Can convenience foods play a positive role in tackling obesity?

Posted by Isobel Drake on 11th November 2008

A high profile debate, organised by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the UK Government’s Foresight unit, was held overnight to discuss the role of convenience foods and their impact on obesity.

The event brought together senior industry executives and key stakeholders to mark the first anniversary of publication of the Foresight report on obesity. That report is widely credited with having reframed the debate on the causes and management of obesity and for setting out a long-term vision of how Government, industry and citizens should respond to the challenges it identified.

“The UK food and drink industry has a fantastic track record of delivering safe, affordable, nutritious food to consumers to meet the demands of today’s lifestyles,” FDF Director General Melanie Leech argued. “We have been leading the world in areas such as reformulation – reducing levels of salt, fat and sugar in many household brands and introducing ‘better for you’ variants. We have invested millions in areas such as improved nutrition labelling and workplace wellbeing.”

“Tackling obesity is a significant and long-term challenge. Our ambition is to continue making a real difference, working in partnership with the Government and others to help consumers lead healthier lives.”

Dr Susan Jebb OBE, Head of Nutrition and Health Research at the Medical Research Council Human Research, and a scientific adviser to the Foresight project, told delegates that moderation was a key message that needed to be preached. “No foods should be avoided at all costs but there are quite a few that we should eat in smaller portions and less frequently,” she said. “Our liking for certain foods is way ahead of our nutritional need. Many convenience foods are energy dense and pose a real risk of overeating. Even a bite or two extra can add 50 calories or more, whereas to overeat on broccoli would require a superhuman effort.”

“If convenience foods are an option in the future, we need to rethink how they fit in a healthy diet,” Dr Jebb concluded.