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New images for packaged foods

Emily Manns | Fulcrum Staff

IT LOOKS LIKE the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) is no longer satisfied with the current nutrition labels found on pre-packaged foods. With an increasing number of Canadians being diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and other serious diet-related illnesses, the OMA’s latest campaign is pushing for change. Mirroring the illustrated warnings found on today’s cigarette packages and other tobacco products, this new strategy hopes to scare people into making healthier choices.

But will it work? While the idea may have been created with the best of intentions, it’s not likely to stop people from snacking on fried and sugary treats, or lead them into ordering a salad instead of a double cheeseburger and fries.

So, why do people buy junk food? It’s usually a combination of taste, price, and convenience. An apple might be a healthy snack, but it just doesn’t stand up to the sweetness of a Double Stuf Oreo. When dinnertime rolls around, it’s cheaper to buy a microwaveable meal than it is to prepare everything separately using fresh ingredients—not to mention much quicker.

It’s obvious that these foods are not the right choice. The nutritional values are printed right there on the package—even in bold—but many people continue to ignore them and choose a lifestyle that will lead right to health problems. The examples the OMA have shown for the new health warnings they would like to see on labels bear a remarkable resemblance to the blackened lungs and cancer-ridden organs found on all tobacco boxes. It would definitely have an impact, and it has been shown to work to a certain extent, but in the end, people still smoke.

Let’s be honest: People will continue to eat fatty foods until they have a heart attack or some other health scare. Pictures and words can easily be dismissed, but actually living through a life-threatening experience suddenly makes all those warnings real. If any purpose is served by the labels, it will be that the companies producing these foods will be less accountable for people’s health. After all, you can’t sue someone if they give you all of the facts up front. In the end, it all comes down to individual choice. Whether people heed the warnings or not, they are the ones who decide whether they want to put themselves at risk by living an unhealthy lifestyle.

The OMA needs to be careful that they don’t go frightening people into thinking that everything they put into their mouth is going to make them sick. Scare tactics like that also fail to address the factors of portion control and exercise in staying healthy and preventing disease. Warnings shouldn’t be used lightly, because that could open up a whole new can—or candy wrapper—of problems for everyone to deal with.