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The Men Who Made Us Fat - Part 3


General Overview

  • Are the healthy foods sold to us making us fat?

  • Does food marketed as healthy change how we see the food?

  • Health halo – if it looks healthy we think we can eat more of it and not get fat.

  • The food industry makes money out of us wanting to eat more healthily.

  • Profits are put in front of consumers.

  • Putting the food industry in charge of food policy is like having Dracula being put in charge of the blood bank.

Shopping Science (1 minute 52 seconds)

  • Our shopping habits are being constantly monitored. This information is then sold to the supermarkets and other interested parties.

  • They are very aware of the huge rise in the interest in health foods.

  • Healthy eaters are more middle class, woman, more highly skilled and knowledgeable. And even they are getting fatter.

  • The consumption of ‘healthy foods’ has grown by around 20% in the last 5 years. People buy healthy products because they perceive them to be healthy.

  • The more ticks they give a product for health qualities the higher the price for the food. (Bigger the promise the bigger the price)

  • It is very confusing for the consumer. There is a lot of confusion around processed products.

What is fattening? We are confused.. (5 minutes 10 seconds)

  • Eg: Fruit smoothie has more calories than a can of coke. Salad has more calories than the big mac. Grenola yoghurt had more calories than the Krispy Cream doughnut.

  • How did we get to this place?

  • In 1992 John Major’s government put out a report that predicted the huge issues we are having today with obesity.

  • At the same time, the food was becoming toxic. The meat industry was having issues with Mad Cow disease. Egg industry had a salmonella scare.

  • Industry wanted to introduce new products that were, or appeared to be safe.

  • In 1998 Sunny Delight was launched. It was marketed with vitamins and a promise that it was a healthy choice. Its sales skyrocketed.

  • Two warning signs – it had a huge marketing campaign AND it tapped into people’s desire for better health. It was sold in fridges to give the impression it was fresh. It had only 5% juice in it. It has as much sugar in it as Coke. They added some vitamins to make it appear healthy to consumers.

  • Sunny Delight did not break any laws or claim any benefits. They just marketed it with vitamins and said it was a fruit beverage.

  • Nail in the coffin for sales – a 4-year-old child turned orange after drinking a considerable amount of it! (1.5 litres ) (they were running ads showing snowmen turning orange from drinking Sunny Delight at the time this happened.. very amusing!)

  • It took a huge amount of effort to raise the alarm on this drink.

  • The government was not looking after consumers but looking after the food industry and farmers. There was no legislation to stop companies selling sugar-filled foods as healthy.

  • This story shows how keen consumers are to find healthy products to consume.

The Health Food Gold Rush (12 minutes 1 second)

  • Public were desperate for food they could trust and supermarkets saw the opportunity to make money.

  • Consumers paid more for natural and chemical-free products.

  • Supermarkets expanded their organic ranges. These ranges doubled in two years.

  • The launch happened when people were very worried about issues with their food.

  • Supermarkets approached the small suppliers and asked them to supply organic food for them to stock and sell. This was unusual.

  • They turned a time of crisis into an extraordinary business opportunity.

  • By getting organic food shoppers into the store they could sell many other products in the store at the same time. (eg: alcohol or deli meats)

  • Our minds think that if we eat organic foods then we will not get fat. This is a perception. This is not correct. If we eat a lot of any calorie-dense food we will get fat.

  • Supermarkets respond to consumer demand but are not interested in our health. The profit comes first!

Global Disease was Spreading (16 minutes 25seconds)

  • ·World Health Organisation put out a report that said that the marketing of sugary and fat foods to children was causing the obesity crisis. The food industry was being held to account.

  • JP Morgan also put out a report for food investors – warning about what was going to happen to different food companies if they did not change what they were selling. As obesity was seen as an epidemic, the government would have to start regulating. This will affect profit. This epidemic was seen to be a huge concern for the food industry. It ranked companies most exposed to financial risk.

  • This report was like a bombshell. This epidemic not affected companies.

  • The food industry is paranoid about regulation.

  • The report not only looked at the most vulnerable companies but also showed companies that there was profit to be made if they turned to healthier products. (A business opportunity!)

  • The idea was to diversify to products that appear to be healthy. They did not have to actually be healthy. There is a chance to make money from obesity.

  • It was driven by business opportunities NOT health.

  • The report was causing the top executives of companies to meet and decide that their companies need to change.

  • Not only is it a crisis, but it is also a huge opportunity to make money.

The Issues This Report Caused (21 minutes and 30 seconds)

  • Many foods were marketed and sold as healthy but were really not.

  • There were two paths companies could take. They could re-formulate their products to be healthier or make it look healthier through the way it is packaged. That changes the perception of the product. Eg: Contains fruit could be a claim but it could only have 0.1% of fruit in the product.

  • If they cannot change their product (eg: Cadbury and chocolate - ) they partner with the government to sponsor a sports equipment scheme. They position themselves as part of the solution.

  • You handed in chocolate wrappers to pay for sports equipment. You had to eat a huge amount of chocolate to get any sports gear.

  • The London Olympic Games was sponsored by Cadbury and a soft drink company and a fast-food company.


Food Labelling / Traffic Lights (27 minutes 5 seconds)

  • There was a push from the Foods Standards Agency to educate consumers more on what was in the foods they were buying and how healthy they actually were.

  • Decided on a traffic light system. (eg: reg is high, green is low) Some stayed with guideline daily amounts (Percentages)

  • Consumers were asked what would be most helpful for them. They preferred traffic lights.

  • Concern was that every sugary, fat-saturated or unhealthy food would have red on them and discourage consumers to purchase the foods. (But the system was only for complex foods where the customer needed help to understand what was in the food)

  • TESCO was not happy with the traffic lights system. They have around 300000 people working for them in Britain. They have a lot of power over the government because of their size.

  • Problem – the system would change what consumers purchased. People would eat more healthy foods.

  • Politicians and the food industry hate regulation. The Foods Standards Board tried to act in the best interest of consumers and there was a lot of opposition.

  • Without clear labelling of foods, the consumers are at the mercy of the way the food companies market their products. (People can be conned very easily)

  • For food companies, they want to maximise profits for shareholders and look after their workers so this new system would be very confronting for the industry.

  • When the government changed, the Foods Standards Agency was stripped of their power to regulate or introduce food labelling for customers.

  • In the EU there was a huge battle between the small health advocates and big business. The food industry made a massive push to stop this going ahead. (Spent over a billion Euros)

  • Intense lobbying so the politicians would change their minds. They did not present any evidence or research. The groups pushing for traffic lights did not have the same amount of money behind them.

  • They threatened that jobs would be lost in the politician’s country if traffic lights went ahead. If you had a food factory they were told they would lose jobs. (This was not looking at the health of the people but profits)

  • The food industry won and traffic lights were not enforced.

  • Some companies took up traffic lights voluntarily. Eg: Sainsbury’s.

  • Sainsbury’s introduced traffic lights wanted to put the sparkle back into the company.

  • What they found that people were surprised about the label. They thought some groups of products were healthy but they were not. Eg: Yoghurt and sandwiches.

  • People moved from orange and red to green and orange.

  • Manufacturers do not say they want to start with a green traffic light and then modify the product.

  • It did not affect sales. Sales were transferred. People changed what they buy.

  • Companies that were thriving would not want to change over to traffic lights.

How Foods are Marketed as Healthy Food (39 minutes 23 seconds)

  • America has the biggest food industry in the world. If it has been tried somewhere it most probably has been done in America.

  • The paradox of low-fat foods and overweight people.

  • The food that has been sold as healthy has actually been making us fat.

  • People struggle with knowing which foods are healthy. For example, a footlong subway has twice as many calories as a big mac.

  • If a store has an overall reputation for healthy food then people think that everything you buy at the store is healthy.

  • The health halo – when a product is marketed as healthy then people think it has fewer calories. So they think they can eat more of it without getting fat.

  • M&M trial. People ate up to 50% more when they were labelled low fat.

  • Why do we do this? We think about food in binary terms. It is either good for you or bad for you. If they think it is good then it is less fattening.

  • Food manufacturers know this. They then market their food as healthy intentionally so people buy it and as they think it is healthy they can eat more. As a result, the paradox of fat people eating low-fat food will not go away.

  • We underestimate the number of calories a healthy food has because we think if it is healthy it will not make us get fat.

  • If this is the case, can we fight obesity when profits are at stake?

Working with the Food Companies On Obesity (44 minutes 01 seconds)

  • England tried to sit down with the food companies and work out a way to move forward to solve this epidemic. The government did not want regulation.

  • This meeting called the health commission met. The health experts were made to feel that they were listened to. The experts wanted to look at other countries where they were having success through government regulation of food and advertising. They recognised that the individual had a role to play but the government had the biggest control.

  • The health experts were all given a lot where they could present papers, but nothing was done with what they presented. The food companies had all the power and say.

  • In the process they said the government had no duty of care and the discussion was on the packaging which told the consumer their choices were their responsibility.

  • If the food industry are consulted about policy there is a huge conflict of interest. Having industry controlling food policy is like Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

  • The relationship the government had with the industry was too close.

  • Science had been left out of the picture.

  • The food industry has one priority. That is to make money.

  • The government made recommendations and the companies could opt in if they wanted. There were no regulations. Food companies could choose what they wanted to do.

  • The aim was to cut daily calorie consumption by 5 billion calories by the year 2020.

  • This is very vague and hard to measure. It is meaningless. The food companies and government want it vague.

  • There are no terms of reference for the review of this opt in process.

  • If we do not regulate we will get diseases and an unhealthy society.

Conclusion (52 minutes 58 seconds.)

  • All the professionals are saying to deal with this epidemic we need regulation from the government.

  • Why does the government not agree?

  • Government think it is too hard.. It is someone else’s problem.

  • Is it changing people’s behaviour or are the food industry in control?

  • When will there be a tipping point? When the health cost is so great.

  • Governments are letting the food industry get away with what they want.

  • It is not solely our fault but the people behind closed doors who have made decisions about what we eat.

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