American and global fast food titans are concerned for the health of tomorrow’s consumers – so much so that they are funding a multi-million dollar ad campaign to warn adult and juvenile porkies that eating an excess of fast food will make them fat.
This sudden rush of moral responsibility is not the result of threatened class action lawsuits similar to those brought against tobacco manufacturers. Or so claim the campaign’s backers – among them Kraft Foods, H J Heinz, Monsanto Pepsico, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
Indeed not, avers Susan Borra, a dietician from the International Food Information Council Foundation. The organization has been working on a healthy eating promotional scheme since 1998, she says, and the recent threats of lawsuits don’t enter into the equation.
Nor, Borra insists, is there is any anomaly in fast food companies funding the campaign. [The IFICF is entirely dependent for funding on the multinational food, beverage, and agricultural industries.]
“It is possible to have a McDonald’s and still eat healthily, as long as you also eat fresh fruit and vegetables, drink milk and have sensible portions,” she says. “Obesity is a complex issue – it’s about people using their cars more, taking less exercise, having less time to cook at home and other lifestyle changes,” she argues.
According to recent US government data, 60% of the population is classified as overweight or obese, with over 300,000 deaths annually laid at the door of obesity-related illnesses. The number of American children who are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight is now one in four, a three-fold increase since 1980. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recently called obesity “the health problem of the century”.
Lawsuits have already been filed in New York and Florida claiming that processed foods with little nutritional value have misled consumers. The fast food sector could be the next milch cow for America’s litigation industry, believes John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University.
“You may not be able to prove that somebody got fat because of a particular product, but you can prove that the companies may have misrepresented, by omission, what is in their foods,” he opines.
Banzhaf’s view will not go unnoticed by the legion of eager and ambitious young state attorneys, all with their eye on the governorship election after next.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff