Can changing junk food packaging help combat obesity?

By Tyler Lewis

Header image by Tyler Lewis

A winner of the 2017 Brain Prize has said that high calorie foods should be sold in plain packaging to help combat obesity.

Professor Wolfram Schultz who teaches neuroscience at the University of Cambridge said that the colourful wrapping is enticing to the public and raises the chances of overeating.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 12.11.36
Photograph: The Brain Prize

Speaking on Monday after winning the Brain prize, a one-million-euro prize awarded to one or more scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to neuroscience, Professor Schultz said “Colourful wrapping of high energy foods of course makes you buy more of that stuff and once you have it in your fridge, it’s in front of you every time you open the fridge and ultimately, you’re going to eat it and eat too much”.

In an exclusive interview with Chew the Fat Professor Schultz said, “High-calorie foods should be consumed primarily when such calories are needed like when climbing a mountain. There they are super helpful but to take such high-calorie foods in the afternoon between meals is not so good and will add unwanted calories.”

He also highlighted that “gaining 10-grams of weight each day will result in 36-kilogram weight gain over ten years and changing food labelling could reduce the attraction to unnecessary calorie intake.”

This comes shortly after the British government enforced identical plain branding across all cigarette packaging in an attempt to reduce the appeal.

When asked if this was what he had in mind for junk food packaging Professor Schultz said, “this might be realistic, although I would prefer no need for government mingling, and the cigarette warnings are maybe a bit drastic. However, the health consequences might be similar”.

Professor Schultz suggested that there could be a reward system implemented for companies that switch to less vibrant packaging much like reward systems created for the production of organic foods in certain European countries.

When asked to comment the Food Standards Agency and Advertising Standards Authority stated that they had not looked into this and that it was not in their current plans.

Professor Schultz was awarded with the 2017 Brain Prize along with Peter Dayan and Ray Dolan for their analysis of brain mechanisms that link learning to reward which has allowed for a deeper understanding of human behaviour.


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