Health Ministry to ‘Grade’ Snack Foods

United Torah Judaism’s Rabbi Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset. (Flash 90)
United Torah Judaism’s Rabbi Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset. (Flash90)

After fast food, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman is taking aim at junk food – especially salty and sweet snacks, such as Bissli, Bamba and the other items that have for generations been a staple of Israeli childhood. Those “staples” may have been part of the lives of many Israelis, but they have not done much to promote the health of Israelis.

Quite the opposite, according to new figures from the Health Ministry. According to statistics supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics and analyzed by the Ministry, 44 percent of Israelis – nearly one out of two – are overweight or obese, and the same is true of 21 percent of first graders. By seventh grade, 30 percent of kids are overweight.

Minister Rabbi Litzman – along with many health professionals – believes that junk food is largely responsible for this situation, and he is considering numerous legislative initiatives to curb consumption of junk food. Among those initiatives are labeling – cigarette pack-style – the packages of snack food to emphasize their calorie and fat level, along with a “health score,” to be determined by professionals, which will rank food products on a scale between 1 and 10 (or 1 and 100) on its desirability. The healthier a food – taking into account its nutrient level, calorie, fat, sugar, salt, etc. – the higher a score it will get.

Like the labels on packages of cigarettes that make it clear to buyers that they could die from smoking, the idea of the labels is to make it clear to consumers that if they continue to eat junk food, they will get fat, said Professor Itamar Groto, head of public health at the Health Ministry. “Today the nutrition and ingredient labels do not provide an adequate indication of the desirability of a product,” he said. “We propose a clear, user-friendly labeling procedure to ensure that consumers can easily understand the nature of the product they are bringing home.”