Perfect storm

The Obesity Tipping Point

There is a perfect storm brewing… an obesity crisis turning into a healthcare catastrophe, governments staring into a budget abyss and a gutsy, forward thinking politician talking about his next food target, large servings of sugary beverages. And on top of that, well produced documentaries are appearing on TV in the US and in Europe about obesity targeted at the food industry.

I think we are at a point of no return. There have been constant sources of pressure from industry groups and people like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama, but this time it will be different…. so writes Lu Ann Williams, Head of Research, Innova Market Insights.

I manage a team of analysts that spend every day looking at what is happening in the food industry. Health, wellness, nutrition, better-for-you, these are by far the most important topics we deal with, every day; the industry is focused on it.

We have tracked over 600,000 new food & beverage product launches since 2008. Over 30% of new products launched since 2009 in Europe and the US have at least one health promoting positioning (I excluded things organic, natural, gluten free.) The sector is making big efforts to improve nutrition quality but getting little credit for it.

The food industry is the focus for blame but the fingers should be pointed at the others involved. Consumers are living in a state of denial.

Sixty percent of US shoppers surveyed by Health Focus International in 2010 were overweight but only thirty-two percent claim to be overweight. Forty-three percent said it is possible to be overweight and healthy. The numbers in Europe are only slightly less worrying. The same survey found that 47% of European shoppers were overweight or obese. Yet only 5% say weight is a primary reason to eat healthier and only 29% claimed to be overweight. Why then do 94% claim to be trying to either maintain or lose weight?

And the governments? What about home-economics, health and physical education classes at school? These programs have been cut back in many schools and schools have also turned to vending machines to raise extra funds. Education or lack of it when it comes to food, is a big issue.

“Big Food” as the industry is now being called, is not entirely to blame for obesity. The food industry has done a lot already and is actively working on ways to improve the health profile of products while still creating products that consumers will eat.

But in terms of our perfect storm, look what happened with trans fat. Michael Bloomberg brought this to public attention but the industry was prepared. One of my colleagues wrote an article in 1995 about “trans isomers” and we started tracking what was happening then. Suppliers had trans fat free oils ready and waiting in the wings and when the issue came to a head, the industry had solutions available.

Bloomberg’s latest move is outlawing the sale of any soft drink over 16-ounces in a bid to help curb obesity. It follows a strong 2011 campaign to help tackle salt consumption in New York City. New York has long been a forerunner when it comes to public health implementation (e.g. smoking bans in public places), so expect other US regions and European states to follow…..

Ingredients Network: Read the full article here