Does the food industry only pretend to promote healthful eating?


Writing in Scientific American, Patrick Mustain imagines THIS LETTER from the food industry to consumers:

Dear Consumers: A disturbing trend has come to our attention. You, the people, are thinking more about health, and you’re starting to do something about it. This cannot continue.

Sure, there’s always been talk of health in America. We often encourage it. The thing is, we only want you to think about and talk about health in a certain way—equating health with how you look, instead of outcomes like quality of life and reduced disease risk….

Whatever the current health trend, we respond by developing and marketing new products. We can also show you how great some of our current products are and always have been. For example, when things were not looking so good for fat, our friends at Welch’s were able to point out that their chewy fruit snacks were a fat free option. Low fat! Healthy! Then the tide turned against carbohydrates. Our friends in meat and dairy were happy to show that their steaks, meats and cheeses were low-carb choices. Low carbs! Healthy!

But we’re getting uneasy.

In 2009, Congress commissioned the Inter-agency Working Group (IWG) to develop standards for advertising foods to children….

We were dismayed when the IWG released its report in 2011. The guidelines said that foods advertised to children must provide “a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet.” For example, any food marketed to children must “contain at least 50% by weight one or more of the following: fruit; vegetable; whole grain; fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt; fish; extra lean meat or poultry; eggs; nuts and seeds; or beans.”

This report was potentially devastating. These organizations, experts in nutrition, were officially outlining what constituted “a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet.” Thankfully, we have a ton of money and were able to use it to get the IWG to withdraw the guidelines….

[O]ur friends at General Mills pointed out that under the IWG guidelines, the most commonly consumed foods in the US would be considered unhealthy. Specifically, according to General Mills, “of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages in America, 88 would fail the IWG’s proposed standards.” So you see? If you people start eating the way the nutrition experts at the CDC and USDA recommend that you eat, that would delegitimize almost 90 percent of the products we produce! Do you realize how much money that would cost us?

According to the General Mills letter, if everyone in the US started eating healthfully, it would cost us $503 billion per year! That might affect our ability to pay CEOs like General Mills’ Ken Powell annual compensations of more than $12 million.



  1. Steverin

    The grocery aisles are packed with food that’s nutritionally poor and unhealthy. Knowing how to read labels can help but in some cases it takes a bit of code breaking to figure out what’s really in a can, box or wrapper. Better yet stay away from containers and go fresh and organic if you can afford it.

  2. Robert

    Patrick, your spot on the main page listing all the blogs is missing again. I wonder why? Happens to often to be a coincidence. Does someone not like you or are your topics too controversial?


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