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The Politics of Food: The Food Industry Spends $33 Billion in Advertising This Year, While Over One Quarter of U.S. Adults Are Obese

July 26, 2002

It’s a public health nightmare: The number of people in this country who are obese doubled from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Over one quarter of adults, and more than 12 percent of children in the US are obese.

The food industry spends around $33 billion a year in advertising and promotion to persuade people to eat more food. A New York man is suing McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC, saying that their marketing tactics are responsible for his obesity and two heart attacks.

Companies like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Slim-Fast sponsor university-based research and nutrition journals. American Dietetic Association fact sheets on food and nutrition are sponsored by Monsanto, NutraSweet and Campbell.

At the World Food Summit in Rome last month, the US stood alone among 182 nations in opposing the right to food. The Bush administration pushed for a narrow world-hunger agenda, emphasizing a greater role for the private sector and biotechnology firms.

The food industry spends millions lobbying Congress and regulatory agencies. It pays off. Last month President Bush signed a $190 billion farm bill. Under the 10 year program, taxpayers will pay farmers $4 billion a year to grow more corn. The people who benefit from the production of corn are not the farmers, but the processors, factory farms, snack and soft drink makers, who have switched from using sugar to corn sweeteners. Writer Michael Pollan points out in an op-ed piece in the New York Times/ *_that our diet has undergone a process of "cornification" in recent years, just as the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes swept the country._*

We’re joined right now by Michael Pollan, as well as Marion Nestle, author of "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health." After Nestle published her book, the Sugar Association threatened to sue her. She’s been called "one of the top nags of the anti-consumer movement."


  • *_*Michael Pollan*, bestselling author of "The Botany Of Desire." He is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a former editor at Harper’s Magazine. He wrote an op-ed in the NY Times last week called "When a Crop Becomes King."_*
  • Marion Nestle, author of "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health" and Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University. She was managing editor of the l988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health.

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