Obesity, with all its associated health conditions, is one of the thorniest problems of our age. It’s often described as an ‘epidemic’ affecting 26% of men and 24% of women in the UK. The annual cost to the economy is estimated at £27 billion1.
This is a complex problem with many contributory factors, no single solution and a shared responsibility. It can only ever be solved through a concerted series of activities involving a broad variety of players.
IGD is able to contribute to this through our capability to inspire and co-ordinate companies, underpinned by our research. Health has long been a priority for us. For example, we were the catalyst for Guideline Daily Amounts (now known as ‘Reference Intakes’) appearing on food packs, we developed a standard practical definition of ‘wholegrain’ in foods and we’ve published influential best practice on a range of topics including communicating portion sizes and making products healthier.
All of this work was made possible by the support of a great many food and drink companies. Their focus on health is why the UK has led the world in transparent labelling and reducing salt consumption (down 15% in 10 years). Furthermore, we’ve seen extensive promotion of the ‘5 a day’ message, the widespread removal of confectionery from checkouts and the near elimination of trans-fats amongst a plethora of health based initiatives.
Renewing our efforts
Without all that work, the problem would be even larger scale but unfortunately, the obesity trend hasn’t yet reversed and we await another national strategy from government.
IGD’s advisory forum of Chief Executives concluded last February that the industry needed to step up and do more. It asked IGD to explore options for further activities.
To guide us, we made full use of an excellent assessment published by McKinsey in 2014 entitled Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis. This summarised the best available data on the impact of anti-obesity programmes worldwide.
Armed with this information, we consulted extensively with industry and other experts before producing a shortlist of potential new industry-led interventions. When we ran this by our Chief Exec’s forum, they approved the top three initiatives on our list.
The criteria behind the selection were:
- Where is industry best placed to take a lead and maximise the value of its knowledge, expertise and ability to help consumers?
- What is best done collectively rather than competitively?
- What would be novel, pushing the frontier forwards without duplicating other efforts?
Our new programme
The three components of our new healthy eating programme are:
- Nutrition information on pack
To help and inspire more people to use the information on pack more of the time to make healthier choices
- Food provision in the workplace
To test, prove and promote the best ways to encourage healthy eating in the workplace
To help and inspire more businesses to improve the nutritional content of their products
We’ll be building on our legacy of conducting research, drawing conclusions, identifying and sharing best practice. We’ll be learning from previous work in these areas and connecting up with other experts and related initiatives.
For instance, we’ve reviewed all the available published research on nutrition labels before scoping our new research on this topic. We’ll be working with a leading university as we embark on a giant experiment across many worksites to measure the impact of various interventions ‘nudging’ employees towards healthier food and drink choices.
Finally, we’ll be consulting widely with smaller companies to understand the challenges they face in healthier reformulation and that will direct us to develop new resources with the guidance of various experts.
How to get involved
This is an ambitious and wide ranging programme because we’re determined to help the food industry make a really substantial difference. We’ll only be successful in this if we gain the support of as many companies as possible, large and small, at all points in the supply chain. We start with some very strong backing but we’d love to bring many others on board.
There will be lots of ways to get involved including:
- Participating in our surveys
- Providing us with case study material
- Reading, commenting on and implementing our recommendations and guides
To keep in touch as the programme develops, please sign up here to receive Healthy Eating updates.
The bigger picture
Of course, this is not the only contribution the food industry is making to tackling obesity. Companies will continue to compete fiercely on health, driving a steady stream of innovation. We’re watching out for this across the world and reporting it through our Retail Analysis service.
Companies are also contributing through many other organisations and initiatives, for instance through the work of the British Nutrition Foundation to raise the public’s nutritional knowledge, especially amongst young people.
Obesity is a difficult and complex problem but that doesn’t mean it’s unsolvable. With a strong network of bodies, contributing their expertise in many different ways but pulling in a common direction, we’re optimistic that the trend can finally be reversed.
. Making the case for tackling obesity - why invest? Public Health England