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Positioning functional foods in an ecological approach to the prevention of overweight and obesity


  • The research for this paper was supported by a grant from The Societal Component of Genomics Research programme of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

NF Wieringa, Science and Society Group, Biology Department, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, the Netherlands.


To contribute to the social debate about the role of functional foods in the prevention of overweight and obesity using an ecological model to study the positioning of functional foods and their social implications. Positioning was conceptualized as the relative attention given to functional foods within the range of preventive strategies, and the way in which they address specific causes of overweight. A systematic review was conducted to identify (A) preventive strategies aiming at the individual; (B) technological approaches; and (C) environmental strategies. All strategies were further classified according to the nature of causes they refer to – either individual or environmental. In the prevention of overweight/obesity, an emphasis on strategies designed to change the quality of food products and supplies has developed. Technological strategies particularly relate to functional foods; however, while providing a new dimension to food products, they do not challenge the underlying lifestyles causing overweight. Furthermore, they also stress individual responsibility for overweight/obesity and technological solutions to it. From a societal perspective, the characteristics of functional foods indicate that they can only be expected to play a limited role in overweight/obesity prevention. The ecological approach suggests that other strategies targeting individual and social causes need to be developed and marketed equally well.