For years, our profession has been regarded as a primary contributor to all aspects of the production and distribution of food—“from the farm to the fork.” Within the past several years, it has become evident that our focus has moved well beyond the farm-to-fork concept. Industry, academia, and government have joined efforts to determine how food impacts general health and well-being.
We have learned that food science and technology have had critical roles in increased life expectancy over the past century. The science shows that the impact of diet on health extends well beyond basic nutrition. There is a convergence between health, wellness, and diet, and food science plays an important part of this movement.
Several years ago, IFT recognized this upcoming movement and took action. In 2006, IFT, the American Society for Nutrition (ASN ), and the International Food Information Council formed a Joint Task Force on Food and Nutrition Science. One of the goals of this Task Force is to advance the dialogue between the food science and nutrition communities to ultimately impact nutrition policies, public health, and research opportunities. The Task Force identified a significant opportunity to make a contribution to reducing the obesity epidemic. Task Force members articulated how large and even small changes in dietary habits or exercise routines would lead to better weight management and reduced weight gain.
One result was a “Power of Small Changes” perspectives paper written by Jim Hill on behalf of the Joint Task Force that was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In mid-January, IFT participated in a Small Changes Summit that was held at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA ) in conjunction with the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CN PP) to promote the release of the paper with speakers from participating organizations. The Joint Task Force on Food and Nutrition Science was also recognized by the USDA CNPP for its partnership involvement in MyPyramid and the corporate challenge to end childhood obesity. A commentary paper by Daryl Lund and Roger Clemens on “Small Changes” was recently published in the March issue of the Journal of Food Science.
The “Small Changes” concept is already being embraced by the U.S. Depts. of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, along with the American Heart Association, the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association. Achievable small changes include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking an extra 2,000 steps a day, reducing food portion size by 5%, replacing sweetened beverages with non-caloric beverages, and eating a nutritious breakfast.
The message is reaching consumers. Consumers know that it is virtually impossible to progress through each day without encountering information from various sources about the link between diet (food) and health and wellness.
This creates a unique opportunity for food science professionals to further research, discuss, and address health and wellness. Last month, IFT’s Food Technology held its Wellness ‘09 Conference, which revealed practical approaches to addressing product development challenges within the healthful foods arena. Attendees learned techniques to help organizations minimize risk at key stages of product launches. In addition, the conference provided insight into new marketplace opportunities as well as new marketing and packaging strategies, and an in-depth look at regulatory and policy issues. professionals to further research, discuss, and address health and wellness. Last month, IFT’s Food Technology held its Wellness ‘09 Conference, which revealed practical approaches to addressing product development challenges within the healthful foods arena. Attendees learned techniques to help organizations minimize risk at key stages of product launches. In addition, the conference provided insight into new marketplace opportunities as well as new marketing and packaging strategies, and an in-depth look at regulatory and policy issues.
Participants received practical information that is applicable to any portfolio of health and wellness product initiatives. The conference began with a session on the state of consumer health, offering an overview of the current health and nutrition issues facing U.S. consumers. Discussions throughout the conference focused on the marketability of nutrition, applied science, consumer research/trends, innovation/new technologies, marketing and packaging, and product development.
As the demand for foods that are both nutritious and functional increases, food science and technology are positioned to have an even greater impact on the types of food products that are available. Government has responded by organizing collaborative partnerships. Industry has responded by producing new and innovative products, and academia has responded with an increased focus on research that converges the science. One take-away message that resonated with me as I flew home from the Wellness Conference: As food scientists and food technologists, we play an important role in this movement. Let’s continue to contribute significantly to providing a sustainable food supply from “field to fork to our health.”
IFT President, 2008–09
Vice President of Research and Development, General Mills, Minneapolis, Minn.