A new year brings moments of reflection on the year behind and opportunities to declare meaningful resolutions for the year ahead. Each year, people worldwide resolve to lose weight and get healthier with diet and exercise. According to a Nielsen global survey, 60% of the world’s population is struggling with their weight—10% with underweight and 50% with overweight.
The consumer’s No. 1 source of health information is the media. Consumers continue to be overinformed with often conflicting facts about food and lifestyle. This adds to the challenge of maintaining a long, healthy, and productive life. Consider how every day consumers are inundated with news about the changing dietary guidelines, the ongoing food safety crisis, what is added to or taken out of food, FDA actions, and, of course, the daily health commendations regarding which new food is good for which condition. This situation emphasizes the need for us, as food scientists, to be well informed on hot topics in nutrition, to be familiar with published research in these areas, and to be aware of the differences in interpretation by, and opinion of, various stakeholders.
Even as they navigate through all of the clutter, consumers are managing to make educated lifestyle choices. Roughly half of Americans continue to say they are actively “trying to lose weight” (IFIC, 2008). It is evident that people are taking a serious interest in food. In fact, increasing evidence suggests that aging baby boomers have shifted their concern from looking good to feeling good. Nearly two-thirds of Americans report making changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet. The types of dietary changes they report include changing both the types of food they eat and the amounts they eat.
While in China in October, I happily ate everything that was available to me. All of it was served in small portions, which I ate (slowly) with chopsticks. There were very few sweets or snack foods. I lost weight, and my McCormick colleagues in China have reported similar experiences, directly as a result of the quality and quantity of the meals. It is easy to put the weight back on once confronted with our massive portion sizes in the United States, sweet and salty snacks, and, of course, our holiday overindulgences.
As food professionals, we have a significant impact on the diet of consumers. Over the past century, food science and technology have had critical roles in the increase of life expectancy by enabling a safer and more abundant supply of diverse foods. Today, our consumers still need a healthier food supply. For some parts of the world, this means simply having enough of the right foods. For most developed countries, it means a selection of better foods—in smaller portions. For the food industry, this is an ethical reality as well as a business opportunity.
While the economy has shifted and consumers are more value-focused, the megatrends of health, convenience, and flavor remain stable. We will be successful when we use our science and technology to create foods that are more nutritious, with great flavor and time-saving benefits at a good price. This is what we trained for: to develop products for those consumers who have a prejudice against “healthy” foods as being bland and less appetizing, as well as for the consumers who ask for healthy choices such as all natural/ clean labels, reduced sodium, naturally healthful ingredients, low calorie, foods that help to maintain a healthy heart and digestive system, etc. Food has quickly emerged as the logical choice for health maintenance and disease prevention, and we are the professionals prepared to address this significant need.
The Food Technology Wellness 10 conference, March 24–25, 2010 (www.ift.org/wellness), will present practical approaches to address product development challenges within the healthful foods arena. The conference is led by top industry representatives and will provide scientific applications geared toward helping organizations grow profitably, recent consumer data trends, and useful and engaging professional networking opportunities.
This conference has been extremely well received the past two years, and I have no doubt that it will be very valuable this year, as well. The information we learn at this conference will help us to help others to keep their New Year’s resolutions for many years to come.
In 2010, I personally resolve to support IFT’s vision to ensure a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere. As members of the IFT community, let’s resolve to ensure that the products we develop, prepare, and provide the world are a bit healthier. You and I can make a significant impact—one scientist, one product, one label at a time.
I wish you all a very healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!by Marianne Gillette