We all know about the world’s obesity epidemic and the serious health consequences ahead of us. But we seem to be stuck in a blame game, rather than really committing to effective, collaborative solutions.
Week after week books are published and media reports are issued focussing on finger pointing. For the past six months in particular all fingers have been pointed at the food industry – in particular the “food giants” – for manipulating and addicting consumers to their products. Prior to that – at least in New Zealand – experts have pointed to Government, for their lack of investment in preventative health and unwillingness to introduce regulatory taxes, bans and restrictions for certain foods and food marketing. And any health-related association or sports group is now being criticised for working collaboratively with food companies because of the fear that food companies only associate with health-related associations as a fluffy PR exercise. It is not known what foundation there is for such fear, but it’s enough to make food companies throw in the towel on their numerous attempts to introduce healthier options and reformulate existing products, and just start doing exactly what they’re being accused of (if people are determined to think that anyway).
In the meantime is the population any better off? When the average person spends less than a second deliberating over their supermarket choices and juggles food provision for their families with all of the other priorities in our busy lives, what is all this finger pointing achieving for them?
I would venture to say it’s doing more harm than good. It’s causing even more confusion. The bottom line is people have to eat and drink something to stay alive. Dietary experts and food and nutrition guidelines largely make recommendations based on the four food groups, which actually don’t relate well to what the average person has to choose from when they’re in the supermarket or eating out these days. People also don’t have the lifestyles or incomes that enable them to grow their own foods or shop at farmers markets (wonderful as they are). They simply buy and eat what they like/can afford/are familiar with – in that order. So achieving the shift that motivates them to also vitally include in the purchasing mix “know is healthy for them” requires the following:
- Unity and clarity in scientific advice from Government and academics which relates to the current food supply, not the foods which Nana had to choose from when she shopped for her family back in the 1960s.
- No more contradictory, confusing, subjective and unsubstantiated messages or blanket statements which only result in people giving up and going back to what they know and like.
- Support and endorsement from the scientific/health community when food companies make positive nutritional changes, so that there is actually a demand for healthier products from the population.
- Dropping the blame game. Truly collaborative implementation of solutions is the only way forward to deliver real benefits to the population. This will involve significant compromise for all parties, who must commit to concrete actions and be held accountable to those in the long term.
Can’t we just get on with it?