Nutrition expert calls for ‘pragmatic approach’ to processed foods

March 29, 2013

The obesity epidemic can only be tackled if policy makers and the food industry work together to develop a pragmatic and effective solution, a leading expert has stated.

As global rates of obesity and non-communicative diseases have reached unprecedented levels globally, threatening to cause healthcare system failures, it is vital to take urgent and drastic measures. The obesity epidemic can only be tackled if policy makers and the food and drinks industry start working together to develop a pragmatic and effective solution, a leading expert has stated.

Speaking at a recent symposium on "Sugar, Fat and the Public Health Crisis," Professor Jack Winkler, director of Food & Health Research, an independent consultancy on nutrition and formerly professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, claimed that processed foods should be reformulated to have better nutritional values.

He added that at present there were very restricted options available to policy makers and governments that could make a difference fast enough but he insisted there was hope that the global problem of public health will be tackled. Winkler said that more and more people are being diagnosed with diabetes, with the vast majority of cases being attributed to obesity and poor nutrition, Food and Drink Europe reported.

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Based on studies by the WHO and OECD, dieting, education and raising awareness are ineffective, Winkler pointed out. So far, convincing people to eat healthy food has proved unsuccessful, so what should be done instead is to try to improve the foods that they do eat and make those better for their health, he went on. Over the past three decades, most governments have implemented educational policies but statistics reveal that people globally are getting fatter and fatter.

He believes that the real problem is the quality of processed foods that are being sold on markets worldwide. Processed foods provide more calories than the same amount of "real food." As a result, many people either prefer to buy processed food because of that, or are simply unable to afford healthy food, thus gradually gaining weight and worsening their health. However, Winkler also acknowledged the fact that in recent years progress has been made in terms of the nutritional content of processed foods, noting that the quality of processed foods nowadays is better than it was in the past.

In theory, there are three different approaches that could be adopted. The first one could change agricultural policies, the second could see new taxes being imposed on food products and the last one relies on regulation. While those all sound viable, in practice they have all proved technically ineffective, politically impossible or both.

Instead, Winkler recommended a more pragmatic approach, "starting from where we are now and moving toward where we would like to be." As much as 85 percent of the food people consume today is processed and the nutritional value of these products is determined by manufacturers mostly, so it seems like a logical move to try to change the food where we have failed to change the people, he added. This calls for two main steps — removing bad ingredients like salt and sugar and adding good ingredients like omega-3 long chain fatty acids, Winkler concluded.