(Food) Police Corruption Scandal

By ACSH Staff — Apr 16, 2005
Nutrition activists like the Center for Science in the Public Interest are scaring Americans away from technology that could help us lose weight.

Nutrition activists like the Center for Science in the Public Interest are scaring Americans away from technology that could help us lose weight.

There is plenty of blame to go around for America's growing obesity crisis. Responsible or not, fast food, sodas in schools, and even SpongeBob Squarepants have all come under attack. But one villain has gotten off scot-free. Until today. By scaring consumers about "unnatural products," "processed food," and "artificial additives," the food police, led by Michael Jacobson's Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), are guilty of interfering with American's effort to battle the bulge.

Some background: The federal government's recently published dietary guidelines provide a science-based approach to healthy eating. But while the guidelines are good, they are a radical departure from how most Americans eat today, and for the vast majority of obese Americans, willpower, discipline, and guilt only go so far. For those most at risk, the "eat only good foods" approach doesn't work. People need help to bridge the large gap between how they are eating and how they should be eating, especially with respect to the number of calories they consume. Food technology, while certainly not the only solution, is one important tool to help us get there.

Yet the activists fight scientific advances that could provide appealing lower-calorie options, preferring to wag their fingers at us until we change our eating behavior. They told us saccharin caused cancer, for instance, and they made a big joke out of the promising fat substitute, Olestra. Yet the artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes on the market are perfectly safe. And the food police hype hypothetical threats at the expense of our effort to combat the real threat of obesity. Worse yet, the predictable opposition to each new technology has a chilling effect on the development of new products that can make food taste good with fewer calories.

While consumption habits vary, imagine that a typical overweight person drinks a 12-ounce can of cola a day. At 155 calories, that adds up to 56,575 calories a year. While it would be nice to replace the soda with a more nutritious beverage, or with zero-calorie water, that is too big a lifestyle adjustment for some people to make (at least at first). But if one replaced full-calorie soda with a diet soda (while maintaining the same activity level), that modest change alone would result in a loss of 16.2 pounds in just one year. Similar losses would take place if fat replacers such as Olestra and Z-Trim were made more available as well.

Weight-loss aids like these will help people take small steps, rather than demanding they take large leaps. This initial success at weight loss may also motivate people to commit to an exercise program. Yet the products of food technology, both products that exist and ones in the pipeline, are demonized by those who are supposedly promoting the public interest.

They're contributing to the health problems they purport to combat. Isn't it time we held them accountable?

Jeff Stier, Esq., is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.