World Cancer Research Fund International have published a new policy report: Lessons on implementing a robust front-of-pack food label. This is part of their Building Momentum series – an overview of lessons on implementing evidence-informed nutrition policy.1

What is a front-of-pack food label (FOPL)?

There is a difference between FOPLs and back-of-pack food labels.2 Back-of-pack labels give a detailed breakdown of the ingredients plus the nutritional content in a table format. A FOPL is a quicker and easier to understand label format, providing information about how healthy or unhealthy a food product is. Traffic light labelling is a well known FOPL in the UK.

What other front-of-pack labels are there?

There are two main categories: interpretive, which include a judgement on the healthiness of the food; and non-interpretive, which simply give information with no judgement on the healthiness of the food. Interpretive labels can be broken down further into summary indicator systems (such as France’s Nutri-Score, or the Australian Health Star Rating) and nutrient specific systems, such as the UK's traffic light labels or Chile's black warning labels.

How can labels on food help prevent cancer?

Our research shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 12 different types of cancer.What you eat plays a major role in maintaining a healthy weight. But in the current food climate where there are so many different choices on the shelves – low fat, fat-free, reduced calories, no added-sugar, lite – how are we supposed to know which food product is healthier? The FOPL acts to empower consumers, assisting people in making informed, healthier choices by presenting the nutritional value of a specific product in a quick and easy to understand way.

Why aren’t these labels on all foods?

Generally, the industry isn’t always keen on adding certain labels to their food products. Depending on the country you are in, it could result in a lot of red circles, black circles or a one-star rating being added, potentially putting people off buying – the opposite of what the billion-pound food industry is trying to achieve. So, governments can be challenged by the industry on the introduction of FOPLs.

How can industry prevent governments from taking decisive action?

The food and drinks industry use similar tactics as tobacco companies did all those years ago, which can be summed up as Delay, Divide, Deflect, Deny. Our policy team have put together a report that governments and policymakers can use to overcome obstacles such as industry interference or a lack of political will.

Economic considerations often take precedence over health and environmental sustainability in current food systems. Governments can use our series, Building Momentum, to take the lessons learned from countries who have already overcome industry interference to implement nutrition policies. Read our new policy report.

What can health professionals do?

Health professionals can encourage people to make informed food choices by reading food labels. Download our UPDATED guide to making sense of food labels

References

  1. World Cancer Research Fund International. Building momentum: lessons on implementing evidence-informed nutrition policy. 2019.
  2. Food Standards Agency. Nutrition labelling. 2018.
  3. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report. Body fatness and weight gain and the risk of cancer. 2018.