Junk Foods or Vitamin Supplements?
...Don Goldberg, R.Ph.
We have criticized the American Dietetic Association and their members for many years because they devote so much of their time trying to discredit the use of nutritional supplements, and too little of their time pointing out the problems with the food industry. This may be because the food industry provides so much financial support to their organization and educational process.
It appears we are not the only ones troubled by this misdirected focus of attention.
According to Dr. Marion Nestle, the food industries marketing practices are responsible for the epidemic of obesity in America.
The efforts, Dr. Nestle contends, contribute to the fattening of America. Thirty-five percent of adults, 12 percent of adolescents and 14 percent of children in the United States are overweight, according to Dr. Nestle's new book "Food Politics" (University of California Press).
In a question and answer session reported in The New York Times, Dr. Nestle made the following comments:
Q. How does the food industry promote overeating?
A. Just by promoting eating. By spending $10 billion a year in direct media advertising. That is so much more than is spent on health and nutrition education, you can't even put them in the same stratosphere. The campaign for fruits and vegetables spends about $2 million a year on public education.
Q. Why do you say the food industry especially wants us to eat more processed food?
A. That's where the profit is. Potatoes are cheap. Potato chips aren't. And those really delicious olive oil rosemary ones that I happen to be particularly fond of are shockingly expensive, $3 for five ounces. The objective is to process foods as much as possible. But many of these highly processed foods are junk foods — relatively high in calories and low in nutrients.
The food industry spends another $20 billion a year in indirect marketing, which would include things like the McDonald's Mealtime Set and soft-drink makers' putting their logos on school scoreboards. These practices are so acceptable that people think drinking soft drinks all the time is normal. You're being told in a thousand ways, every time you set foot in a restaurant, to eat more. Their job is to sell you food, to sell you drinks, to sell you appetizers and desserts.
Q. Why are we susceptible to the food industry's message?
A. Well, why wouldn't we be? The message is attractive. The food tastes good. The message about healthy eating is very boring.
Q. Good nutritional advice is notoriously complicated and hard to follow, isn't it?
A. No, it's not complicated. It's simple: eat more fruits and vegetables, and don't eat too much. And be active and don't smoke.
What's complicated is single-nutrient advice. People think, I have to worry about calcium. I have to worry about folate. I have to worry about protein.
I have to keep track of these 40 different nutrients, and they're so confusing. And then one day you tell me to eat margarine, and then the next day you tell me that trans- fatty acids aren't any good, and why can't you people make up your minds? I have a lot of sympathy for that.
Q. You think the food industry exploits confusion about proper diets, don't you?
A. It makes claims that are about marketing, not health. The margarines with wood pulp in them, which are supposed to lower cholesterol, are just another way to sell margarine. I don't think we need everything to be vitamin enriched. My feeling is, If people are worried about their vitamins, they can take a daily supplement. They don't need to have zinc in their Froot Loops.
Q. Your book singles out cereals and Froot Loops, in particular for special criticism. Can you explain?
A. We have a big problem with nutrition right now, as evidenced by rising rates of obesity and diabetes. And breakfa