Media release: 7 December 2017.

Regulations to improve food labelling have strong public support, with almost 80% of people surveyed supporting the introduction of better labels on unhealthy foods such as those that are high in sugar, salt and fat.

In a survey of 2474 adults in NSW, Cancer Council NSW researchers found that 86% of people supported a colour-coded food labelling system, 79% supported displaying health warning labels on unhealthy food and 73% of people supported a ban on unhealthy food advertising that targets children.

The research, in the latest edition of the journal Public Health Research & Practice, published by the Sax Institute, also found that the most unpopular policy was a tax on unhealthy foods, with only 42% of people supporting the move.

“Restrictions on food marketing to children should remain a priority, given the high public acceptance and evidence of effectiveness,” said study co-author Clare Hughes, who is the Nutrition Program Manager at Cancer Council NSW.

“It is also important to strengthen food labelling laws to ensure only healthy foods can carry claims about nutrition content. This would boost confidence in food labelling and better support consumers to make healthier food choices.”

The study, conducted in 2013, aimed to identify whether there is a relationship between support for food policy initiatives and awareness of the link between obesity-related lifestyle risk factors and cancer.

Recent estimates in Australia show that more than 3900 cancer cases (3.4% of all cancers) diagnosed in 2010 could be attributed to overweight or obesity, 7089 (6.1%) to inadequate diet and 1814 (1.6%) to inadequate physical activity.

The study found support for food policy initiatives was higher among those who were aware of the link between cancer and obesity-related lifestyle factors than among those who were unaware of this link.

“Increasing awareness of the link between obesity-related lifestyle factors and cancer could increase community support for food policy initiatives, which, in turn, support the population to maintain a healthy weight,” Ms Hughes said.

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Public Health Research & Practice is a peer-reviewed, Medline-listed quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute. Subscribe for free at www.phrp.com.au/about-us/subscribe/ 

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