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Should Unhealthy Foods Carry a Warning Label?

Following in the footsteps of Great Britain and Ecuador, Chile has established legislation that calls for warning labels placed on unhealthy foods — as well as banishment of McDonald’s Happy Meals(!).

Whether a similar labeling system is implemented in the United States remains to be seen. Based on the backlash to New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s unsuccessful attempt to ban the Big Gulp, it could be a while before American food packaging includes warning labels. Still, it’s worth discussing — and it was, along with other food trends, by food journalist Ali Rosen, Banfi CEO Cristina Mariani-May, and celebrity chef Maria Loi on a recent episode of FOX Foodie. Watch below:

Personally, I’m divided on the idea of putting warning labels on foods deemed “unhealthy.” For sure, I believe that many Americans are eating too much unhealthy food, and could benefit from education and guidance toward making better choices. However, I’m not sure how to decide what constitutes “unhealthy” — do you base it on calories per serving? fat content? sugar? And would warning labels really stop people from making bad choices — or would they do the opposite? I think back to the failure of Nancy Reagan’s “Say no to drugs” campaign, with some psychologists theorizing that it may have encouraged teenagers to take drugs. In some circles, apparently, it’s “cool” to be anti-establishment — and many people don’t like being told what to do, particularly when it’s the government telling them. Similarly, I’m not sure how effective warning labels have been in reducing smoking.

At the same time, maybe there’s a way labels could be implemented in a way that is educational rather than as a “warning.” The “traffic light” system used by Ecuador and England (example below) is not as ominous as Chile’s black warning signs, and IS educational, but I wonder if it’s so busy and confusing that people ignore them?
Traffic light system style food labels used in UK / Great Britain

It’s an interesting concept worth discussion. What are your thoughts? Would some kind of labeling system warning people of unhealthy foods be effective in the United States? If so, how might it be implemented? Share your opinion in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Should Unhealthy Foods Carry a Warning Label?

  1. Braden Bills

    Personally, I feel like unhealthy foods already have their labels on them! Every food that you can get from the store has their nutrition facts. The ones who really want to avoid unhealthy foods should just pay attention to those!

    1. Joe Janish

      Agreed, Bill! It’s a matter of taking the time to read the ingredients and nutritional facts, which few people do. So maybe a better plan is to create a label that encourages people to read what’s in their packaged food before they buy/eat it?


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