Childhood obesity figures continue to challenge bakery industry

By Linda Rano

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Recent figures published by Datamonitor suggest that over 35 per
cent of European kids aged 5-13 will be overweight or obese by
2012, giving an extra spur to strategies to reduce waist lines,
including food reformulation.

In the US the figure will surpass 40 per cent while Asia Pacific, China in particular, is seeing the fastest increase in the percentage of overweight or obese children. Data issued by the UK's department of Health in February paint a similar picture, where 22.9 per cent of four to five year olds were seen to be overweight or obese and 31.6 per cent of ten to 11 year olds were seen to be overweight. This is challenging news for the bakery industry already in the midst of a major reformulation process to reduce sugar, fats and salt, and provide healthier alternatives, under pressure from consumers and legislatures alike. There is, however, general acceptance that the cause of obesity does not lie with the food industry alone. Efforts also need to be made to educate consumers - both children and parents, increase activity levels, and develop other government strategies such as ensuring access to playgrounds and amenities within walking distance of homes. A Scottish Food Standards Agency report published in March this year urged Scottish children to reduce the amount of cakes and biscuits they were eating, warning that they currently have too much sugar in their diets. The report highlighted the need for bakery and snacks producers to keep developing healthier alternatives, especially since manufacturers who produce healthier, less sugary options are likely to be looked on more favourably by decision makers. Other Datamonitor findings ​ In Europe between 93 per cent and 97 per cent of consumers by country believe that food marketing has some impact on the children's eating habits. Datamonitor surmises that "if childhood obesity continues to rise then advertising bans on certain foods are likely to become more widespread​". According to Datamonitor kids tend to consume more than the overall population in many indulgent product categories although Asia-Pacific kids' consumption of bakery and cereal products is below the average. In Europe consumer sentiment indicates that the most popular proposed methods for making kids healthier (and/or improving their eating habits) include better information for parents and more nutrition education in schools, followed by advertising restrictions for less nutritional foods and drinks. Industry efforts ​The UK Food and Drink Federation told that the industry continues to respond to society's concerns about the health of the nation, "particularly in relation to rising obesity levels​" and that the food and drink industry was "absolutely committed to playing a positive role in this debate​". In 2004 the industry set seven key commitments under the Food and Health manifesto on areas where it felt it could play a part in tackling obesity and "much progress has been made in delivering on these commitments, particularly in areas such as front-of-pack nutrition labelling and product reformulation, where the UK is widely acknowledged to be leading the world​." A new survey of FDF members confirms that the recipes used for at least £15bn worth of foods have less fat, sugar and salt compared with 2004. Also, a further £11.5bn worth of products have been launched as 'lower in' versions. FDF makes reference to a Mintel survey that showed that of the 5000 new products launched in the UK last year, 24 per cent were marketed on a health proposition, such as "low in fat​".

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