Prepared Foods August 16, 2004 enewsletter

The fast food industry in New Zealand spent $60 million on advertising last year -- 100 times more than the amount spent promoting fruit and vegetables. While learning of this, delegates to an international conference on healthy eating in Christchurch, N.Z., were warned they needed a global brand if they wanted their message to be heard.

Former advertising executive Paul Jeffreys said fast food companies were spending $1 billion a fortnight promoting their products across the world.

"The reality is you face some very well-funded organizations and are trying to cut through the advertising clutter to communicate the simple message of eating more fruit and vegetables a day."

He was speaking to representatives from 31 countries at the World Health Organization- (WHO) backed 5 A Day Symposium to discuss new research on the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables and how to persuade people to eat more of them.

Jeffreys, who achieved fame for losing 64kg of his 168kg in a single year, urged delegates to work together.

He said every country which had adopted a 5 A Day program had a different logo.

"For this issue to gain further traction, you should be communicating one message globally. You need to act collectively, and I can assure you, you will achieve better results."

"Smart marketers" such as McDonald's, Coca Cola, Nike and Ford all use the same brand across the world.

WHO director Robert Beaglehole also made an impassioned plea at the conference for better information on people's eating habits.

Beaglehole, a New Zealander now working in Geneva, said that although New Zealand had some of the best data in the world on adult and child nutritional patterns, it did not know if its public health campaigns were working.

"We need to know if the message is getting through."

In the 10 years since New Zealand's 5+ A Day program was introduced, the number of overweight and obese people has increased.

One billion people are now overweight globally, attendees were told, making it one of the most important health issues in the world. "Yet the underlying data on which we're basing policy is appalling."

Of most concern was the emergence of childhood obesity, said Beaglehole. "Already we have lost the next generation. Obesity rates in children in countries like New Zealand, and particularly in China, are increasing before our very eyes."

Yet the public health response had been weak, he said. "There will be 53 million deaths this year, and 60% of deaths will be due to chronic, non-communicable lifestyle diseases.

"Unless the countries of the world globally take these diseases seriously, we're going to be in trouble."

Hardest hit were lower middle-income countries such as India, China and Eastern Europe.

WHO lists low fruit and vegetable consumption in the top 10 risk factors contributing to deaths from known causes, especially cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers. Globally, up to 2.7 million lives could be saved if the world ate enough fruit and vegetables, attendees were told.

Additionally, new research presented at the conference suggested antioxidants from fruit and vegetables may help break down fat cells in the body.