What’s in fine print is food for thought - GulfToday

What’s in fine print is food for thought

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

Food

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

Children are the most vulnerable in our society. They are impressionable and will believe anything people tell them. They are enticed by colours, sounds, tastes and even by the way something smells. They love computer games, they love hi-tech toys and they love junk foods, like sweets and chocolates.

It is, therefore, absolutely outrageous when manufacturers and food advertisers target them with their product packaging. In fact, we know that they’re not really targeting children because they know and we know who holds the purse strings. The children are merely used as a conduit from the manufacturer to their parents. We’ve all seen it. Kids yell, scream and cry for an item in a shop and, to stop the racket, parents either drag the kid out of the shop or give in to whatever caught the kid’s eye. It could be the latest game boy, the latest electronic item or something as mundane as chocolates, sweets or snacks.

But it is the chocolates, sweets and snacks that I take issue with. In fact, I’m not the only one. Two organisations in Britain known as ‘Action on Sugar’ and “Action on Salt’ are calling for a ban on certain types of advertising and branding on packages of salty and sweet food that specifically target children.

Go into any supermarket and take a look at some of the salt and sugar laden foods. Do you notice anything common among those that children like? Cereals, sweets, crisps and certain tinned foods, like spaghetti, are plastered in famous cartoon characters. Cartoon tigers, bears and train engines are everywhere. When a child sees a certain cartoon character on a ‘food’ item, he or she will almost certainly want it. Now if these types of advertising were found on fruit and vegetables, we’d be jumping up for joy and applauding the producers. But the items on which these appear are dangerous to everyone’s health. Too much sugar and too much salt can lead to long term health problems like hypertension, obesity and heart disease. Moreover, they encourage poor eating habits later in life.

These manufacturers do it on purpose and I think it is highly unethical.

The problem is exacerbated by the very poor labelling that accompanies most food items. Yes they do list their ingredients as far as they can and yes they list the calories in the packet, as far as they are able to. But there is a major beef everyone has with all universal labelling practices. The fonts are just too tiny for at least half the world’s population to be able to read what it actually says. In many supermarkets the lighting can be poor in certain areas so, in order to be able to read labels, a shopper would either have to be armed with a magnifying glass or a torch. Since literally no one carries a torch around on them, or a magnifying glass for that matter, most people squint as much as they can then give up trying because it puts a strain on their eyes.

Sometimes, the nutritional content is covered by some kind of promotional offer or the barcode. The labels are just impossible to read and that, to me, is just unethical. It is true that there may not be enough space on a bar of chocolate to list its entire contents or calorie count. However, I believe it is incumbent upon every food advertiser and food manufacturer to write in bold, clear language the nutritional content. But if they list nothing else, they should, at least, be require to make clear the fat, sugar and salt contents, in understandable numbers and in large clear fonts.

Unfortunately, this is largely not the case. But what is the case is that fonts tend to be reserved for catchy slogans and promotional offers. They are so large they practically jump out at you even when they’re on the shelf. But try look for the sugar and salt content and they’re impossible to find and impossible to decipher.

The thing is that it’s all about the bottom line. Whereas feel-good slogans and promotional labels encourage consumers to buy, knowing the actual salt and sugar contents might not. At least one would hope.

We do need sugar and salt in our diets. But, like everything else, moderation is the key. However, sugar and salt in your diet should not be obtained from sugary and salty snacks because the content is just too high and you can’t control your intake. However, given that sugary and salty foods are here to stay, perhaps another way to go might be to treat such items like tobacco. Tobacco products, as you know, are required to carry health warnings. Perhaps laws should be passed requiring snack items to carry a prominent health warning that too much sugar or salt can harm your health.

What do you think?