Notes from TOS 2011 (Part 2): Food Industry

Food Industry: Friend or Foe?

My apologies for the delay in resuming regular posting, and sharing more of my experiences from TOS. I also attended the pre-conference session “Food Industry Outreach— Strategies the Food Industry Is Using to Address Obesity. Marc Andon of Con-Agra, Doug Ballantine of Unilever, and Richard Black of Kraft Foods each spoke about initiatives from their respective companies.

A key message from Marc Andon was that the potential for single serve meals (from companies such as Con-Agra) as a helpful strategy for portion control is under-utilized. The misperception that such frozen meals are high in calories was provided as one explanation of why many might shy away from using them. Personally, I think cost would be a bigger factor.

Doug Ballantine spoke next. While a crowded slide listed multiple players involved not only in the travel of food from farm to fork, but also educators, government, caretakers, etc… there seemed to be stronger emphasis placed on the role of the consumer and the importance of personal responsibility. Unilever sees their role as to help lower calories, improve taste and quality, add nutrients, remove sugars and fats, and add vegetables.

The message that stuck with me most from the forum was on how foods are marketed, a story shared by Richard Black: how do we sell “healthy”? Ritz crackers labelled as “Low Sodium” were a flop…yet, the same cracker, in the same package, with only the label changed to “Hint of Salt” did sell. This echoes another example from Doug Ballantine on how the formulation of Ragout tomato sauce has changed to reduce sodium, sugar, and increase the tomatoes, all without changing the label or marketing it differently. We are asking people to dramatically change what they eat, how they buy foods, and how they prepare them…and this process requires lots of patience and time.

Doctors of Weight Loss also provide an excellent summary of these presentations on their site.

Following on the heels of this session, Sunday was the “Food Industry: Friend or Foe” debate between my supervisor, Dr. Diane Finegood and Dr. Yoni Freedhoff. The Obesity Society has allowed Yoni to post videos of the debate on his blog, available here for viewing.

A few other recent and relevant posts from Dr. Freedhoff:

Also from, Dr. Arya Sharma, “Can an Obesity NMGO Take Money from ‘Big Food’“. The discussions following his post highlight the need for “thoughtful lines in the sand”.

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