Leaders in the food supplements space joined the FSE event to discuss how supplements can help to achieve a healthier society, with the theme being that scientists, industry and policy makers must collaborate.
Manfred Eggersdorfer, chair for Healthy Ageing at the University Medical Center Groningen (NL), preceded the panel discussion with a brief presentation in which he pointed out that people in the EU have the highest life expectancy in the world but a larger part of life than ever before is now characterised by ill-health. He pointed out that nutrition is an important modifiable factor in this.
“Yet consumers’ nutrient intake and status does not meet the recommended levels for these. In fact consumers' nutrient status is low in vitamin D, vitamin E and omega-3 in several European countries.”
Eggersdorfer explained that Finland provided the perfect example of how nutrition can be used to improve the health of its population. It transferred from having the highest CVD mortality rate in the world to the lowest, due to a change of food recommendations (to include more sources of omegas), salt reductions, as well as vitamin D fortification.
Basil Mathioudakis, food legislation and nutrition consultant, said this sort of advocacy for supplements from a scientist was too rare.
“I’m glad to hear that such an emanant scientist is pointing out consumers are not meeting their nutritional requirements. This is not the case with a lot of scientific bodies.
“When I did my degree in human nutrition about 45 years ago what I was taught was that a diverse diet would provide all the nutrients that you need but this does not hold true any more.
“I’m afraid we have witnessed socioeconomic changes over the last few decades that put into question this mantra.
“On the social side, activities have dramatically reduced and the time that goes into purchasing and preparing the right food has reduced.
“Economically, we have seen some changes for the better in terms of GDP per capita but there is a substantial section of the population that have more and more problems in buying the right foods.
“So I question how many scientists who advise health workers and regulators are agreeing with Manfred that nutritional recommendations are not met by today’s diet."
He asked the room of industry experts: "How can we remedy that and advocate the role that food supplements can play?”
Julian Cacchioli, FSE Vice Chair, agreed they need to work together to "break that myth" that diet meets our nutritional needs.
“But even if we break that myth there’s still a barrier to food supplements being a part of the solution because the reality is there is still a lack of trust in the industry. So we as an industry have to do more to try to build that trust.
“The consumer survey by IPSOS says consumers trust us, but the scientists don’t and the regulators don’t."
First-and-foremost he said the industry needs to bring the highest quality, safest product to the market, then they have to get away from overclaiming, or false claims, which is "a legacy we bring along with us".
“The third thing we have to do is continue to invite and find new ways to bring macro- and micro-nutrients to consumers in the way they want to consume them.
"Finally, there’s a lot that even the regulators and scientists don’t understand about this industry. We need to educate those audiences on the role supplements can play.”
Ultimately, Cacchioli believes the industry needs “to have that data to break that myth".
"We have to demonstrate categorically, if we can, that diets aren’t delivering the nutrients that scientists believe. Industry bodies should be creating that data that we as an industry can use. Maybe this is something the FSE should look at taking on.”
Peter Loosen, MD for Lebensmittelverband Deutschland e.V. (Food Federation Germany) the leading association of the German food sector, joined the panel and explained how the association has worked to educate consumer, legislators and scientists.
He said the efforts snowballed, beginning with the creation of leaflets, educational videos, and PR for journalists across a range of media outlets before ramping up to the creation of their own podcast ‘Foodcast’ where different scientists are invited to discuss the benefits of supplements.
He said this has been particularly helpful in getting the word out as this is a popular format for consuming content which might arguably be considered rather dry in other formats.
“But we do still have a long way to go in Germany because the main school of thought is still that diet provides everything needed.”