as petrol stations and cinemas.
“Sugar by Half”
The increasing consumption of sugary drinks, especially carbonated soft drinks, has been a key contributor to the obesity epidemic. Therefore, tackling obesity should also include the reduction of sugar intake in one’s diet.
In Australia, a campaign called “Sugar by Half” is battling to improve the health conditions of the general public through food labelling, especially when it concerns added sugars. In addition, it plans to gradually lower sugar intake by banning junk food advertisements.
"We are in the midst of a sugardemic, throughout the world," said Professor Peter Brukner, who is leading the campaign. "Not only are people eating more sugar and processed foods today, (but) they are also eating more than they should.”
Singapore is also playing its part to cut down sugar intake. Seven major beverage industry players including Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka and Yeo Hiap Seng will limit the sugar content in their drinks to a maximum of 12% beginning 2020, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health.
“Governments in Asia are actively promoting healthy consumption, such as Malaysia which launched its Healthier Choices Logo in April 2017,” said Nathanael Lim, a Euromonitor International analyst. “Consumers also have an increasing preference for beverages containing natural ingredients with zero sugar.”
Meals vs. snacks
The way food is labelled and presented can also influence how much a person eats subsequently. One recent study has found that people tend to eat more when food is labelled as a “snack” instead of a “meal”. The findings revealed that the participants of the study ate significantly more sweet food during the taste test when they consumed pasta labelled and presented as a snack.
To encourage the general public to have a healthier attitude towards food, the government needs to enforce laws pertaining to food labels and restrict the use of the term “snacks” by the food industry. Other stakeholders such as employers can play their part by promoting proper meal breaks among their staff. MIMS
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