Food for Health
Table of Contents
1.0 Description and Scope of Theme
1.1 Theme Description
1.2 Content Components
of the Theme
Figure 1 - From Research to Health
2.0 Context and Background for this Theme
2.2 Key Assumptions
2.5 Issues and Barriers
2.6 Enabling Components
of The Theme
2.7 Dependencies and Linkages
with the Theme
3.0 Research Areas and Priorities for the Theme
of Research Areas
4.0 Critical Success Factors
4.1 Description of Critical
1.0 Description and Scope of this Theme
1.1 Theme Description
The opportunities for the agriculture and food industries to contribute
positively to the health of society are considerable and increasing as
the knowledge related to the potential health impacts of food grows. The
Food for Health theme is intended to help guide the OMAFRA research agenda
to address the significant potential to improve health through food. A
successful research program, from consumer research through to food production
and formulation, cannot only change the health of Ontarians; it can provide
economic opportunities and competitive advantages for Ontario agri-food
companies and producers. The research scope is large and complex but the
potential social and economic payoffs from food for health research are
far beyond those usually found in agri-food research alone.
1.2 Content Components of the Theme
There are several key components identified in the figure. The sciences
of genomics, medicine, nutrition, food and agriculture form the scientific
core of the theme. However, achieving the health and economic objectives
of the theme will require research beyond the core sciences. Understanding
consumers, their dietary patterns and the choices they make about food
is an essential research component. There are also many areas in policy
and the economics of food and health that must be part of Food for Health
The process of creating healthy foods and their adoption by society involves
many types of research and a variety of activities as illustrated in Figure
1. Initial research must be translated into new food products. This can
involve new extraction and processing technologies, new formulations and
new packaging methods. The ultimate impacts of healthy foods depend on
consumer purchasing decisions, dietary patterns, the ability to influence
adoption by consumers and numerous social and cultural influences. This
occurs in an environment affected by knowledge sharing and the regulatory
and investment environment.
Figure 1: From Research to Health Impacts
of Figure 1
Core components for the food for health theme
Societal and environmental drivers for food for health.
Consumer behavior in several areas:
Dietary patterns and purchase decisions.
Acceptance of novel food products particularly genetically modified
What societal changes are needed beyond decisions at the individual
Actual linkages between food and health and how food impacts long-term
health and healthcare costs - evidence based.
Bioactives and food profiling.
Food processing and food for health.
Economic implications for farmers, rural communities, agri-food
companies, and employees across Ontario.
Development of highly qualified personnel and research capacity
Barriers to innovation in food for health.
2.0 Context and Background for this Theme
2.1 Context and Background
Recent research advances in food, nutrition, and medicine, have enhanced
the understanding of the relationships between food and health in the
research community and in the broader society. Food has the ability to
affect health both positively and negatively. Therefore, the motivations
for undertaking this food for health research are significant and multi-dimensional.
There has recently been a great deal of new evidence on the benefits
of certain foods - from fruits, vegetables and grains to coffee, fish,
meats and even chocolate, in moderation. The development of new functional
food ingredients offers the potential to improve the overall health of
the population. However, the research and commercial activities that will
take functional food products to consumers are both in their early stages
of their development. Canada lags behind other parts of the world in supporting
and building this industry, in part due to a less than supportive regulatory
environment. There are significant opportunities to acquire new technologies
and knowledge from researchers and industry around the world to support
Dietary patterns are major drivers in determining the impacts of food
on health, improving healthy food choices while offering major opportunities
for health improvement. Evidence of the impacts of diet on health is in
the early stages of development. Future developments in both research
and policy must be based on solid scientific evidence.
Food can negatively impact health in many areas. For example, obesity
is reaching epidemic proportions in North America and Ontario is not immune.
Sixty percent of Ontarians are overweight or obese. The causes of food
related health issues are much broader than simply the food products themselves.
These determinants are not only biological in nature, but include social,
cultural, and environmental dimensions, which operate at multiple levels
across a person's life span. Risk reduction of most chronic diseases by
diet alone is therefore limited. Change must be made at the societal level
as well as the individual level. The research, regulatory and policy needs
are beyond the science related to food and health alone.
A significant factor is consumer purchasing and consumption patterns.
There is no doubt that part of the problem rests with the individuals
suffering from obesity; over-eating, consumption of calorie and fat rich
foods coupled with sedentary lifestyles are major contributors to the
problem. However, food formulations and ingredients, as well as portion
sizes, may also be contributing factors. While the food industry has begun
to respond to the challenge, their response has been inhibited by an inadequate
use of knowledge related to alternative ingredients or formulations, consumer
resistance to new products, concerns over cost competitiveness or an unwillingness
to change. New research into consumer behavior can help understand why
Canadians aren't following the Canada Food Guide and why they maintain
unhealthy buying and eating behaviours.
Food choices contribute to many other chronic disease conditions like
diabetes and heart disease. High salt levels contribute to hypertension;
trans-fats have been linked to heart disease as well as to obesity. There
are health concerns related to food packaging and linkages of certain
chemicals to cancer as well as their impact on the environment.
Social and cultural influences are important contributors to health problems
associated with food and health. Diet, education, and consumption decisions
all play a role. The social and economic costs of health problems associated
with food (and inactivity) provide a powerful incentive to undertaking
food and health research under the OMAFRA agreement. Provincial government's
spending on healthcare has increased at an average rate of 8.4 % since
2001-2002. In 2007 healthcare consumed over 40% of the 2007 provincial
budget. More worrisome was the fact that increases in healthcare costs
consumed 65% of increased government revenues for 2006 and is projected
to consume 75% of 2007 increased revenues. This trend will continue in
the immediate future with healthcare consuming an ever-increasing share
of the provincial budget.
There is significant potential to reduce chronic and short-term illnesses
among Ontario citizens and improving the overall health of Ontario's society
food for health. In 2000/2001, obesity cost Canada's healthcare system
an estimated $4.3 billion: $1.6 billion in direct costs (i.e. hospital
care, drugs, and physician services); and $2.7 billion in indirect costs
(i.e. lost earnings due to illnesses and premature deaths associated with
obesity) (Katzmarzyk et al, 2004).
There are opportunities for Ontario agri-food supply chains at all levels
to create new products in the area of healthy foods and to reduce the
economic costs of health-care for businesses and governments. Food for
health provides an opportunity for Ontario farmers to differentiate themselves
Building capacity for future research and economic development
This research theme will support the development of new research capacity
in the many areas that play a role in the food for health theme. It will
also help to develop the highly qualified personnel needed to support
government, university, business, and NGO organizations in the future.
Fostering communication and adoption of results
One objective for OMAFRA funding should be the creation of an environment
that will foster the exchange of research and innovation. Research results
need to be shared within the academic, scientific, agri-food, and health
communities to increase overall comprehension and linkages. There are
many groups working on many related aspects of the food for health theme.
Connecting researchers around the province and around the world and acquiring
knowledge from existing studies being done in other regions are fundamental
necessities for success in this large and complicated field.
Sharing research findings with the agri-food industry and with agricultural
producers will help them identify ways to differentiate Ontario products
from those in other regions on the basis of health. Many of these ideas
can be communicated directly in workshops, and newspapers and electronic
Food system issues
The global food system is changing rapidly and research to be relevant
must focus on the world of the future. Issues like genetic modification
of food and the use of nanotechnology in food will challenge the agri-food
industry of the future. An increasingly active local food movement is
countering the move to global supply chains. The cost of current energy
sources, emerging alternative energy technologies, environmental sustainability,
and other issues will shape the industry of the future. Health has to
be woven into all aspects of the fabric of this continually evolving industry.
2.2 Key Assumptions
Overarching Assumptions for this Theme
The relationships between food and health are complex and multi-faceted
as illustrated in Figure 2. The theme must incorporate major efforts in
understanding consumers and consumer behaviour. Panel members were clear
that any research must be based on sound science and develop solid evidence
of health benefits so that claims can be scientifically substantiated
for consumers. Investments in this theme offer potential payoffs in economic
and social returns. In some cases major gains may be achieved with relatively
Much of the research needed to change the health profile of Ontario food
products is being done in other research networks and often in other countries.
Linkages between medical institutions, food and agriculture researchers
and industry will be critical. New technologies could lead to significant
improvements in the ability of food to positively affect health; so too
will new models of consumer behaviour and policies to support better eating
Figure 2. Conceptual model of core components of the food for
of Figure 2
However, these models will have to go beyond the individual. Cultural
differences, eating environments (home, restaurants, cafeterias, etc.)
as well as where we purchase foods influence choices related to healthy
foods. More than forty percent of food expenditures are for food eaten
outside the home. A better understanding of these socio-economic influences
on food and health must be incorporated into research and strategies for
Impact of regulations on innovation and product development
- Regulations typically enforce conformity and hamper the development
of innovative new products, particularly in small volumes. The slow regulatory
approval process and the fact that it sometimes takes years to adopt in
Canada existing knowledge from other countries hampers businesses from
marketing innovations to consumers. This issue was repeatedly identified
in the comments and is a significant potential impediment to moving the
agenda of developing and promoting new healthy food products. Regulations
at every level of government act as an impediment to innovation and it
will be essential to understand how to continue to protect the public
while encouraging new products that may improve public health.
A growing area of concern for food business is the increased pressure
by municipalities and provincial governments (i.e. City of Toronto and
Province of Ontario and reduction of trans-fat) to develop regionally
specific product requirements. For national and international companies
in Ontario this is a significant challenge that can drive up costs and
impede release and adoption of health food products.
Healthy foods and health premiums - There is an assumption
that there will be unique markets for health food products and that many
of those markets will offer price premiums associated with new products
identified as "healthy". Multinational food companies have recognized
and are using the selling power of "health".
Cross-disciplinary nature of research - The topic is
complex and draws on many disciplines, including consumer behavior, agriculture
and food production, biotechnology, policy, nutrition, sociology and medicine.
While some research may be accomplished within a single discipline, much
will have to be done with multi-disciplinary teams. For clinical trials
there is a need to link with medical research systems. There will be opportunities
for Ontario universities, colleges, and the agri-food industry to participate
in this research.
International markets and companies - There is a great
deal of knowledge and existing research around the world, particularly
in many of the large multi-national companies. Tapping into their knowledge
base for the benefit of Ontarians should be a priority.
The feedback on trends recommended supported broadening the scope to
include many of the broader global trends affecting the industry and society:
A growing awareness among consumers and industry about the potential
for food to impact health either negatively or positively.
Changing global food systems and the impact of energy and the environment.
Concerns over environmental sustainability, rising food prices, food
shortages and food security in many countries.
Consumer attitudes to new technologies and their potential distrust
of new technologies used to change foods.
Societal population trends particularly with respect to an aging
population in Ontario and to the changing demographics of the population
with respect to ethnicity.
Declining rural populations and economic activity.
New production and distribution systems - the growing movement toward
organic products and local food systems. Concerns over the safety
of products from other regions and their environmental sustainability.
Continual escalation of chronic health problems and the societal
and economic costs associated with them.
Ontario has all of the necessary elements to create a strong food for
health research program and to turn new knowledge and discoveries into
commercially available products for consumers.
Ontario universities have research capabilities capable of improving
the inputs and processes of an effective food for health strategy
and in assessing the outcomes to provide feedback for improvements
to the strategy. For example, the Advanced Food and Materials Network
(AFMNET) provides linkages between the University of Guelph and many
other research institutions in the area of food for health. MaRS and
MaRS Landing are making the link between medical and agri-food research.
Ontario's varied agricultural industry has the ability to produce
most inputs for food for health products and the willingness to invest
in new healthy opportunities for their industry.
Ontario food processors produce 40% of food manufactured in Canada.
The organizations and companies in this $33 billion industry are committed
to health as part of their innovation agenda in the industry's recent
There is already a significant amount of research underway; much
of it supported by private industries.
2.5 Issues and Barriers
Absence of a clear long-term strategy and commitment to connect
the mandate of Agriculture and Food to health and well-being
Lack of consistent long term funding.
Lack of understanding of the factors that motivate consumer buying
and consumption decisions.
Lack of education programs concerning food for health.
Difficulties in measuring inputs and collecting evidence. How much
evidence will be necessary for health related claims?
Changing government policies, priorities and regulations.
Lack of qualified personnel to engage in research.
Regulations at all levels of government.
Consumer behaviour which resists better eating habits.
Resistance to new technologies, particularly in some exports markets.
Lack of sharing of knowledge among researchers, policy makers,
industry, and consumers. Medical researchers and practitioners are
not always receptive to ideas from agricultural, food and nutrition
2.6 Enabling Components of the Theme
Strategy - a clear long-term strategy for developing
Ontario's capabilities, knowledge and action for improving health
and well being through food and for developing the industry to support
food for health. (What can we do better with which Ontario grown/manufactured
product than anyplace else in the world and how can we communicate
that excellence to consumers?)
Knowledge sharing and linkages - There is
a great deal of data, research, and knowledge concerning food and
health in knowledge networks around the world. With limited resources,
it is important to link to external networks, particularly in Canada,
to avoid missing important findings or information, to create research
partnerships and to avoid duplicating existing research.
Social factors related to food for health - "The
sociological or behavioural question of how to influence eating habits."
2.7 Dependencies and Linkage with the Theme
Consistent long term funding - Solutions
and impacts will be long term. Therefore the strategy and execution
of research around food for health has to be long term, as does the
commitment by funding agencies to the theme. Without long term support
the research will not achieve its potential impact.
Linkages to medical, nutrition and health
researchers, and clinical studies to provide the evidence of efficacy
Policy linkages - linkages between OMAFRA and other
ministries in the Ontario government and across Canada to address
a common and critical issue and to share resources.
Linkages to industry researchers and to industry research
and knowledge - Can we develop partnership strategies
to gain greater access to proprietary industry research?
Adequate research capacity - The availability
of people and systems for measuring food components and consumer attitudes.
Can capacity can be extended by linking to other research groups and
institutions in Canada and abroad and by linking to industry.
3.0 Research Areas and Priorities for this Theme
3.1 Description of Research Areas
Agriculture and food for health
Changing and improving the health profile of Ontario agricultural production.
Ontario agriculture and food industry can be leaders in producing, promoting
and ultimately profiting from products that are healthier for consumers.
Human health can begin at the farm gate.
Research in this area is a high priority and will fall largely within
OMAFRA's research mandate. Programs in this theme include:
Research into healthy farm products to differentiate Ontario products
and to attract the consumer.
Communicating the health value of foods.
Improved understanding of linkages between production practices and
human health. How do on-farm practices affect food and impact human
Role of new production systems like organic and local food systems
in improving human health.
What impact will a healthy food strategy have on farmers and rural
What role should farmers and farm organizations play in promoting
health in developing new products and in commercializing them.
Sustainable production, resilience, and research on building diversity
and decentralization in the food system as a barrier to a sustainable
Local food systems and policies with respect to buying local - How
will we ensure that the food included is healthy throughout the year?
Urban agriculture systems and the impact on health.
What impact will climate change have on Ontario food products?
Bioactives, functional foods and new healthy food products
Improved understanding of the bioactives in food and their health
Improved ability to enhance and control the components of food to
improve health related attributes through bioactive functional ingredients.
Improved extraction and delivery systems for functional ingredients.
Food processing and healthy food products - how can the health profile
of processed foods be improved?
Identifying bioactive food components for optimal human health using
Bioactives ingredients in food products.
Commercialization of healthy food products.
Consumers and healthy choices
This is a high priority but it cannot be done by OMAFRA alone. Linking
to other ministries, other funding agencies and researchers is critical.
Understanding consumer behaviour and the determinants of unhealthy
eating patterns - How consumers perceive healthy food products? What
are their attitudes toward new products and new technologies? Impacts
of pricing, packaging, and promotion
Dietary patterns, social influences (ethnic) on food, barriers to
change and design of programs for children and adults. How is the
Canada Food Guide used by Canadians? Nutrition communication strategies.
Economic factors that influence food consumption.
Developing policies and strategies to support healthier choices by
consumers and to create new health focused societal models of behaviour.
Understanding linkages between food and health
There is a great deal of foundational research into food/health linkages
that must occur in medical, nutritional and health research communities
that is organized and funded by other medical researchers. Much of the
research will be done in other communities and linking with OMAFRA research
is important. It is critical to improve the understanding of the relationships
between food and health and all of the factors that affect these relationships.
Food and disease prevention - What food items affect which disease
conditions? Research into nutrigenomics, antioxidants
Standards of evidence for research into the linkages and making health
claims to ensure that claims are evidence based.
Food profiling methods and systems - developing a system for signaling
the health profile of products.
Social, cultural, and psychological relationships between food and
Policy, regulations, investment, and the economy
It is critical that we review the effect that policies, regulations
and research funding have on the development of new niche products and
Regulation and the impact on food for health innovation - Regulatory
barriers to healthy food innovation. How can regulators be more involved
in learning about the research from the theme and in encouraging healthier
Effective policy and regulation that support the development, commercialization
and adoption of healthier food products.
Creating a functional food industry that is built on a solid knowledge
base and that is globally competitive.
The economics of food for health - Are there potential savings for
the health care system? What impacts could the theme have on Ontario's
economy? Will those impacts be on rural Ontario?
Investment challenges for healthy food innovation.
4.0 Critical Success Factors
4.1 Description of Critical Success Factors
Strategy for Food for Health - Because of the size
of the issue of the relationship between food and health, the panel
felt that the essential starting point for OMAFRA was a strategy around
its contribution to food for health and the role of research in that
strategy. This strategy may be partially based on foresight research
with respect to food, health and the environment.
Linkages to other researchers, health networks and to other
ministries - As pointed out earlier this initiative cannot
succeed without several types of linkages
Research linkages to share the developing knowledge in all areas
from consumer to medical research. Create an inventory and evaluation
of current research and progress toward goals identified in the strategy.
Industry linkages to increase OMAFRA and researcher understanding
of the challenges and opportunities facing industry and as a vehicle
for translating research into products for consumers by commercializing
new healthy food products. Make research results available to industry
for commercialization. Include Ontario's agriculture and food industries
in the research agenda.
Government linkages - to translate research into policies and programs
designed to support the theme
Consumer research as a fundamental knowledge base
- Food is a consumer driven commodity and the choices made by consumers
are based on a complex set of factors; understanding these and working
with them is critical to success.
Focus on Ontario advantages - While the research
should be focused on Ontario advantages it should pull good ideas from
anywhere in the world. Application of global research locally - develop
linkages with those R&D locales globally that are at the forefront
Support for commercializing new healthy products
- To be successful, healthy food products must be adopted by industry
and consumers. Without research understanding the factors that contribute
to commercial success and support for commercializing healthy food products
the theme will not achieve its social and economic potential.
Capabilities or access to adequate capabilities in scientific
measurement - In order to have the consistent quality products,
there have to be standardized analytical methods to determine the quantity
and quality of the health-benefiting components.
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