Term Paper: Nutrition the Food Service Industry

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Nutrition

The food service industry has long relied on meeting customer needs, in particular with respect to taste and speed of service. However, as tastes change and new trends emerge, the food service industry must change with the times. One of the major trends today is towards nutrition. This change manifests itself in a number of different ways. One example is the emphasis on nutrition in school lunches, which not only affects institutional food providers but has also extended guidelines for the private restaurant industry as well (Jones, 2012). These guidelines will change the eating habits of the new generation, making the move to improved nutrition a long-term trend for the industry to address. In addition, regulators have taken aim at trans fats and other food additives known to have negative health outcomes (Park, 2012). This paper is going to explore the issue of nutrition and food service, and the response of the industry to this new challenge.

Background of the Issue

The United States is one of the most obese nations in the world. A combination of wealth and sedentary lifestyles has led to widespread obesity in American society, such that 35.7% of American adults are obese, and 16.9% of children are as well. The latter is an alarming statistics in that children have not historically suffered from obesity. When obese early in life, an individual has reduced chance of ever being healthy. Obesity is highly associated with adverse health outcomes, so there is considerably concern about the impact that obesity has on children, in particular since children often have little control over what they eat. Some sources have predicted that obesity in America will be at 44% by 2030 (Begley, 2012).

There are considerable and negative health outcomes associated with obesity, including Type 2 diabetes and endometrial cancer, heart disease and more low-level illness as well (Begley, 2012). American social norms hold that people have the freedom to make whatever lifestyle choices they please, so the problem was ignored for a long time. However, a few factors have made obesity a hot topic today. The first is rising medical costs. Obese people get sick more often, and have more serious illnesses. This increases health care costs for everyone, because insurance premiums rise for all when health care usage increases. More importantly, when the government is footing the bill as with Medicare and Medicaid, the taxpayer is basically paying extra to manage the health of people who have through their own actions become obese. There is a financial and moral imperative for government to take active steps to raise the issue of obesity and to address some of the root causes. Lastly, a sharp increase in the number of obese children has sparked concern. If an adult chooses to make himself of herself obese, that is not the concern of anybody, but children do not generally have the knowledge to make smart eating choices. As a result, they are becoming permanently obese before they have a serious say in the matter. This is a societal concern because of the setbacks these children will have in life as the result of their obesity.

If there was no move from government on the issue, it might not be an issue for the food service industry. Some restaurants would adapt to consumer trends towards healthy eating, but most would not. Either way, it would simply be a business decision. However, the involvement of government, such as banning trans fats, talk of curbing salt use, and regulating school lunches creates motivation for the industry to play a role in curbing obesity. It is recognized, after all, that the food service industry played a role in creating the obesity epidemic. While the industry is correct when it assets that it is not the only factor, there is little doubt that high-calorie meals and snacks with no discernible nutrient value, available anywhere at any time, are contributing to the obesity epidemic. Additionally, politicians are more likely to target the food industry. Addressing other factors, such as people not exercising or communities that have developed around car usage, would involve government targeting individual consumers and the way of life that we all have generally accepted. It is bad politics to lecture constituents or blame local governments for land use decisions that almost everybody supports. Because the restaurant industry is an easy target, the restaurant business needs to ensure that it either addresses its contribution head on or that it deflects the problem.

Food Service Industry Response to the Issue

There are basically three responses that the industry is taking to the issue. Some companies that are likely to targets for activist and political action have been proactive in addressing the issue of nutrition in an attempt to deflect attention. McDonalds knows from experience that its size puts a target on its back, and has learned to be proactive about controversial issues. The company has responded with updated menus, healthy options, and publishing nutrition information. Some franchises have also supported grassroots initiatives to improve nutrition and nutrition information in their communities (QSR Web, 2012). Some other restaurants have done similar things. Kelso (2012) notes that nutrition is one of the major drivers in the business these days and it is especially important for restaurants that cater to children to pay attention to the health aspects of the meals that they serve to kids. Restaurants catering mainly to adults have less incentive to focus on nutrition and often only do so if there is specific market opportunity involved in doing so.

Another response is to deflect the issue. This typically happens at the industry level. There is an ongoing public relations campaign to downplay the nutrition issue, in part because the industry recognizes that nutrition is only a hot topic for politicians if society in general feels that it is a hot topic. The National Restaurant Association, for example, has a study group that provides a forum for discussion of the issue, and planning for the PR campaign to minimize the perception of the industry's contribution to the obesity epidemic.

A third approach is that any firms are expressly rejecting the nutrition issue. Burger King famously saw McDonalds' move toward healthier options and doubled down on unhealthy options to attract customers who want to get fat or have emotional issues they need to kill. KFC's burger with two chicken patties for buns is another example of this approach. It is not only fast food companies that have taken an aggressively defensive approach to the issue. Many high end restaurants specifically feature rich, fatty, salty foods. They might argue that their offerings are not for everyday consumption, but the nature of the argument does not belie the fact that a large segment of the high-end restaurant business is outright rejecting health on its menus. The food may be more nutritious because it is more natural than highly-processed fast food, but it remains caloric, often protein-heavy and often salty as well.

Going Forward

The food service industry is going to be forced to address this issue more in the future. Bearing in mind that one of the biggest factors that has made nutrition a hot topic issue is that government is becoming involved in the issue. While unhealthy restaurants have benefitted from successive generations of people who grew up with questionable eating habits, the school lunch trend is a real threat for restaurants that do not emphasize nutrition. Children who grow up with knowledge of nutrition and who develop a taste for foods that are not loaded with fat, sugar and salt, are going to make better choices as adults, too.

Moreover, the government is going to be increasingly focused on the health issue. There is, according to many, budget crisis and health care is one of the biggest problems leading to that crisis. Thus, government can be expected to take steps that will decrease its burden, and reducing obesity rates is going to be part of that program. As noted, the restaurant industry is not the only culprit, but it is the easiest target for politicians, so it can be expected that going forward not only will there be more societal pressure on the industry to focus on nutrition but there will also be more governmental and regulatory pressure as well.

The food service industry will need to craft an organized, coherent response to these issues. While it is reasonable that the industry engages in a PR campaign to promote the idea that it is not solely to blame for the crisis, it also must communicate that it is willing to be part of the solution. It can take only one generation to radically transform the eating habits of a nation, especially in an information-rich world. By 2030, when obesity rates are expected to be higher, an entire generation of children will have had healthier school lunches and a greater level of nutritional information. A child today will be an adult then, and the food service industry needs to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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