Despite all the work that Sainsbury had carried out over the past 20 years to reduce calories, plus levels of fat, sugar and salt in processed foods, portion sizes had increased by 17%, reported Judith Batchelar at the British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF’s) 50th anniversary conference titled: ‘Who is shaping the food choices of the future?’, held at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on Thursday October 12.
“Obesity is multifactorial and the response needs to be multifaceted,” said Batchelar, during the afternoon session of the conference chaired by John Mathers, Professor of human nutrition and scientific director of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University.
Batchelar called for government action to address the wide variations on portion sizes that exist across retail and foodservice, which results in consumers often exceeding recommended daily intakes of fat, sugar and salt. This undermined much of retailer efforts to make food healthier – including by “stealth health”, whereby they reformulate products, but without adversely affecting consumers’ taste perception of these foods, she added.
“Stealth health really works – but it doesn’t work for obesity,” said Batchelar.
“Providing better, more accessible labelling is the first step to getting people to make healthier choices,” said James Walton, chief economist with grocery think-tank IGD, in his presentation on nutritional choices and the factors influencing shopper behaviour in-store.
But, while he reported that shoppers found traffic light labelling to be effective, Walton added: “Portion sizes is another can of worms.”
Batchelar’s views were echoed by BNF science director Sara Stanner who remarked: “There are so many factors which shape our food choices – from large scale influences like government policy, the media and food supply, through to our individual price preferences, habits, culture and education.”
Other speakers at the event outlined how science and technology could help to drive positive consumer behaviour and encourage the next generation of consumers to make healthier food choices.
Technologies included innovation in agriculture, food processing and retailing, designed to help tackle future challenges including climate change and the demands of growing, more prosperous populations. Several speakers spoke of the need for food systems to provide ‘sustainable nutrition’, basically encouraging healthier – often plant-based – diets that could feed the world but with less damage to the environment.
Creating new and innovative collaborations across different sectors was key to achieving a sustainable food system, said Mark Driscoll, associate director for sustainable food at Forum for the Future. Driscoll highlighted the need to change from “productivist” ways of thinking – where it was all about output from each hectare of farmland – in favour of optimising the number of people nourished by available resources.
‘More sustainable future’
“In order to secure a more sustainable future for the food chain, we need to change our mindset to maximise the number of people fed per hectare of land, rather than measuring tonnes of food products per hectare,” said Driscoll. “By challenging the way we grow, eat and value food, we can achieve better outcomes across the whole food system – both for humans as well as for the planet.”
Driscoll also discussed his work leading the Protein Challenge 2040 initiative, which aims to discover how society can meet the protein needs of 9.7bn people in a way that is affordable, healthy and good for the environment.
He highlighted the need to ‘scale up’ new forms of sustainable animal feed innovation – including the use of insects rather than soya – to meet demand for animal protein, while at the same time encouraging people to eat more plant-based proteins, and reducing food waste across the food system.
“Globally, 30% of all food produced is wasted, however, much of this waste could be converted into useful protein sources,” said Driscoll.