How Food Companies Have Caused Obesity

Dr. Marion Nestle on the business of food companies.

As a nutrition professor, I am constantly asked why nutrition advice changes so much and why experts so often disagree.  Whose information, people ask me, can we trust? I’m always tempted to say, “Mine, of course,” but I understand the problem.  Yes, nutrition advice is complicated by scientific arguments, the vested interests of food companies, and compromised government regulations.  But basic dietary advice has been the same for 50 years and is not in dispute.  I summarize it as “eat less; move more; eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and avoid too much junk food.”  Michael Pollan says the same thing more succinctly: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

If dietary advice seems more complicated than that, it is surely because of the effects of rising rates of obesity on food companies.  Food companies must sell products to stay in business; they must promote “eat more.”  But obesity is the most important public health nutrition problem these days, and the solution to obesity is to “eat less.”  This puts public health in conflict with food company business needs. 


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