Bakers Journal

Obesity: a Crisis!

November 6, 2007
By Barbara Lauer

…and a cue to innovate to survive.

Globally, governments are tackling the issue of obesity.  It’s a public health crisis – and a diet resolution that peters out mid-January each year is not going to fix it.  More and more, we are seeing laws passed (trans fats anyone?) that attempt to reduce the impact of obesity on taxpayer dollars and strained public health services.  The path to a healthy weight has always been a bumpy one that many haven’t managed to follow, and the wake-up call for food producers to innovate rings loud and clear.

Obesity is now being compared to smoking, in part, due to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine.  For the first time, an end to the steady rise in the U.S. life expectancy was predicted, particularly due to childhood obesity.  Even scarier is that the authors conceded that the most detrimental effects of childhood obesity are yet to be realized.

Health professionals have already begun to measure obesity-induced health conditions rarely or never before seen in young children, such as Type 2 diabetes.  The next phase will be obesity-induced mortality over the next 50 years, as these children reach the third to sixth decades of life – the age at which obesity begins to kill.


Which is why it is up to industries like ours to create products that are healthier, so that consumers can eat a healthy diet without forfeiting convenience, cost or taste.  According to The Hartman Group’s market research, consumers are more and more proactive about their health – choosing healthy alternatives when they are available, but, of course, never eschewing good taste.  Today’s customers would prefer to manage their health — current and future – through diet rather than medicine, and with all the advances in probiotics, functional foods, enhanced ingredients and new varieties of grains, it should be easier than ever to create baked goods that deliver on the promise of taste and health.

The food industry has been embracing technologies that until recently been the preserve of pharmaceuticals, such as nutrigenomics, metabolomics and nanotechnology – and, as a result, global regulations are being more closely aligned between the two categories of health products.

The discovery of food ingredients with “pharma-like” properties, such as plant sterols to lower cholesterol, is opening up new markets for healthy food products.  While pharma companies will always focus primarily on consumer health, some, like Forbes Medi-Tech of Canada, are conducting clinical trials on a cholesterol-lowering drug, as well as offering plant sterols to the food industry.

Several jurisdictions in Canada have already expelled junk food from public schools, including removing nutrient-empty beverages as well.  The following weight management trends for 2007 provide guidelines for the Next Great Baked Good coming to your shelf:

1. Satiety:  The feeling of fullness from a food product (bread made from lupin flour offers satiety) helps control appetite and keeps dieters on track.  The U.K. has launched a number of these products, so EU consumers already grasp the concept of eating smaller portions, yet feeling full.  Jump to the head of the class and start incorporating functional new ingredients that have customers coming back for more, and telling all their friends about your very special baked goods.

2. Exercise:  Functional foods can help make the pain of exercise result in a little more weight loss, with something as simple as a healthier snack for those who need to grab ’ n’ go. There are new functional ingredients on the market that can be incorporated into bars, cookies or breads, and offer specific health benefits, whether it’s heart, cholesterol-lowering or high fibre.  Innovation can be as simple as incorporating chunks of premium dark chocolate into a whole grain loaf for a weekend breakfast bread that provides antioxidants, high fibre – and a whole lot less fat than some traditional pastries, like Danishes.

3. Calorie neutral, calorie negative:  Why not develop a whole grain, high fibre bread that offers as much flavour as it does the opportunity to burn the calories it uses to chew it?  Okay, that may be asking too much, but it never hurts to aim high.  Beyond ingredients themselves, major food companies are taking up the challenge to develop functional foods that tackle heart health, energy, immunity, weight control and digestion.

4. Responsible weight loss:  Whatever you do, make sure your product is labelled correctly and you market its benefits truthfully.  If you are going to base your latest bread innovation on the positive results of a few studies, then don’t overplay the science – or your customers could leave you out in the cold as more research comes in to show you overstated or exaggerated the early results.

Nutrigenomics and personalized nutrition are tipped to be a powerful force for the next generation of functional foods – which only mirrors what is happening in the medicinal developments in the pharma industry.  There is an important, and growing market in obesity – the combined value for heart health food and drinks in Europe and the U.S. was $5.4 billion US in 2005, with a projected value of $7.4 billion in 2010.  If you turn it off by trying to sell a “magic pill,” not only could you turn dieters away from important tools (i.e., functional foods) that could help them, but you’ll be doing the commercial baking industry and the community in general a great disservice.  There is no question that with all the new discoveries, there is a place for bread or a baked good at every consumer’s table, dieter or not.  It’s simply up to you to develop the perfect loaf!

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