“Conditions related to obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer – they’re really diet related…and they have a lot of impact,” said Dr. Charles Platkin, founder and executive director of the Center for Food As Medicine and distinguished lecturer at the Hunger College NYC Food Policy Center.
“One in three adults [in the US] are overweight, more than two out of five adults suffer from obesity, about one out of 11 adults suffers from severe obesity”,and it will likely get worse before it gets better due to the lifestyle and dietary changes many Americans are making during the pandemic.
He explained at FoodNavigator-USA’s recent Futureproofing the Food System digital summit, which is now available free on demand if you register here,that many Americans have become more sedentary after adopting a work-from-home or hybrid work schedule during and after the pandemic.
But many haven’t changed their diets as a result — instead, they continue to eat the convenient, processed or ultra-processed foods they relied on when they had fast-paced, nomadic lifestyles before the pandemic.
At the same time, during the pandemic, Americans became more aware of the impact of their diet on their health and many began to seek out products that could boost their immunity or support their well-being, which caused a flurry of marketing efforts by the food industry, according to Platkin and his colleagues. can do more harm than good in the study Food as medicine: how food and diet influence disease treatment and management, published by the Center For Food As Medicine and Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center.
In the article, Platkin and others argue that many front-of-package food claims and descriptive—albeit legal—key words and phrases “hiding the impact of food on disease.”
The authors explain, “These claims influence consumer decision-making, both for consumers with high nutritional knowledge and health motivation and for those without. Consumers’ understanding of these types of claims is relevant to food as medicine, as it highlights some of the most accessible health and nutrition information consumers receive: marketing.
“Furthermore, FDA-approved health claims specifically demonstrate what the average consumer is likely to believe about the relationship between diet and disease because these claims are so ubiquitous in daily life.”
At the same time, these claims are so highly nuanced that consumers are “Left not knowing what to believe about how their diet will affect their health,”Platkin and the other authors argue.
With that in mind, Platkin urged FoodNavigator-USA Digital Summit attendees not to take advantage of the “insecurity and … vulnerability” Consumers who seek disease treatment or wellness management solutions from foods using confusing or insufficiently substantiated claims.
Rather, he says, “there’s an opportunity there to be transparent, to really study the research, to really look at how you can incorporate whole foods and have this treatment option…which has been supported by multiple studies, and then try to come up with a product which can potentially feed into this space.
It doesn’t mean adding supplements to foods based on a study or two and then calling the products better for you, which can be “trigger”,he added.
Instead, he advocated for food manufacturers to invest in farms and their supply chains, potentially taking a more vertically integrated approach, to ensure the ingredients they use are safe and that there are constant market demand for healthy ingredients and foods to encourage additional production.
The strategy could also help bring consumers closer to how food is produced, processed and grown so they can cultivate a deeper understanding of nutrition, Platkin said.
Should industry have a role in developing dietary guidelines?
Platkin also urged food policy makers to rethink how influential guidelines, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, are written and promoted.
Specifically, he urged government and public health advocates to be more critical of industry-supported research and advocacy, and he called on industry to step back and let the research and advice to fend for themselves.
“Industry does not need to be involved. Let the chips fall where they belong. Leave him [The Dietary Guidelines for Americans] to be real guidelines”,he said. “There won’t be big losses in sales. People will eat what they eat, but let [the research and guidelines] occur naturally.”
Ultimately, it will highlight valuable new opportunities for the industry to innovate healthier products and connect with consumers by raising awareness of the emerging food as medicine movement.
Interested in knowing more? Subscribe HERE to watch free on-demand Dr. Platkin discuss whether the Western diet is slowly killing us and how to change eating habits in a healthier direction for consumers and the food industry.
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