Food firms should prevent obesity not manage it

By Laurence Gibbons contact

- Last updated on GMT

Food firms should prevent more people becoming obese
Food firms should prevent more people becoming obese

Related tags: Food industry, Nutrition

Food and drink manufacturers should forget about managing people that are currently obese and instead focus on preventing more people becoming overweight, according to a leading expert.

More than half (60%) of the population is now obese and the food industry must turn its attention away from helping this group of people and instead focus on “switching off this continual rise”, ​Imperial College London’s chair in nutrition and dietetics Professor Gary Frost told the Food Matters Live conference yesterday (November 17).

“We have not one answer at the present time to this continual increase in the nation’s ​[obesity levels],” he said.

“The challenge for the food industry is to actually switch it off. I’m not talking about management of people who are already obese​ [but] to actually stop the actual overflow of people becoming obese – switch off the taps.”

In order to do this the food industry must understand the link between metabolism, genetics and the food that people consume.

Reformulation of food products

The food industry must also continue to provide products that consumers enjoy eating but reformulate them to make them healthier, Frost added.

“As time goes on, we understand better the relationship between the food we consume and the signals that occur within our bodies, within our gastrointestinal tract … that govern our appetite,” he said.

“What we haven’t got a sense of is how we translate those into foods that may prevent us overeating.”

Obesity – big facts

  • Costs the NHS £5.1bn a year
  • Two-thirds of English people are obese
  • A tenth of 4–5 year olds are obese
  • A fifth of 10–11 year olds are obese 

One of the ways to create foods that prevent weight gain is to understand the structure of foods and how it helps to affect appetite regulation, he claimed.

This could include adding ingredients to foods people already enjoy eating that suppress appetite, he said.

“The challenge is for us to lead the lives that we want to lead but in a more friendly, energy balanced way.”

‘No interest in unhealthy consumers’

The Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF) director general Ian Wright said food and drink manufacturers had “no interest in unhealthy consumers”.

“Unhealthy consumers are economically less active to the point of being inactive,” ​he said. “They don’t spend money and therefore they are not of interest to us.”

Food manufacturers should work to help consumers reduce calories in their diets, Wright added.

This would involve changes to advertising, a major reduction in sugar content of foods and behavioural change, he said.  

Meanwhile, look out for our exclusive video filmed with Wright during’s visit to the FDF’s headquarters in central London.

Wright will also be featured in a Big Interview in an upcoming edition of Food Manufacture​ magazine. 

Related topics: People & Skills, Obesity

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