New Book Exposes Industry
Promotion of Unhealthy Food

May 15, 2002
New York Times


One Woman's Showdown With the Food Industry

Toxic Sludge is Good for YouN "Food Politics," Marion Nestle's telling book on the food industry's
influence on nutrition and health, she asserts that one of the ways the
industry intimidates its critics is by suing them.

As if on cue, the Sugar Association has threatened to sue Dr. Nestle,
professor and chairwoman of the department of nutrition and food studies at
New York University.

Dr. Nestle is in very good company: a group of Texas cattlemen sued Oprah
Winfrey for making disparaging statements about hamburgers. They lost.

This threat is central to the theme of "Food Politics" (University of
California Press, 2002). "Many of the nutritional problems of Americans, not
the least of them obesity, can be traced to the food industry's imperative
to encourage people to eat more in order to generate sales and increase
income," Dr. Nestle says.

Something is certainly making Americans fatter. From the late 1970's to the
early 1990's the prevalence of obesity nearly doubled, according to a study
in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in 1995. That study
showed that 14 percent of children were overweight, as were 12 percent of
adolescents and 35 percent of adults. Levels continue to rise.

Though not in the muckraking genre of Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation,"
Dr. Nestle examines what she sees as the industry's manipulation of
America's eating habits while enumerating many conflicts of interest among
nutritional authorities. Combining the scientific background of a researcher
and the skills of a teacher, she has made a complex subject easy to

And she has succeeded in making a number of people who believe the food
industry is only giving people what they want quite angry. (And while
intimidating as threats of legal action may be, the Sugar Association <
which is upset about being lumped together with corn sweeteners < has not
yet gone further than a lawyer's letter.)

It's hard to argue with Dr. Nestle's point that food is above all political
and that with all its money the food industry can influence what we eat and
how much information we are given about it. It spends $33 billion a year for
advertising and promotion and countless millions more on lobbying.

"Food Politics" provides a road map of food and politics since just after
World War II, when scientists discovered that chronic diseases caused by
overeating and lack of exercise were becoming a bigger problem than

It comes as no surprise that the food industry lobbies Congress and
regulatory agencies. But Dr. Nestle has substantial evidence to show how
wide its influence is, and how the people the public turns to for unbiased
information are no longer in a position to provide it. The food industry,
she says, has bought a lot of scientists, nutritionists, dietitians and
universities, as well as having co-opted the government. People may argue
about whether they have been bought, but the amount of money that has
changed hands is well documented.

The companies, Dr. Nestle says, "routinely provide information and funds to
academic departments, research institutes and professional societies, and
they support meetings, conferences, journals and other such activities. Most
nutrition professionals depend on such support, and some actively seek it."

Among the companies that sponsor nutrition journals are Coca-Cola, Monsanto,
Procter & Gamble and Slim-Fast. Dr. Nestle points out that fact sheets
produced by the American Dietetic Association are also sponsored by the
companies: one financed by Monsanto discusses the importance of
biotechnology, one financed by NutraSweet discusses the value of aspartame
and one financed by Campbell's Soup says the link between sodium and high
blood pressure is unclear.

Dr. Nestle also makes these points:

? Corporate funding underwrites entire departments at universities.

? Papers presented at conferences sponsored by food companies are sometimes
published as supplements to journals, with the companies underwriting the

? Nutrition societies routinely seek corporate sponsorship of meetings. At
one meeting of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, Dr. Nestle
recounts, heads of university nutrition departments were invited to a
Kellogg breakfast that featured samples of psyllium fiber-supplemented
foods, which the company was test-marketing.

? No matter how careful the research, corporate sponsorship casts doubt on
the results. "This impression is reinforced when sponsors use the results to
advertise or publicize their products," she says.

Dr. Nestle concludes that while most people can understand advertising, "it
is far more difficult to know about the industry's behind-the-scenes efforts
in Congress, federal agencies, courts, universities and professional
organizations to make diets seem a matter of personal choice rather than of
deliberate manipulation."

Her advice sounds like common sense: ignore the food industry's messages to
eat more; instead, eat less.

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