Why is it Important for Supermarkets to Promote Healthy Eating for Customers and Staff?

The need for supermarkets to provide customer guidance towards healthier shopping baskets is significant given the increasing rate and extent of overweight and obesity among adults and children in Australia.

Almost 60% of South Australian adults and 24.7% of children are overweight or obese – an increase from an estimated 5% in the 1960s. This is due to a combination of eating too many kilojoules , and not being active enough to use the kilojoules eaten, leading to fat storage as excess weight.

The majority of people buy most of their food from supermarkets, which now provide and promote a vast range of both healthy and unhealthy foods. What customers eat is up to them, but they need to be able to make informed choices, and have a range of healthy options to choose from.

The Huge Cost of Obesity

Obesity and its impact on our population, including our workforce, is costing South Australia billions of dollars in health care costs and lost productivity, not to mention poor health and suffering for many experiencing health complications of obesity.

The state’s total cost of obesity in 2008 was estimated at $4.3 billion. Unhealthy workers adversely impact on production and employment costs. Access Economics estimated productivity losses from obesity for South Australia in 2008 to be $273 million.

It’s in every employer’s best interest to support staff to make healthy food choices and be active. For major employers and food providers such as supermarkets, this flows through to also supporting their customers in this.

Supermarkets are Part of the Solution

The obesity problem, and the need for all industry sectors to play a part in turning the tide against it, is being acknowledged worldwide. The WHO’s Global Strategy on diet, physical activity and health states that the private sector can be a “significant player” in promoting healthy diets and physical activity.

One of the action areas of our Eat Well Be Active Strategy 2011-2016 is Ensuring the places where we live, learn, work, play and shop make it easy for children and adults to be active and eat a healthy diet, including breastfeeding.

International moves by food companies

Many large food companies are recognising the need to play their part in responding to the global rise in obesity as part of a multi-strategy approach that involves integrated efforts by many sectors. Key international progress in this area includes:

The Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) is a ground-breaking initiative that will rate 25 of the world’s largest food and beverage companies' performance in providing nutritious products to consumers. The purpose of this initiative is to challenge companies to improve their nutrition practices. In doing so, ATNI aims to increase consumers’ access to more nutritious products and ultimately contribute to addressing the serious global problems of both obesity and under-nutrition.

By providing this material in a consistent, comparable format, the ATNI will allow food and beverage companies to benchmark their performance on nutrition against their peers, and it will provide stakeholders, from investors to consumers and policymakers, with information that they can use to inform their decisions and their programs. The results of the first ATNI analysis is intended to be published in the first quarter of 2013.

Increasing interest in health & nutrition

Supermarkets can play an important role in equipping customers with healthy eating information and guidance (e.g. nutritious meal and snack solutions) to make healthy purchases for themselves and their families across the most common food categories. Critical to this is ensuring:

  • The availability and positive promotion of competitively priced healthier food and beverage products on supermarket shelves
  • A well-stocked fruit and vegetable and meat section with fresh quality produce and lean meat cuts
  • Reducing the availability and promotion of unhealthy foods and drinks.

Also important, is the reformulation of processed foods to make them healthier, by modifying the portion size and levels of saturated and trans fats, salt, sugar and fibre as appropriate.

In the UK, where the government is working with the food industry and retailers to reduce salt, impressive results have been seen. The overall amount of salt consumed by adults has fallen by approximately 10% – a reduction that experts have found could save more than 6,000 lives a year.

Find out more about what you can do as a South Australian supermarket to help your customers and staff make healthier food and drink purchases.