Obesity: the challenge for the food industry

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Izabelanair

Obesity is an epidemic that is sweeping both the nation and the world causing a rise in obesity-related health care issues necessitating a look at how consumers make nutritional choices. Food Science and Technology recently authored a study describing these challenges. Check it out in the excerpt below. 

In June this year the UK Government announced the second installment of its childhood obesity plan, setting a target to halve obesity rates by 2030 and suggesting a range of measures it was minded to explore, including extending the fiscal policies it has already introduced and adding further market interventions to influence consumer choice. What does this mean for food producers, caterers and retailers?

Extending the range of sugary products subjected to a levy, restricting the promotion of products at supermarket check-outs, limiting

the retail ‘special offers’ and restricting broadcast advertising before a 9pm watershed are all being mooted,

and are in addition to moves by Public Health England to require reformulation of products and restrictions on portion sizes. Such measures may not appeal to the directors of food and beverage companies, whose products are deemed too high in sugar, salt or fat, but they will surely not be surprised by these moves.

The public have been urged to limit their consumption of calorie-rich foods for several decades, but the lack of effect of this message has led to a shift in  focus from consumer to producer. Writing in the online trade journal in 2011, Caroline Scott- Thomas summarised the problem food manufacturers face in the emerging obesity crisis with the challenging headline ‘Eat Less’: A difficult message for industry[1]. Soon afterwards, Andrew Lansley’s Responsibility Deal was launched, including a Calorie Reduction pledge in which five billion calories (kcal) would be voluntarily removed from the UK population’s daily diet[2].

The public have been urged to limit their consumption of calorie-rich foods for several decades, but the lack of effect of this message has led to a shift in focus from consumer to producer.

Whilst producers were now the focus of attention for changing the food supply, public health advocates feared that putting responsibility for improving the nation’s diet in the hands of the same companies that were causing the problem was like asking a burglar to install your door locks. The food industry surely had an interest in promoting over consumption, not just for the sales of the products on the day but for the continued excess consumption that arises as a consequence: the average UK adult gained just over 10kg (about 15% of their initial bodyweight) between 1984 and 2010, and this additional mass has to be supplied with nutrients and energy. Even if no further weight gain occurs, the average adult’s intake of calories must be 10-15% greater in 2010 than 25 years earlier, with a corresponding increase in the national food and beverage market.

Worldwide obesity prevalence levels have shot up, with over 12% of all adults globally – some 670 million – now classified as obese.

This ‘walking investment’ that benefited the food supply chain was particularly worrying in the case of children, where rapid increases in the average child’s bodyweight occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s. The persistence of obesity from childhood through to adulthood means that an early ‘investment’ in encouraging excess calorie consumption creates a lifetime of returns through increased food consumption.

The results of excess calorie consumption, combined with decreased calorie expenditure, are clear to see. Worldwide obesity prevalence levels have shot up, with over 12% of all adults globally – some 670m – now classified as obese (see Figure 1). The figure approaches 30% of all adults in the Americas. In the USA, almost 40% of all adults are obese and a further 30% are overweight i.e. fewer than one third of Americans are a healthy weight.