Study finds blanket policies to discourage intolerant foods don’t work

Diving Brief:

  • Consumption patterns for different categories of delicious foods are not alike, so blanket policies to discourage purchases — including banning the checkout line — are unlikely to work well, according to a new study from Business for Impact at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
  • Statistics from the Hudson Institute study in the report show that obese consumers are more likely to buy soda and packaged baked goods. But the purchase rates for chocolate and non-chocolate candy are about the same for consumers who pay close attention to healthy eating and those who don’t.
  • As research continues to link unhealthy diets to undesirable health outcomes, policymakers have considered a variety of initiatives to encourage healthy eating, including labeling on packages, rearranging stores to make forgiving products less prominent and adding additional taxes. This study shows that initiatives that are more targeted to different types of products may be more effective.

Diving Insight:

There are many unhealthy food and drink options, but the way consumers perceive and use them is very different.

Sugar-sweetened beverages often bear the brunt of policies intended to discourage consumption, but several studies have found that they pose the biggest problem.

While health-conscious consumers rarely buy soft drinks and sweetened fruit drinks, these drinks are responsible for 41.4% of the added sugars people consume, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited in the Georgetown report. IRI data revealed by the university revealed that more than a third of consumers buy soft drinks at least a few times a week, and nearly seven in 10 buy them several times a month.

On the other hand, chocolate candy was purchased about 14% of shopping trips, and non-chocolate candy was purchased about 10% of the time. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data estimated that sweets account for only 6.6% of the added sugars people eat, and contribute less than 2% of the average calories consumed by consumers.

In a presentation on findings at Georgetown University last week, Hank Cardillo, executive director of Leadership Solutions for Health and Prosperity at Business for Impact, said different segments of the food sector are working to offer consumers healthier options.

Many of the biggest confectioners, in partnership with the National Confectioners Association and Partnership for a Healthier America, pledged five years ago to make half of their individually wrapped candy available for 200 calories or less. They achieved that goal earlier this year.

Anton Vincent, president of Mars Wrigley North America, said at an event last week that the company has a comprehensive strategy in place to make its offerings healthier. Vincent said this is reflected not only in some of its recent acquisitions — including Kind and Nature’s Bakery — but in the way the company views its portfolio.

Mars has committed to trying to keep all of its products under 200 calories per serving. It also works with the World Health Organization’s goal of limiting sugars to less than 10% of the average person’s daily calories.

Other sectors are working towards healthier products, whether through reduced sugar or through smaller product sizes. Major soda makers, through the American Beverage Association, are working to reduce the calories of sugary drinks by 20% between 2015 and 2025. And by partnering for the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation in Healthy America, CPG companies have been able to remove 1.5 trillion calories from servings of soda. food by 2015.

But work still needs to be done to reduce portion sizes and make sure the food people eat is sufficiently nutritious, panel member Dr Bill Dietz of George Washington University said last week. Food companies may be in the best position to do so. After all, researchers have found that policies targeting one problematic food segment, such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, are often ineffective.

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