Op-ed: Do food label warnings have an impact on healthcare costs?

Opinions about food label warnings can be very distinct and many controversial questions can arise from it. On one side, people are defending food label warnings, claiming they have a positive impact on an individual’s diet, or in other words, warning labels can lead to improved eating habits and healthier diets. On the other side, others advocate that food label warnings do not improve eating habits and that individuals ignore them and continue to consume the food item. Regardless of which side you pick, we all have to agree that food label warnings should be the right of any consumer. It is our right to be informed about the health risks of consuming a specific food product as it is also our right to do whatever we want with the acquired knowledge. At least we have been alerted of the health risks associated with the food item before choosing to consume it. 

For instance, let us think about sugar-sweetened drinks. There is plenty of evidence that associates high consumption of sugary beverages with increased risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Also, obesity is a significant contributor to the burden of chronic diseases which have major health and economic costs in the United States. Therefore, we can assume that the consumption of sugary drinks directly contributes to increased healthcare costs. Hence, strategies to decrease added-sugar beverage consumption can alleviate the cost of chronic diseases linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Here is where food labeling strategies can play an essential role since they are low-cost strategies with broad reach and have the potential to decrease consumption for a food item that can negatively affect health by influencing consumer behavior. Consumers can change their perception about a food item and the intention of purchasing it when they have an awareness of the health risks involved with its consumption. 

However, what we see nowadays are beverage companies spending millions of dollars advertising sugary drinks to children and adolescents and contributing even more to the obesity epidemic and the rise of healthcare costs. There is a need for change to improve health status in the United States and decrease healthcare costs. This strategy will only work if all stakeholders from different levels — state and federal government, food industry, healthcare industry, pharmaceutical industry, schools and worksites, consumers and families — work together as a team. 

It must have a shifting focus from disease management to prevention and health promotion. To change the focus to prevention, more information about nutrition and health risks associated with eating habits should be available for all. Comprehensive food labels with warnings, for example, help to increase awareness about the relationship between health status and eating habits, and how eating well can lead to a healthier lifestyle. Besides, one expects that more knowledge about something increases the chance of better decision-making. Accordingly, food labeling and label warnings are excellent resources to educate and to disseminate information to the general public about food and nutrition at a lower cost. They aid people to make truthful and accurate decisions about foods considering all health factors and risks involved with their consumption. 

It is not an easy task to approve a bill that requires warning labels in foods proved to be harmful to our health. Nevertheless, it is our right to be warned and should be our primary interest to improve public health and help reduce healthcare costs. Let us get started with warning labels for added-sugar beverages and high-fat-high-sugar foods.