Are food companies to blame for the rise in obesity in America by creating specially formulated junk food that is addictive? According to the Feb. 20 article in the New York Times, food companies are being compared to tobacco companies. They are advertising and marketing to children, they hire food scientists and psychologists to formulate a more physically and psychologically addictive food and they target the poor and uneducated.
The last statement I have a moral issue with; food companies targeting the poor and uneducated for financial gain. The article’s author, Michael Moss, spoke with a company executive who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001. This executive stated that he was making frequent trips to Brazil to push the increased consumption of Coke among many Brazilians living in favelas, or shantytowns. It was also revealed that the company used aggressive marketing to push the increased consumption of already established heavy drinkers. This reminds me of the billboards for alcohol and cigarettes in low-income areas.
Junk food is calorically dense and can fill a person’s belly or feed a family on a limited budget. A family of four can buy eight hot dogs and a liter of coke at AM/PM for around $5 and they can each quickly swallow approximately 700 calories, 27 grams of sugar and 32 grams of fat. This demographic is not concerned with health and nutrition, but flavorful food that will sustain them until the next meal within their limited income. The food companies comply and give the consumer what they want. This population is not demanding healthful convenience food at a reasonable price, therefore the food companies don’t waste their time developing such foods.
The food companies are not in business to ensure public health. They, like all businesses, are out to make money and in this highly competitive market food companies hire professionals to help them do this. Food scientists are brought in to formulate new products or line extenders in the hopes to capture new consumers or keep current consumers from becoming bored. These food scientists work steadily to find the “bliss point” in the product. This is the exact formulation of a product with aroma, taste and mouthfeel that creates the desire to want to eat more. This is done by multiple formulations taste tested and rated by paid participants.
I don’t have a problem with this. I believe food companies have the right to hire experts to create the perfect food that consumers want. They are not lacing the chips with an addictive powder or chemical. They are just mixing ingredients in different ways to come up with the most appealing product. That’s like blaming your grandmother for your spare tire because she has perfected her batch of chocolate cookies and you can’t stop eating them.
Through market research the food companies respond to consumer demands. Just like the current green movement is pushing more environmentally friendly foods, including more affordable organic options. If consumers started to demand and buy more healthful and affordable convenience foods, then food companies would respond by producing more of these foods. We drive the direction of product development and food formulation. Think of that next time you reach for a bag of Lays.
The Better Option “Chip”
1 head of kale washed, thoroughly dried
2 tbs. olive oil
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Remove ribs and cut kale into 2-inch pieces. Toss with oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, turning half way. Remove when crisp. Serves 4-6.
Calories: 93; Fat: 7.5g; Sat. Fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 505 mg; Carbohydrate: 6g; Fiber: 1g; Sugar: 0g: Protein: 3g.
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.