To avoid public criticism and forestall government intervention, the food and beverage industry hopes that self-regulation is sufficient and also seeks to establish public-private partnerships. This reaction is common in industries under threat and can take helpful or harmful forms…
This is the the opening of a great commentary,Response of the Food and Beverage Industry to the Obesity Threat, by Jeffrey Koplan (Emory) and Kelly Brownell (Yale) in the current edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors demonstrate how through 5 broad tactics, both the government and consumers are being duped to believe the food industry is not at all responsible for growing our waistlines.
1. Associate Products with Health
Choose any random product in a supermarket, read the marketing and health claims on the package and you’ll believe it is healthy.
Low-fat. Antioxidants. Heart Healthy. Made with Real Fruit. All Natural…
If all 50,000 products in a supermarket are so healthy, why are two thirds of us so fat and sick?
2. Frame the Issues
It’s not the food, it’s the lack of exercise.
Despite stats showing physical activity is the same in the US today as it was in the 1970′s, companies like to blame lazy consumers for weight gain, not the fact that they have doubled portion sizes of products, all the while using the cheapest grade ingredients to lower costs.
The industry claims that there are no bad foods and that the US should not become a nanny-state, telling people what to eat. But when the government intervenes in a favorable way for the industry, such as corn subsidies, or food stamps to buy $4 Billion of soda, that’s OK.
3. Use Deceptive Science and Advocacy
The most prominent recent example is POM Wonderful’s brush with the FTC. Sure pomegranates are healthy, but POM is selling the juice, not the fruit. And when you pay millions to fund research, you also get to choose what the outcome will be.
4. Reformulate Products
Her’s one of the many examples we recently wrote about – Chef Boyardee’s Whole Grain Beefaroni. Despite what you’d think, the whole grain formulation did not add a single ounce of fiber to the dish
5. Defensive and Counterproductive Behavior
The industry in general will hire top scientists to prove they are right, will deflect any and all criticism, all while continuing to aggressively market nutritiously poor food to impressionable young kids.
In summary, the need to maintain high profits and increase value to shareholders have led the food industry to use tactics well known in other industries (tobacco, for example). Tactics that are detrimental to society. When will things change?
What to do at the supermarket:
Do not trust the health claims and marketing lingo in ads and on packages. The only science you can rely on in the supermarket is the ingredient list and the nutrition facts panel. Read them carefully to understand what you are really getting.