UK nutrition policy expert Professor Jack Winkler wrote that nutrition policy has failed, as evidenced by rising rates of overweight, obesity and type-2 diabetes. He calls for an honest acknowledgement of what has proved inadequate, like education programmes – as well as politically improbable, like increased regulation and taxation.
“The most important reason for failure is the one that nutritionists are most reluctant to admit: many people are not interested in healthy eating,” Winkler wrote.
“…If people will not choose different foods, we must start from the foods they actually eat most of the time, then improve their nutrient profiles.”
He says that focusing on education alone only motivates a minority to change their dietary choices. And while some advocate a return to ‘real’ foods and rejection of all things processed, this is daunting for many people, and may increase food wastage.
“Crucially, it is more expensive,” he added. “In calories per penny, buns are better value than broccoli.”
Speaking to FoodNavigator, Winkler said that there was still a place for consumer education in nutrition policy, but it needed to be backed up by making healthy choices more affordable, and by improving the nutrition profiles of commonly consumed foods.
“An educated population is the most secure foundation for a healthy diet,” he said. “Education and reformulation are complementary. They fit together.”
Winkler advocates what he calls ‘unobtrusive’ reformulation, saying that consumers can be put off products that carry statements about their health credentials on pack.
He said: “You do a series of small incremental changes that are tested to be imperceptible to consumers – and then you don’t put health claims on the pack. Many people, when they see a health claim, they say ‘it’s not for me – it’s for sick people or growing babies.’”
In addition, he claims that there’s one sure way to convince industry to reformulate: “Promise them to make money.”
At the moment, a lot of companies add a premium to their healthier products, reasoning that nutritionally aware consumers are often wealthier and willing to pay more for better food.
“If you gave away part of that margin – not all of it – you would sell more and make more money,” he said.
Source: British Medical Journal
BMJ 2013;346:f3728 (Ahead of print)
“A brutally pragmatic approach to food”
Author: JT Winkler