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Junk Food Industry

Story at-a-glance -

  • An industry-funded study found children who ate candy were 22 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than children who did not
  • The findings were heavily publicized even though one of the paper’s authors called it “thin and clearly padded”
  • Funding scientific research gives the junk food industry a certain level of control over the results
  • It’s well-known that industry-funded research almost always favors industry
 

Junk Food and Junk Science

June 14, 2016 | 29,898 views

By Dr. Mercola

The junk food industry has a number of tricks up its sleeve to paint their disease-causing products in a better light. When your profits depend on people buying soda, candy, potato chips and other unhealthy snacks, good taste only goes so far.

Eventually, people begin to wonder just how bad these foods are for their bodies, especially in light of general trends toward healthier eating.

Such foods are carefully laboratory created to get you hooked, and once your cravings kick in for these extraordinarily addictive foods, the industry gives you reason to justify the indulgence via scientific research — research that the industry itself, of course, funded.

Funding scientific research gives the industry a certain level of control over the results. Although most researchers and sponsoring companies will insist the research is sound and unbiased, it’s well-known that industry-funded research almost always favors industry.

So when a study came out touting the surprising claim that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don’t, it was not a surprise that the study was funded by a candy trade association representing some of the top U.S. candy makers.

Candy Industry Manipulates Science to Sell More Junk Food

“The only thing that moves sales," Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at New York University (NYU), told the Associated Press, "is health claims."1 And if you can’t make health claims based on a product’s own merits, why not fund a study to drum some up?

The study in question was published in 2011 in Food & Nutrition Research. It followed 11,000 children and found those who ate candy were 22 percent less likely to be overweight or obese than children who did not.2

Further, the candy eaters even had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and a risk factor for heart disease. The findings were heavily publicized even though the paper’s authors even questioned its validity.

As reported by the Associated Press, which conducted an investigation into how food companies influence people’s thoughts about healthy eating, Carol O'Neil, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Louisiana State University (LSU), wrote to her co-author about the study, "We're hoping they can do something with it — it's thin and clearly padded.”3 The Associated Press continued:4

Since 2009, the authors of the candy paper have written more than two dozen papers funded by parties including Kellogg and industry groups for beef, milk and fruit juice.

Two are professors: O'Neil of LSU and Theresa Nicklas, Ph.D., at the Baylor College of Medicine. The third is Victor Fulgoni III, Ph.D., a former Kellogg executive and consultant whose website says he helps companies develop ‘aggressive, science-based claims about their products.’

Their studies regularly delivered favorable conclusions for funders — or as they call them, ‘clients.’”

Industry Uses Science to Publicize the Results They Want

Sound scientific research should publish all the results from any given study, not only those that paint industry in a favorable light. But it’s common practice for negative or neutral study results to be left unpublished while favorable results get published.

The Associated Press used the example of a study funded by PepsiCo, which owns Quaker oatmeal. The study looked into whether consuming Quaker oatmeal or a Quaker Oats cereal (Quaker Oatmeal Squares) would be more filling than rival General Mills Honey Nut Cheerios.

While the oatmeal proved to be more filling, the oats cereal did not, so PepsiCo only published the favorable oatmeal results.5 Publication bias — the practice of selectively publishing trial results that serve an agenda — is common practice not only in the food industry but also in pharmaceutical research.

Meanwhile, it’s common practice for researchers to run their manuscripts by their industry funders prior to publication, and even carefully time the release of results to their advantage. In regard to the study that found candy-eating kids weigh less, the Associated Press noted:6

The trumpeting of their research was also carefully timed. In June 2011, a candy association representative emailed O'Neil a critical article about a professor with industry ties.

'I'd like to monitor the fallout from this story, and give a little bit of distance to our research piece. I do not want to put you in the crossfire of a media on a rampage,' wrote Laura Muma of FoodMinds, an agency that represented the candy association."

Even Seemingly Reputable Nutrition Journals May Have Cozy Ties With Junk Food Makers

In 2013, I interviewed Michele Simon, who has practiced public health law for nearly 20 years, fighting corporate tactics that deceive and manipulate you about health.

Last year, she released a report that revealed the disturbing ties between the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) — considered a premier source of nutritional science — and the primary purveyors of obesity and chronic ill health.

ASN is sponsored by 30 different companies, including Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Monsanto, and the Sugar Association, just to mention a few, each of which pays $10,000 a year in return for “print and online exposure, annual meeting benefits, and first choice to sponsor educational sessions, grants, awards, and other opportunities as they arise.” As noted by Simon:

“In other words, food, beverage, supplement, biotech, and pharmaceutical industry leaders are able to purchase cozy relationships with the nation’s top nutrition researchers.”

Junk food purveyors gain even more influence by sponsoring educational sessions at various conferences and annual meetings, and featuring speakers that represent the industry.

ASN’s ties are particularly problematic since they also publish three academic journals, including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).

These ties can “taint scientific objectivity, negatively impact the organization’s policy recommendations, and result in industry-friendly research and messaging that is shared with nutrition professionals and the general public alike,” according to Simon. She added:

“Obesity researcher David Allison, Ph.D. wins the prize for the most conflicts: PepsiCo, the Sugar Association, World Sugar Research Organization (WSRO), Red Bull, Kellogg, Mars, Campbell Soup, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS).

Perhaps most troubling, Allison serves on the editorial board of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, ASN’s flagship publication. While his conflicts are disclosed, having Allison in such a critical gatekeeper role demonstrates how industry can potentially influence even the science that gets published.”

Even Nutrition Professionals Are ‘Counseled’ by Industry

In the realm of commercial profits, nothing is sacred, not even the reputation of the U.S. trade organization for food and nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association).

Food companies like Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestlé, Kraft, and all of the major junk food purveyors buy sponsorships to be at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual trade organization meetings. They typically end up having the largest booths on the expo floor.

Besides showcasing their food products, they’re also allowed to sponsor or hold educational sessions at the meeting, including sessions for registered dietitians (RDs) to receive continuing education credits. Even fast food companies like McDonald’s are represented at the annual meetings. According to Simon:

“They want to make sure that they’re being viewed as a good-for-you fast food company. So, at their booth, they would be sampling salads, smoothies, and oatmeal … [Food companies] are basically trying to use these [nutrition] professionals to carry their message to their clients.

That’s the name of the game here: to make sure the next time an RD talks to a client, they’ll say, 'Gee, you should really try this better-for-you, Baked Lays potato chips, because it has a few less grams of salt or fat.' It’s to make sure that RDs are recommending these still highly processed, nutrient-deficient junk foods to their clients … There are many RDs, in fact, that have rejected membership in the academy, mostly because of these relationships …

The problem really lies with the leadership of this organization and the fact that they’re putting their stamp of approval on these types of webinars and companies that obviously are contributing to the very problem that the profession is trying to address.”

Coca-Cola Front Group Shut Down After Bad Press

Coca-Cola Company funded the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), a front group aimed at confusing you about soda science and diverting attention away from evidence showing soda is a major contributor to obesity and diabetes. One of the group’s primary messages was to tout exercise as the science-backed solution to obesity — while downplaying the importance of dietary issues, like soda consumption.

Coca-Cola did not come right out and disclose that they were behind the supposedly scientific front group — they were outed by The New York Times, which reported in August 2015:7

The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media ...

'Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, 'Oh they're eating too much, eating too much, eating too much' — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks, and so on,' the group's vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization.’ And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.'"

After The New York Times report, the front group received so much bad press and criticism that the University of Colorado School of Medicine said it would return the $1 million grant Coca-Cola had given them to help start the group. Public health authorities accused the group of using tobacco industry tactics to raise doubts about the health hazards of soda, and a letter signed by more than three dozen scientists said the group was spreading “scientific nonsense.”8

By December 2015, the GEBN announced it would be shutting down, with Coca-Cola claiming it was working on increased transparency.9

No Matter What the Spin, Junk Food Is Bad for Your Health

The food industry can use all the manipulative tactics in the world to create misleading data and other propaganda, but none of it will change the fact that junk food is bad for you. People who ate a diet focused on macaroni and cheese, processed lunchmeat, sausage biscuits, mayonnaise and microwavable meals with unhealthy fats, for example, showed serious negative changes to their metabolism after just five days.

After eating the junk food diet, the study participants' (12 healthy college-aged men) muscles lost the ability to oxidize glucose after a meal, which could lead to insulin resistance, which is the primary underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.10 Stunted academic performance and depression have also been linked to junk food diets. Further, it only takes one junk food binge to influence your health for worse.11

When you eat junk food high in unhealthy fats and sugar, the sugar causes a large spike in your blood-sugar levels called “postprandial hyperglycemia.” In the long term, this can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, but there are short-term effects as well, such as:

  • Your tissue becomes inflamed (as occurs when it is infected)
  • Your blood vessels constrict
  • Damaging free radicals are generated
  • Your blood pressure may rise higher than normal
  • A surge and drop in insulin may leave you feeling hungry

Show the Junk Food Makers Who’s Boss: You!

It’s easy to fall victim to the junk food industry’s marketing webs and even easier to become biologically hooked on their high-sugar foods. However, breaking free from the trap and focusing your diet on real food instead is one of the best health moves you can make. How can you do it?

Ditching processed foods requires that you plan your meals in advance, and if you take it step-by-step as described in my nutrition plan, it's quite possible, and manageable, to painlessly remove processed foods from your diet. You can try scouting out your local farmer's markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with supermarket sales.

You can generally plan a week of meals at a time, making sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if you're short on time (and you can use leftovers for lunches the next day). Simply don’t bring junk foods into your home. That way there’s no temptation to eat them. And the more you nourish your body with real food, the less you’ll feel tempted by these fake foods anyway.

Finally, if food cravings sideline you, I highly recommend using the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT is simple and effective, and can rapidly help you eliminate your food cravings naturally. Ultimately, your taste buds will come to realize that many “health” foods taste better than their science-lab counterparts any day.

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