Food marketing: A double-edged sword for combatting obesity in America

Huffington Post – Monday 8th August

Food marketing in America and elsewhere, is overwhelmingly devoted to encouraging people to make poor food choices. There is now extensive research on how powerfully influential it is on what people eat, and especially on what children eat. One recent study found that celebrity endorsements of food products were almost exclusively focused on unhealthy items that were nutritionally poor and heavy with sugar. Not a single endorsement was identified for a fruit or vegetable and only one celebrity endorsement supported a healthy snack. Research is also mapping the extraordinary influence of marketing on eating habits, evidencing that it is unquestionably a powerful tool. It is particularly effective on children and  young people who are notoriously impulsive in their food choices – and under the influence of food advertisements, they consumed 45% more food.

But Huffington Post, Public Health Editor, Susan Blumenthal, argues that the power of marketing could be focused on promoting healthy eating – it doesn’t have to be all bad. Celebrities could instead be encouraged to promote healthy food items. In particular, Blumenthal promotes using SNAP-Education (SNAP-ed) – an education initiative that is part of the government’s wider SNAP programme providing food benefits for poor Americans – more effectively to influence what recipients spend their SNAP dollars on. This would require an overhaul of many aspects of SNAP-ed giving it greater power and, critically, more money to utilise the effective strategies of food marketing and removing policy restrictions which limit what can be said, enhancing data collection to better understand how SNAP dollars are spent and developing vital partnerships to help them put more punch into their messages. If obesity is truly to be turned around, the lobby for healthy eating needs to be at least as strong as that for unhealthy eating.

With nearly half its food imported, who will feed Britain after ‘Brexit’?

LA Times – Monday 1st August

Britain imports nearly half of its food and should we ever run into a problem with food shortages, it’s estimated that the country has just five days worth of food. Looking at the issues in British food production, the cracks of Brexit are starting to become sharply visible. How will farmers grow and harvest their crops if their largely Eastern European labour force falls away due to a lack of free movement (not to mention the disincentive of a weak pound)? Producers using any imported ingredients will also struggle, as these become more expensive, erasing any benefit producers might get on the price of export goods. British beer will take a big hit with their reliance on imported hops. And while Brexit supporters continue to be optimistic about future trade negotiations with Europe, they may be forgetting one thing – it does not behoove the EU to go easy on Britain in trade agreements, lest others follow in Britain’s footsteps thinking continued access to the European free market will be easy to gain, even if they leave. Food producers are facing some very real difficulties.

Who will feed Britain after ‘Brexit’ is a question that wasn’t widely contemplated before the vote, but it’s something that needs serious thinking about now, before British food production hits the proverbial rocks.

Action needed to ‘future-proof’ pollinators

BBC News – Tuesday 9th August

A group of 17 scientists is researching how we might ‘future-proof’ our pollinators. As has been widely reported, the decline of pollinators – which includes a wide-array of insects as well as some birds and also bats – significantly threatens our global food supply and wider environmental health. With 35% of our crops and 85% of our wild plants dependent on pollination, we have a lot to be concerned about.

The group has identified a set of six threats to pollinators, with corporate control of agriculture the most dangerous. It brings with it, not only heavy chemical use, but also the homogenisation of crop land which impacts significantly on biodiversity. Declining biodiversity is reaching a critical level, approaching a point where it could collapse ecosystems in some places and cease to support human life – let alone the vast array of other species we co-exist with.

Identifying the growing threats to pollinators is a prerequisite to figuring out how to mitigate them, and that will help to ebb their decline and save a big portion of our global food supply. This ‘future-proof[ing]’ of pollinators is a valuable head start on saving them.

Italy’s plan to destigmatise doggy bags and end food waste

Fast Company – Monday 8th August

Going fast are the days when European waiters looked askance at foreign visitors – mostly American – asking for a ‘doggy bag’ to take the leftovers from their meal home. While a long established habit in the US, where portion sizes verge on the enormous, it’s not really done in many European countries. But food waste has become a global issue and in the past year, it’s been having its moment in the collective consciousness. There have been a range of initiatives across Europe, aimed at reducing food waste, and Italy is now wading in with a new law that makes it easier for businesses to donate food and incentivising this through tax breaks. It is also throwing $11 million at a campaign to encourage people to take their restaurant leftovers home instead of leaving them on the plate, by suggesting the use of a ‘family bag’, a nice euphemism for the ‘doggy bag’. Wasting less on a cultural level may be a difficult shift, the country currently produces around $13 billion in food waste every year, so cutting waste is definitely not second nature, evidenced by the mere $1.1 million the government has put into a fund for innovation in food waste – but at least it’s a step forward.

‘Back to school’ fruit appeal launched by food charity

Blue and Green Tomorrow – Monday 8th August

Food charity FareShare has launched a campaign to encourage donations of fresh fruit to school ‘Breakfast Club’ programmes. The charity works to redistribute edible food waste to those who need it, working with a range of partners across the UK. FareShare now supports 324 breakfast clubs around the country working to deliver “slightly less than perfect” fruit, but more is needed and it’s looking for suppliers.

Breakfast clubs ensure that children from food insecure households get breakfast – a critical meal for children and young people, whom studies show concentrate and learn better with a healthy meal to start the day. With the price of fresh food higher than processed food, fruit juice is a frequent substitute for fresh fruit. But without the fibre of fresh fruit, the juice delivers less nutrition and a lot more sugar, so access to apples instead of apple juice is really important.

Photograph: Bug Membracid

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news