by: Nikki Cutler
With the European elections coming up and Brexit debate sending the UK’s government into disarray, Peter Wennstrom, business strategist and founder of Healthy Marketing Team, points out the worrying parallels between politics and nutrition.
Wennstrom argues that the gap between ‘the people’ and the politicians is widening, as is also the case with consumers and the health institutions.
“We are in the middle of a big shift in the world of both politics and health. In ‘normal’ politics, where you have the ‘left’ to ‘right’ scale, everything is easy to understand but now that scale has been disrupted and we are seeing this ‘move forward’ or ‘move back’ scale.”
“The gap between the people and the government is widening as people stop trusting the institutions and start to follow their own communities.”
Much like we are seeing with people’s perspectives on parliament, consumers are far less likely these days to put their trust in the words of the institutions that govern the health food industry. Instead consumers are putting more trust in their own beliefs, which Wennstrom refers to as their ‘health religions’.
“If we compare this shift in the political world with the world of nutrition you can see we are moving from one scale to another – an old world where we had medication for illness versus food for energy, to a modern world where we have nutrition to get to the root cause of illness.”
“Regulation is still based upon these old notions that medication and food should be treated very separately and people don’t think like that any more. Therefore if new regulations come into place in this industry, people are less likely to pay attention to them and are more likely to form their own opinions based on their own beliefs. ”
Another issue Wennstrom notes is that the health care system still looks at consumers as though they are ‘passive’.
“There is a strong notion coming out that people should trust and listen to their own body and listen to what it tells you about your dietary choices.”
“Nowadays when people come to the doctor, they don’t passively take instruction, they come with all the information they have already gained themselves.”
One clear example of people taking their health into their own hands and trusting themselves over the health institutions is the wide range of social media forums set up and run by people with specic health issues.
Wennstrom points out that these forums allow consumers to share their knowledge and experience, providing more personal ‘tried and tested’ prescriptions for one another.
Probiotics at the ‘spearhead’
Often probiotics are a suggested solution within these forums. Wennstrom believes the probiotics market best exemplifies the incoherence of the health system.
“At the spearhead of this paradigm shift is the probiotic industry and the microbiome understanding providing a whole new understand of the impact of food on health.”
The business strategist points out that health food companies can only test their health claims using healthy participants, making it much tougher to prove significant health claims and making ‘probiotics too healthy for a health claim’.
He explains: “Since the current health claims regulation for foods is based on the strict division between medicine and food meaning that foods cannot make claims that indicates medicinal effects.
“You are not allowed to make studies on a population with health conditions but only on an already healthy
population, so since probiotics are proven to prevent and cure a growing number conditions, it is impossible for probiotics to get a health claim in the current system.”
Education, Education, Education
He says consumers need to be made aware of the restrictions that restrict these companies.
“I believe if consumers start to realise the funny ‘logic’ that’s driving the regulations, they will realise the restrictions surrounding health claims.”
Wennstrom believes the best way for health food companies to navigate around these issues is to allow their scientists to speak directly to the consumers. He believes the marketers in between the science and the consumer can just act as a barrier and consumer are more likely to listen to those with the knowledge.
“Give the consumers the science and information and let them decide for themselves.”
“Also, invest in education of all your stake holders as to the routes to your health and how the microbiome works.”
Time for a national uprising
Wennstrom points out that there are huge contradictions taking place between EU legislation and EU investment as huge investments are being made into probiotic innovation, while the legislation in place silences the studies behind those innovations.
“There is a conflict between the national interest and the EU interest and I would encourage a national uprising among the health food industry.”