Blog by Camilla Edwards 00323 March 2012
Governments all around the world want to tackling obesity – not least because of the cost to society is huge. Excessive weight in childhood can translate into serious diseases such as blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes. The cost of treating these diseases is borne by health services and, depending on the country, funded with public money.
At the moment it’s easier to treat the conditions that come with obesity rather than help consumers lose weight. Find a way to battle the bulge and a huge profit might be made. But it is a struggle for companies – food, medical and pharmaceutical – to turn fat into gold.
Apparently, the recession has sapped demand for gastric bands. I see the pharmaceutical firm Vivus is trying to get approval for its new diet drug, Qnexa. Despite a committee advising America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommending that it be approved, the FDA may yet reject the drug. Even if the drug is approved it is unclear that patients will buy it. Qnexa combines two treatments that are already on the market so doctors may prescribe the existing drugs rather than Qnexa’s more expensive version.
For now, its more profitable for the pharmaceutical industry to treat fat patients than to try and make them slim. And, it seems, the same is true in the food industry. It is more profitable to feed fat people sugary products than reformulated versions. And, in all fairness, the full fat, sugar and salt versions normally taste much better.
In the UK, in particular, though it is felt that the big food firms are failing to support the battle against obesity.
Danone, Nestlé, Tate & Lyle and Unilever have all declined to sign up to a UK government-led initiative on calorie reduction. Sainsbury, Kraft Foods, Kellogg and Coca-Cola have also refused to sign up. But Pepsico, who core brand are Walkers, Quaker, Tropicana and Pepsi, will be signing up.
Is calorie reduction the right way to improve public health? There is a part of me that believes in personal responsibility. Shouldn’t parents make their own decisions about which chocolates, crispy and fizzy drinks they let their children eat?
But I’m afraid the reality is that some of the most significant health advances have been made by population-based public health approaches in which the overall welfare of the population trumps certain individual – or industry – freedoms.
The public smoking ban is a prime example. Doctors report it has already had an impact on reducing cardiovascular mortality. With obesity rates rising, now is the time for the food industry to realise that public health must come before profit.
Food ingredients Istanbul
Fi Asia China
Fi South America