Surgeon General's Report has appeared, even though Congress passed
a law in 1990 requiring that one be issued every two years. Why?
The answer, according to Nestle, is food politics. She points out
that "saturated fat and trans-saturated fat raise risks for
heart disease, and the principal sources of such fats in American
diets are meat, dairy, cooking fats, and fried, fast, and processed
foods." Any advice of federal policies that sought to decrease
consumption of these foods would cause the sellers of these foods
"to complain to their friends in Congress."
One of the
strengths of Food Politics is Nestle's description of the
deliberate use of young children as sales targets. Children are
eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods. Obesity rates are skyrocketing.
And the food industry is spending billions to keep kids hooked on
junk foods. In 1997, U.S. children obtained no less than 50% of
their calories from added fat and sugar.
out that soft drink companies unapologetically name 8- to 12-year-olds
as marketing targets. McDonald's produces commercials, advertisements,
and a Web site aimed specifically at children aged 8-13. Quaker
Oats happily spends $15 million to promote sales of its heavily
sugared Cap'Crunch cereal to children. Teletubbies, the public television
program for toddlers, was first sponsored by Burger King, and later
by McDonald's. Meanwhile, only 1% of U.S. children regularly eat
diets that even resemble the recommended proportions of the
In 1987, researchers
counted 225 commercials on major television network channels during
Saturday morning hours. In 1992, the number had increased to 433.
By 1994, the number had grown to 997. And these ever increasing
ads are hardly for healthy foods. The vast majority are for hamburgers,
candy bars, fast food, soft drinks, cookies, chips, and heavily
sugared breakfast cereals. Researchers could not find a single commercial
for fruits, vegetables, or whole wheat bread.
are being converted into vehicles for selling foods high in calories
but low in nutritional value. One of the most deplorable examples
is "pouring rights" - large payments from soft drink companies
to school districts in return for the exclusive right to sell that
company's products in every one of the district's schools.
Soft drink companies
have for years sold their products on school and college campuses
through vending machines. But "pouring rights" represents
a major step forward in the campaign to encourage kids to drink
more, much more. From 1985 to 1997, Nestle points out, school districts
increased their purchases of soft drinks by a staggering 1,100%.
strategy is effective. The soft drink companies make large lump-sum
payments to school districts and additional payments for 5 to 10
years. In return, the companies get more than exclusive rights to
sell their products in school vending machines and at all school
events. They get to turn schools into advertising vehicles for their
products. The agreements, says Nestle, "result in constant
advertising through display of company logos on vending machines,
cups, sportswear, brochures, and school buildings. In this manner,
all students in the school, even those too young or too difficult
to reach by conventional advertising methods, receive constant exposure
to the logos and products. The use of a single brand is designed
to create loyalty among young people who have a lifetime of soft
drink purchases ahead of them."
Soft drink companies
are putting vending machines into schools with younger and younger
children, and they are putting larger and larger cans of soda pop
in the machines. By 2001, soft drink companies were routinely placing
20-ounce cans in school vending machines. In addition, says Nestle,
"they are vended in portable screw-top plastic bottles that
permit sipping throughout the day rather than downing in one gulp.
This last feature particularly distresses dental groups alarmed
about how the sugar and acid in soft drinks so easily dissolve tooth
One of the most
objectionable aspects to these pouring contracts is that they link
how much money the companies pay the schools to amounts that students
drink. This gives schools a financial incentive to encourage kids
to drink more soda pop. Schools get cash bonuses for exceeding sales
targets, and other additional benefits for consumption levels that
surpass sales quotas. This puts school administrators in the position
of pushing soft drinks to faculty, staff and students. In one incident,
a high school in Georgia suspended a senior student because he wore
a shirt with a Pepsi logo to a "Coke Day" rally sponsored
by the student government.
of course, are a nutritional disaster. A 12-ounce can contains about
3 tablespoons of sugar and 160 calories, but nothing else of nutritional
value. The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls soft
drinks "liquid candy." Actually, they may be worse for
kids than candy, because, unlike candy, they also contain caffeine.
A 12-ounce can of cola contains about 45 milligrams of caffeine.
More potent soft drinks can exceed 100 milligrams, a level approaching
that found in coffee.
drink companies deliberately market caffeinated sodas to children
as young as age nine. A PepsiCo official says that "marketing
to the 8- to 12- year old set is a priority." And some soft
drink companies actually license their logos to makers of infant-feeding
How do the companies
justify their practices? A spokesman for Coca-Cola argues that his
company "makes no nutritional claims for soft drinks
they can be part of a balanced diet. Our strategy is we want to
put soft drinks within arm's reach of desire
and schools are
one channel we want to make them available in." As far as government
efforts to restrict such marketing practices, "We question
whether there is a need for 'Big Brother' in the form of USDA injecting
decisions when it comes to refreshment choices."
is a scholarly work. Reading it, you don't often get a feel for
Nestle's own personal beliefs. She doesn't discuss her own diet.
She's not a muckracker. She is an honest, sincere, and knowledgeable
person working to change the system from the inside. Food Politics
is an academically scrupulous account of how the food industry in
the United States controls government nutrition policies. It's important
and eye-opening reading for anyone looking to make intelligent and
informed food choices.
Nestle will be appearing at the VegSource Conference in September
2002 in Los Angeles. To learn more about the event, click
has been Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and
Food Studies at New York University since Fall 1988. Her degrees
include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health
nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley. Visit
Food Politics website.