Plain packaging for junk food?

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Experts at the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology convention will today discuss the benefits of plain food packaging to counter the obesity epidemic in Australia

The panel of health professionals will examine whether the measures put in place for the tobacco industry could have similar benefits for food packaging.

The plain packaging could also include graphic images similar to cigarette packets.

Dr Anne Astin, president of the institute, welcomes the debate.

"If our health system can't cope with the increasing incidence of lifestyle-related diseases, it's something we will have to consider as an option. The levels of intervention need to become stronger. Ultimately, it may come to plain packaging.''

"We're entering an entirely different space in terms of food science and technology, and it's greatly linked to nutrition. The food industry will be critical in contributing to consumer change and behaviours.''

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But on 2UE this morning, Alan Barclay from the Dieticians Association told Paul Murray that plain packaging is over-the-top and "smacks of a nanny state".

"It's up to you as the individual to make up your mind as to whether you have them [junk foods] and how often you have them. We don't need governments to tell us what do on every single occasion of our lives."

To equate foods with cigarettes is "disingenuous", he said. "We don't need to smoke, we do need to eat."

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Women's Health weight loss expert Tara Diversi said, "We know people make food decisions at the time of purchase and the time of consumption so the plain packaging could be effective. I am not for graphic images as I don't think negativity towards food will be helpful in promoting health and positive relationships with food."

"People don't make decisions when they are reading health material, or in a dietitians office, we need to have their influence at the time of purchase. I think funding dietitians in schools or supermarkets to help people choose the best options for them at the time of purchase will really help us become a healthier nation."

Nutrition specialist Dr Libby Weaver said that the approach to the growing and deeply concerning obesity challenge has to be multi-factorial.

"The problem won’t be addressed through the regulation of plain packaging alone. The critical role nutrition plays in health, longevity and appearance, needs to intensely step up from an educational perspective and people need to feel inspired to want to take care of themselves."

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