Caribbean Nutrition Day is observed every year on the 1st of June followed by a week of activities. The theme for this year is ‘Healthy Eating Active Living: Be a Good Label Detective- Read It Before You Eat It.”
Aggressive marketing of unhealthy products can and has dramatically changed the way people eat; replace traditional diets with unhealthy diets that are high in sugar, fat and salt. Consumers have the right to know what is in their food, a right to information. Nutrition labels can educate consumers about the nutritional value of the foods they purchase thereby empowering them to make healthier choices. The World Health Organization also considers nutrition labeling to be a key policy option for promoting healthier diets.
The Caribbean including St Lucia is making strides towards introducing front-of- package nutrition labelling on packaged foods. Typically, nutrition information is placed on the back of food labels where consumers do not usually pay attention. The front-of-package labels will present nutrition information on the front of pre-packaged foods in a clear, simple and easy-to-read format. This will highlight “critical nutrients” including saturated fats, trans fats, sugar, and sodium. These critical nutrients are the drivers to diet-related Non Communicable Diseases, which are the leading cause of death, disease and disability in the Caribbean including St. Lucia.
Overweight/obesity, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar levels are the top three risk factors for mortality and morbidity in the Caribbean. All three risk factors are associated with unhealthy eating, exacerbated by excessive intake of sugars, unhealthy fats, and salt.
Strategies to combat those risk factors included the development of octagonal nutritional warning labels on food and drinks. A study done in front of package labeling found that octagonal nutritional warning labels performed best in helping consumers choose healthier food, because they were the easiest to understand. They allow consumers to be aware of foods or drinks that are high in sugar, sodium/salt, saturated fats and trans fats.
Front-of-package warning labeling represents one of the key policy tools of a comprehensive strategy to improve our current environment by increasing consumer awareness on the nutritional qualities of packaged foods and purchasing decisions. Octagon-shaped front-of-package nutritional warnings indicate if a product is high in critical nutrients. It allows consumers to quickly, and easily identify products with unhealthy nutritional contents. They are recommended by the World Health Organization because they are effective and efficient in communicating to consumers at the point of purchase and encourages healthy diets. A number of countries have implemented this, to address the growing global burden of diet-related non-communicable diseases. It’s time to take action and improve our eating habits, reduce on NCD’s and by extension our economy.