• Contact
  • Tag Archives: obesity

    Coca-Cola and Their Obesity Response

    Riffing off of Marion Nestle’s recent post about Coca-Cola, marketing, and obesity, I think that it’s not a problem that Coca-Cola should be a participant in the conversation about the growing of America’s waistline. Hell, the more companies involved in such discussions, the better off we would all be.

    That being said, the Coca-Cola company, nor any corporation for that matter, should solely drive the discussion, at least not without chance of proper questions to be asked of them and their own presumed culpability in the matter.

    There in lies the dissonance. Companies like Coca-Cola don’t want a dialogue. It might put the company at risk, which in turn, puts their stock at risk, something that is a big no-no in the corporate world. It’s far, far better, from their point of view, to get in front of the debate, and lead it in the direction where questions surrounding their marketing, health claims, and pricing strategies simply do not get asked.

    The result of this is silliness such as Coke’s Live Positively website, designed to give the impression that they care about the obesity issue. Yet, if you look around this site, the one unequivocal answer to helping consumers reduce caloric intake, i.e. drink less soda, is not mentioned once.

    In fact, the opposite is true. Looking at their section on Active Healthy Living, Coke promotes guiding principles: Think, Drink, and Move. You’ll note that “Drink” comes before “Move”. You’ll also note that when clicking on the “Drink” link, it takes you to one of their many branding pages, where they boast of their “500 beverage brands inclusive of more than 3,500 beverages”, many of which are no where near what one would consider a healthy choice for consumption.

    I’ve said this before about McDonald’s, and it holds true for Coca-Cola: Creating an illusion that their products are healthy is a difficult one to maintain in the long run. When your primary product is sugar water, and you major goal for your sugar water is to have people consume it in excess, it’s difficult to hold the position that Coke’s interest is equitable to the interest of those trying to be healthy.

    It has to be a difficult position for Coke to be in. After all, they can’t just say that their products are little more than empty calories. They can’t imply that their beverages are little more than an affordable luxury item. But this is exactly what they are. They have the science to prove it. As do we.

    They know this. They just can’t say it. And when a company cannot be free to speak to the facts when engaging in dialogue, for fear of adversely affecting their stock prices, they become a dishonest broker of information in the national discussion.

    The Politics of Breakfast Cereals

    My apologies for not responding to this very silly Wall Street Journal Op-ed about Kellogg’s stopping use of licensed characters for marketing, unless the food in question meets certain nutrition benchmarks for sugar, fat and calories.

    Here are some choice quotes from the piece:

    This retreat comes after the Naderite Center for Science in the Public Interest


    …the food activists, who are fronts for the trial bar, are targeting the cereal makers and broadcasters.

    and finally…

    The real issue is the threat of lawsuits themselves, which can cost tens of millions to defend while a company’s stock price is held hostage to a media assault.

    Notice the level of invective? Notice the very carefully chose words and phrases such as “Naderite” and “front for the trial bar”, giving the perception, without proof mind you, that the quest to minimize influence of marketing upon children lays directly at the feet of the American Bar Association and any other legal institution that would profit from lawsuits against food companies.

    Don’t you believe it.

    In my opinion, the one thing more despicable than a greedy lawyer, is a greedy marketer. And is it the marketer or the lawyer who profits from the status quo of children’s advertising?

    Look, obesity, especially children’s obesity is not as simple as “Children need to exercise more”. There are several other variables clearly at play, including what foods are being fed to them, the amount of food being fed, and yes, even the amount of time a child spends in front of the television being exposed to commercials that state “Cap’n Crunch is a nutritious part of a complete breakfast” or something similar.

    As I’ve said before, if a company spends an inordinate amount of time and money hyping a brand, and people come to realize that the reality doesn’t measure up to the hype, the company shouldn’t be surprised when there is pushback. When consumers realize that Cookie Crisp and Count Chocula may not be as nutritious as the company has let on, the hype starts to seem less like PR and more like lies and manipulation.

    And no one likes to be lied to and manipulated.

    The HFCS and. Obesity argument redefined

    I wrote this in the comments of this post, but I’d like to put it in a post for those of you not inclined to read said comments.

    When asked to put the HFCS/Obesity issue into one statement, this is what I came up with.

    The rise in obesity is a direct result of over-production of a government subsidized sweetener.

    Whether or not you think is a bad thing, I leave it up to you to decide. I will say that it’s a far different argument than “HFCS is worse than table sugar”.

    Technorati Tags: HFCS, High Fructose Corn Syrup

    Sodas at Schools: Banned or not?

    Last week there was a fair amount of self-congratulatory trumpeting about how the Soda industry was capitulating to concerns about the sugared beverages being sold in schools. It has received a fair amount of press, and the Soda companies look like they are doing the right thing.

    Or are they? Commondreams is pointing out a few things that look, shall we say, a tad suspicious.

    What we do know is that this new policy is completely voluntary, which means it’s unenforceable, with no accountability. We are told that the “goalˮ is to implement the guidelines in 75 percent of schools by the 2008-09 school year, with the rest coming on board a year later. That’s quite a long phase-in period given the imminent public health crisis our children face. How this goal can be achieved given the lack of oversight is a complete mystery.

    To make matters more interesting, it’s not the soda companies that have to sign on to this voluntary agreement, but the schools themselves. It is they who have to renegotiate the various contracts (.pdf file) that many of them have with the soda companies. How many of them will be willing to reduce the income that the soda companies have given them, in this time of tax reduction and school levies that do not pass?

    Was the press conference last week merely window dressing? Only time will tell. In fact it’s likely that’s all the soda companies wanted – time to derail the various legislative actions that were starting up in states throughout the country.

    Technorati Tags: Soda, Drink, Food Politics

    Soft Drinks and Diets

    There’s so much to cover with the recent news items surrounding soft drinks and obesity, that I could easily write several posts on the subject. Instead, I think I’m going to writing my talking points to all of the items.

    • It’s not the Soft Drinks as much as the accessibility of Calories: It is of my opinion that the press is getting the story all wrong. The issue here isn’t that soft drinks are bad for you and that they are the primary cause of the increase of obesity in our country. The issue comes down the inexpensive availability of empty calories to consumers, whether it’s via soft drinks, “sport” drinks, fast food, potato chips or candy.

      Now you may be asking yourself that if I’m correct, why all of the hub-bub surrounding these drinks? Because sugar-laden beverages are ubiquitous in our society. I’m not simply pointing fingers at soft drinks here, but at the apple juice at breakfast, the bottle of tea consumed at lunchtime and the Gator-ade being drunk after workouts. All of these provide additional calories that need to be accounted for in some way. Trust me, if milk shakes were the beverage of choice in our culture, they’d be looking to condemn milkshakes.

    • Cigarettes and Soda: Let’s knock off the comparisons between cigarettes and soft drinks. Headlines like “Food scientists dub soft drinks ‘cigarettes’ of obesity epidemic” are overly-simplistic and misleading. To try to connect the two health stories together only muddies an already opaque puddle. The only similarity between the two is perhaps the cost to the health care industry and days of productivity lost. Even that connection is tenuous.

      Besides, cigarettes have extenuating circumstances surrounding health issues due to second hand smoke and addictive ingredients, variables not often seen in soft drinks.

    • Personal Responsibility and Diet: One cannot talk about obesity without giving at least lip service to the idea of personal responsibility. Granted, people’s behavior and choices are influenced by outside variables that also should be discussed (such as advertising), but to not address this issue puts all of the responsibilities on the on food producers when the reality is that the individual does play a part in consumption.
    • Taxing and Labeling are not solutions: Dr. David Ludwig, a Harvard pediatrician, wants a “fat tax” on fast food and drinks. Initially this sounds like a good idea. But let me ask you this – By what criteria will fast food and drinks be judged? With drinks it would take little effort to add a requisite amount of vitamins and minerals allowing the drinks to circumvent the criteria by just the amount needed to avoid paying taxes. Labeling suffers from similar issues. Why label McRibs, but not bacon at the grocery store? Why label soft drinks, but not your local baker’s cheese Danish?

      To me, the first solution we should be talking about is education. Granted there are problems with this solution as well, but done well, education can be effective. How many people talked about safe sex 30 years ago, or the dangers of tobacco 50 years ago?

    Look, I’m all for getting the information out there. And trust me, no one is more skeptical of the producers of soda pop and of the sweeteners therein than I. But if we’re going to have a debate about obesity, it needs to be an honest and thorough one.

    Technorati Tags: Food, Health, Soft Drinks, obesity

    Perceptions of the Obese and Overweight

    Steven Shapin comes to several interesting conclusions in his review of William Leith’s book “The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addictˮ. The one that struck me was the following…

    It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that fat became ugly when the poor became fat.

    It’s the kind of statement that sticks out, regardless of the information provided in the rest of the review. For every person that shows an obesity epidemic, there’s another person that shows that being overweight (not obese) adds little or nothing to a persons health risk, and that (by the way) the obesity numbers are overblown.

    The main reason for this issue is that people equate being overweight (of which there are many) to being obese (of which there is far lower number of people).This mistake in people’s attitude towards weight affects their perceptions of those who are overweight. J. Eric Oliver, a Chicago political scientist and obesity researcher, has found that seventy per cent of all Americans think that laziness and poor self-control are the predominant causes of obesity.

    “Lazy” and “poor self control”…to what classes of people have those two characteristics been applied before?

    Personally, I don’t know how accurate or not Shapin’s statement is, but it does have a ring of truth to it. Do you remember why potatoes weren’t initially all that popular in Europe? Oh yeah, because it was a dish of the poor.

    Technorati Tags: Food, Obesity,

    Food and Class, Culture and Education – pt 2

    Mithrandir, a regular here, posted his own response to yesterday’s post Food and Class, Culture and Education. He takes a contrary view to my point. He writes:

    Do you know what made well-fed poor people possible? Big Ag. Large-scale agriculture, and the government regulation that went with it, made food cheap, safe and plentiful. Yeah, there’s room for improvement. But we, as a culture, have done absolutely incredible things with the food supply in the last century alone. When was the last time that you met an American-born person suffering from rickets, scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, or any other disease caused entirely by malnutrition. I know I never have.

    Two points:

    Firstly – I agree that Big Ag needs to be commended for delivering the calories that they do. I do understand the sheer amount of infrastructure that needs to be in place in order to feed the citizens of a nation. I do not dispute that. However…

    Point Two: As pardoxical as it sounds, obesity and malnutrition go hand in hand. Yes, rickets, scurvey, beriberi, etc have been reduced. But let me mention one word that trumps them all:

    Obesity. Obesity reflects a diet containing excessive cheaper, carbohydrate rich foods. Obesity can and does lead to type 2 diabetes, especially when one has a diet primarily of sugar heavy carbohydrates. The number of diabetes cases among American adults jumped by a third during the 1990s, and more increases are expected. This rapid increase in diabetes is due to the growing prevalence of obesity and extra weight in the United States population.

    Just a few thoughts one should think about before bringing scurvey into the picture. Nutrition is still an issue when it comes to feeding the country, and believing otherwise doesn’t change the fact that obesity, poverty and nutrition all go hand in hand.