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Dressing Down Junk Food

Should junk food follow tobacco’s lead and dress down its packaging in a bid to combat obesity? Let’s investigate. 

plain package

We’ve seen it happen with cigarette packets and now food industry heavyweights are debating about whether junk food packaging should be plain or even bear graphic images in a bid to combat the obesity epidemic. Earlier this week a panel of food science, nutrition and manufacturing experts started a debate about whether using tobacco’s plain packaging approach would help curb the obesity epidemic. They concluded that plain packaging wouldn’t fix Australia’s obesity problem, as obesity is multi-faceted and the problem cannot be fixed with regulation alone. Instead, food industry experts believe there needs to be a massive emphasis placed on education. With food choices being made at the time of purchase or at the time of consumption, food labels form an important educational tool for consumers.

Another avenue to provide healthy eating education to consumers is through the funding of dietitians in supermarkets, which is already happening in the States. Having dietitians in supermarkets provides the perfect tool to educate consumers on the best food choices for their special dietary requirements and to manage their chronic diseases. Supermarket dietitians can help consumers understand nutrition labels by being there to assist at the time of purchase, developing brochures articles and website resources, and providing cooking demonstrations to help educate consumers on healthy cooking methods, healthy food choices, and appropriate portion sizes. But, promoting healthy eating, doesn’t just stop there. When it comes to changing food behaviours, we need to realise that the consumer is the only one who can make their own food choices. While health professionals, food industry, the government and parents play an important role in helping to guide this choice, they do not and should not dictate what consumers can and can’t eat. Consumers need to be inspired to want to make the best choice and look after themselves.

The idea of plain packaging on junk food also raises the question about what food will be defined as a “junk food”. While the concept of “junk food” is easy to understand, what criteria will set junk food apart from a healthy food choice? Then, there’s the idea of considering foods “good” and “bad”. Most health professionals spend time educating their clients on the importance of removing such labels, in a bid to develop a healthy relationship with food. Some health professional believe plain packaging of junk food would set people up for disordered eating.

There is no hiding the important role that the food industry plays in helping combat the obesity epidemic and improve the health of consumers, which is why regulation within the food industry can help in the development of high quality, nutritious food products. While some food industry experts have been talking about plain packaging, others have been developing a new front-of-pack labeling system called the Health Star Rating system to give consumers “at-a-glance” information about the food they are buying. Using a half to five-star system, the more stars a product has the better the nutritional value. The Health Star Rating system is voluntary, however, if following evaluation after two years, if voluntary implementation by food manufacturers proves unsuccessful, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) will then be commissioned to draft a mandatory standard, or then again, may be by then the packaging will be plain.

What do you think about junk food in plain packaging?

4 Responses to Dressing Down Junk Food

  1. I agree that “plain packaging wouldn’t fix Australia’s obesity problem, as obesity is multi-faceted and the problem cannot be fixed with regulation alone. Instead, food industry experts believe there needs to be a massive emphasis placed on education… food labels form an important educational tool for consumers.”

  2. Plain packaging would probably just lead to more clear packaging and more food additives to make the product itself look better and as you stated “what criteria would set junk food apart from healthy food”. Would white bread be sold in plain packaging? It surely could be classified as junk food with much of the new carb research that has come to light.

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