Researcher says industry distorts science, blocks public health policy
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Tackling the obesity epidemic with exhortations to get outside is all fine and good, but really only addresses the symptoms, and not the root of the problem. It is, after all, possible to stay slim without becoming an exercise fanatic.
But out of political and economic expediency, most of us prefer to turn a blind eye toward the fundamental issue, namely that our country’s diet, to put it bluntly, sucks.
But as mega-corporations gain more power by the day, it’s probably easiest to pretend that McDonald’s is doing something positive by putting fruit salad on the menu and calling it consumer “choice,” or for Frito-Lay to sell reduced-fat potato chips as a healthier option.
The real problem is that most of the mass-produced food that yields the most corporate profit is based on sugar, salt and fat. Those foods are so ubiquitous that it takes extra effort to avoid them.
For those and other reasons, a leading food researcher with Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity this week called for regulation of the food industry.
“The obesity crisis is made worse by the way industry formulates and markets its products and so must be regulated to prevent excesses and to protect the public good,”Kelly Brownell wrote in this week’s PLoS Medicine.
Brownell went on to describe the rules the food industry play by:
“It must defend its core practices against all threats, produce short-term earnings, and in do doing, sell more food. If it distorts science, creates front groups to do its bidding, compromises scientists, professional organizations, and community groups with contributions, blocks needed public health policies in the service of their goals, or engages in other tactics in ”the corporate playbook,’ This is what is takes to protect business as usual.”
Left to regulate itself, the the food industry has the opportunity, if not the mandate from shareholders, to sell more products irrespective of their impact on consumers. Thus, government, foundations, and other powerful institutions should be working for regulation, not collaboration.
“Respectful dialogue with industry is desirable, and to the extent industry will make voluntary changes that inch us forward, the public good will be served,” he said.
“There must be recognition that this will bring small victories only and that to take the obesity problem seriously will require courage, leaders who will not back down in the face of harsh industry tactics, and regulation with purpose.”