From: Tim Campbell on
10 Things the Food Industry Doesn't Want You to Know

Two nutrition experts argue that you can't take marketing campaigns
at
face value. -


By Adam Voiland, U.S. News & World Report -


With America's obesity problem among kids reaching crisis
proportions,
even junk food makers have started to claim they want to steer
children toward more healthful choices. In a study released earlier
this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported
that about 32 percent of children were overweight but not obese, 16
percent were obese, and 11 percent were extremely obese. Food giant
PepsiCo, for example, points out on its Web site that "we can play an
important role in helping kids lead healthier lives by offering
healthy product choices in schools." The company highlights what it
considers its healthier products within various food categories
through a "Smart Spot" marketing campaign that features green symbols
on packaging. PepsiCo's inclusive criteria—explained here—award spots
to foods of dubious nutritional value such as Diet Pepsi, Cap'n
Crunch
cereal, reduced-fat Doritos, and Cheetos, as well as to more
nutritious products such as Quaker Oatmeal and Tropicana Orange
Juice.But are wellness initiatives like Smart Spot just marketing
ploys? Such moves by the food industry may seem to be a step in the
right direction, but ultimately makers of popular junk foods have an
obligation to stockholders to encourage kids to eat more—not less—of
the foods that fuel their profits, says David Ludwig, a pediatrician
and the co-author of a commentary published in a recent Journal of
the
American Medical Association that raises questions about whether big
food companies can be trusted to help combat obesity. Ludwig and
article co-author Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York
University, both of whom have long histories of tracking the food
industry, spoke with U.S. News and highlighted 10 things that junk
food makers don't want you to know about their products and how they
promote them.


1. Junk food makers spend billions advertising unhealthy foods to
kids.According to the Federal Trade Commission, food makers spend
some
$1.6 billion annually to reach children through the traditional media
as well the Internet, in-store advertising, and sweepstakes. An
article published in 2006 in the Journal of Public Health Policy puts
the number as high as $10 billion annually. Promotions often use
cartoon characters or free giveaways to entice kids into the junk
food
fold. PepsiCo has pledged that it will advertise only "Smart Spot"
products to children under 12.


2. The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health
concerns associated with their products.In fact, according to a
review
led by Ludwig of hundreds of studies that looked at the health
effects
of milk, juice, and soda, the likelihood of conclusions favorable to
the industry was several times higher among industry-sponsored
research than studies that received no industry funding. "If a study
is funded by the industry, it may be closer to advertising than
science," he says.


3. Junk food makers donate large sums of money to professional
nutrition associations.The American Dietetic Association, for
example,
accepts money from companies such as Coca-Cola, which get access to
decision makers in the food and nutrition marketplace via ADA events
and programs, as this release explains. As Nestle notes in her blog
and discusses at length in her book Food Politics (University of
California Press, 2007), the group even distributes nutritional fact
sheets that are directly sponsored by specific industry groups. This
one, for example, which is sponsored by an industry group that
promotes lamb, rather unsurprisingly touts the nutritional benefits
of
lamb.The ADA's reasoning: "These collaborations take place with the
understanding that ADA does not support any program or message that
does not correspond with ADA's science-based healthful-eating
messages
and positions," according to the group's president, dietitian Martin
Yadrick. "In fact, we think it's important for us to be at the same
table with food companies because of the positive influence that we
can have on them."


4. More processing means more profits, but typically makes the food
less healthy.Minimally processed foods such as fresh fruits and
vegetables obviously aren't where food companies look for profits.
The
big bucks stem from turning government-subsidized commodity crops—
mainly corn, wheat, and soybeans—into fast foods, snack foods, and
beverages. High-profit products derived from these commodity crops
are
generally high in calories and low in nutritional value.


5. Less-processed foods are generally more satiating than their
highly
processed counterparts.Fresh apples have an abundance of fiber and
nutrients that are lost when they are processed into applesauce. And
the added sugar or other sweeteners increase the number of calories
without necessarily making the applesauce any more filling. Apple
juice, which is even more processed, has had almost all of the fiber
and nutrients stripped out. This same stripping out of nutrients,
says
Ludwig, happens with highly refined white bread compared with stone-
ground whole wheat bread.


6. Many supposedly healthy replacement foods are hardly healthier
than
the foods they replace.In 2006, for example, major beverage makers
agreed to remove sugary sodas from school vending machines. But the
industry mounted an intense lobbying effort that persuaded lawmakers
to allow sports drinks and vitamin waters that—despite their slightly
healthier reputations—still can be packed with sugar and calories.


7. A health claim on the label doesn't necessarily make a food
healthy.Health claims such as "zero trans fats" or "contains whole
wheat" may create the false impression that a product is healthy when
it's not. While the claims may be true, a product is not going to
benefit your kid's health if it's also loaded with salt and sugar or
saturated fat, say, and lacks fiber or other nutrients. "These claims
are calorie distracters," adds Nestle. "They make people forget about
the calories." Dave DeCecco, a spokesperson for PepsiCo, counters
that
the intent of a labeling program such as Smart Spot is simply to help
consumers pick a healthier choice within a category. "We're not
trying
to tell people that a bag of Doritos is healthier than asparagus.
But,
if you're buying chips, and you're busy, and you don't have a lot of
time to read every part of the label, it's an easy way to make a
smarter choice," he says.


8. Food industry pressure has made nutritional guidelines
confusing.As
Nestle explained in Food Politics, the food industry has a history of
preferring scientific jargon to straight talk. As far back as 1977,
public health officials attempted to include the advice "reduce
consumption of meat" in an important report called "Dietary Goals for
the United States." The report's authors capitulated to intense
pushback from the cattle industry and used this less-direct and more
ambiguous advice: "Choose meats, poultry, and fish which will reduce
saturated fat intake." Overall, says Nestle, the government has a
hard
time suggesting that people eat less of anything.


9. The food industry funds front groups that fight anti-obesity
public
health initiatives.Unless you follow politics closely, you wouldn't
necessarily realize that a group with a name like the Center for
Consumer Freedom has anything to do with the food industry. In fact,
Ludwig and Nestle point out, this group lobbies aggressively against
obesity-related public health campaigns—such as the one directed at
removing junk food from schools—and is funded, according to the
Center
for Media and Democracy, primarily through donations from big food
companies such as Coca-Cola, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Wendy's.


10. The food industry works aggressively to discredit its
critics.According to the new JAMA article, the Center for Consumer
Freedom boasts that "[our strategy] is to shoot the messenger. We've
got to attack [activists'] credibility as spokespersons." Here's the
group's entry on Marion Nestle.The bottom line, says Nestle, is quite
simple: Kids need to eat less, include more fruits and vegetables in
their diet, and limit the junk food.