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Responsible trade and healthy nutrition

Pekka Puska | 16.11.2010

As certain lifestyle diseases materially reflect on today's picture of national health, issues concerning the possibilities to influence lifestyles are present in the public discussion. There is no lack of knowledge and information, but the latest fat debate proved how they can be confused for different reasons.

It is often asked, who is responsible for our lifestyles. Individual responsibility cannot be denied. But at the same time, it is pointed out how people's lifestyles, for example, eating habits, largely depend on what is accessible and available. This has highlighted the responsibility of the food manufacturing industry, the trading sector and institutional kitchens.
Factors influencing the lifestyles of the population can be regulated by various social decisions. Due to the major and unambiguous health problems caused by tobacco and alcohol, measures regulating health problems can be strict, though often politically controversial.  Diet is a much more complex issue, mainly regulated in terms of food safety, package labelling and health claims. Admittedly, the excise duty on soft drinks is a more stringent method, especially because of young people's overweight problem.

In nutrition matters, the interaction between population and economy - the food manufacturing industry and the trading sector - is highlighted. People say that they largely eat what the food manufacturers produce and the retailers sell. And the manufacturers and the retailers say they produce and sell products which people buy. It should be kept in mind that manufacturers and retailers are not in the same boat either. The trading sector operates between producers and consumers.

The operations of the trading sector and the manufacturing industry are naturally aimed at business profitability. At the same time, the business sector must be responsible in its operations, not only in matters of health, but in many others, including consumer protection, the environment, ethicalness etc.
In Finnish nutrition as a whole, a very positive process has taken place as the population has adopted the message for healthy diets, and the food manufacturing industry and the trading sector have increasingly began producing and marketing related products. These actions have been mutually supportive and played a central part in the enormous improvement seen in the Finnish national health over the last few decades.

Since we only have two large store chains in Finland, their position, responsibility and possibilities between consumers and the food manufacturing industry is important. And indeed, they should be thanked for the health promoting actions they have taken with regard to both manufacturers and customers. Stores' shelves have over 500 products displaying the Heart Symbol. And, for example, Kesko has delivered information on healthy eating habits to its customers in many ways, provided its customers with the Nutritioncode service, and engaged in cooperation with, for example, the Finnish Heart Association.

Pekka Puska is the Director General of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

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