Current food labelling is not fit for purpose, and the ‘traffic light scheme’ labelling (which is currently voluntary) is so often abused as to try and hide the actual level of calories inside a package of food. So often they will show the calories/fat/salt for 1/4th of a pack of a food you would never dream of sharing with anyone. Sweets are the worst offenders, with some traffic light labelling showing the calories for 5 sweets. Who reading this has ever eating 5 jelly babies out of a packet? It’s not how people eat.
My suggestion is for there to be a complete overhaul of the food labelling system, a unified government strategy to go along with it including classes in schools, a commitment to a perpetual national advertising campaign, and a government app to help with the counting of calories.
The current system is a total mess, and it is near impossible for anyone to easily remember how much energy they have consumed. Calories, Kilocalories, and arbitrary portion sizes are confusing and irrelevant. I propose a new unit of measurement called a ‘Foodie’. A ‘Foodie’ would represent 100 kcal, and would only ever be whole numbers. In the event that there needs to be some rounding done, it would always round up to put people in a slight deficit. But actually in practise, it tends to work out almost exactly anyway. This would mean:
300kcal = 3 foodies
340kcal = 4 foodies
665kcal = 7 foodies
1220kcal = 13 foodies
And so on, and so on.
The logic behind this is that it is much easier to remember and do addition with smaller numbers. Remembering you have consumed 11 foodies so far is easier than remembering you’ve consumed 1020kcal.
And adding 3 foodies to 11 foodies is easier than adding 272kcal to 1020kcal.
We need to make counting calories so easy that an 8 year old could do it with minimal effort. We need to make it so simple that the average adult will do it subconsciously when looking at the front of a packet of food.
The second part of the initiative in regards to food labelling would be to put the foodie amount for the entire product on the front, and big font. People can divide 8 by 2 easily, if they decide to share the food. It shouldn’t be up to the manufacture to be making that decision, and showing the amount of calories based on how many people you might share with.
The third part would be a QR code on the front. This would have more detailed information encoded in it. Salt content, macronutrient content, and kcals. As well as the name of the food.
All fast food outlets would also be required to show the amount of foodies their meals are worth, along with an easy to scan QR code.
The labelling would be compulsory for all packaged food.
Fresh produce would be exempt from these laws.
The next part of the unified strategy would be to develop an application for android and iOS that people can download. In this app they can set their height, current weight, and age. The app will then tell them how many ‘Foodies’ they require. For men this will be about 22 foodies, and for women about 20. It will differ a bit.
From inside the app people can scan the QR codes and keep track of what they’re eating. They could also set goals, such as losing weight. This data would be anonymised and sent to the government so it can keep track on what the diets of Brits actually looks like, and this could help guide policy in the future.
These apps exist already (like myfitnesspal) but are overly complicated, and not well known enough to make a big difference on the scale needed. The data can also sometimes be wrong, so creating a government QR code standard for food data would improve the accuracy a lot.
Now the public would need to be educated on this new system. A large TV and internet advertising campaign would be run, forever, promoting the app and telling people that men need 22 foodies and women need 20 foodies.
In schools, half an hour of PSHE would be dedicated each year to teaching children the system and getting them to download the app.
I believe that if we do all this, and make the process of counting calories almost so easy it can be done without any thought, people will do it and realise just how much more they’re eating than is necessary. And with a multi generational approach to teaching the system, I believe it would pay dividends over a few decades as children transition to adult life with the knowledge of how to correctly track the level of energy they’re putting into their body.