The primary focus of the obesity debate has been centred on reformulating food and drink products to help decrease consumers’ calorie intake, research firm Populus claimed.
But there was a sense that manufacturers’ traditional approach of reformulation and labelling calorie content to help consumers consume less had failed, David Racadio, head of syndicated research at Populus, told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
As a result, the debate could be taken out of their hands and led by a coalition of government, non-governmental organisations, lobby groups, retailers and manufacturers, Racadio claimed.
Debate needs to expand
“There is a sense that the efforts that have been made so far on the ‘calorie in’ side haven’t worked, so something else needs to be done,” he said. “The scope of the debate needs to expand so that both sides of the debate are discussed.
“For food manufacturers the important thing is to emphasise the obesity debate is about calories in as well as calories out.”
If the focus remained solely on calories in, then food manufacturers would remain in the firing line, he added.
Food businesses should highlight the role of public health groups in boosting education and spending on exercise and weight management programs to avoid criticism for the obesity epidemic, Racadio claimed.
If food manufacturers did not highlight what other sectors could do, they risked being forced out of the debate as more players – such as retailers – offered solutions.
Responding to a recent Populus survey questioning which food manufacturer was best placed to address the big issues facing the food industry, a quarter said ‘none’ and a further 9% said retailers rather than food manufacturers.
Increasingly, the health lobby and politicians were drawing supermarkets into the obesity debate by encouraging them to exert their significant influence on food and drink manufacturers, Racadio said.
“For example removing confectionery from checkout aisles, reducing shelf space for ‘unhealthy’ products and pushing for clearer labeling and faster reformulation,” he added.
There was a “growing acceptance” that obesity could only be curbed by a coalition of government intervention, industry reformulation, adjustments to healthcare provision and consumer education, Racadio claimed.
This was likely to result in stricter regulation for food manufacturers irrespective of the General Election outcome in May 2015, he added.
“Under any election outcome – regardless of whether Labour or the Conservatives are voted in, or if it is a hung parliament – at least half of respondents were in favour of stricter regulation,” he said.