Obesity and diabetes skyrocketing. Food insecurity. Famine. The challenges the science of food can, and should, address are growing in their complexity and difficulty. Despite the efforts of food scientists to formulate healthier, great-tasting, convenient, and available foods, this is our current situation. We still have the opportunity to help feed the planet in ways that promote health, wellness, and food accessibility, but innovative new approaches will be required.
As we work to create a safe, nutritious, delicious, and sustainable food supply for everyone, we face numerous challenges.
We are greatly concerned about our ability to feed the burgeoning global population, estimated to exceed 9 billion by 2050.
We are reevaluating what healthy eating looks like, going beyond reducing the negatives to study what happens in our bodies, particularly in the gut, after we ingest foods.
We need to address biological pandemics such as citrus greening, banana wilt, coconut yellowing, swine flu, and new ones that will emerge.
We need to rebuild trust in science and processed foods.
We are reaching a critical tipping point in terms of global sustainability and the environmental and social impacts the food system has on our society.
The introduction of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in 1980 increased awareness of the impact of certain ingredients on nutrition and health. A concerted effort began to reduce many of the negatives, such as salt, fat, and sugar. Food scientists identified means to reduce or replace these ingredients while making sure to maintain great taste, convenience, and affordability. We transitioned from animal-derived fats to tropical oils to partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and more recently, to naturally processed oils with more monounsaturated fats and virtually no trans fats. We created synthetic high-intensity sweeteners and sugar substitutes derived from natural sources to reduce sugar consumption. We reduced salt when possible and then increased it when consumers balked. And through it all, we maintained a focus on making food taste great.
Despite these efforts, 42% of adults aged 18-plus in the United States were classified as obese in 2017–2018. Globally, obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, 39% percent of adults aged 18-plus were overweight and 13% of the world’s adult population was obese. That is more than half of the world’s adult population. On the flip side, more than 10% of the world’s population is undernourished and an additional 9% are severely food insecure. These numbers beg the question—in our effort to improve health and wellness, did we achieve the intended impact?
Great taste, convenience, and value are no longer good enough. It is imperative that we approach the challenges we face differently than we did in the past. We need to better define success. We need to holistically understand the impact of formulation, processing, and dietary changes on our microbiome, our bodies, and our planet. We need to stay abreast of emerging science, trends, and threats. We need to reach out and stretch well beyond traditional disciplines to approach food as a system, moving beyond food science to truly encompass the science of food. Even then, our job will not be finished. We will not succeed if consumers don’t accept what we have developed. We will all need to be part of the conversation to gain their trust. And all of this requires new skills and competencies.
IFT provides a wealth of scientific knowledge and a supportive community of experts to address the challenges before us. We are advocating for food-related topics and issues to ensure that sound science serves as the foundation for public policy development. Collaborations are critical. We are bringing the science of food community together to ensure we are directing our focus to the right areas. Together we can, and will, address the critical issues we face.