In case anyone hasn’t been paying attention, there is an obesity epidemic spreading across this country and it promises to affect our industry at all levels. Whether the impact comes from consumers and the choices they make, or through governmental regulations, the pressure is coming.
Obesity in children and adults has grown dramatically in the last twenty years, leading to many health complications including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and even early death. In fact, “Nearly two-thirds of all Americans are overweight, impacting all population groups regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education level, or geographic region,” stated Dr. Valerie Myers, Ph.D., faculty and clinical researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the largest academic nutrition-based research center in the world.
“Obesity doesn’t just have health consequences; overall medical care costs related to obesity for adults are estimated to be as high as $147 billion. Obesity has been linked with reduced worker productivity and chronic absence from work,” added Dr. Myers.
The financial impact of these health-related costs will affect our industry at all levels. From the products we purchase to the menu items we serve, costs will continue to rise. When we couple this with the increased pressure of a slow economy, lower customer counts, and higher consumer expectations, it’s clear there will be some very tough choices to make moving forward. There will be additional pressure put on our industry by future governmental focus and regulations. There will be pressure to offer products and menu items that deliver lower calories, less sodium and fat, more natural sweeteners, and more organic or natural ingredients.
Dr. Myers adds, “Currently there is limited regulation and policy on food and beverage, but this will be changing as there will be increased focus and pressure from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” She went on to say, “The tide is turning and providing the perfect opportunity for government, science, and industry to come together to develop healthy solutions that create the proper balance between consumer taste interest and healthy choice benefits.”
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides key recommendations on how to help people choose an overall healthy diet, but this alone won’t solve the problem. More healthy choices must be offered throughout the industry and must deliver on both the health front and taste front. We certainly have the capabilities as an industry to meet these somewhat conflicting objectives. After all, leading is what our industry does best!