Magazine article USA TODAY

Food Industry Is Making AMERICA FAT

Magazine article USA TODAY

Food Industry Is Making AMERICA FAT

Article excerpt

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is asking Americans to buck a food industry trend that is contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic. "Value marketing" appeals to the consumer's desire for bargains by offering more product for less money. AICR Director of Nutrition Education Melanie Polk maintains that this marketing strategy is having a measurable and unfortunate long-term effect on national health.

As "family-sized" packaging began appearing in supermarket aisles, "supersizes," "value meals," and other oversized portions became commonplace in the nation's eating establishments. Polk wants Americans to understand that this kind of targeting by food manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants comes with certain health risks. "Americans have to keep in mind that getting more food for less money has an inescapable--and often overlooked--downside. It simply shifts the pressure from our wallets to our waistbands."

Today, more Americans than ever--55%, according to the National Institutes of Health--are clinically overweight, while one in every four is obese (severely overweight). In fact, figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the nation's obesity rose six percent between 1998 and 1999 alone. (To put that figure in perspective, consider that American obesity rose a total of six percent during the seven-year period before 1998.) Together, these numbers indicate that, for the first time in history, most of the American population is at increased risk for obesity-related ailments like certain cancers, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, and osteoarthritis.

Does the growth in portion sizes factor largely in the American obesity crisis? According to a survey commissioned by the AICR, the answer is yes. Twenty-six percent of Americans base the amount of food they consume on how much they are served. This passive approach to portions (once known as the "Clean-Plate Club") is more prevalent among overweight Americans than those who say they are at their ideal weight.

When it comes to bigger portions, representatives of the food industry insist they are only responding to consumer demand, not creating it. "Last I checked, it's the consumer who's shoveling alt that food into his mouth, not the food industry," notes John L. Stanton, professor of food marketing, St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, Pa., an industry consultant, lecturer, and coauthor of Twenty-One Trends in Food Marketing. "I don't think there's any question that portion sizes are getting bigger, but it doesn't make sense to hold restaurants or food manufacturers to blame for giving their customers exactly what those customers say they want. That's called customer service."

He cites consumer surveys conducted by food marketers in which respondents consistently rate "Value" as one of the most important considerations when buying food at home or in restaurants. From an industry perspective, Stanton explains, it comes down to simple economics--the cheapest way to give customers extra value is to increase portion sizes. …

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