Why Junk Food Should Be Sold in Plain Packaging Like Cigarettes

University of Cambridge neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz claims that the colorful branding of unhealthy foods causes people to overeat.

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Mar 7 2017, 2:00pm

It doesn't take a genius to work out why sweets are packaged in brightly coloured wrappers, sugary cereal boxes are emblazoned with cartoon mascots, and fizzy drinks get dyed neon colours (looking at you, blue Gatorade). When you wander down the supermarket aisle, a packet of Skittles is going to catch your attention far quicker than anything in the fruit and veg aisle.

And, let's be honest, the promise of an instant sugar hit a lot more alluring than what nature's candy has to offer.

But the overconsumption of high-energy, low-nutrient foods is at the centre of the global obesity crisis. While strategies like the Government's proposed levy on high-sugar products aim to tackle the problem via our wallets, one neuroscientist believes that rethinking junk food packaging could be a better solution.

University of Cambridge neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz was announced yesterday as the joint winner of prestigious research award, The Brain Prize, for his work on the brain's reward system. Schultz used his acceptance speech at a press conference to speak out against the packaging of high-calorie processed foods.

He said that brightly coloured packaging on food triggers a dopamine response that causes people to overeat unhealthy foods. Junk food should therefore be packaged in plain wrappers to make it seem less attractive.

According to the The Daily Telegraph, 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. There should be some way of regulating the desire to get more calories. We don't need these calories."

He continued: "We should not advertise, propagate, or encourage the unnecessary ingestion of calories."

Schultz isn't the first to probe the link between marketing and junk food consumption. Scientific studies and Public Health England's obesity report have both pointed to the influence of advertising on unhealthy food choices, especially among children. Last year, the Dutch Government announced proposals to ban the use of cartoon characters on the packaging of foods high in sugar, fat, and salt.

With plain cigarette packaging already enforced in the UK, could Tony the Tiger et al be next?