By Fabrice Etilé, professor at the Paris School of Economics, research director at INRA.
School-based health surveys show that the prevalence of overweight has increased among adolescents, rising among third-grade students from 17% in 2009 to 18.5% in 2017. This increase is accompanied by a significant widening of inequalities between middle- and upper-class children on the one hand, and the working classes on the other. It is in this context that the National Nutrition Nutrition Program was launched at the end of September. It focuses on consumer education and information actions, and the voluntary commitment of manufacturers and distributors to improve nutritional quality and limit marketing. If these actions seem necessary, will they be enough to meet the stakes of junk food?
There is evidence that excessive consumption of sugary drinks and prepared foods is a major risk factor for overweight. However, it would be inefficient to base a policy of prevention solely on injunctions to consume in a “reasoned” way these products, and to cook oneself raw products. On the one hand, the consumption of ultra-processed foods and foodservice products will remain a structuring element of the eating habits of French people, especially teenagers.
Increased pressure of food marketing
Technical progress has allowed the mass production and low cost of foods that support the time that consumers do not want to go to the stove. On the other hand, as documented by a report from the High Council of Public Health, the pressure of food marketing has increased, and specifically targets young people through neuromarketing techniques acting at a subconscious level and through digital media (sponsorship of youtubers, inserts in video games). It is therefore necessary to develop a more active policy of protecting young consumers. In this perspective, the Nutri-Score – easy-to-interpret synthetic display – is a tool that should be mandatory for all processed and ultra-processed foods, but also for industrial catering and home delivery. It is also necessary to strictly regulate food marketing on both conventional and digital media. Again, the Nutri-Score provides a practical criterion for distinguishing products to be banned from those that can benefit from commercial communication. Better regulation of marketing will enable responsible manufacturers and restaurateurs to value the improvement of the nutritional quality of their products, which constitutes a competitive advantage.