Behavior Modification Presentation at Research Chefs Assn Conference

Tell consumers, ‘We care about your health.’ When people feel cared about, they become your most loyal customers.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Ever consider yourself in the behavior modification business?

Dean Ornish, an M.D., frequent speaker and founder/president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, was talking about how people can eat their way to health at the March Research Chefs Assn. annual meeting. But I think he was really challenging the whole food industry to play the role of psychotherapists and counsel a weak-willed American public to do what it already knows is right and what everyone is telling it to do: Eat wisely and exercise a little.

“There really is a sea-change going on,” Ornish said, referring to the growing belief that methods other than medical means can improve people’s health. Call it behavior modification or simply wisely eating your way to health. Ornish obviously hoped food companies would be riding the wave of that sea-change.

In addition to his institute in Sausalito, Calif., Ornish is clinical professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco and he’s been a frequent speaker on how comprehensive lifestyle changes can reverse even severe coronary heart disease, without drugs or surgery. So behavior modification is near and dear to his heart. He has consulted for ConAgra, PepsiCo, McDonald’s and others on how to make food products more healthful and then, perhaps more importantly, get people to eat these better-for-them products.

At the RCA meeting, Ornish was moderating a panel of industry professionals who discussed the responsibilities and challenges food companies face when they develop products that incorporate health and nutrition components. He noted that a generation of better-quality, more nutritious foods and a fair amount of health information not only has not substantially improved the average Americans’ health but also coincides with the obesity crisis (if there is one -- see www.foodprocessing.com/industrynews/2005/385.html).

Food companies are trying, he seemed to say, putting forth a pretty good effort, at least in the research and product development ends. The fault lies with the behavior of Americans, who still eat too much and too many wrong things and don’t exercise enough. The solution lies with changing that behavior.

“The Chinese words for crisis and opportunity are the same,” he said. “This is an opportunity for everyone in the food business. Get in front of this issue. Tell consumers, ‘We care about your health and the health of this country and we’re doing something about it.’

“Be nurturing. Be something special to your customers. When people feel cared about, they become your most loyal customers,” he said.

“Empower your customers. Offer a spectrum of choices in convenient and tasty products. Give them freedom of choice, not ‘food police’ Help them eat less fat and fewer refined carbs. Show them the difference between good carbs and bad carbs, between good fats and bad fats.

“Your body has a remarkable capacity to start healing itself, once you stop doing the bad things and start doing good,” he said.

Can behavior modification and lifestyle changes reverse years of bad food habits? As evidence, he cited his own studies that showed “80 percent of 333 patients who qualified for angioplasty did not need it after making the proper lifestyle changes.” Healthy eating was a key component of those lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle is a big and broad subject for any one industry to tackle. But food is a key part of lifestyle, and the food industry is up to the task.

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