Making unhealthy and convenient ultra-processed foods more expensive and less appealing through increased taxation, less-attractive packaging, and warning advisories by health authorities – analogous to the regulations some countries place on cigarettes, but at a global scale.
Is it audacious enough while still achievable? Are there countries where this is already being considered or being done? Would it work?
At the time, a global pandemic of obesity and chronic diseases from the widespread availability of inexpensive, unhealthy food is inconceivable, evidences makes clear that multiple, complex factors beyond personal decisions strongly influence dietary choices and patterns.
Importantly, wider commercial pressures also affect consumer c hoice, including food packaging, marketing, advertising, and sociocultural perceptions of norms, status, and prestige. By their nature, public health concerns such as nutrition are multifactorial.
Governments can use a spectrum of policies from voluntary to mandatory.
Point-of-purchase information labelling has been widely and increasingly used. ''soft” policies like this place most responsibility on the individual consumer, with which industry is often more comfortable. Reportedly, the effectiveness of such policies on overall behaviour change and in specific population subgroups has been variable and they may have smaller effects in marginalised groups.
Fiscal incentives and disincentives aimed at consumers, producers, and retailers have more consistent evidence of effectiveness. However, the disincentives may include excise or sales taxes on unhealthy items such as sugar sweetened beverages and junk foods or removal of industry tax benefits for development and marketing of unhealthy products. Disincentives on specific foods can be politically difficult, however, the rapid international expansion of taxes on sugar sweetened beverages may show the growing acceptance of this approach.
Relatively, quality standards, for instance, limitations or standards on trans fat and sodium may go sustainable to implement.
Do you think focusing on the demand side is the right approach? Or should the focus be on the supply side?
Demands essentially creates supply or supply creates its own demand. The demand curve is not not affected with the supplies.
As a consumer point of view, tapping the demand side will be important.
Just sharing the print books with pictures for my three year old holds no value in comparison to screen animated videos. The demand was moving objects that fascinate a child and the videos were designed and created.*
“Trans fats are now officially banned in the U.S.,” an article from June 21, 2018, shows us that laws in this area can work.
Here’s another, “11 American Foods That Are Banned Abroad (And How They Can Impact Your Health)”, from June 13, 2019.
A global approach would be audacious, but it would have to be an ongoing effort yielding continuous improvement. I think the ban on trans fats took over 35 years to come about.
Here’s a question: If a grocery store has a health food section, what does it say about the rest of the food in the store?
If an unbiased agency like Consumer Reports rated grocery stores based on what they sell, with metrics like healthy vs. unhealthy, sustainability, cost, and value, would consumers pay attention? Would grocers?
What if you could simply trust a grocer to stock “the good stuff”? How far out of your way would you go to shop there?
Of these options I imagine taxing would be most useful, though I think it’s a mistake to consider that a “supply-side” policy since the extra cost would most likely be passed on to the consumer – who may be deterred from paying extra for the item.
The Food and Drug Administration stressing the value of regulatory action on labelling, marketing instituted the trans fat labelling of packaged foods, with some uses permitted until 2020. Transfat foods globally became popular with consumer demand and food choices.
International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) in view of WHO recommendations has agreed that the amount of industrial trans fat (iTFA) in industrial products does not exceed 2 g of iTFA per 100 g fat/oil globally by 2023.
Governments across nations are launching mass media campaigns in order to create awareness about health hazards of consuming unhealthy foods and offer strategies to avoid them through healthier alternatives.
These campaigns are concentrated on the demand side (consumers), who in turn, can push the supply side (food manufacturers) to come up with various strategies in order to reduce and later replace unhealthy foods.
Today at grocery shopping we seek healthier food choices. We like quality brands who are socially and environmentally responsible and offer sustainable, traceable products, yes, with affordable prices. This behavioural change is now common to every demographic group, including millennials has posed an enormous challenge for the grocery industry.
Size is also one matter, small portions and multiple meals, and nutri rich foods. Now the population is becoming aware that calcium-rich foods hinder iron absorption and should be combined with vitamin c rich foods.
“When President Eisenhower signed the Food Additives Amendment of 1958, he established a regulatory program intended to restore public confidence that chemicals added to foods are safe. In the intervening 56 [now 61] years, the basic structure of the law has changed little. However, the regulatory programs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established to implement the law have fallen behind over time as the agency strived to keep up with the explosion in the number and variety of chemicals in food, and to manage its huge workload with limited resources.”
“The 1958 law exempted from the formal, extended FDA approval process common food ingredients like vinegar and vegetable oil that are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). It may have appeared reasonable at the time, but that exemption has been stretched into a loophole that has swallowed the law. The exemption allows manufacturers to make safety determinations that the uses of their newest chemicals* in food are safe without notifying the FDA.”
“Generally Recognized as SECRET” rather than “Generally Recognized as SAFE” is a better name for the GRAS loophole that has allowed manufacturers to sanction the use of hundreds of chemicals in food that Americans eat every day."
“…consumers need to demand that their grocery stores and their favorite brands sell only those food products with ingredients that the FDA has found to be safe.”
A score-card from an unbiased agency would pressure grocery stores to quit stocking unhealthy or suspect food, and “food-like substances”. Our government moves far too slowly. As an example:
“Use of lead-based interior paints was banned in France, Belgium and Austria in 1909. Much of Europe followed suit before 1940. It took the U.S. until 1978 to make this move, even though health experts had, for decades, recognized the potentially acute — even deadly — and irreversible hazards of lead exposure.”
- " We use the term “chemicals” to apply to the products sold by additive manufacturers. They may be individual substances or mixtures of substances. They are sometimes referred to as substances, additives, or ingredients, which, in reality, are all chemicals or mixtures of them. They may be extracted from natural products or synthesized from other chemicals."
Maybe it’s human nature to eat unhealthy food. Or perhaps it’s the influence of Madison Avenue, K-Street, and Wall Street. Or a combination of them that tricks us into it. Whatever the reason, we certainly do it. For example, Kraft Heinz sells 200 million tubs of Cool Whip a year.
Here’s a link to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, “The scientist behind some of our favorite junk foods.” The Scientist Behind Some of Our Favorite Junk Foods | Innovation | Smithsonian Magazine