Nutrition Month 2024: How Technology Can Help Consumers Navigating Chronic Disease

Living with a chronic illness requires constant maintenance, so I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t have to take extra steps when it comes to my daily meals — whether it’s not having to eliminate every aisle in the grocery store to decide what I can eat or knowing I won’t have to turn down a cupcake at the office because there are gluten-free options. The innovation, research and development food and beverage brands have invested in ensuring every consumer not only has the item they need but a range of choices goes a long way toward taking some of the work out of living with an illness that often isn’t visible.

Ensuring consumers have options no matter their dietary needs and restrictions is something I’m focused on personally and professionally, so it benefits me on both fronts when consumer packaged goods industry-backed initiatives support choice for everyone. And when the industry can continue to deliver for consumers food that is safe, affordable, and nutritious, they’re not just meeting a need but helping mitigate future health problems. Consider that, by the federal government’s own estimate, 117 million American adults (which is about half of all adults in the U.S.) live with at least one chronic disease that can be linked to, in part, the quality of their diet. Moreover, food insecurity is correlated with a higher risk of chronic diseases like hypertension, kidney disease or even cancer.

We’ve talked a lot about how there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to nutrition, and that extends to what consumers can access and feel comfortable or empowered to prepare. It was only 2007 when Disability Studies Quarterly released its report on the relationship between disability and access to food, noting “poor health of a family member also influenced food access and choice among several participant households,” citing a farmer who resorted to canned vegetables over tending her garden when caring for her family took precedent.

Feeding yourself or your family should never come with judgement based off what is accessible, which is why so many of our members are always working to provide as many options across as many price points as possible, so consumers aren’t forced to make sacrifices just to put dinner on the table. More specifically, initiatives like the industry-supported Facts Up Front and Consumer Brands’ own SmartLabel are working to provide consumers with a comprehensive suite of information that is simple to parse and ensures anyone can find what they need.

Facts Up Front allows consumers to see which nutrients of note are in an item without even turning it over to see the full Nutrition Facts panel. This allows consumers to quickly scan and find which items contain either nutrients they’re looking for or don’t have what they want to avoid.  As someone who is well-versed in reading nutrition labels, I’m grateful for the implementation of Facts Up Front because it allows me to quickly see what foods have the nutrients I need to add or avoid due to my particular condition.

Moreover, SmartLabel’s commitment to and focus on transparency is part of its effort to show consumers more information than could ever fit on a label. It’s a critical technology that, through the scan of a QR code, can connect consumers with the product information they need — or help them steer clear of anything they want to avoid, should that be gluten, dairy or anything else. SmartLabel goes a step further by including allergen information, certifications for ingredient standards, product advisories and use instructions, so consumers can quickly and easily decide before they even add a product to their shopping cart or basket whether it fits with how they prepare and store their food.

I’ll echo the message my colleague Sarah said last week: consumers should never be put in a box when it comes to what choices they can feel good about making for their personal nutrition journeys. I cannot reiterate enough that nutrition is not one-size-fits-all; I don’t want to feel judged by the nutritional choices I make for my personal health or for what aisles I shop at the grocery store. That’s why our member companies aren’t letting up their efforts to offer more options that meet more dietary needs and intersect with all consumers’ abilities to prepare their meals with the dignity they deserve.