Stimulating healthy food choices
Consumers over-use unhealthy products, while industry continues to supply these products. Key to success is a more prominent role of the government.
The researchers concluded that government should do more to stimulate easy access to the market for suppliers of healthy products, while at the same time improving the ability of consumers to make good choices by campaigns, education and easier access to information. Whether consumers accept an intervention strategy depends on three things: general beliefs about obesity, perceived effectiveness and perceived fairness Furthermore it is important to be aware of different population segments with specific preferences, norms and values.
Consumers are primary themselves responsible for their own food consumption, so the researchers conclude. That is the consequence of the liberal market economy in which we live. Of course the responsibility is shared with producers. They bring products on the market and determine to a large degree which food consumers can consume. The freedom of consumers is thus to a large degree limited by the freedom of entrepreneurs.
However, solving the issue of unhealthy eating behavior is in the end not a matter of getting food companies to develop of new, healthier and therefore more socially desirable food products. Many healthy products already exist, although government could do more to stimulate access to the market for suppliers of healthy products. What is needed is rather improving social arrangements related to our food system.
More concretely, the government should take measures that improve the ability of consumers to better deal with food while being acceptable to all stakeholders. This can be done by campaigns, education and making information more accessible. There is no guarantee that this solves the obesity problem, but it ensures that we can at least address people about their eating behavior.
Three beliefs are related to consumer acceptance of intervention strategies to stimulate healthy food choices:
- general beliefs about obesity, such as who is responsible for food choice;
- perceived effectiveness of interventions;
- perceived fairness of interventions.
Furthermore, the researchers identified different aspects underlying these general and intervention-specific beliefs. Interestingly, government interventions were accepted less than interventions by food manufacturers.
In developing interventions strategies, it is important to acknowledge that consumers are a heterogeneous set of actors. Population segments should be distinguished with specific preferences, norms and values, based on which a segmented policy approach can be adopted. The researchers identified three dominant consumer profiles of barriers to healthy eating:
- the no-barrier profile,
- the lack-of-opportunity profile
- the lack-of-motivation profile.
People in each of these three groups differed significantly on proportions of low-calorie snack choices, daily meal consumption and socio-demographic characteristics.
During the past decade the number of people that are overweight has increased steadily. Currently, 47 per cent of the Dutch population is overweight. A consequence is that a larger number of patients suffer from serious medical conditions and an increase in medical expenditures. Governments and stakeholders have taken measures to change poor dietary habits, but with limited success in halting, let alone reverting the prevalence of obesity.
food industry, consumers, healthy products, healthier food, healthier food, education, obesity, eating behavior, innovation systems, population segments, policy adviceOfficial project title: