In 1999, a secret meeting between food moguls from corporations such as General Mills, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Kraft ensued to address the issue of childhood obesity. Should the food industry take responsibility for the rising obesity epidemic and related illnesses?
There is no doubt that mass-produced, processed foods have played a large role in the rise of obesity related diseases such as heart disease, type two diabetes, and cancer. Academic and expert on obesity, Kelly Brownell describes the many ways that food industries have changed our relationship with food for the worse. Citing large portion sizes, aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods, and pricing incentives to buy large amounts, Brownell claims that food industries partake in “a very systematic effort to encourage maximum consumption of unhealthy food.”
The food industry continues to prioritize profits over providing nutritious food options despite their role in the spike in obesity rates and related illnesses. When the CEO’s of several major food corporations came together back in 1999 to discuss possible courses of action to In haddress the obesity epidemic, former CEO of General Mills Stephen Sanger shut down the conversation by reportedly saying that people buy what they like and they like what tastes good. If we don’t care about the nutritional value of their food, then why should the food industries?
Of course there are many ways that public policy should be intervening to protect us from harmful foods, such as mandating the clear labeling of trans fats and putting limitations on fast food advertisements directed towards children. But as citizens we also have an important and potentially powerful role to play. We determine what we buy, and what we buy determines what food companies make. We must demand healthy options, and show we mean it by taking our business elsewhere.
Does this sound a little farfetched to you? That the shopping choices you make can influence what big industries produce? If so, take a moment to remember how the low-carb craze spread like wildfire when the Atkins diet peaked in popularity. Suddenly you could get burgers on flat bread or with no bun at all in restaurants and thin bagels were invented to keep profits up at bagel chains. Buying healthy foods helps not only yourself and your family, but also has the potential to steer our society towards healthier lifestyles on a larger scale.