Roundly Confusing

Having taken this photo while waiting for our kid to chomp through a McDonald’s Kids Meal at new year (mea culpa – but it’s the winging, really), I’ve just noticed another frankly amazing example of a nutritional content “explanation.” This time, it’s on the cardboard sleeve of a pot of Sainsbury’s Cornish clotted cream (again, don’t ask). Here is a pack shot, and here is a close-up of what Sainsbury’s are calling the “Wheel of Heath” printed in the top right corner.

Because the Wheel is a pie chart, it would seem reasonable to assume it shows the proportions of each nutritional element in relation to a whole. However, quite what whole is not immediately clear. Perhaps it might even allow you to compare the amount of fat and other things you might get from a portion cream compared to, say, a ready meal or a bar of choccie displaying the same style of chart. But again, that too seems doubtful on further inspection. So what does is show?

On the back of the pack there is a URL together with the words “The Wheel of Health is based on guideline daily amounts.” Daily amounts? I had to think about that as I looked a the chart. The Wheel is neatly divided into five equal segments: one for fat, sat far, salt, sugar and calories. Equal segments? Daily amounts? So, a 30g portion of this cream will have a fifth of your daily allowance of salt in it? No. The first thing that should clue you to that being totally the wrong interpretation is the fact that the “salt” segment has the word “trace” in it. How can a trace be represented as being a fifth of anything in something like cream?

What’s more, the example pie chart on the web site shows exactly the same proportions as the one on the cream packaging. Indeed, looking at some other Sainsbury’s stuff in our fridge shows the same. Everything is shown as exactly a fifth.

I can confidently say that the graphical device here is not a pie chart at all; the segment colours mean nothing (or at least are unexplained), and I feel a complaint to Sainsbury’s head office coming on.