Frankly speaking: processed foods

Yesterday (4 March 2024) marked World Obesity Day. During this time of the year, many different companies and projects look to tackle obesity, working together to see what can be done around the ongoing worldwide struggles with obesity.

Depending on who you talk to, obesity is either a medical condition or a personal failing. What many fail to realise, is that it is a complex and multifaceted health issue that despite its prevalence and impact on individuals’ lives, it remains one of the most stigmatised diseases in our society.

The challenge for the food and drink sector is ownership of this issue. As processed and ultra processed foods garner more mainstream coverage, and more light is shed light on the contributors to the global obesity epidemic – something/someone has to take the blame. Governments will be pushed to do much more, which will include more legislation and policy efforts to tackle the structural drivers of obesity. Inevitably, the food and drink industry will be asked to play a significant part in preparing/repairing health systems for the rising burden of obesity related conditions.

The UK has a particular problem as we have one of the highest sugar consumption rates compared to our European counterparts. Recent statistics show the UK came fourth out of the world’s 54 largest countries in a ranking of sugary food consumption, only behind the United States, the Netherlands and Finland.

This very same topic came up at the recent BFFF Conference. In updating the audience of 10 trends for 2024, Charles Banks, founder of The Food People, spelled out how the debate around ultra processed foods and health outcomes is gathering momentum. What’s clear is that it’s gone beyond being an industry discussion to become a moral one and a food system discussion, as well. 

As Charles Banks said on the day, industry is very much at the heart of the way forward. On the one hand, there’s a tremendous amount of information out there, indicating what we know. Yet, there’s an awful lot that we don’t. Industry’s role may come in discovering what it is about the processes, ingredients, and so on that when combined can potentially cause problems. 

The point has come where a unified approach could further this discussion for the betterment of industry. “We believe that the path forward is about leveraging the knowledge that we have now,” Banks notes. “And leveraging the knowledge that we are absolutely going to gain from the scientific community.

He concludes: “We have to learn how to get to grips with ultra processed foods, and how we communicate this.”


The theme of this year’s is “Let’s talk about obesity and … our world.” The time has come for industry to talk frankly about processed foods and the positive part it will play as we move to a place of better processing.

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