22 Nov 2017 Food Matters Live 2017: highlights from day one
Yesterday Food Active attended day one of the Food Matters Live 2017 Conference, held in the ExCel arena, London.
The conference is a great opportunity to bring together the food industry and innovators in food product development to come together and showcase their ideas, ingredients and products to thousands of attendees from across the globe. In response to Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme, as part of the Childhood Obesity Strategy, we have seen many new trends in product development such as the use of natural sweeteners, including Stevia, to replace the sugar content. As such, the majority of the day was focused around sugar and solutions to reformulation.
The conference also provided a platform for public health advocates to quiz and probe industry and policymakers on policy progress, keep up the pressure and highlight the areas that need further action.
In the seminar ‘Sugar Reduction in practice – success stories in reduction and reformulation’. Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar (AoS) recognised the successes made by industry, including reformulations from Nestle, in response to PHE’s sugar reduction programme, but also highlighted the considerations for future action. Furthermore, statistics presented by Cathy Capelin, KANTAR World Panel, show that consumers are more aware of sugar (86% concerned about sugar – a third greater than last year) and engaging with healthier choices in the diet. However, as Jenny pointed out, is this increased awareness really translating into behaviour change? Latest OECD figures relaying that the UK is the most obese country in Europe, suggest not. These statistics show that the 2/3 of adults are overweight or obese in the UK – this majority is not down to individuals day in, day out making unhealthy choices. Something is going on in the wider population to influence this epidemic – our environment, including the millions (if not billions) of pounds spent on marketing, has an important role in influencing our choices in the diet, as pointed out by Jenny from AoS.
Another interesting talks was held in the conference theatre and chaired by Sarah Smith, presenter of Sunday Politics. During the session ‘The Childhood Obesity Plan – one year on, the strategy came under fire from Louise Lam from the British Dietetic Association (BDA), who claimed “the obesity epidemic continues to escalate, despite public health action…the Government needs to take further action“. Arguing the policy does not go far enough to protect our children, Natcha Numan from Googly Fruit UK, raised particular concerns over the volume, content and controls on junk food marketing to children and price promotions in food retailers. During the heated debate, Deputy chief medical officer Professor Gina Radford rigorously defended the governments approach to childhood obesity, claiming it to be “the most comprehensive plan of any country in the world” and highlighting the work being done and planned in sugar and calorie reduction. In the same breath, she did not rule out further action but emphasised the difficulties faced in reformulation and that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Louise Lam, from the BDA also called for a whole systems approach to successfully tackle obesity and the need to align policies across departments such as housing and town planning in order to create an environment that promotes healthy weight. Again, recognising that our environment are influential drivers in food choice and behaviours, not just at the individual level.
Another interesting panel discussion was ‘Packaging’s role in influencing the reduction of sugar consumption’. The content, layout and readability of current nutritional labelling was discussed – how can we make the labels clearer for consumers to read and make an informed choice? Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum stated that there is a 7 second window for consumers, thereby any information must be graphical and simple to understand. Visual labels, such as teaspoons to represent the sugar content, were discussed – however, this may distract the consumer away from the calorie, fat and salt content of the product.
Finally, a fantastic talk from Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP, in the session ‘The Future of Fat: latest research and recommendations’ discussed the victimisation of nutrients across the decades, from saturated fat in the past to sugar at present – but who is the real evil? How can we strike a truly healthy balance? What role has fat and sugar had to play in the 24% rise in obese adults since 1965? The number of headlines in the media with inaccurate findings from research (such as High fat yoghurt can prevent obesity – a simple association found but not cause and effect) is only fuelling this confusion.
This years programme was packed with interesting debates and perspectives on food innovation, product development and policy. The conference continues today and tomorrow where the debates will be sure to continue.