A recent article in the Guardian entitled “Fat profits: how the food industry cashed in on obesity” and a television programme entitled: “The Men who made us Thin” provided an expose of the way in which the food industry is making money out of people who consider themselves overweight…..twice. Once by selling them food that makes them fat in the first place, and secondly by then selling ‘diet foods’ and processed food which promise to make them thin again.
As the article quotes: “We think of obesity and dieting as polar opposites, but in fact, there is a deep symbiotic relationship between the two”.
Several issues arose from the article and the television programme. Firstly many of the organisations which claim to be dedicated to helping us lose weight are, in fact, owned by food or investment companies. For example Weightwatchers was sold to Heinz in 1978 and Slimfast is owned by global food company Unilever. Additionally, a US diet phenomena ‘Jenny Craig’ was bought by Nestle.
So – the food companies dedicated to making a profit and making us fat, are also dedicated to making a profit by promising to also slim us down.
Another issue highlighted by the article was the fact that the parameters of what constitutes ‘normal’ and ‘overweight’ underwent a change in the late 90s. The International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) drafted a report on obesity, lowering the cut-off point for being overweight – from a BMI of 27 to 25 and as the article puts rather startlingly: “Overnight millions of people around the globe would shift from the ‘normal’ to ‘overweight’ category”.
The article continues to say that the funding for the IOTF report lowering the BMI, came directly from drug companies, who may have a vested interest in profiting from this ‘epidemic’ as weight-loss drugs are now a multi-billion pound industry.
Often the ‘processed food’ industry and the tobacco industry are compared. Both which sell products which we know are detrimental to public health and both which are quite famous for attempting to distort the science and denying any harm from their products. This is highlighted in the article as it mentions a confidential memo, written by an executive in the tobacco industry advising Kraft foods on strategies for dealing with criticism for creating obesity. It is entitled “Lessons learned from the Tobacco Wars”. It gives advice on how the food industry can fight to deny any culpability in the problem of obesity, and suggests that “a panoply of defensive strategies are put in action”.
For me, as a nutritionist, this is scary stuff. We are fighting against some of the richest and most powerful companies in the world in the struggle to reduce obesity and improve the health of the public.
Companies sell foods high in fat and sugar and empty of nutrients. They promote them to our children, make them cheap, work with the supermarkets to advertise them in the most prominent ways and use the most robust marketing tools possible to continue to sell these foods that we all know are unhealthy. Then, when people become overweight, that very same food industry will then produce highly processed ‘diet foods’ which often contain more sugar and still have high levels of fat with the promise that they will make us thin.
There are a lot of people making money out of obesity and unfortunately, very few who will make money out of us achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Therefore, I ask, is it up to us as individuals to make the ultimate change?
Original article can be viewed here: