Online Program

A critical policy analysis of product reformulation efforts in the United States

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 1:30 p.m. - 1:50 p.m.

Courtney Scott, MPH, RD, Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom

Product reformulation – technical changes to reduce or remove nutrients such as fat, sugar, and salt from processed foods and beverages – is a topic of increasing prominence in nutrition policy. The majority of reformulation efforts involve voluntary action taken by industry. This research critically analyzes the motivations and circumstances that contributed to the rise of product reformulation and their voluntary nature.


Semi-structured interviews are being conducted with stakeholders with experience of reformulation initiatives, including policy makers, industry representatives, public interest groups, and academics. A qualitative framework analysis is being employed to assess stakeholder interests and motivations in reformulating products.


Initial interviews indicate broad interest in product reformulation as a potential “win-win” for the industry and public health. Industry stakeholders report that reformulation arose from a desire to be “part of the solution” to obesity and noncommunicable diseases. They strongly favor a voluntary approach to reformulation, citing product variability and technical challenges that preclude mandatory regulations. Others cite reformulation’s potential benefits for population health, but suggest it should one part of a broader nutrition policy agenda, which would at times include mandatory regulation.


Evidence from the tobacco and alcohol industries indicates that companies strategically aim to limit factors that may restrict their business practices, including mandatory regulations. In this preliminary study, the food and beverage industry repeatedly argues reformulation is more viable when done voluntarily, which suggests reformulation may contribute to broader strategic efforts to avoid mandatory regulation of their products.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Assess the topic of food and beverage product reformulation from a political strategy perspective. Discuss how voluntary food and beverage reformulation initiatives may or may not impact on future nutrition policy efforts.

Keyword(s): Nutrition, Politics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am currently undertaking a PhD in Public Health and Policy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, studying the nutrition policy process in the US through the example of product reformulation. I previously worked in nutrition and chronic disease policy and advocacy, both in the US and internationally. I am a registered dietitian in the United States, and have a masters in public health nutrition from the University of California - Berkeley.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.