The Correlation Between Industry Regulation and Obesity
Criticizing an industry over its practices is a risky proposition. The defensive and offensive mechanisms are well oiled and ready to be rolled out the moment a threat to profit is detected. For years we have watched the tobacco industry fly in the face of public health issues with complete disregard for the long-term effects on society.
The same tactics used by “Big Tobacco” are firmly at work within the food industry. With global obesity reaching alarming levels, the question of whether an industry with a duty to maximize profit is capable of self regulation is coming under scrutiny.
To avoid criticism and maintain its position of self-regulation, the food industry is vocal in its endorsement of several high profile initiatives aimed at slowing the rise of obesity.
There is no doubt that the endorsement of The White House’s Let’s Move campaign along with the introduction of food labeling and smaller portion sizes are positive steps that should be applauded. But is this enough when the global issue of nutrition and obesity are considered?
While several industries have demonstrated their ability to regulate themselves for the public good, the actions of the food industry make is doubtful that following the example of the forestry and fishing industries will be easy for them.
If the food and drink manufacturing industry are serious about regulating themselves in the interest of better health, they will need to examine a few of their existing practices.
Focusing on physical activity. When an industry is in the business of putting calories into you, focusing marketing on what to do with those calories afterward is confusing. Considering that burning off a super-sized burger, fries, and soda takes the equivalent of running a marathon, promoting exercise to compensate for poor nutritional value, excess calories, and oversized portions is not useful
Food is not the culprit. The food industry says that in moderation no food is bad. The diet must be considered in its entirety. However, with the dollars spent to promote high margin fast food and soda being far in excess of that spent to promote lower margin fruit and vegetables, the industry denies any responsibility for the personal choices made that result in over consumption of low value, calorie dense foods.
Criticizing government intervention. Although the government makes frequent interventions in public health issues such as immunizations, speed restrictions, and water purity standards, the food industry restricts comments of government restricting personal freedom until the restriction threatens profit. The industry is silent when government interference is favorable toward the industry.
Suspect science. Private interest funding of research is a common practice across all industries. However, basing self regulatory standards on one-sided science and ignoring contrary evidence has been the foundation for such food industry funded initiatives as “Beter for You, “Smart Choices,” and the Center for Consumer Freedom organization.
While nothing should be taken away from the positive actions of the food industry to highlight the value of exercise and healthy nutrition, these small positive steps do not counteract the billions of dollars spent to convince children that high sugar beverages and cereals are part of an athletic, popular, sexy, and fun lifestyle. The food industry should be held accountable for all of its actions not just the few high profile publicity based ones. By encouraging accountability and supporting constructive initiatives within the industry, we can encourage positive change and reduce the impact of short-term profit over long-term public health interests.