The world is becoming fatter:

can the food industry play a role in counteracting obesity?

By Hellen Dobbeleers

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According to the 2014 statistics of the WHO, 39% of the adults (older than 18) are overweight and 13% of the adults worldwide is obese. These figures are confirmed in the Belgian food consumption survey of 2014. In which a clear increase can be observed for obesity compared to the statistics for the year 2004.

A BMI of 25 or higher is an indication of overweight, whereas the lower limit for obesity is a BMI of 30. The best known consequences of diabetes and overweight are cardiovascular disorders (number 1 cause of death) and diabetes. In addition, it is also associated with muscular-skeletal disorders (arthrosis, for example) and some forms of cancer. More than enough reason to take action.

The food industry has the opportunity to contribute to a healthier world. It so happens that manufacturers determine the composition of the product, the marketing, the portion size and claims on the packaging on their own. But the food industry cannot do this alone and it needs the assistance of the authorities to take on the fight against obesity and overweight. And then we have the term “health-in-all-policies” that the WHO describes as a framework that offers countries a practical way to promote a coherent approach to health in all forms of policy.

Different departments in a food company will have to work together in order to come to improved product composition, honest product information and product publicity. This requires intensive cooperation between the quality department, product development and the marketing department. A dietician also plays an essential role in this cooperation.


Salt reduction is one of the priorities in reformulating the product composition. Salt is not only added to enhance flavour, but also for its preservative and technical functions. Depending upon the amount of salt that is added, the development of micro-organisms is either slowed down or stopped. It is up to product development (flavour, technological), the quality department (microbial) and the dietician (nutritional value) to tackle this problem together and to find a healthy and delicious alternative, without having to sacrifice shelf life.


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