Professor Paul Gately, director of weight-loss support group MoreLife, called on the industry to take a more active role rather than “tactically marketing” its way out.
“I think food and drink manufacturers need to engage much more in this whole debate,” Gatey told FoodManufacture.co.uk at a conference in London last week.
“They are defensive and not at the table most of the time. I think sometimes they are too tactical in their marketing campaigns and social responsibility activities.”
‘Feed the population’
View on manufacturers
“They are defensive and not at the table most of the time.”
- Professor Paul Gately, director, MoreLife
Gately, who spoke at the Dairy Council’s childhood obesity conference, said manufacturers must be part of the long-term obesity strategy because they feed the population.
“There is a narrative at the moment that says industry is in it for its own interests. Of course they are profit-making businesses: that’s what they do,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean that they can’t be engaged in dialogue.”
Gately said that many anti-obesity efforts from manufacturers appeared to be marketing tactics under the banner of social responsibility.
For example, he said that companies tended to publicise physical education and healthy eating campaigns through glossy brochures instead of providing robust evidence.
‘No credit’ for efforts
“Because of the method of communication, they get no credit for what might well have been a well-intended corporate social responsibility strategy,” he said.
“That is one way the industry has not done itself any favours because it has not necessarily engaged with the issue. It tends to tactically market its way out of these things.”
On the issue of reformulation, he said: “We can keep companies cutting salt, fat, sugar in products.
“That’s where we need to go because that will help consumers. That’s why I believe industry should be at the table.”
Gately is professor of exercise and obesity at Leeds Beckett University and founded MoreLife – an organisation that runs summer camps and programmes for obese children.
Meanwhile, seafood boss Geoff Eaton told the Food Manufacture Group’s Business Leaders’ Forum that firms should do more to help tackle obesity.
Response from FDF
“Responsible food and drink manufacturers are very much at the table in the obesity debate.
“FDF and our members have been active partners in government’s Responsibility Deal (RD), focusing efforts where they can have the maximum impact.
“Under the RD, this has meant companies taking action to help improve diets across the piece, lowering salt and calories, adding fruit and veg into their products, capping portion sizes, providing clear nutrition labelling on the front of packs and supporting better public education.
“We strongly believe that only a coherent, structured and evidenced-based plan will crack obesity in this country.
“UK food and drink brands stand ready and willing to do more to tackle this issue in partnership with others, faster and with more impact.”
- Spokeswoman, Food and Drink Federation (FDF)