Changing industry practices
Perhaps the most important and effective reforms for which we can advocate will come from the food and beverage industries themselves, whether voluntarily, from consumer demand or regulation. In this section we look at ways to limit marketing to children, youth and other vulnerable populations. We also examine ways to get industry to reformulate high-sugar products so that are no longer such a menace to health
Limits on marketing to kids
Targeted food marketing to children works. That’s why food and beverage companies spend nearly $2 billion each year marketing food brands and products to children as young as 2 years old. Unfortunately, that investment is not being used to sell healthful foods like fruits and vegetables to our youngest community members. Fully 84 percent of the ads viewed by children promote foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fats, sugars, or sodium, according to a 2013 study.
The food industry targets children with marketing in a variety of settings including television, the Internet, online games, sports/concert sponsorships, through kids’ apps, on children’s clothing, via branded toys, and through fast food toy giveaways. Children are also exposed to targeted food marketing in their schools, on food packaging, in stores, and in places where kids congregate such as parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers.
Reformulation of food and beverages changes the ingredients to produce a more healthful product. Reformulation is a strategy to reduce exposure to added sugars, with the goal of reducing the amount in a given product while not causing the product to become less healthful with respect to total calories and other nutrients.
Reformulation has the potential to improve the healthfulness of our diets without requiring us to make a conscious choice to actively avoid added sugars, which are present in 68 percent of all processed foods. It takes a lot of effort to cut down on sugar if we have to know how much sugar is in a product, figure out what proportion of the daily maximum intake this represents, and keep track of the sugar consumed across all food sources eaten that day. Reformulating products with less added sugar makes reducing intake effortless for consumers.
Reformulation can be achieved either as a voluntary effort on the part of food and beverage producers, or as a result of government regulation. Either way, producers would work toward meeting a maximum sugar content for a specific product and/or an average content across a product category. Then industry food scientists would look for other ingredients to substitute for the sugar while maintaining product taste, mouth feel, bulk, shelf life, and other attributes.