Review calls for sugar labels to show images of teaspoons of sugar | Australia news

Pictures showing how many teaspoons of sugar there are in sweetened drinks could be made compulsory under a proposal health ministers have earmarked for further investigation.

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation last week ordered a review into the proposal, which has been welcomed by public health experts and parents’ groups but has already received pushback from the beverages industry.

On Monday the minister’s forum called for a review into the labelling of added sugars in food and drinks, “noting that the option to quantify added sugars in the nutrition information panel best met the desired outcome”.

At present added sugar can be listed in the ingredients list in the nutritional information under at least 40 different names which can be confusing for shoppers.

The forum also agreed “that a pictorial approach applied to sugary beverages / sugar-sweetened beverages warrants further consideration”.

The Public Health Association of Australia chief executive, Terry Slevin, said lawmakers should just get on with the job of making sugar labels happen.

“The labelling of sugars on packaged foods and drinks needs to be enacted, rather than merely reviewed,” he said.

Curtin University department of health professor Colin Binns said there’s merit in providing consumers with as much information as possible, but he noted industry was likely to put up a fight.

“You’ve got to make it fairly simple,” he said.

“If it’s managed properly it will be fine. But the difficulty always is that industry often has the final say in what goes on.”

He said sugar has no nutritional value but provides energy.

Alice Pryor, campaign manager at Parent’s Voice, said sugar teaspoon pictures would make it easier for customers to identify healthy options compared to trying to translate complex nutritional information on a label.

“You need to be able to quickly move up and down the supermarket aisles, because the longer you’re there the crazier the kids get,” Pryor told Guardian Australia. She cited Chile’s success reducing sugar consumption with blatant front of label graphics.

Pryor said any measures that boost nutritional literacy in Australia would be welcome because in some quarters misguided theories were taking off including the banning of oranges at half time during children’s sport, in favour of lollies.

According to Better Health Channel, experts recommend only a “moderate” amount of sugar – no more than 10% of total energy intake per day should come from added sugars. This equates to 25 grams, or six teaspoons of sugar a day. A blueberry muffin contains about eight teaspoons of sugar, while six blocks of chocolate has six teaspoons.

There are 15 teaspoons of sugar in a 600ml bottle of soft drink, nine teaspoons in a can and 33 teaspoons in a 1.25 litre bottle.

As well as a link between sugar and obesity – sugar also contributes to tooth decay.

The Australian Beverages Council doesn’t support pictorial representations of sugar and believes there’s insufficient room on labels.

“We believe sugars and other nutrients are adequately considered as part of the health star rating scheme. Adding a further system in addition to the health star rating is likely to confuse consumers,” chief executive Geoff Parker said.

In May, a new study concluded the health star system was flawed because salty, sugary and fatty products score too highly due to loopholes and unhealthy items often avoid carrying the labels entirely.

The Australian Beverages Council doesn’t support
pictorial representations of sugar and believes there’s insufficient room on labels. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Dietitians Association of Australia chief executive Robert Hunt said he supports the concept in order to help Australians to make healthier food choices.

“We know there is no one nutrient that makes us healthy and alternatively there is no one nutrient that makes us sick. Therefore, it’s best to choose a variety of foods from the five core food groups,” he said.

Health ministers will meet again in November.

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