Over the last few years, as awareness and urgency around the issue of obesity have grown, campaigns promoting more fruit and vegetable consumption have been launched all over the developed world. But according to a team of researchers at the University of Sydney, such policy efforts have resulted only in modest gains and increased awareness (especially among children) but have largely been ineffective in bringing about a change in consumption behavior. The research was presented at The Quest for Quality Food 2014 Research Symposium at the University of Sydney.
In Australia, the food industry is worth more than $110 billion (based on 2011-2012 figures) and recent statistics show that just 6.8 percent of Australians consume the recommended intake of vegetables, and just over half meet recommendations for fruit intake, the researchers say.
Some of the key findings were:
- Campaigns are more successful when there is a high degree of collaboration between the various stakeholders — producers, retail, government and non-government organizations.
- Generic, mass-market campaigns covering a large product base (for example, all fruits and vegetables) have a lower impact compared with interventions targeting specific groups, such as children.
- Campaigns promoting a set number of servings per day are problematic — many consumers are unclear about what constitutes a serving of fruit or vegetables.
"Marketing interventions might do better to promote that healthy eating goes hand-in-hand with appealing, flavourful food, and one is not in competition with the other," the paper suggests.
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The researchers addthat “more subtle and proactive strategies need to be introduced to facilitate a change that is sustainable. One targeted approach includes food service outlets, such as cafes and fast food chains, choosing to automatically include fruits and vegetables as a side dish in their meals, with the consumers having to request a substitute, if they so desire.”
Here in the US, nutrition and food intake have gained a lot of currency due to health issues the number of Americans facing health issues and the unhealthy behavior patterns contributing to it. Stakeholders including the White House, corporations and nonprofits are trying to ensure that Americans, particularly children, eat more balanced meals and make smarter choices around food. First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, which works to promote healthier food choices for children, recently proposed new “school wellness guidelines” that include a ban on ads for sodas and unhealthy snacks in public schools.
The campaign is also collaborating with “Sesame Street" and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) using likenesses of some of the show’s beloved characters to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids.
A few US quick-service restaurant chains, not generally heralded for their nutritional offerings, are trying to do their part in this area, as well. Subway partnered with Let’s Move! and the PHA early this year in a three-year commitment to promote healthier food choices to kids. The sandwich chain has pledged to strengthen its children’s menu offerings; launch a series of fun, engaging campaigns aimed at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children; and set and implement new marketing standards for kids. And last year, McDonald's announced it is teaming up with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to increase customers' access to fruit and vegetables and help families and children to make informed food choices.
While it's too early to talk about the impact and results of these initiatives, the US campaigns can learn and benefit from the Australian research on the matter.