Who decides what you eat: new report explores what’s secretly influencing consumer diets. The way foods are presented and choices framed needs to change to make sustainable healthy diets easy.
A new report “The illusion of choice – Why someone already decided what you will eat for lunch” published today highlights how buying, preparing and consuming food are largely the result of food sector decisions rather than consumer choices. It calls on policy makers to make healthy, more plant-based diets with ‘less and better’ animal products easy for European consumers.
This report coincides with the release of a new “evidence review” by SAPEA, a consortium of independent scientists advising the European Commission, which confirms the strong influences consumers’ eating choices are subjected to.
The “food environment” conditions the choices people face – a concept that includes the food sector’s marketing and advertising, promotional offers, food availability and price, and even the spatial layout of shops and supermarkets. Currently, food environments largely push consumers towards unhealthy and unsustainable foods which are the most available, advertised, and often the cheapest options too.
Our current food environments are designed to maximise nutritionally poor foods, leading to a long list of non-communicable diseases with an increasing incidence and burden to society. Policymakers bear responsibility for reversing this situation in which our food environments make us ill. They must support people in making the healthy and sustainable food choices by making them the default option.
European citizens want to eat food that ensures animal welfare. However, it is often not the higher welfare or plant-based foods that catch their eye from billboards or supermarket shelves, but unsustainable industrial animal products. This needs to change. EU policymakers must take action to enable consumers to shift to plant-based and higher welfare products.
Why does it often cost more to buy fruit than a bag of unhealthy snacks? Eating healthily and sustainably should become the regular choice, not the luxury one. Supermarkets must stop offering deals that push us towards food and drink products we need to consume less of, and instead target price promotions to support healthier and greener diets. Governments too need to step in to ensure all consumers can afford buying food that is good for their health and the planet.