Foods Fight The Battle Of The Bulge


Mounting international pressure on the mainstream food industry to improve the nutrient profiles of its foods—not to mention the expanding waistlines of consumers—is creating opportunities for functional and wellness ingredient suppliers.

The main driver is obesity and the plethora of chronic diseases with which it is thought to be associated. Groups such as the International Obesity Task Force, which advises the World Health Organization, and many others from medical associations to government food agencies, have alerted the world to what they term an obesity epidemic. And, the finger of blame is being pointed increasingly not at sedentary, gluttonous consumers, but food producers who, as the IOTF puts it, "refuse to support public goals."

The IOTF estimates 1.7 billion people worldwide are obese. In many Western countries, most notably the US and parts of Europe, more than half the population are obese or overweight. In the US alone, about 300,000 people are estimated to die from obesity and related causes each year.

Opportunities Ahead
The growing trend creates opportunities for innovative ingredient suppliers that can help food manufacturers improve the nutrient profiles of their products.

Josephine O?Brien, New Jersey-based account manager for the Danish conglomerate Arla Foods Ingredients? low-calorie sweetener Tagatose, foresees business opportunities opening up as obesity speeds dietary change. "We have presented many ingredients to food companies where we promote the anti-obesity properties of the ingredient," she said. "But the food industry is slow-moving and there are cost issues, too. For instance Tagatose is about four times as expensive as sugar. That?s quite a deterrent. That said, people are more willing to pay extra for these kinds of foods because they realise it is a crisis situation with obesity."

Ian Newton, director of business development and regulatory affairs at DSM Nutritional Products (formerly Roche Vitamins and Fine Chemicals Division), said his company was proactive about approaching food manufacturers.

"We tend to look at the diseases associated with obesity and then look at nutrient clusters that can be applied to those diseases rather than obesity per se. We?ll go to a food manufacturer with ideas," said Newton. "Other times they?ll say we are considering a line of foods in this area—what do you think we should do?"

And what about adding nutrients to ?bad foods??

"There is a strand of thought that says we should fortify bad foods with vitamins and minerals and other nutrients because at least you improve the nutritional profile of those foods," said Newton. "I?m not sure if I agree with this, especially in the case of fats which have twice the calories of sugar. The problem is that it?s hard to formulate fats out of a food and have a decent-tasting product because fats carry many of the flavour molecules. That is the challenge."

Is Food The Next Tobacco?
Research has indicated the potentially addictive nature of many high-salt, high-sugar or high-fat foods. Such findings may open a legal can of worms for the food industry. A group of American lawyers led by a tobacco-litigation stalwart met recently to discuss avenues to challenge the food industry on these grounds and others such as portion size, the way food is marketed to children and how it is labelled.

As a result, the big food players are under increasing pressure to make their products healthier than perhaps at any time in their history.

According to the UK-based Food and Drink Federation?s media and parliamentary relations manager, Christine Fisk, "The industry recognises that it has a part to play to combat obesity and works with the rest of the food chain, government and educators to help people learn more about food and nutrition," she said, adding the FDF was not overly concerned about potential legal action. "People have to eat food to stay alive. It?s not like tobacco—it?s not an addictive substance."


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