Calls for junk food to have graphic cigarettestyle warnings on packaging

Show more Graphic health warnings on food packets – similar to those used for cigarettes – could prompt people to abandon “hedonistic impulses” and choose healthier foods, a study suggests.The study, by the University of Melbourne and Cancer Council Victoria, monitored the brain activity of 95 people as they were shown packages of 50 foods such as chips, chocolate bars, biscuits, nuts, fruits and vegetables.It found that warning labels prompted people to exercise more self-control rather than act on impulse.“The study shows that if you want to stop people choosing fatty and sugary packaged foods, health warnings actually work,” said Stefan Bode, from the University of Melbourne.“The food industry uses all sorts of positive cues to encourage you to eat, playing on taste, how it will make you feel good, making it look appetising, but when it comes to unhealthy foods – this is dangerous.” Ministers will publish updated childhood obesity strategy within weeks, amid calls for tougher labelling on unhealthy foods and drinks, and signals of a likely restriction on TV advertising.Prof Anna Peeters, lead author of the Deakin research, said: “The question now is what kind of impact these labels could have on the obesity epidemic. If there was political palatability for graphic warnings, that had the strongest effect so that’s what I would go for.”Gavin Partington, director-general at British Soft Drinks Association, said: “Experience in the UK suggests that action industry is taking is having ample effect in changing consumer behaviour. In fact, sugar intake from soft drinks in the UK has fallen by almost 19 per cent since 2013.” Pictures of crooked, decayed teeth were the most likely to deter consumers from buying sugary drinks, reducing desire by 36 per cent.When cans carried images showing how many teaspoons of sugar was contained, the chance dropped by 18 per cent. Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, is among those who have called for such labels to be placed on sugary drinks.And star ratings which rated a drink on how healthy it was cut the chance of a purchase of buying an unhealthy drink by 20 per cent.Researchers from Deakin University, in Australia, said the findings present a “compelling” argument for warnings to be implemented globally. The researchers asked people to rate their desire to eat each food before and after viewing various health warnings. Some used only text, others included graphic images of damaged hearts or a corpse beneath a sheet with messages such as “An unhealthy diet can shorten your life”.Helen Dixon, from Cancer Council Victoria, said: “Strong cues, like anticipated taste, tend to work on us in a more unconscious way. Therefore health messages need to disrupt these more impulsive, hedonistic responses to foods and make people consider the health implications of their choices.”It came as a separate study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, found images of rotten teeth on cans of sugary drinks could cut sales by more than a third.The study on 1,000 people aged 18 to 35 tested their likelihood of making purchases, after different labels were placed on the sides of products. Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, is among those who have called for such labels to be placed on sugary drinksCredit:Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News Jamie Oliver, the TV chef, is among those who have called for such labels to be placed on sugary drinks Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.