Wednesday, December 12, 2012

XXX Foods

On Monday, my good friend and colleague Yoni Freedhoff posted a short video on YouTube, which has since gone viral (congratulations my friend!).

The gist of the story (but please check it out for yourself), is that Big Food is preying on kids by promoting unquestionably unhealthy processed foods with deceptive (not to say nonsensical) health claims.

But, as he hastens to point out, this is not the fault of the food industry.

Rather he puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the politicians and regulators for not creating a level playing field for food producers, that sets clear boundaries to what they can and cannot do to promote their products (especially to kids!).

As Yoni points out, the video highlights a clear dilemma that may not have an easy or fair solution.

On the one hand, you have Big Food doing exactly what they should be doing, namely making money for their shareholders by selling as much food as possible to whoever will buy it – all measures are fair game.

On the other hand, you have policy makers reluctant to step in to create rules of engagement, which would set clear boundaries to what Big Food can and cannot claim on their packages and by what means they can or cannot promote their products.

I, for one, am not surprised that regulators are reluctant to step in. For one, the devil lies in the details of regulating exactly what may or may not be acceptable.

Take added sugar for example. Where exactly, would you draw the line on this? What amount of added sugar crosses the boundary of being unacceptable – 2 grams, 5 grams, 10 grams, 20 grams per serving? And what about products, which can rightly claim that they “contain no added sugar”, because they “naturally” consist of little else than sugar (as illustrated in the video) – how would you even begin to regulate those?

If it is not the foods themselves that can be regulated, would it perhaps be easier to regulate how these foods are marketed and sold?

For tobacco (a ridiculously simple problem by comparison), it was easy to impose advertising and marketing bans – no amount of tobacco is healthy – if the product contains tobacco – you tax, ban, and otherwise regulate it – easy-peasy.

But how and where exactly would you draw the line for a food product? What amount of natural or added sugar is simply too much? Compared to what? In which context? For whom?

Which sugary foods would you banish to the adults-only section of the grocery store?

Which TV commercials would need to display a warning, “viewer discretion is advised”?

I am not saying that somehow regulating this flood of unhealthy foods is not the right thing to do – I am just curious to see how exactly regulators would go about doing so.

Clearly, anything that comes in a box with a cartoon character on it, is probably unhealthier than anything you could possibly cook at home from fresh and wholesome ingredients (not to say that you cannot also add tons of sugar, salt, and fat to whatever you cook at home – but chances are it’ll still be healthier).

Will regulators step in? Will videos like Yoni’s educate and increase awareness among consumers, who will vote with their wallets? Will food companies begin a competition to see which one of them can be the first to figure out how to make as much money selling healthy foods? Or will food companies simply opt for ‘full disclosure’ and let the consumer decide?

As Yoni points out, it will not be one sand bag that will stop the flood, but it may be a little bit of all of the above.

AMS
Edmonton, AB

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XXX Foods, 9.0 out of 10 based on 6 ratings

5 Responses to “XXX Foods”

  1. Deborah says:

    Good post, Dr. Sharma, it is a slippery slope – the food industry. I truly believe the way to manage this food is through education of the public, not control of the industry. I know railing against Big Food is easy, and asking for government control puts the responsiblity somewhere else. But in the end, we are responsible for our own health. I would rather rail at the school boards to have Registered Dietitians in each school to teach kids about food, metabolism, how things are absorbed and stored, what healthy quantities are, etc. I applaud people like Jamie Oliver that actually do things like that – go into the schools and teach the kids (and staff sometimes) about healthy affordable eating and how to quantify treats.

  2. fredt says:

    First a serving must be designed, otherwise all that will be done is reprint the label to get the quantity of sugar below specified, as was already done by one cereal company. I believe the it was something like 15 grams sugar in 45 gram serving, and to get it under 12 grams, the serving was redefined to 36 grams.

    This society would be better to take personal responsibility and gain a bit more food knowledge as well as just quit eating sugar, grains, omega 6 oils, anything containing exorphins, exocannopioids, or precursors to endorphins and endocannopioids.

    That leave a Paleo / LCHF / Maffetone / Atkins / Dukin or similar.

  3. Hector Fernandez says:

    Thanks for the video. I completely agreed with Deborah. The fixing is on gettings the kids to learn and apply informatiion provided at shool level. An informed hungry kid will choose the right food and the industry will have not other choice tahn change their product advertisement, or pehaps tell the truth about it.

  4. annette anderwald says:

    If education worked, as many people believe it will, we would not have dietitians or fitness trainers or doctors who eat anything but healthy food or who overeat. It isn’t eating that gets us in trouble, it is overeating and eating when we don’t need to. Even the most educated among us has trouble saying no in an environment that beckons us to eat hundreds of times per day. What we need is to change the environment – to put up filters, like we do for our computers – spam food filters – which limits unwanted and unwelcome messages to eat all the time. Advertising encourages us to eat and the availability of food everywhere makes it almost impossible not to be tempted. The literature suggests that willpower is a finite resource – that we run out of it if we have had to use it previously – so it is unrealistic to expect people to successfully say no to food over and over every day. Food gives us pleasure afterall. We need to be willing to put boundaries about when and where and how often we eat and also to limit what we see or smell that tempts us- not just individually, but as a society. We have an eating problem, not just a food problem and to recognize what tempts us to eat when we aren’t hungry or need to eat is the first step in setting up our surroundings to protect us from constant temptation.

  5. HyperTension Talk says:

    Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is right. There is obviously a need for change in the food industry, and it needs to come through government regulation.

    The Canadian Institute for Health Research Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control is advocating for change RIGHT NOW. Take action. We invite you to sign & share the petition for a Canadian National Sodium Reduction Strategy:

    http://www.hypertensiontalk.com/sign-share-sodium-reduction-petition/

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