Using labelling to empower consumers to make healthy food choices
Obesity has emerged as one of the greatest threats to public health in the 21st century.
Worldwide, obesity rates have exploded in recent decades, nearly tripling since the 1970s. In 2016, over 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and 650 million were obese. Most of the global population now live in countries where more people die from obesity each year than from hunger.
Regulators are stepping up, setting ambitious new requirements for food manufacturers as they seek to tackle the issue.
The high price of obesity
Rising obesity rates are placing economic pressure on national healthcare systems, and on the broader global economy, due to the costs of treating obesity-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Over 7% of national healthcare budgets across the EU are spent on bariatric medicine. The OECD has estimated that healthcare expenditure is 25% higher on average for an obese person than for someone of normal weight.
High obesity rates, also lead to significant productivity losses. Obese workers take more sick leave on average, and exit the workforce earlier than non-obese people. Obesity costs Europe an estimated €70 billion annually in healthcare and productivity losses – and this figure is rising.
The EU calls for better nutrition labelling
Governments around the world are exploring a wide variety of interventions to address the obesity epidemic.
Halting and reversing Europe’s rising obesity rates by 2030 is one of the aims of the European Union’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy – the EU’s new flagship food policy. 52% of adults across the European Union are clinically overweight, and 15.2% are obese.
One of the main proposals is the harmonization of mandatory front-of-pack (FOP) food nutrition labelling requirements. FOP nutrition labels empower consumers to make healthier eating choices by providing clear, reliable information about the caloric and nutritional content of food and beverages. This measure represents a major change of course – the EU had previously banned member countries from making FOP nutrition labelling mandatory.
EU-wide harmonized FOP nutrition labelling seeks to address the root of the obesity epidemic. The fundamental cause of weight gain is an unhealthy imbalance between caloric consumption and expenditure. With a range of sociocultural factors driving reduced levels of physical activity – including the increasingly sedentary nature of modern work, growing urbanization and the motorization of transportation – it is more critical than ever that people consume a healthy diet. This starts with providing them with accurate, easy-to-understand information about their food’s nutritional value.
The strategy also underscores the importance of food quality to consumer health. Due to the widespread availability of food and low levels of nutritional knowledge, malnutrition and obesity now often co-exist within the same communities. The EU is therefore looking at ways to increase the accessibility of food information, including via digital channels.
Verification of labeling, and other data traceability solutions, could also support another objective: combating food fraud. For food information to be effective, it must be trustworthy. Mis-labeling and mis-selling of food products deceives consumers and prevents them from making informed choices.
Food nutrition and composition testing
Nutrition and composition testing is critical to complying with food labelling requirements and ensuring consumer health and safety. Bureau Veritas’ global network of specialized laboratories use state-of-the-art testing techniques and technology to make sure that food products and labels are fully accurate and compliant.Food nutrition and composition testing with Bureau Veritas enables manufacturers to secure market access, earn consumer confidence and prevent product recalls.
Bureau Veritas offers a wide range of food product certification and labelling services , including organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, Halal, allergen, geographic indication and Label Rouge auditing, testing and certification. It also offers food testing and labelling verification to help fight fraud.
 OECD, 2010, Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit Not Fat.
 Eatwell Project, 2012, Effectiveness of policy interventions to promote healthy eating and recommendations for future action: evidence from the EATWELL project.