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Do you read the labels?

Labelling over the years

Consumer guidelines for the daily consumption of key nutrients have taken many forms in the UK over the past 25 years or so.

Some form of on-pack nutritional labelling has existed since the end of the 90s when, what were then called Guideline Daily Amounts, were developed for food labelling out of the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s (MAFF) Daily Guideline Intakes.

In the mid-2000s two labelling schemes ran concurrently, with many food manufacturers and some supermarkets showing product portions on labels as a percentage of GDAs, while others favoured a simpler ‘traffic light’ scheme championed by the Food Standards
Agency. It used red, amber and green signals to show shoppers, at a glance, whether a product was high, medium or low in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

Both schemes came in for criticism, with GDAs branded as too complex and sometimes misleading, and traffic lights as too simplistic. Since the EU Food Information to Consumers legislation was first launched in 2012, most pre-packed food sold in shops has pre-empted the rules coming into force this December by including the mandatory back-of-pack nutrients, plus many voluntary ones. Many brands and supermarket own labels have also chosen to include an at-a-glance, front-of-pack label incorporating traffic lights.

Back of pack labelling 

Respondents were almost split squarely down the middle when asked whether they read back of pack labels, with 51% saying they do, but 49% admitting they don’t.

The younger age groups paid far more attention to back of pack labels, with 66% of 18–24 year-olds taking the trouble. The percentage of people reading labels dropped amongst older respondents, but nevertheless stood at a respectable 47% of 45–54 years-olds and 48% of those aged 55+.

Women are marginally more diligent in label reading, with 51% saying they do, compared to 49% of men. However, this still leaves around half of both sexes not paying any attention to the labels that are designed to help them make healthier choices.

Info 2016 04

Info 2016 05

Find out more about public attitudes to health and wellbeing in the National Health Report. 

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