The Role Of Corporate Influence In The Obesity Epidemic

“The Role of Corporate Influence
in the Obesity Epidemic” The plague of tobacco deaths wasn’t
just due to the mass manufacture and marketing of cheap cigarettes. Tobacco companies actively sought to make their products even more
craveable by spraying the sheets of tobacco with
nicotine and additives like ammonia to provide a
bigger nicotine “kick.” The food industry employs
taste engineers to accomplish a similar goal: maximize the
irresistibility of their products Taste is the leading
factor in food choice. Salt, sugar, and fat are used
as the three points of the compass to produce “superstimulating”
“hyperpalatability” to tempt people into impulsive buys
and compulsive consumption. Foods are intentionally
designed to hook into our evolutionary triggers and breach
whatever biological barriers help keep consumption within
reasonable limits. Big Food is big business. The processed food industry alone brings in more than $2 trillion a year. That affords them the economic might
to manipulate more than just taste profiles, but public policy
and scientific inquiry as well. The food, alcohol, and tobacco
industries have all used similar unsavory tactics:
blocking health regulations, co-opting professional organizations,
creating front groups, and distorting the science. The common playbook shouldn’t be surprising given the
common corporate threads. At one time, for example, Philip Morris
owned both Kraft and Miller Brewing. In a single year the food industry
has spent more than $50 million to hire hundreds of lobbyists
to influence legislation, most of whom were “revolvers,”
former federal employees in the revolving door between
industry and their regulators who could push corporate
interests from the inside, only to be rewarded with cushy lobbying
jobs after their “public service.” In the following year the
industry acquired a new weapon— a stick to go along with all those carrots. On January 21, 2010, the Supreme
Court’s 5 to 4 Citizen’s United ruling permitted corporations
to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign ads to trash
anyone who dared stand against them. No wonder our elected officials have
so thoroughly shrunk from the fight, leaving us largely with a government of
Big Food, by Big Food, for Big Food. Globally, a similar dynamic exists. Weak tea calls from the public health
community for voluntary standards are met with not only vicious
fights against meaningful change but massive transnational trade
and foreign investment deals that cement protections of food industry
profits into the laws of the lands. The corrupting commercial influence
extends to medical associations. Reminiscent of the “Just what the doctor
ordered” cigarette ads of yesteryear, the American Academy of Family
Physicians accepted millions from the Coca Cola Company
in part explicitly to “develop consumer education
content on beverages and sweeteners.” On the front line, fake
grassroots “astroturf” groups are used to mask the corporate message. In the footsteps of Get
Government Off Our Back (memorably acronymed GGOOB)— a front group created by RJ Reynolds
to fight tobacco regulation— Americans Against Food Taxes
may as just well be called Food Industry Against Food Taxes. The power of front group formation is
enough to bind bitter corporate rivals; the Sugar Association and the Corn
Refiners Association linking arms with the National Confectioners
Association to partner with Americans for Food and Beverage Choice. Another tried-and-true tobacco
tactic – research front groups can be used to subvert the
scientific process by shaping or suppressing science that deviates
from the corporate agenda. Take the trans fat story. Food manufacturers
have not only long denied that trans fats were
associated with disease, but actively worked to limit inquiry
and discredit research findings. At what cost? The global death toll
from foods high in trans fat, saturated fat, salt, and sugar
are at 14 million lost lives. Every year. The inability of countries
around the world to turn the tide on obesity “is not a failure
of (personal ) will-power,” said the Director-General of
the World Health Organization. “It is a failure of political will to take on the powerful food and soda industries.” She ended her keynote address before
the National Academy of Medicine entitled “Obesity and diabetes: the
slow-motion disaster” with these words: “The interests of the public must be
prioritized over those of corporations.”
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