Thursday, December 6, 2007

Professors of Human Nutrition and food industry leaders and the nutrition policy of the Dutch government

The ministry of Health invited a bunch of nutrition professors and some representatives of the Dutch food industry to talk about its plans for nutrition policy in the years to come.
The discussion was based on four statements that were each introduced by two of the participants. These statements all concerned what the business sector, i.e. the food industry, retail and other point-of-choice settings can contribute to more healthful nutrition habits in the Netherlands. Like any other ‘western’ country, the Dutch eat too much, too much saturated fat and salt, and not enough fibre-rich foods.
The Dutch ministry of health as well as the representatives of the food industry, but also some of the nutrition professors appeared to have great confidence in the potential contribution of the food industry to promote more healthful diets. Product innovation should be key!
I have much less trust in the industry to really contribute to healthy eating. I think that business primarily want to sell the illusion of health, so that consumers can eat (more of) their products without feeling bad. Advertisements for foods, including foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, sugar and/or salt often promise suggestive health effects or healthful attributes that are very similar to what was promised in tobacco advertisements in the 1950s (see pictures).

I do believe that we need food innovation and involvement of the food industry next to other stakeholder is health promotion and health protection aimed at more healthful diets in the Netherlands. But this will only happen if the Dutch (or European) government sets strict and specific rules related to health claims, food labels, marketing and product enrichments. The European Community has tightened its rules on health claims, which is a good start.