Are food manufacturers really active in combating obesity?
Obesity is a complex issue and the result of a number of contributing factors like an oversupply of poor food options, inadequate food labelling, seductive food marketing, poor individual food choices and inactive lifestyles.
Given these contributing factors it’s easier to see how and why there is a growing prevalence of obesity worldwide and why so many of us are afflicted.
So how do we counter this modern day epidemic?
Countering the contributing factors in the obesity epidemic requires a collective and focused approach from several groups: government, the food industry, academic institutes, health care providers and the consumer.
Food manufacturers are easy targets when it comes to ‘who perpetuates and enables unhealthy eating options’. And to their credit, some of the major fast food providers are engaging a number of strategies to counter this perception.
- Increasing the range of product offerings to incorporate healthier choices
- Making nutritional labels clearer and more visible
- Working with communities to increase nutritional knowledge and encourage exercise and overall active lifestyles
- corporate sponsorship of active, healthy living programs worldwide
However, obesity is a multifaceted health issue that involves biological, behavioural, and environmental factors.
The role of the consumer
Energy intake versus energy output is the imbalance that sits at the core of the obesity problem, because weight gain results from consuming more calories than we use. However, it’s often not that simple.
In many cases we can be forgiven for thinking that obesity is self-inflicted because we make our own choices about the food we eat, how much we eat, when we eat and other lifestyle choices like activity levels.
So what’s going wrong?
Our level of knowledge shapes our food choices
On a basic level four motivators have been identified as affecting consumer decisions:
While consumers indicate that healthy eating and good nutrition are increasingly important to them, sales and surveys show we are more concerned with taste, convenience, and price.
It seems a gap between consumer attitude or desire and behaviour or outcome exists. This imbalance plays perfectly into the obesity trap and if manufacturers are truly concerned with and actively engaged in reducing obesity worldwide, they need to take this into consideration.
Food labelling, this can be confusing – how many calories are bad, how much sugar in one serving is bad and this product is low in fat (great) but high in sugar (not so great).
As consumers we need clear, reliable and easy to decipher nutritional information to make responsible dietary decisions. Added to this is the necessary knowledge needed to cook, create and deliver healthy and nutritionally balanced meals for all members of the family.
If there is little healthy food awareness and a lack in the ability to purchase and cook healthy meals, then nutritionally compromised food choices, namely fast-food and takeaways, will encroach and fester in peoples lives – feeding the epidemic.
Where we live and work, influences how active we are
For the majority of people, work is a reality of life and there’s pretty much nothing else that consumes as much time, or as regularly.
For that reason, workplaces are very much a microcosm of the adult world – filled with elements or people that promote health (that super healthy, gym bunny colleague) as well as elements that diminish it (the well meaning enabler who brings in freshly baked goodies for morning tea).
This makes the workplace an ideal environment for improving health and tackling many of the key contributors to combating obesity.
The demands of everyday life, like work and family, mean that many of us are time poor. With tight restrictions on what we can fit into each day, things like physical activity and nutritionally balanced meals, created through good food choices and dinner prep, tend to take a back seat.
We therefore seek faster dinner and lunch options that are bad for us and our activity levels, especially for those in sedentary jobs.
What can the food industry and manufacturers do?
Why not start with something simple like honest product claims and cutting the bias. And getting rid of seductive, blatant, child-targeted and often misleading marketing and advertising campaigns. What about offering consumers relevant nutritional information about the products they purchase to inform them to make the best health choice possible?
Take that one step further and industry could promote nutrition education at all levels, from primary schools to universities and workplaces worldwide, to enhance nutrition awareness at the consumer level.
They can (and to their credit, some manufacturers have begun do to so) create new products that meet balanced nutritional needs, reformulate existing products to be healthier, and provide smaller portion sizes.
How our work lives affect our health
Effective health and wellness programs are proven to deliver results and workplaces are increasingly seeing the benefits of delivering programmes that take a multi-disciplinary approach and focus on providing workers with the knowledge, skills, and support to eat a healthier diet and be more active.
This can include onsite exercise, showers/changing rooms, access to nutritionists, subsidised gym memberships and company-wide policies that provide healthier food options.
Businesses are always striving to increase productivity and keep costs low and many companies are realising that obesity prevention through workplace health promotion programs can be an excellent investment with great returns. A healthier and happier workforce is one that helps keep healthcare spending low, productivity high and sick days reduced.
Adding food and fitness to our everyday lives – variety and fun is the key
Nobody wants to do the same thing or eat the same thing day-in day-out. And it’s this simple need for variety that can help us to incorporate healthy food and exercise options into our everyday lives.
At Live Life Get Active we partner with local government and corporate Australia to provide FREE health, fitness and nutritional education both online and in the parks, suburbs and cities across Australia.
Our exercise camps are designed to be boredom busters, with variety at their core. We understand that boredom is a huge killer of enthusiasm and our camps offer a variety of classes, with each class working the muscles in our bodies, in a different way.
As the main player in the obesity game it is up to each of us to make better health choices through better nutritional understanding and by placing ourselves in positive, health-focused environments.
And programmes like ours, which incorporate healthy eating programmes, exercise that’s fun and healthy social engagement; deliver positive results and those results surpass the usual standards to include – overall well-being.
Here is a story from one of our amazing members:
Since starting LLGA @ Bradbury Park with Morgan in July. I have lost 14kg and 6cm from my waist. I’ve still got a long way to go but considering I just had my 3rd baby not even 6 months ago, I’m extremely proud of my efforts. There’s no way I’d have the motivation or finances to pay for these types of fitness classes if it wasn’t for the free camps run by Westpac. I feel like a better mum as I have more energy to play with my kids and more knowledge on how to raise a family with a healthy lifestyle. Thank you Westpac, Live Life Get Active and Morgan for pushing me hard every day!