October 31, 2007

Photograph of Dr. Barry Popkin

Dr. Barry Popkin

Senior food industry executives and many of the leading international nutrition scientists and medical experts convened Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 to address one of today’s most dangerous global health issues – obesity.

The Global Obesity Business Forum is an initiative of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center (IDOC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under the direction of Dr. Barry Popkin. Food industry executive Henry J. “Hank” Cardello chaired the two day forum, held at the Franklin Hotel next to the UNC campus.

Corporate participants included most of the major global food and beverage companies: Cadbury Schweppes, the Campbell Soup Company, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, the Hershey Company, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, McDonald’s, Mead Johnson Nutritionals, Starbucks, Unilever and Wyeth Nutrition.

The Global Obesity Business Forum combined discussions by eminent scholars from the U.S. and Europe with actual corporate case studies and proposed roadmaps for action. The conference featured presentations and panel discussions on flavor preferences, satiety, dietary responses, fats, sweeteners and reports on new government regulations and food industry policies from around the world. Short presentations about critical, positive, corporate changes in reducing caloric content of products and ways to enhance this shift were a major topic. Notably, the forum addressed such issues as:

  • How to reduce a population’s conditioning to sweetness?
  • Are trans fat alternatives any healthier?
  • What can be done to reach consensus on food labeling?

A second unique feature of the forum is that this was a candid discussion of the issues, intended to lead to action. The forum highlighted several international experts from the scientific community, including:

  • Dr. George A. Bray, a pioneer in the study of obesity, founder of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO) and a founding editor of Obesity Research and the International Journal of Obesity.
  • Dr. Cynthia M. Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders program. Dr. Bulik is a past president of the Academy for Eating Disorders and holds the first endowed professorship in eating disorders in the United States.
  • Dr. K.C. Hayes, professor of biology (nutrition) and director of the Foster Biomedical Research Laboratory at Brandeis University. Findings from his research on dietary fats and heart disease have found their way into the market, including Smart Balance, a trans-fat-free margarine with improved cholesterol profiles.
  • Dr. Alexei Kampov-Polevoi, research assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the School of Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dr. Kampov- Polevoi has conducted extensive research on the effects of sweet tasting foods.
  • Dr. Martijn Katan, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences Professor of Nutrition at Vrije Universitiet Amsterdam. His papers are among the most highly cited in the field, including several discoveries relevant to the prevention of coronary heart disease. His work has led to changes in coffee brewing practices and in industrial production techniques.
  • Dr. Richard D. Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University, adjunct associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and affiliated scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. His research focuses on the areas of hunger and satiety, regulation of food intake in humans, and food preferences.
  • Dr. Barry Popkin, Professor of Global Nutrition and director of the Interdisciplinary Obesity Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, is an economist and nutrition epidemiology scholar specializing in studies of the dynamic shifts in diet, activity, and obesity across the globe.
  • Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Willett is credited with being the father of the trans fat debate and is the most cited nutritionist internationally.

According to Dr. Popkin, “A large number of countries as well as most major global food companies are grappling with ways to address this major global problem. Ways to create a common playing field to promote healthier diets include a vast array of regulatory, taxation and labeling approaches. We know that, around the world, people prefer sweet, fatty and delicious foods and drinks; the question is how to make those foods generally healthy, and also, how do we reduce caloric intake to address the large increases in obesity and diabetes seen globally.”

“More than 1.3 billion people in the world are overweight,” says food industry veteran Hank Cardello, chair of the Global Obesity Business Forum. “Food manufacturers must recognize that they may be the only real solution to this crisis. Now is the time for stealth health initiatives. This meeting showcased workable suggestions and solutions for the industry to incorporate.”

For more information about or to speak with Hank Cardello: Judy Safern, president, Leading Thinkers PR, (972) 392-5175 or Judy@LeadingThinkers.co.