Junk Food Marketing: You Are the Target

It’s bad enough that we are surrounded by the brightly colored packages of products that barely qualify as edible, no matter how many cartoon characters may decorate them. What a great recipe for childhood obesity, adult obesity, and the endless complications of the multiple disease processes! But no, that’s not enough to contend with. We’re also up against the food industry’s earnest effort to convince us that other foods, the ones we assume are good for us, actually are. Because some of the greatest chicanery going on in the marketplace stems from the industry’s efforts to play upon and take advantage of our sincere and praiseworthy efforts to achieve a healthier living.

Tracy O’Connor points the finger of blame at some of these underhanded methods in her article titled “10 Lies the Food Industry Wants You to Believe.” First, some people in the food industry try to convince us that the so-called “fat-free” foods won’t make us fat. Wrong! Then they try to tell us that all carbohydrates should be avoided, always and everywhere, which is not true unless a person has a specific medical dietary restriction.

They would like us to believe that “made with whole grains” means the product is made only and exclusively from whole grains, which a close reading of the label may reveal as an erroneous conclusion. They would like us to believe that the only fruit in the product is the Current Faddish Miracle Fruit, when the product may actually contain only a tiny smidgen of the Current Faddish Miracle Fruit and a heaping helping of more economical fruit, like apple or grape.

Well, we won’t give away all of O’Connor’s warnings, because her excellent article deserves to be savored. But here are her bottom-line words of wisdom on the subject:

Remember to eat mostly whole foods with minimal processing and you’ll avoid the worst of these food industry traps. Do your research and be skeptical of any claims that any one food is a miracle food. Pay attention to labels and base your decisions on how much you actually eat, not what the suggested portion sizes.

Amen. Meanwhile, Nancy Jones, a registered dietician who works with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, offers a careful look at just exactly what is meant by the food-packaging terminology, according to government standards. “Food Marketing 101: Do you know what these terms mean?” is well worth reading. As it turns out, things are kind of slippery, and there is a lot of room for interpretation. In other words, if we hesitate to take anything for granted, it usually pays off in the currency of better nutrition, and can save us from wasting the other kind of currency, too.

Take “natural,” for instance. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), natural just means that the product doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavoring, or synthetic substances. Anything else you might think it means, it probably doesn’t. Jones also gives a very thorough explanation of the definitions of “processed” and “unprocessed,” as well as “slow food,” “whole food,” and “local.”

The photo on this page is one of those pictures worth a thousand words. It’s from Dr. Pretlow’s presentation, “What’s Really Causing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?,” and it illustrates the retail store strategy of surrounding and bombarding the customer with so much junk food, only the strongest can survive its sinister allure. It’s a maze, an obstacle course. And by the time we have spent years wading through the aisles and aisles of pseudo-food, ersatz food, and junk food, we are guaranteed to sincerely need the prescription pharmaceuticals at the rear of the drugstore — if we even have enough strength remaining to make it all the way back there.

Think about it. Here’s a retail establishment whose avowed purpose is to sell us the medications to alleviate or cure all the ills caused by our dreadful diets. And the place is stuffed to the rafters with the very same junk food that bears such a large portion of responsibility for those problems. They’re selling us the poison and the antidote in a marketing coup of handy one-stop shopping. It’s like selling guns in a hospital emergency room — there’s just something about it that doesn’t “set right.” But it’s not going to change. We are the ones who have to change, by realizing what these purveyors of non-food are doing to us and our kids.

Dr. Douglas Hunt was an outstanding early adopter of the food addiction paradigm. He caught on to what was going on, way before a lot of us did. In his 1987 book No More Cravings, Hunt warned:

Hundreds of millions of dollars a year are spent by the food industry to increase your consumption of food. Experts of all types — research scientists, movitational experts, psychologists, and marketing specialists — are hired by the thousands to devote eight hours a day, five days a week to finding ways to trigger your hunger and tingle your taste buds. You are the target, and if they can get you to eat, they’ve scored a bull’s-eye.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “10 Lies the Food Industry Wants You to Believe,” HealthCompare
Source: “Food Marketing 101: Do you know what these terms mean?,” The Star, 05/19/10
Image of pharmacy is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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