Doctors group says food labels alone not enough to promote public health

Some 22,000 Israelis die each year from causes related to their weight and poor food choices.

December 13, 2017 16:31
2 minute read.
Burger King

A Burger King in Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Genuine reform that would proactively get the public to eat more healthful food is vital and would prevent an estimated 22,000 Israeli deaths and NIS 6 million in medical costs over the coming decade, according to a coalition of public health groups.

The Israel Medical Association and its member, the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, as well as the Israel Forum for Sustainable Nutrition disclosed on Tuesday its position paper to be presented on Wednesday to the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee.

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The group said that while it favors the labeling of foods as healthful with a green label and unhealthful with a red label, as well as the placing of images of spoons to show how much sugar foods contain, these steps are still “the weakest” among the proposals.

The Health Ministry has so far put its weight behind the labeling idea, but food industry pressure has made it back down on related reforms because it fears the public will eschew foods with too much sugar, fat and salt.

The food industry, coalition of public health groups continued, “has been proven to use invalid means to influence scientific research, decision makers and the media, while intentionally misleading the public. Protecting public health requires steps to prevent this invalid influence, similar to measures taken abroad against tobacco.”

The public health group said that simply trying to convince the public to adopt a more healthful diet is a weak weapon against unhealthy living. Instead, they said, there must be changes in policy that will create a different atmosphere by including active steps, such as adding taxes on harmful food and then using the proceeds to promote health, reducing the cost of healthful food and making it more accessible to the poor, and prohibiting advertising and marketing of dangerous food.

The group called on the ministry and Knesset committees to advance these proposals “and not to be deterred by industry lobbyists’ efforts to torpedo them.”

The group also blamed the industry of trying to delay the deadline by which they will have to list dangerous levels of salt, fat and sugar on the labels. These labels may also give a false impression that food packages that bear them are “nutritious,” when, in fact, they are not.

The group also maintained that proposals pushed by the food industry would give an exemption to limits on powdered seasonings that contain large quantities of sodium. They also want to cancel the exemption for “diet formulas” that are not effective and may even cause harm.

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