Integrating Food Policy with Growing Health and Wellness Concerns: An Analytical Literature Review of the Issues Affecting Government, Industry, and Civil Society

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  • A recent letter to the editor in The Edmonton Journal ended with the question, \"How many more needless death?\" [\"More Wheat, Less Rye,\" Edmonton Journal, p. A13 (17 January 2005)] The letter was not addressing the violence in Darfur, distribution of pharmaceuticals, or AIDS -- it was a comment on new dietary guidelines released a few days earlier in the United States. The tone of this letter highlights the growing concern over the linkages between food and health. Especially over the last ten years, such issues have received increasing public attention in both the policy and media arenas. One of the major drivers of public policy interest in this area is an increase in health costs that are attributable to diet-related causes. Lawsuits over issues of dietary liability, the popularity of books and movies such as Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me, and a barrage of quotable and terrifying statistics have all helped contribute to a growing consensus that we are facing a new crisis of food-related health concerns. If we are to address these concerns as a society, we must first recognize that consumer food choices are complex. Designing effective policies to change consumer attitudes may therefore be difficult and costly, and requires and integrative approach. Incentives offered to primary food producers, processors, retailers, and restaurateurs must be in line with societal goals, regulatory oversight must be consistent, and consumers must be provided with adequate information. In order to work toward better, more effective policies, it is desirable to review the actions and recommendations that the medical profession, multinational organizations, NGOs, the food industry, and national governments have undertaken. It is also important to assess the impacts of policies that have been proposed in other contexts, such as those developed to control the use of tobacco or those that govern the agri-food distribution system. To that end, University of Alberta researchers, at the request of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, undertook a literature review that addressed the following major areas: I. Part I consists of an overview of health and disease and the relationship between health and individual food consumption. Data are drawn from the medical literature. Discussion centres on a summary of various meta-analyses that link health to foods consumed. II. Part II summarizes major international organizations' views about food health issues. We detail the FAO and WHO's position on food and health and discuss the actions taken by various NGOs, including Canadian cancer and stroke organizations. III. Part III focuses on the food industry. The authors provide examples of the ways in which North American food firms have responded to health issues. This section also includes a summary of major food manufacturers' product advertising activities. IV. Part IV centres on public policy issues, such as the development and marketing of the Canadian Food Guide and governmental regulation of advertising for individual foods. V. Part V includes a synopsis and recommendations for further research.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International