from a Food Policy Insider
Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
by Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H. 469 pages, University of California
Press, March, 2002
5, 2002 -- Marion Nestle's Food Politics is not like Fast
Food Nation, or John Robbins' books such as his recent The
Food Revolution, or Frances Moore Lappe's works including her
new Hope's Edge. Unlike these books, Food Politics
doesn't take a strong ethical or emotional stance on food issues.
it does do, though, is quietly and systematically, with the careful
scholarship of a master academician, show how the U.S. food industry
works relentlessly to get you to eat more. And how very often it
is the worst foods, the least healthy foods, the foods lowest in
essential nutrients and highest in fat and sugar, that get promoted
is an insider. She is part of the establishment. She managed the
editorial production of the first, and as yet the only, Surgeon
General's Report on Nutrition and Health. She says that on her first
day on the job, "I was given the rules: No matter what the research
indicated, the report could not recommend 'eat less meat'… (because)
the producers of foods that might be affected by such advice would
complain to their beneficiaries in Congress, and the report would
never be published."
subsequent Surgeon General's Report has appeared, even though Congress
passed a law in 1990 requiring that one be issued every two years.
Why? The answer, according to Nestle, is food politics. She points
out that "saturated fat and trans-saturated fat raise risks for
heart disease, and the principal sources of such fats in American
diets are meat, dairy, cooking fats, and fried, fast, and processed
foods." Any advice of federal policies that sought to decrease consumption
of these foods would cause the sellers of these foods "to complain
to their friends in Congress."
of the strengths of Food Politics is Nestle's description
of the deliberate use of young children as sales targets. Children
are eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods. Obesity rates are
skyrocketing. And the food industry is spending billions to keep
kids hooked on junk food. In 1997, U.S. children obtained no less
than 50% of their calories from added fat and sugar.
points out that soft drink companies unapologetically name 8- to
12-year-olds as marketing targets. McDonald's produces commercials,
advertisements, and a website aimed specifically at children aged
8-13. Quaker Oats happily spends $15 million to promote sales of
its heavily sugared Cap'Crunch cereal to children. Teletubbies,
the public television program for toddlers, was first sponsored
by Burger King, and later by McDonald's. Meanwhile, only 1% of U.S.
children regularly eat diets that even resemble the recommended
proportions of the Food Pyramid.
1987, researchers counted 225 commercials on major television network
channels during Saturday morning hours. In 1992, the number had
increased to 433. By 1994, the number had grown to 997. And these
ever increasing ads are hardly for healthy foods. The vast majority
are for hamburgers, candy bars, fast food, soft drinks, cookies,
chips, and heavily sugared breakfast cereals. Researchers could
not find a single commercial for fruits or vegetables.
schools are being converted into vehicles for selling foods high
in calories but low in nutritional value. One of the most deplorable
examples is "pouring rights" - large payments from soft drink companies
to school districts in return for the exclusive right to sell that
company's products in every one of the district's schools.
drink companies have for years sold their products on school and
college campuses through vending machines. But "pouring rights"
represents a major step forward in the campaign to encourage kids
to drink more, much more. From 1985 to 1997, Nestle points out,
school districts increased their purchases of soft drinks by a staggering
marketing strategy is effective. The soft drink companies make large
lump-sum payments to school districts and additional payments for
5 to 10 years. In return, the companies get more than exclusive
rights to sell their products in school vending machines and at
all school events. They get to turn schools into advertising vehicles
for their products. The agreements, says Nestle, "result in constant
advertising through display of company logos on vending machines,
cups, sportswear, brochures, and school buildings. In this manner,
all students in the school, even those too young or too difficult
to reach by conventional advertising methods, receive constant exposure
to the logos and products. The use of a single brand is designed
to create loyalty among young people who have a lifetime of soft
drink purchases ahead of them."
drink companies are putting vending machines into schools with younger
and younger children, and they are putting larger and larger cans
of soda in the machines. By 2001, soft drink companies were routinely
placing 20-ounce cans in school vending machines. In addition, says
Nestle, "they are vended in portable screw-top plastic bottles that
permit sipping throughout the day rather than downing in one gulp.
This last feature particularly distresses dental groups alarmed
about how the sugar and acid in soft drinks so easily dissolve tooth
of the most objectionable aspects to these pouring contracts is
that they link how much money the companies pay the schools to the
amounts that students drink. This gives schools a financial incentive
to encourage kids to drink more soda. Schools get cash bonuses for
exceeding sales targets, and other additional benefits for consumption
levels that surpass sales quotas. This puts school administrators
in the position of pushing soft drinks to faculty, staff, and students.
In one incident, a high school in Georgia suspended a senior student
because he wore a shirt with a Pepsi logo to a "Coke Day" rally
sponsored by the student government.
drinks, of course, are a nutritional disaster. A 12-ounce can contains
about 3 tablespoons of sugar and 160 calories, but nothing else
of nutritional value. The Center for Science in the Public Interest
calls soft drinks "liquid candy." Actually, they may be worse for
kids than candy, because, unlike candy, they also contain caffeine.
A 12-ounce can of cola contains about 45 milligrams of caffeine.
More potent soft drinks can exceed 100 milligrams, a level approaching
that found in coffee. Sodas also contain phosphoric acid which acidifies
the body, contributing to osteoporosis and aiding and abetting cancer.
soft drink companies deliberately market caffeinated sodas to children
as young as age nine. A PepsiCo official says that "marketing to
the 8- to 12- year old set is a priority." And some soft drink companies
actually license their logos to makers of infant-feeding bottles.
do the companies justify their practices? A spokesman for Coca-Cola
argues that his company "makes no nutritional claims for soft drinks…but
they can be part of a balanced diet. Our strategy is we want to
put soft drinks within arm's reach of desire…and schools are one
channel we want to make them available in." As far as government
efforts to restrict such marketing practices, "We question whether
there is a need for 'Big Brother' in the form of USDA injecting
itself into decisions when it comes to refreshment choices."
Politics is a scholarly work. Reading it, you don't often get
a feel for Nestle's own personal beliefs. She doesn't discuss her
own diet. She's not a muckraker. She is an honest, sincere, and
knowledgeable person working to change the system from the inside.
Food Politics is an academically scrupulous account of how
the food industry in the United States controls government nutrition
policies. It's important and eye-opening reading for anyone looking
to make intelligent and informed food choices.
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