Shoppers trying to buy healthy food are “unwittingly” selecting products that have high levels of fat, sugar or salt, council leaders have warned.
There should be a ban on the promotion of foods which purport to be healthy but which actually contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.
The European Commission is being urged by the LGA to prohibit the “misleading” marketing of food products.
Council leaders, who were given the responsibly for public health under the Government’s health reforms, want European officials to strengthen the rules governing claims on health and nutrition in health products.
The LGA said there should be a pre-set level of the maximum amount of sugar, fat, salt and other nutrients allowed in products that make nutrition and health claims.
An LGA spokesman said that under current EU rules food companies are allowed to make claims about their products that are accepted as clear, accurate and substantiated, but the claims can be made regardless of the overall nutritional quality. For instance, products labelled as “low fat” may have high sugar or salt content.
“Our concern is shoppers, who are trying to do the right thing and buy healthier options, are not being given the full picture,” said Katie Hall, chairwoman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board.
“They are therefore unwittingly buying unhealthy products. In our view, this is wholly wrong and needs to be changed.
“We are calling on the European Commission to deliver on its long-held promise to introduce robust, scientifically-validated nutrient profiling and provide consumers with a balanced and accurate picture of what they are buying.
“We also want the British Government to put pressure on the Commission.”
Ms Hall added: “Manufacturers should be prevented from marketing a product as ‘low fat’ when they are actually laden with added sugar and salt.
“Typically, manufacturers seek to appeal to certain health-conscious markets for consumers.
“Food products, which are being marketed with the healthy halo as being low fat but which contain hidden sugars, are also a major driver of dental disease.
“Obesity is one of the biggest public health crises this country has ever faced and it is imperative that consumers are given the full picture when it comes to buying food.
“This is all about enabling shoppers to make informed choices.”
The news comes after repeated warnings on the veracity of nutritional information on the packaging of food.