Levels of obesity in the UK are rising at alarming rates in all age groups, and its knock-on effects will be seen in terms of ill health for the individuals concerned and costs to health and social care providers. High fat and sugar intakes are also contributing to rising incidence of other long-term conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
As the health professionals with the most patient contact, nurses in all settings are justifiably encouraged to offer healthy eating advice. But much of this advice is really only relevant to those who only ever buy and cook fresh ingredients. Processed foods and ready meals often sound healthy, but all too often when you read the label they are anything but - and in many cases making sense of the label requires a PhD in food science.
Like most people, even if I recognised all the obscure ingredients, I don’t have the time to read them. And those of us with failing eyesight can’t see the tiny print to check the calorie counts and percentages of recommended daily allowance.
Call me a cynic, but the only reason I can see for supermarkets and food manufacturers having dragged their feet on this issue is that they don’t want people to know what they are eating.
Of course a simple visual system can’t include all ingredients, but it can give shoppers information on the key dietary issues such as fat, sugar and salt content, and will make it far easier to offer clear and pragmatic advice on food selection. Nurses are ideally placed to offer health promotion advice, but if it is to be effective it needs to be achievable. Hopefully the new labelling system will give them a helping hand rather than acting as a barrier to shoppers making informed choices on healthy eating.