Big Food and the One-Two Punch

Recent posts have looked at years of accumulated evidence that at least some individuals, in some segments of the food industry, have possessed full awareness and intention when it came to making their products more capable of grabbing a person on a physical dependency level. Before they got hooked on some snack or bevvy, most people never even knew it was possible. Even those who admitted the possibility were not able to avoid or escape a condition that very much resembled addiction.

But which kind? The two main contenders are substance addiction and behavioral addiction. Unlike some other influencers, who specialize in only one type, Big Food not only produces the substance but helps to form and mold the behavior. The industry learned that people who want to be pretty and popular, and that includes minor children and teens, will drink whatever the advertising specialists tell them to drink.

In “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” Michael Moss dissected a report written by psychologist Ernest Dichter, way back in 1957, in aid of helping Frito-Lay sell more potato chips. Dichter is quoted here:

While people like and enjoy potato chips, they feel guilty about liking them… Unconsciously, people expect to be punished for “letting themselves go” and enjoying them.

And then Moss goes on to say:

Dichter listed seven “fears and resistances” to the chips: “You can’t stop eating them; they’re fattening; they’re not good for you; they’re greasy and messy to eat; they’re too expensive; it’s hard to store the leftovers; and they’re bad for children.” He spent the rest of his memo laying out his prescriptions, which in time would become widely used not just by Frito-Lay but also by the entire industry.

It is obvious why, to sell potato chips, a company needs a psychologist on board. He explained to the executives that the potential customers were anxious about losing control. (Spoiler alert: this was a euphemism, a roundabout way of saying they were afraid of getting hooked.)

Dichter suggested — drum roll, please — smaller packages! This would subliminally convince the customer, “See? Just a few harmless little tater fragments here. Nothing to be concerned about.” And then the customer’s subconscious accepts that rationalization. Apparently, common sense does not step in to say, “That’s ridiculous, because after snarfing down the first package, you can just go ahead and buy a second package.” Sometimes the subconscious is not as smart as we might wish.

Psychologists are sensitive to the nuances of language. Instead of “fried,” he directed them to describe the chips as toasted. For some convoluted mental/emotional reason, that sold more chips too.

Fast forward to 2011

In that year, a study was published that included more than 120,000 adult subjects of both sexes. Researchers virtually stalked these people back as far as 1986. Every four years, the average adult gains just over three pounds, and that tends to add up noticeably. Moss related how…

[…] the top contributors to weight gain included red meat and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and potatoes, including mashed and French fries. But the largest weight-inducing food was the potato chip…

“The starch is readily absorbed,” Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors, told me. “More quickly even than a similar amount of sugar. The starch, in turn, causes the glucose levels in the blood to spike” — which can result in a craving for more.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

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.

Food & Health Resources