Junk Food Junkies?

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An article in the New York Times describes the snack food companies as akin to big tobacco – using science and marketing to manipulate the public’s perception of their harmful products.

But true to form, the NYT makes a good job of it and leaves us considering just how addictive harmful foodstuffs might be.

We see the heads of major snack food companies meeting to figure out ways to get us to buy more, eat more and do it in a way they avoid looking like the bad guys as America slowing becomes a diabetic-ridden landscape of double-wide stretch pants. Taste is on the menu for the decision makers, along with calorie counts and flavor modifications.

Public at the Mercy of Food Scientists

One thing that’s plain is that the uninformed public is at the mercy of highly trained food scientists. These are the men and women who work in the secret labs of the food industry.

What upset the executives most wasn’t the lack of sales – sales are great – they were upset because their products were getting the same treatment cigarettes got and ran the risk of being regulated as harmful.

On this point, the science is still out. Certainly, some types of products are habit forming, and a diet rich in refined sugars isn’t the best. But so far, it’s a matter of how much and how often instead of outright harm.

'You Can't Eat Just One'

On the “how much” front, the article tells us about food addiction and the pursuit of the perfect snack food – a chip, cake or candy bar with excellent mouth feel, an attractive price point and the ability to satisfy only temporarily, driving someone back for seconds or thirds. The marketing slogan, “You can’t eat just one,” isn’t a myth; it’s a realistic goal in this field.

With obesity rates in the U.S. running over one in three adults, according to the CDC, legislators are listening more closely when medical personnel tell them weight is a public health issue. And one target of legislation is the “convenience” food industry. That’s what worries the CEO’s of the major brands, and it may also be enough to get them to pull back from the brink.

Surprisingly, their own research shows the most addictive types of foods aren’t the sweetest or those with the most fat. Bland actually has a use, since overly flavorful snacks quickly satiate the public. So the same science that drives us to eat the whole bag of chips can be used to wean us from the practice and get us to eat more healthful foods.

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