Influencing Food Consumers

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In 2012, the New York Times ran a story exposing beverage giant Coca-Cola for creating the Global Energy Balance Network, an initiative to assure the public that physical activity and exercise play a bigger role in obesity (and obesity related illness) development than diet.

Thanks to various research, we know pretty explicitly that claim is false. Diet indeed, plays an enormous role in the development of obesity, regardless of physical activity levels. In fact, one of the biggest contributors are sugary soft drinks–Coca-Cola’s pride and joy–that offer next to no nutritional value.

It’s far from the first time a major player in the food industry attempted to pull on over on its public. Last week a paper by researchers at the University of California published in JAMA Internal Medicine rocked the food industry, revealing that Harvard University investigators accepted money from the Sugar Research Foundation (now the Sugar Association) to produce results indicating saturated fats had higher implications in developing heart disease than sugar. 

The paper has blown up across the Internet, with coverage of this decades-old scandal dominating food news. BTRtoday featured interviews with two of the paper’s co-authors, Dr. Stanton Glantz and Dr. Laura Schmidt, as well as nutrition expert Marion Nestle–all of whom expressed extensive knowledge and adequate disappointment, but a somewhat bizarre lack of surprise given the overt scientific corruption in this case.

That’s because the food industry regularly funds nutrition research, and when it does, it’s oftentimes a means to meet an end–favorable results from credible scientists provide companies a solid backing for their food products, no matter how bad they might be for us. 

For consumers, this paper and the scandal from which it was born stand as a reminder that large food  corporations care more about their profit than our physical health.

And of course they do–we live in a world where money supersedes most every deciding factor one can think up. Forgive the 7th grade economics lesson here, but if it came down to their market share and stock prices versus your individual health–and our population’s collective health–do you really think a company Coca-Cola would hesitate in their prioritization? 

That the food industry has been pulling the wool over our eyes for years isn’t necessarily news, but it’s never bad to be reminded just what exactly we’re up against–that not every study should be taken at face value, that corporate motivations, even when well-masked, are the basis of nearly every health initiative and campaign started by a large food company.

It perpetuates an already existent skepticism around major food corporations, and while skepticism is generally unsettling, it can also be healthy. There’s a reason to be skeptical when certain corporations claim their desire to help American health while simultaneously placing profit above all else.

And it recasts the food industry in a bad light. The best way for food corporations to reverse the image of duping the American public is simple, according to Marion Nestle: “They can stop duping the American public, for one thing!”