Everyone is back to their pre-summer routine: back to school, back to work, back to stress. Does that mean a return to bad eating habits? It might not, if you can resist putting that sugar-laden cereal bar in your shopping trolley.
We are served junk food on a silver platter
You might have heard the saying ‘you are what you eat’. But ‘you eat what you see’ is equally true. Just look around you. Whether you are at work, at the train station or at home, chances are the nearest food and drink available are snacks and sodas.
High calorie food is everywhere, from the Internet and TV to advert boards and supermarket offers. And in most cases it’s cheap. No wonder we easily favour a chocolate bar over an apple.
- Let’s take supermarkets for instance. It is no secret that food makers fight hard to get their product to the shelves’ eye-level spot. Our Swiss member FRC found that sweets, biscuits, and the likes were placed within children’s reach next to the checkout in nearly 90 percent of supermarkets. If you are a parent, you must have lost count of the times you placed snacks back on the shelves after your kids sneaked them into your shopping basket.
- All-you-can-drink soda fountains sound like good value for money. But let’s keep in mind that one small glass of soda contains between four and five lumps of sugar, close to the recommended 25g daily limit.
- How many times have you been offered to supersize your menu at a fast-food restaurant? Part of the problem is it only costs you a few extra cents. It is also striking to hear the shop assistant suggest a sugar-laden drink as if it was the ‘normal’ option. If all you want is a bottle of water, it is not the default option. It should be other way around.
A recent study from our British member Which? found that over half of special offers in supermarkets were on unhealthy food.
How can we fix this?
It is great news that some retailers have committed to remove confectionery from their checkouts. When you think of how much time you spend in the queue, it is important this change happens, as long as sweets and chocolate bars are not replaced with crisps or beef jerky. Companies committed to tackling obesity should follow up on their promises and stop tempting consumers on their way out. The retailers who have still not taken action should join the bandwagon.
Cutting sugar, salt and fat is key, but not everything. Making our food environment healthier is also about making more room for fruit and vegetables in our shopping trolleys. A recent study from our British member Which? found that over half of special offers in supermarkets were on unhealthy food. Fruit and vegetables only account for 30% of special offers.
As for unhealthy snack-loaded vending machines, they should not make their way into schools and hospitals. If they are not totally banned – like in France and Belgium – they should contain at the very least a bigger proportion of healthy products.
Is it only about consumers’ self-control?
Having an unhealthy diet is fuelling obesity. In turn that increases the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Given the staggering obesity levels in Europe, it is high time we get away from our fattening environment.
High calorie food is everywhere, from the Internet and TV to advert boards and supermarket offers. And in most cases it’s cheap.
At the EU level, the European Commission is fully aware of our obesogenic environment and the need to ease ‘consumers’ self-control’. They should swiftly turn their words into deeds and start discussions with the 28 Member States.
If we are serious about curbing obesity and other food-related diseases, food companies, retailers and institutions should give consumers a hand by making the healthy choice the easy choice.
In brief, if you have pledged to shift to healthier eating habits, don’t be disheartened. It is a challenge, not mission impossible. All you need is iron will and a little help from those who place the food in front of us.
This post is part of our nutrition series. Find more in our online kitchen.