Many years ago it was pointed out that we get more information about the clothes we wear than about the food we eat. At long last, this week sees the announcement of a major step forward in labelling our food.

Choosing what to eat – and what our food contains – has become increasingly important to consumers. There’s now wide awareness of the need for care in the amount of fats and oils, sugar, other calories and salt in our diet. Many people are keen to stay trim and to avoid the diseases associated with too much or the wrong things in our diet.

Much of the information consumers need is already available on packages – if you look carefully enough – but the busy shopper really needs a quick way to see exactly what they are buying. Food companies have increasingly been providing this, but with wide differences in how it’s done.

After years of debate and disagreement over the best methodology, there has finally been a major step forward by the food industry in accepting a common scheme. Anna Soubry, the Health Minister, has just announced a voluntary scheme which is due to be adopted by summer 2013*. In this scheme, food packaging will display a “traffic light” colour coding style that combines guideline daily amounts and the words “High”, “Medium” or “Low” for each of the major food components contained in the product.

Jane Landon, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Heart Forum, has described the announcement as “real progress towards a universal system of clear, consistent nutritional labelling to help UK consumers know what is in the food they are buying. She warned, though, that there are still potential problems in agreeing the detail of the proposed system. Critically, the criteria on which the colour coding is based must be scientifically robust and meaningful. “Any watering down of the ‘traffic light’ criteria developed by the Food Standards Agency would signal a lack of commitment by food companies.”

Some providers are concerned that the new labelling will reduce sales of some of their products. But good nutrition shouldn’t depend on consumers eliminating just specific products from their diet and that of their family. It is more about considering all the components together, and that needs easily accessed information.

Ultimately, better information can only be good for us all. It should also stimulate the food industry to look at how they can compete to produce the healthier foods many consumers will be seeking out.

Timely, responsible adoption of this measure by the food industry and its use by consumers will be a significant step in the right direction in helping people to eat a healthy diet and producers to provide it.


*Link to the Government announcement:


It’s part of everyday folklore – among some people, at least – that working too hard is bad for you. But is there any evidence for this? Or might it just be an excuse for taking life easy?

Over the years there has been a lot of research on this topic, much of it related to heart disease. It sounds a straightforward question until you look at all the factors to be taken into account. Studies need a way to compare like with like: for example, some people have sedentary jobs and others have manual ones. Then there are varying degrees of job mobility; and even ageing can play a part, with younger and older workers often finding different parts of the job a strain.

One factor that has emerged as being important is how much personal control you feel you have. Those who feel more in control experience less stress than those who don’t. This applies at all levels of different jobs and it goes some way to explaining why some very hard working people get less strain from their job than those in an ostensibly less demanding position.

Recently, interesting research* brought together studies that involved a total of around 200,000 people (the average age was 42 years, with equal numbers of men and women). The researchers found that stress at work was indeed associated with a greater chance of a heart attack. But when they examined the technical details of how the data had been collected and analysed, they found the effect was not to such a high level as had been previously thought.

This doesn’t mean that stress at work can be ignored. They concluded that it’s still important to pay attention to this aspect of life when trying to reduce coronary heart disease. That means looking managerially at what a job entails, selecting the right individual for the job, and teaching anyone with job-related stress how to cope better.


*Link to the study: (Kivimäki M et al. Job strain as a risk factor for coronary heart disease: A collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data. Lancet 2012 Sep 14)

A Guardian quiz:,5961,446761,00.html




The story about sugary drinks continues.

A recent study* recorded the weight of more than 600 children over an 18 month period. Half were given the equivalent of just one can of sugary drink a day, while the others received a similar drink but without the sugar. The study showed that the children with the sugary drink put on significantly more weight.

This was not a surprise, but it is important confirmation of what was expected – that cans of sugary drinks are a significant source of excessive calories contributing to children putting on fat. A can of a sugary soft drink such as some types of cola can contain as much as 40 grams of sugar or roughly 10 teaspoons. Over the course of a year, drinking just one can a day adds up to an astonishing 14 kg (or 30 lbs) of sugar. And remember that many kids drink more than one can a day.

So what’s to be done?

Substituting artificial sweeteners is one way. These have been extensively tested but we need to ask whether their more extensive use is sensible.

New York City has been bolder. An initiative there aims to control the sale of large (16oz) measures of soft drinks. This will not do away with the problem: the regulation will only affect some sales outlets and, of course, anyone can buy multiple drinks in a café or shop. Nonetheless, it has achieved its objective in raising public awareness of the problem.

Not surprisingly, the soft drinks industry sees itself as losing out if this regulation passes legal scrutiny. But rather than opposing it, surely the industry should be seeking to take a lead and bring out healthier drinks. Evidence – such as from the study described – is making it harder and harder for them to deny that sugary drinks are contributing to the obesity epidemic.


*Link to the study:


© 2012 How to Live to 110 Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha