What are the top trends for 2010?
The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) is an independent, not-for-profit public education foundation dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, food safety and nutrition for the public good. We talked with IFIC’s Michelle Emick Ronholm, Director, Consumer Insights, Tony Flood, Director, Food Safety Communications, and Elizabeth Rahavi, RD, Associate Director, Health and Wellness, about the main issues that could impact the world food in 2010.
What are the top trends for 2010?
Ronholm: The International Food Information Council Foundation thinks food safety, kids and health and dietary guidance will continue to be hot issues in 2010. And we see a lot of subset issues within those categories. With food safety, we may see greater attention being paid to chemical risks. Childhood obesity will drive much of the discussion around child nutrition and health. With the Dietary Guidelines for Americans set for release in 2010, the Foundation anticipates a lot of focus being put on nutrition. And sodium and sugar also will be hot-button issues.
How can we empower and educate consumers on food safety?
Flood: First of all we need to acknowledge that consumers can play a significant role in keeping our food safe, alongside our industry, government, retail and producer partners. If we work together to incorporate practical food safety practices in the home, with our family and friends, we have an even greater chance to reduce the risk of foodborne illness, which is now approximately 5,000 deaths annually for the U.S.
Ronholm: An exciting part of the nutrition and food safety environment is the increase in consumer participation through things like social media. We are finding an increasing number of sources for information about food and health that can empower them to build healthy lifestyles. However, that increase in information sources can also spread confusion and misinformation, so we are dedicated to helping consumers find clear, helpful, science-based information on which they can make decisions.
Is irradiation the real answer for E.coli?
Flood: Irradiation is yet another tool that can be used to kill pathogens such as E.coli O157:H7; however, it is not a magic bullet. It is important for everyone to understand the benefits of irradiation as part of an education process for consumers. IFIC Foundation research shows that education about the benefits really helps in consumer acceptance.
What should we make of the FDA’s opinion on BPA?
Ronholm: We've already seen an uptick in discussion around BPA with FDA's recent announcement about the potential health impacts of BPA. Additionally, we might start seeing more about acrylamide and furan. And while there are great opportunities for food technology to help increase the safety and sustainability of our food supply, we know that lack of consumer understanding of food technology can cause confusion.
Flood: Science is ever evolving. New techniques and technologies are developed to help us better understand potential health effects of compounds found in our food. BPA has a long history of research that has established its safety as a food packaging compound. FDA is undertaking a novel approach to study BPA today and, perhaps, other chemical compounds tomorrow. The FDA opinion still confirms safety of BPA for the general population. However, because current FDA perspective shows some concern about potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children, I would consider following FDA's recommendations for this group.
The new report came out that the levels of obesity in females have leveled off. What is the prediction for kids?
Rahavi: We've heard recently from CDC assessments that obesity rates are starting to plateau; however, there is still plenty of work to be done. In fact, for the heaviest group of boys, ages 6-19, their weight continues to increase. While obesity rates for much of the population may be stabilizing, it's still important to help people achieve a healthy weight. And that takes not only individual responsibility for what we choose to eat and how much activity we get, but also government, businesses, schools, the health community and other community members to foster an environment that helps people succeed. Work on obesity is happening at the national and local level.
There are so many varying nutritional labels like NuVal and Guiding Stars out there now. Could the government be moved to outlaw them and create an overall government standard in labels?
Rahavi: Government currently is looking at this very issue. The FDA is planning consumer research to assess consumer perspectives of front-of-pack labeling. Additionally, a committee has been formed by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) to examine all of the various labeling programs, which will also inform FDA's work. And we know from our 2009 Foundation Food & Health Surveythat people use a variety of sources to try to understand how foods impact their overall diet.
We’ve had Dietary Guidelines for decades, but health problems like obesity and diabetes are still on the rise. What changes can we expect to see in the new guidelines that might be most effective?
Rahavi: We might see discussion about whether the Dietary Guidelines need to be adjusted for use by a predominantly overweight and obese population versus a healthy population, which is what they've addressed in the past. We have noticed that, for the first time, protein is receiving particular attention from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, with an emphasis on plant sources.
Ronholm: We're looking out for discussions around specific nutrients (like sugar, sodium and fat), as well as approaches to dealing with artificial ingredients and allergens. Labeling and health claims will be part of this discussion, too. And we'll see some of these issues play out in the schools, including what foods are made available through the school breakfast and lunch programs.
Rahavi: While we've seen a resurgence of campaigns that use negative messages to communicate to consumers about food and health, years of International Food Information Council Foundation research tells us that people prefer messages that are positive and help tell them how to achieve a healthy diet and lifestyle, rather than messages of avoidance. The government is engaging in public-private partnerships and considering a visible campaign to reach consumers with information about the Dietary Guidelines and tools to help people achieve them. We are anticipating exciting and effective ways to use new communications and social media tools to reach consumers where they eat, work and play. It's hard to change long-standing lifestyle habits, so research into ways to help people achieve behavior change could be increasingly helpful.
How can retailers stay on top of these upcoming trends?
Ronholm: There are many things retailers can do to stay on top of these trends, including traditional approaches like attending conferences and meetings and monitoring mainstream media. Additionally, retailers can engage at the community level where policies and programs impact the decisions people make about what they are eating. And, more than ever, companies are engaging with their customers through social media venues like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to keep a finger on the pulse of consumer preferences and to respond to consumer needs.
Rahavi: There's a role for retailers to play in providing tools and information to help families in every community achieve healthful lifestyles. At the national level they can partner with other like-minded organizations or at the local level by getting involved in community initiatives.
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