Junkfood Science: Preserving red and green lights for traffic and Christmas

September 01, 2007

Preserving red and green lights for traffic and Christmas

Do government officials know how to do anything but cut and paste from each other? New Zealand’s Health Ministry has now jumped on the bandwagon promoting traffic lights. No, not those at public street corners, but ones labeling “good” and “bad” foods so people will know the proper way to eat. It’s another solution being proposed to eradicate obesity.

As Forbes reports from Wellington, New Zealand:

New Zealand Eyes Labels to Beat Obesity

The government should impose “traffic light" labeling to warn consumers about obesity-causing food and drink products if New Zealand companies won't do it voluntarily, a parliamentary committee said Friday. After a 10-month inquiry, a majority of lawmakers on Parliament's health select committee recommended a system of red, yellow and green labels to indicate the levels of fat, salt and sugar in products...

The red label - to be used for food such as cakes, pies and chocolates - would warn that the products should only be consumed occasionally. Yellow-labeled foods such as pizza should be eaten “sometimes," while green-labeled products such as low-fat yogurt could be eaten daily.

...“Tackling the obesity epidemic in New Zealand is imperative," the committee said. “Comprehensive, coordinated action by the government is needed." The committee also wants targets set for advertising, marketing and promotion of food and drink, saying there needs to be the threat of regulation if voluntary measures don't work....

Yes, this news is deja vu. Unsupportable beliefs that foods with sugar, fat and salt are harmful have been covered extensively here. Given that multiple reviews of the evidence have also repeatedly found that fat and thin people don’t eat any differently to explain obesity, nor that any food has been shown to make people fat, nor found any evidence that any dietary intervention has ever worked to reduce obesity rates long-term, it places additional importance on the potential harm of these types of initiatives contrived by government bureaucrats.

As Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, said when the UK came up with an identical plan, the focus on healthy eating only adds to problems for young people struggling to develop normal relationships with food and eating. “Even things intended to be helpful, such as traffic lights for high-fat foods, play into the hands of people who are obsessed about eating. It gives them more to obsess about....[Food] is not just fuel,” she said. Concerns over the promotion of low-fat and low-calorie foods go beyond eating disorders to vital nutritional needs for both growing children and elderly.

Should there at least be some actual health crisis before governments tell people how to eat?

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