The practices of the processed food industry have been well-documented in recent years. A new book by Michael Moss, Pulitzer-prize winning author and investigative reporter for The New York Times, aims to shed new light on the subject. Rafael Pi Roman talks to the author of “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” about food corporations and how food executives have been thinking about obesity and other health crises.
Moss’ research led him to discover that even years ago, industry executives were aware of potential side effects from over-consumption of processed food. Moss described a meeting amongst the executives that surprised him.
“None other than one of their own, a senior executive of Kraft, gets up in front of them, armed with 114 slides and he lays at their feet responsibility for the obesity crisis,” Moss told Pi Roman, “… And [he] said to them, ‘Look, we are at least partly responsible for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease,’ he even started talking about cancer.”
According to that senior Kraft executive, his pitch failed to change the minds of some CEOs.
Moss believes that the nation’s consumption of processed foods is nurtured by marketing campaigns and production practices which maximize quantities of salt, sugar and fat in products. He cited consumer dependency on convenience as a driving factor behind the food industry.
“They’re driving not to get us to like their products,” Moss said. “They’re driving to get us to eat more and more, and that’s where the problem lies.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that diets with high quantities of fat and salt are linked to incidences of heart disease and high blood pressure, while diets with excessive sugar consumption are a contributing factor to the development of type II diabetes, a disease on the rise in New York City. An April 2013 study by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reveals that almost 650,000 adult New Yorkers reported having diabetes in 2011. That’s approximately 10.5% of the New York City population over age 18, a 150% increase since the early 1990’s.
Facts and figures point to an increase in obesity and certain diseases, like diabetes. What remains unresolved is the question of responsibility and the degree to which the government assumes accountability for oversight. New York’s own Mayor Bloomberg has proposed and initiated a number of public initiatives over the past decade, targeting various approaches to healthy living ranging from smoking to the sizes of sugar-sweetened beverages.
A 2013 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey of over 1,000 American adults found 52% said obesity is the responsibility of individuals and families, while 34% said that government and communities have a role.
Source: “Obesity in the United States: Public Perceptions,” The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research 2013
Moss lauded the efforts of Michelle Obama and Mayor Bloomberg in encouraging people to exercise and make healthier choices. However, in Moss’ view, responsibility ultimately falls on the food industry executives.
“People have to realize the playing field is not level,” Moss said, “You walk into the grocery store and the companies are doing everything they can to get you to make spontaneous decisions, to get you to spend more time in the center of the store where the most loaded products are, and I think that’s what [Mayor] Bloomberg is driving at.”