“There has been some positive changes in company practices and products over the last eight years … but there is still so much to do,” Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at CSPI, said at FoodNavigator-USA’s Food Vision USA conference in Chicago this fall.
She gave manufacturers credit for cutting trans fat from the supply chain, reducing sodium and sugar in products and cutting 6.4 trillion calories from the US food supply chain through product reformulations and packaging changes encouraged by the Partnership for a Healthier America campaign and Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.
She also acknowledged the hard work by legislators and manufacturers to help schools offer healthier meals to students as well as retailers and foodservice providers stepping up to label calories on menus ahead of the requirement next year.
“But at the same time,” Wootan said, “When you look around still the majority of options on restaurants’ children’s menus are unhealthy” and in supermarkets the products displayed at eye level and in end caps “are often soda, chips and unhealthy food. Not the bananas and broccoli.”
As a result, “the deck is still stacked against people. They can eat well, but it takes a lot more effort and we need to teach them. We need to make it more possible for people to eat well on a regular basis when they want to,” she said.
Wootan recommends manufacturers step up and help consumers eat better by looking “carefully at their own products and their practices” to ensure the majority of their options are healthy.
She also suggests manufacturers and retailers promote healthier options “not only through advertising and on websites, but through how they are priced, where they are placed in the grocery store and where they are placed at the community level.”
“It is time that companies admit that they are manipulating people’s food choices on a regular basis with how they make their products, how they are packaged, how big the portion sizes are, what the default options are that come automatically with your burger at a restaurant” and “make changes that support people in what they want to do. For most people that is to eat healthy,” she said.
Wootan was quick to add that these changes don’t mean there aren’t any splurge items available, but that the healthy choice should be the normal choice so that “if you just go with the flow you are going to eat healthy and then you have to work a little harder if you want a treat or a splurge.”