Childhood Obesity and Corporate Leaders

Many people who generally do not spare a thought for political philosophy are galvanized by any hint of official interference in what they do for a good time. As we saw with the politician Sarah Palin, the straightest route to the unthinking public’s heart is to suggest that Washington, D.C., is trying to tell us what we shouldn’t eat, drink, smoke, or otherwise consume. The average American may not remember anything else about Palin’s platform, but will probably recall her fierce defense of the right of children to eat cookies in the classroom.

Another type of person capable of waxing eloquent about the right to consume is the industry spokesperson, such as Christopher Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association, who says, “People feel very confident they can decide what to eat or drink without government help.”

But when it comes to sugar-sweetened beverages, the government is not trying to ban the substances altogether. Various attempts have been made to keep SSBs out of school vending machines (fairly successfully); to limit the size of drink that can be sold (not very successfully); to make rules about what ingredients can’t be in such beverages; and of course, to levy a “sin tax” on soda pop.

In other words, the government is not trying to prohibit the drinking of SSBs, only looking for a way to pay for the damage they cause. And it does seem fair that the cost of building more hospitals to deal with obesity-related illnesses should be borne by people who actually drink soda pop, rather than the overburdened taxpayers who already have plenty of other societal disasters to pay for.

Here’s another thing about the industries involved in the obesification of America and the world. They have a lot of tricks up their sleeve — tricks which are seen by many critics as being directly copied from the tobacco industry. The executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Michael Jacobson, says:

It’s all the same playbook, isn’t it? You lobby. You make campaign contributions. You buy advertising. You threaten to move your plant. You use your workers as lobbyists.

For those who run the corporations that manufacture junk food and soft drinks, the comparison with Big Tobacco’s tactics is so odious that any mention of it shocks them like a nun at an orgy. Here is what happened at Pillsbury’s headquarters, at a 1999 meeting attended by 11 captains of industry, as described by Michael Moss in The New York Times:

The first speaker was a vice president of Kraft named Michael Mudd…. Mudd then did the unthinkable. He drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.’s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes…. Mudd then presented the plan he and others had devised to address the obesity problem. They would have to pull back on their use of salt, sugar and fat, perhaps by imposing industrywide limits.

As we will see, this courageous speech is one of the few, lonely examples of the industry making even a token effort to assume some responsibility.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Special Report: How Washington went soft on childhood obesity,” Reuters.com, 04/27/12
Source: “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” NYTimes.com, 02/24/13
Image by Andrew Feinberg

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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