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The Food Industry’s Manipulation is Causing Skyrocketing Obesity

Obesity is such a big problem here in the States that it’s classified as an epidemic. Yep, epidemic like opioid epidemic. But it’s deadlier than the opioid epidemic: 300,000 were killed from obesity yearly whereas around 70,000 died from opioids in 2017 (Commonwealth Fund 2018). 

Yet….diverting obesity seems so obvious, right? So, how come it’s still so prevalent?

To start, a majority of kids attend public school, which is inextricably linked to the federal government. So naturally, kids are educated in the government’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” which are released every five years from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

However, because of the lobbying done by big food companies, they’re able to manipulate these guidelines and other governmental policies to preserve their business and ensure its continued success. This lobbying means that the guidelines a majority of Americans believe to be true may not actually be what’s best for them.

The 2015 guidelines were supposed to target red meat. However, it doesn’t explicitly say to decrease consumption because of the red meat industry’s lobbying, which sends mixed messages to an audience that’s eager to learn how to eat better. 

It only suggested that teen boys and males should “reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meat, poultry, and eggs” without pinpointing that red meat, not white meat, is the issue. The guidelines also advised people to increase seafood, legumes, and other protein foods. So, the government isn’t actually directing people to reduce protein consumption. Rather, it’s subtlety and vaguely indicating that we should substitute healthier protein for red meat.

Let’s look at another example of lobbying with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. It’s a no brainer that sugary sodas contribute to rising obesity levels in the states. And while there have been attempts made by legislators to regulate soda consumption through taxes, these companies give money to organizations like The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and Save the Children, which should be in favor of these legislatures given their core values. Yet after receiving money from these companies, they oppose them, so that the legislations that are supposed to help the public, never get passed. 

In fact, Coca-Cola is also known to have funded research that twists public consensus of the causes of obesity. Since 2008, they’ve been spending millions of dollars to fund projects to increase Coke consumption by teaming up with researchers who back the claim that maintaining a healthy weight is all about exercising more rather than eating less. Intuitively, we know that both should be important, but because these claims are backed, it’s easy for Americans to give the benefit of the doubt to the foods they love so dearly and place almost all the blame on exercise (as companies want). Many Americans fail to realize that research can be biased when it’s getting funding from a company that clearly wants a certain outcome, and even more are unaware of who funds the research that’s being presented to them. These types of projects change public consensus on how to maintain a healthy weight.  

I want to bring up one final topic that has been controversial and confusing for people: fat versus sugar. Which is the real enemy?

 Knowing the harm added sugars pose to people’s health, the sugar industry paid scientists to turn fat, specifically saturated fat, into the enemy and main cause of heart disease. In this way, the sugar industry’s products are protected (but this story broke through a few years ago, so now we all know added sugars are terrible for you). Naturally, from this “revelation” emerged the fat-free industry. However, the reality is that to make products fat-free and still taste good, producers have to compensate for it with other equally harmful ingredients–so, despite what many Americans may think, fat-free isn’t necessarily healthier.

From lobbying that changes the dietary guidelines and opposes legislation, to biased research and the diet industry (which may not actually be healthy for you) it’s clear why many Americans are misled into how to lead a healthy lifestyle. The oblivious consumer is happy to follow the “tips and rules” given to them, thinking it’ll increase their longevity when in actuality this is not the case. This is perhaps why obesity continues to grow even when many try to be healthy. So please, whenever you’re presented with new health recommendations, do a little more research before throwing yourself on board. 

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