Fat chance for food, how the food industry tackles obesity will define its future.

Behind the growing tide of obesity comes a rising swell of long term chronic illness. That suffering and death will unleash a wave of anger. Where will that anger turn?

Over 2 billion people worldwide are overweight. Recent research collated by the Gates Foundation estimated that 4 million people died in 2015 due to excess weight, 40% of them were overweight, not obese. Here, in the UK, 15 million people live with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart conditions. The WHO claims that 60% of deaths are caused by such chronic conditions.

Behind these figures are the real life stories of millions of people suffering day after day, the overwhelming depression that comes with long-term chronic disease, and the fear and grief of their friends and families.

Fear and grief quickly turn to anger, and anger needs someone to blame.

This is the challenge facing food producers, supermarkets and restaurant groups. These corporations hold positions of great strength. They control vast financial resources, wield immense influence and enjoy a surprisingly high level of goodwill from the general public. If they use that strength to support bogus research, lean on government and media and greenwash the whole issue with token healthy kids campaigns and minor product reformulations then that goodwill will slowly erode.

One of the many positives of social media is that the truth will be told, it will spread and ultimately overcome fake news and spin. Everyday more stories are published linking poor diet to poor health, exposing only the very worst of the food industry.

The food industry isn’t “evil”, it brings great value and pleasure to our society and many have a strong desire to do the right thing, but it urgently needs to learn from tobacco and petro-chemical .

We don’t blame those industries for the errors of their early years when cigarettes where actually considered healthy and burning fossil fuels lay at the heart of new jobs, new wealth and incredible progress. The pivotal point was when the link between smoking and cancer emerged in the 1940s and 50s and the fossil fuel/climate change link emerged in the 1980’s. Those industries strove to defend what they knew to be untrue, for that they will never be forgiven.

The food industry is at such a pivot point. It needs to ask not how it defends the very lucrative status quo but how it uses its strength to build a food industry which delivers both healthy profits and healthy people.

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