Consumers want better industry efforts to combat obesity

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Percent, Nutrition, Obesity

Food manufacturers are not proving to consumers they are dedicated
to cutting fat, sugar and salt levels in their products, suggests a
new survey.

According to a public opinion survey commissioned by the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), 82 percent of Americans think food companies should be making a greater effort to reformulate for more better-for-you products. Although this is a high percentage, it compares with 90 percent in Britain, 89 percent in Spain and 87 percent in Hungary. The survey, which gathered answers from more than 1,000 individuals in each of these four areas, also looked at junk food advertising, government involvement in childhood obesity and labeling. "US based companies are complying with government initiatives in Europe that curb junk food advertising to kids, limit fat and salt content in processed foods, and call for nutrition information on the front of food packages, but are opposing such steps in the US,"​ said Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which co-chairs the TACD's food policy group,. Reformulation ​The study found that only 17 percent of Americans thought food manufacturers do not need to make any greater efforts to reformulate. However, figures released recently from a Grocery Manufacturers Association's poll found that a staggering 92 percent of the food companies that took part said they are reformulating or introducing new products that have reduced fat or sugar. This has meant more than 10,000 products with nutritional improvements in the last five years in attempts to combat obesity. But this appears to be insufficient for consumers. According CSPI, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not done enough to set targets for reductions in reformulation. Meanwhile, the UK and France have established targets for salt reduction and Denmark has phased out the use of artificial trans fats. Advertising to children ​The survey also found that 60 percent of Americans thought food companies are not doing enough to limit their junk food advertising to children. This is a slightly higher percentage than Hungary (58 percent) and Britain (59 percent), where new regulations governing such advertising have recently come in, but lower than Spain (69 percent). Again, the CSPI said it thought the FDA and other US agencies were less aggressive than their European counterparts in dealing with such issues. While the UK has cracked down on advertising foods that are high in salt, fat or sugar to children, CSPI said the FDA and Federal Trade Commission has opted for self-regulation "based on a weak set of industry-written nutrition standards". ​Furthermore, 57 percent of American respondents said the government should take more action in helping overcome childhood obesity and other health problems. Although this is more than half of respondents, again it shows a greater appreciation of efforts than in Hungary (61 percent), Great Britain (68 percent) and Spain (76 percent). ​Still, Silverglade said: "The Food and Drug Administration has lost its leadership role and we are falling behind other countries that are taking more aggressive steps to combat childhood obesity and diet-related disease. The health of Americans will suffer as a result." Quality of labeling ​Seventy-four percent of Americans favor front-of-package nutrition symbols showing whether the level of calories, fat, sugar, and salt are high, medium or low, according to the survey. Such a system has been developed in the UK with traffic-light labeling (where 89 percent of people said this would be useful), and a panel at next week's conference will discuss how to provide consumers with this sort of nutritional information. "Rates of obesity and diet-related disease remain high, but governments aren't acting with enough urgency to shield children from junk-food advertising, or to give consumers better nutrition information,"​ said Sue Davies, EU co-chair of TACD's food policy group. "Clearly, relying on voluntary action by the food industry isn't working." ​ The poll comes as consumer organizations belonging to the TACD get ready to meet next week in Washington with US and EU government officials and nutrition experts at a conference on combating obesity and diet-related disease.

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