Waiting for the Tipping Point

Thierry Marceau

“Waiting for the tipping point” — what does that mean? According to Jacques Peretti, host of the third episode in the BBC TV series The Men Who Made Us Fat, it means that eventually the British government will realize that it is paying out more for the National Health Service to deal with the results of obesity than it receives in hush money from the food industry’s attempts to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

Of course, an awful lot of people, including millions of children, will suffer — and some will even die — before that day comes. And it’s a terrible indictment of the policies of Britain, the United States, and any other country with similar policies, that everything rests on profit for the government. And profit for the corporations, of course. Their income streams must not be interrupted. Any extreme change to the regulatory status must first allow the food industry a fair head start to figure out a different method for swindling the public before the current ways of swindling the public can be curtailed.

Consumers are befuddled

One of the questions Peretti asks is “What if the food being sold to us as healthier is the very thing making us fat?” One of the people he goes to for answers is American professor Pierre Chandon, who explores “the paradox of low-fat food and high fat people.” One of the problems Chandon identifies is that public perception of what’s good to eat — as defined by the claims made on food labels — has little connection with what actually is good to eat.

People are fooled into belief in the “health halo” surrounding such products and, buoyed by their conviction that the label claims actually have significance, they tend to go ahead and eat even more of the very foods that make them fat. Looking further into the products that we believe to be healthful choices, Peretti interviews Simon Wright, formerly the organic advisor to a major retail chain, who acknowledges the widespread misunderstanding of the word “organic” and tells the camera, “If you live on organic chocolate, organic ice cream and organic oven chips, you will get fat.”

As with the two preceding episodes, Zoe Harcombe has plenty to say about this one in a long review on her website, including this:

In 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report called “Diet, Nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases.” It tried to hold the food industry to account. JP Morgan published a report in response, as investors in the food industry and cautioned that, if obesity were now being viewed as an epidemic, this may lead to regulation and regulation would impact profits. The report even ranked companies most exposed to “financial risk”: Hershey number 1; Cadbury number 2; Cocoa-Cola number 3; PepsiCo number 4 and Kraft number 5.

Grotesquely, three of these corporations were sponsors of the 2012 Olympics in London. Cadbury is the outfit that thought up a “partnership” built on the premise that kids could collect points toward the purchase of sports equipment by buying extremely unhealthful products. An intrepid reporter even got in trouble for laying out the truth about the marketing ploy, for which Harcombe has no sympathy either, stating that “you’d have to spend £38 on chocolate to get a netball that would cost £5 in the shops. A cricket set would require £1,100 to be spent on chocolate (and half a million calories) or £150 in the shops.”

As we have seen, Harcombe is not on board with the anti-fat convictions expressed by many nutritionists. There is discussion in this episode of a proposed “traffic light” labeling system for food products, which she wishes that Mr. Peretti had questioned more deeply. In Harcombe’s view:

Because current dietary advice thinks that carbs are good and fat is bad, anything with real, vital, nutritious fat (including seeds, nuts, meat, fish, eggs and dairy) would get slapped with a red label for fat content, while flour would get the green light for being low in fat and sugar…. My second reason for not liking the traffic light system … is that I have a very simple labeling policy: “If something needs a label, don’t eat it”!

In Britain as in America, the relation between government and business is far too cozy. There is also much discussion in the episode of the notion of voluntary self-policing by the industry, and how food manufacturers put on an elaborate show of pretending to care what thought leaders in other areas recommend. Perhaps the most memorable quotation is from Professor Simon Capewell, a University of Liverpool public health expert: “Putting the food industry at the policy table is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Men Who Made Us Fat,”Episode 3/3, YouTube.com
Source: “The men who made us fat – Episode 3,” ZoeHarcombe.com, 07/13/12
Image by Retis

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