The use of labels to 'signpost' healthy foods is getting strong support from the UK, as it steps up its public health campaign against obesity and related disease.
The country's food regulator announced today that it will test a number of signposting methods with the food industry in order to make such labeling a realistic option for food manufacturers.
Both the Food Standard Agency's (FSA ) action plan on Food Promotions and Children's Diet and the government's White Paper launched last week identified signposting as a means of encouraging healthier food choices.
One adult in five is obese in the UK but earlier this year doctors warned that this number could rise to one in three by 2020 if nothing is done to tackle the fat epidemic.
UK supermarket Sainsbury's has already announced it will introduce its own coloured logos to signify healthier options from January, while rival Tesco is looking into a traffic light system based on dietary targets from the World Health Organisation and the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy.
The move by the government-funded FSA could offer a boost to health foods but the UK's food industry body the Food and Drinks Federation is generally against a traffic light system, claiming that it wrongly 'demonises' foods that may contain valuable nutrients.
Most of the signposting systems to be tested by FSA are based on the 'traffic light' method, labeling foods with the three colours red, amber and green, based on their nutritional value. It will also look at consumer reactions to symbols only appearing on healthier options or the 'multiple traffic light' which might be depicted as separate traffic lights for high, medium or low levels for each of the key nutrients
The other two options show separate key nutrient information for the total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Gill Fine, director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health at FSA, said: "People have told us they want to make healthier food choices and that they would welcome signposting to help them. We will therefore test out the options in shops and work with stakeholders to do this. We need to ensure that what we recommend will be useful and workable."
The agency plans to complete the work during summer 2005.
It has also commissioned research to develop a scheme to categorise foods on the basis of the nutrients they contain to help underpin some of the signposting options.