Ultra-processed people

It’s 1996 and Tony Blair, the Labour Party leader, is asked of his three main priorities for Government. His answer: education, education and education.

Fast forward to 2024 and if asked for a conclusion from the findings of a new pan-European study by the EIT Food Consumer Observatory about the impact of ultra-processed foods, you would answer the same as Tony Blair: education, education, education.

The survey of 10,000 consumers from 17 European countries found that the majority (65%) of European consumers believe that ultra-processed foods are unhealthy, and that they will cause health issues later in life. For example, 67% believe that ultra-processed foods contribute to obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle-related health issues.

European consumers are unsure of what’s good. But what is? They don’t know that either. They are most likely to choose a non processed product or a low processed product. They aren’t helped by the production of research papers that appear contradictory. For example, around December last year, research reports that ultra-processed food are not always hazardous to health. It is argued that stating that all ultra-processed food is dangerous, is too simplistic. The study’s conclusion is that ultra-processed food should be limited rather than avoided.

If I’m a consumer, where does this leave me?

For this reason, there is a need of improving transparency in the labelling of ultra-processed food and in the communications of the health implications this type of food have.

Brands are called by Mintel to promote self-education regarding health implication of ultra-processed foods, in order to improve transparency and consumer trust,

Showing consumers that food processing can have benefits could prove crucial to the future of ultra-processed foods.
Currently, consumer perception decides whether something is ultra-processed or not. However, there could be benefits to ultra-processed if industry can prove that there is an overarching health benefit that extends beyond just sustainability.

Good education should be encouraged to help consumers interpret the nutritional labelling on the food we buy as well as make better purchase decisions.

When making a purchase, the easiest choice should be the healthiest.

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