They Knew It Was Bad

Corporations do bad things, like purposely trying to enhance the addictive features of their products. Having learned that they can get away with just about anything, they no longer try as hard to conceal their misdeeds. But some pretenses remain strong.

The high officials in companies acknowledge their profession as a game, or a war; and tell people, including themselves, that they are challenging and battling each other. Maybe they honestly believe it. In reality, if the food business is a game, we the customers are the pawns. If it is a war, we the consumers are the casualties.

Bigwigs got each other’s backs

In “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” Michael Moss described how, in the 1980s, at least one Frito-Lay executive openly said that “people get addicted to salt.” Remember Howard Moskowitz, who discovered the “bliss point“? Well, in 1968, along came cravings expert Dwight Riskey, and the industry was there for it. Moss wrote,

He had also done work on the bliss point, showing how a product’s allure is contextual, shaped partly by the other foods a person is eating, and that it changes as people age.

It’s that pesky multifactorialism again! As soon as you think you got something pinned down, along comes a variable and messes everything up. On the bright side, this was the type of data a company needed, in order to figure out that they should put more energy into hooking younger customers, because the older generation was dying off. Tomorrow’s young people are not going to like the same products that today’s mature adults like. So take that into consideration, when building tomorrow’s factories, workforces and investment strategies.

Vanishing caloric density

The executives knew what to do, and kicked it into gear. Moss notes that Frito-Lay alone had a staff of 500 highly trained technicians, psychologists and chemists. They had scent experts, crunchicians, and mouth-feel-ologists. They spent $30 million a year on projects like the invention of the artificial mouth machine “to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch.”

Moss also quotes from the book published for industry bosses by food scientist Steven Witherly. In Why Humans Like Junk Food, he praised a particular snack as a “marvelously constructed food,” and specified particular features to prove his case:

But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it… you can just keep eating it forever.”

So, goodbye to any misplaced belief in the notion that brains are smart!

Source: “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,”, 02/20/13
Image by Montgomery County/CC BY-SA 2.0

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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.
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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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