Improving diet quality – Nanny State or optimising the environment for a healthy outcome?

NZ supermarket veg.JPG2017 seemed to pass in a blur of countries and interviews as I researched how vegetables are used to improve health outcomes and tackle human nutrition issues.

I have seen different practices and policies in the countries I have visited but there is international agreement that vegetables are beneficial for our health, even though in some countries, consumption is quite low.

I presented a summary of my findings to the product developers, procurement and commercial team working in the vegetable category at Bakkavor in April and it was a great opportunity to discuss what needs to change within the food manufacturing and the retail sector.

Health claims are helpful but are not silver bullet for communicating with the consumer. The key is finding a format that makes vegetables easier to access in today’s busy lifestyles.

My core argument is that when the various actors in the food supply chain work together to address the needs of the consumer, positive change happens.


International dietary guidelines are consistent with the message that a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables should be eaten per day. The Chinese take a prescriptive approach and recommend 3-500g vegetables, 50% of which should be dark. The South Koreans stipulate 2 portions of vegetables with every meal and their population surveys show they have sufficient micronutrients in the diet.

In New Zealand where 80% of the population are familiar with the 5+ a day message, ideas such as the Vital Vegetables range and Vitamin D enhanced mushrooms take advantage of the new health claim regulations to communicate benefits of high nutrient vegetables to consumers. The Chip Group programme to reduce fat levels in take-away fried chips is another health intervention initiative.

These are methods of health promotion, firstly providing information for the consumer to make a choice and secondly, changing production so that the consumer does not have to change their behaviour.

I will be speaking about diet and how the environment shapes what we eat at ASSET2018, Queen’s University Belfast on Wednesday 30th May ASSET2018, QUB