Labels for high fat, sugar

The federal government wants to make it easier for consumers to choose healthy foods with front-of-package warnings on items that contain high levels of sodium, sugar or saturated fat — ingredients linked to chronic health problems like obesity, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Currently, consumers must check the nutrition facts table on the back of packages to see the sugar, sodium and saturated fat content.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor is proposing to make it easier for people to identify foods high in those ingredients by requiring standardized, prominent warning symbols on the front of food packages.

The symbols will "provide a clear and easy-to-understand visual that will make choosing the healthier options the easier option for Canadians," she told a news conference Friday.

"Having this information available at a glance will allow us to make healthy decisions in seconds and will benefit every, single Canadian."

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said two-thirds of Canadian adults and one-third of kids are overweight, which puts them at higher risk of a range of chronic diseases.

"The reality is that these chronic diseases are largely preventable by not smoking, being physically active on a regular basis and by eating nutritious foods that are low in saturated fat, sugars and sodium, which is in salt," she said.

Petitpas Taylor was accompanied at the news conference by representatives of health advocacy groups such as Diabetes Canada, Dieticians of Canada and the Canadian Public Health Association, as well as the Retail Council of Canada. They lauded the proposed warning labels.

"We've all heard the troubling news that, in Canada, diet-related factors are now the leading risk factor of death," said Yves Savoie, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

"Unfortunately, millions of Canadians are living with diet-related disease, taking a huge toll on our health and on our families, not to mention on our economy."

Foods high in one or more of the three ingredients, but which are nevertheless considered beneficial to health, will be exempted from the new package labelling requirements, including whole and two-per-cent milk (but not chocolate milk), most vegetable oils and fruits and vegetables without added saturated fat, sugars or sodium.

Foods such as raw, single-ingredient meats and those sold at farmers' markets and roadside stands will also be exempted, as will foods on which a warning symbol would be redundant, such as table sugar and salt, honey and maple syrup.

"If you're buying a bag of sugar, I don't think we need to say that it's high in sugar," said Petitpas Taylor.

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