Health experts have been warning consumers for a long time that they could face serious health ailments if they’re not careful with their diets. Typically those warnings haunt the foodservice industry, which is often depicted as one of the main villains in the fight against obesity and a host of medical conditions, including hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and other illnesses such as coronary heart disease and strokes.
While the foodservice industry has made great strides over the past decade in its quest to promote healthier fare, there’s room for improvement. Pressure is mounting from dietitians, nutritionists and health advocates to stem the tide of obesity, putting heat on the foodservice industry to reduce the level of sodium in food, scale back portion sizes and post nutritional information as well as promote fruits, vegetables and grilled items, especially for children and young teens.
The fight against obesity is quickly becoming one of the most important issues the industry has ever faced, especially in the U.S., where obesity continues to make headlines and where children as young as nine have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, the obesity issue promises to define the millennium, just as the no-smoking battle defined the ’80s and ’90s.
Not surprisingly, the healthy-eating debate is fast attracting high-profile advocates such as former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Once a voracious fast-food consumer, Clinton’s health scare with heart disease has inspired him to advocacy. In fact, the former president is now vegan and supports New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent crusade to limit the size of sugary soft drinks in the city’s restaurants, movie theatres and sports attractions. As Clinton told Piers Morgan on CNN in early June, “It’s basically too much sugar going into the body. So if you get rid of these giant, full-of-sugar drinks, and make people have smaller portions, it will help.”
It’s statements like those, and the threat of further legislation (on sodium and nutritional labelling), that’s fuelling great debate as to how far government can go to control what we eat, where we eat it and why. The reality is our health-care system is in dire straits; it’s coming apart at the seams. Walk into any hospital emergency room and you’ll find a number of people suffering from heart disease, diabetes and chronic lung conditions such as emphysema. Granted, although many of these diseases cannot be eradicated, the incidence could likely be reduced through proper diet, exercise and nutrition. Still, with an aging population and a society of sedentary youth, the future looks bleak.
Undeniably, in a perfect world, the onus should be on consumers to make educated choices for themselves and their health, with an eye to moderation. Thankfully, an increasing number of consumers are more educated about healthy eating, having taken matters into their own hands. And it’s consumer actions that have brought about change at the restaurant level. There is little doubt education plays a role in the developing character of a restaurant. But, while the industry has made great strides in this area, becoming infinitely more transparent and health-minded than ever, it’s evident more work needs to be done. The choice is clear: either the industry proactively responds to change and polices itself accordingly or it will be forced to make change at its own peril. As a society, we can’t continue to bear the burden of poor choices.