by Pierce Hollingsworth
Food industry takes aim at America’s health crisis.
The roil of media attention is unrelenting. The obesity crisis is good copy, in all its permutations. In May, Time magazine’s cover story, “Low-Carb Nation,” declared, “Nutritionists are horrified, but they can’t stop the force that is reshaping the food industry — and our bodies.”
This hyperbole comes in the wake of similar diet and health cover stories, network news specials, a rising volume of medical research targeting connections between food and fat, and incredibly popular diets, such as Atkins and Barry Sears’ Zone. Many of these stories are based on questionable assumptions about the link between food marketing and obesity. But where there are victims, there must be someone or something to blame. Behind the headlines, cash-strapped legislators are looking into how best to help slim down their constituents by taxing junk food — and pour much needed revenue state and local coffers. And veteran tobacco war lawyers, enriched and bored after winning massive judgments against the cigarette companies, are now hungrily eyeing “big food.”
They have deep pockets and substantial incentive, based on two facts: Obesity was declared a national epidemic in 1999 and the food industry is the most visible and lucrative potential target.
Attorneys in this effort have already conducted a high-level conference to explore how litigation can best be used to address the obesity epidemic. Their contention is that fast-food companies knowingly manipulate children via their advertising and marketing efforts — and these companies have made little effort to offer “healthy” foods.
Predictably, the public debate surrounding obesity centers more on the blame game than solutions. While the food industry has taken its share of flak, public education, suburban sprawl, labor-saving machines, the rise of the service economy, cable television and a highly affluent society in which all food is relatively cheap and plentiful are cited as co-conspirators.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the decade of the 1990s witnessed a rampant rise in the number of U.S. adults classified as obese — those with a body-mass index (BMI) of more than 30. The CDC estimates that 61 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Ironically, the average American’s daily caloric intake isn’t much different than it was in 1965. Today we burn 700 to 800 fewer calories per day, pointing to a sedentary lifestyle as a main contributor to obesity.
The trend has caught the attention of the media, which has dramatically increased its attention on the issue. From a handful of stories in national media in late 1999 to more than more than a thousand over the last year, the media is raising both awareness and emotions. Many of these stories have attempted to lay blame and assign simple solutions to a complex problem, such as taxing “bad” food, much like cigarette taxes. But taxing “bad” food, even if such a scheme could work, doesn’t address the issue of inactivity.
Consumers seem less willing to blame the industry, according to the National Restaurant Association. Nearly all surveyed consumers oppose additional taxes on restaurant foods known to be high in fat, and 84 percent oppose a law or regulation limiting portion size.
To date, this has not dissuaded the media or the activists who are determined to find a smoking gun. And the food industry is beginning to get the message. Just how this message is taking shape, and how it will shape the food industry, is the theme of Stagnito’s Obesity Summit 2004, to be held June 24-25 at the Indian Lakes Resort near Chicago. Trial lawyers, food manufacturing companies, retailers and foodservice all will be represented in this unprecedented forum.
Pierce Hollingsworth is director of the Special Projects Division at Stagnito Communications Inc.
|Thursday, June 24, and Friday, June 25, 2004 Indian Lakes Resort, Bloomingdale, Ill.|
|Thursday, June 24|
|7:30-8:15 a.m.||Continental Breakfast|
|8:30-10 a.m.||Session 1: Blue-Ribbon Keynote Panel Discussion|
|Framing the Crisis: Threats and Opportunities|
|10:15-11:15 a.m.||Session 2: The New Marketing Paradigm—Obesity|
|and Consumer Trends|
|Food, Fitness and a Sedentary Lifestyle|
|11:30-12:15 p.m.||Session 3: Understanding the Low-carb Phenomenon|
|Is It a Fad or a Trend?|
|1:45-2:45 p.m.||Session 4: Foodservice Panel Menu Changes,|
|Litigation, Schools. How to Win In New Business|
|2:45-3:30 p.m.||Session 5: Retail Store Formats, Private Label,|
|New Niche Retailers, Public Information|
|3:45-5:15 p.m.||Session 6: Manufacturing/Processing Panel Healthy|
|Foods that Balance Taste, Nutrition, Convenience|
|and Value — Can It Be Done?|
|Friday, June 25|
|7:30-8:15 a.m.||Continental Breakfast|
|8:15-8:30 a.m.||Opening Remarks, Day One Summary|
|8:30-9:15 a.m.||Session 7: Case Study 1 Start-up|
|Company—Health Focused, Riding the New Tide|
|9:15-10 a.m.||Session 8: Case Study 2 How Companies Reposition|
|10:15-10:45 a.m.||Session 9: Case Study 3|
|Richard A. Daynard, J.D., Ph.D., Professor, Northeastern University School of Law, Chair, Tobacco Products Liability Project, Director, Public Health Advocacy Institute’s Law and Obesity Project.|
|Roeland Polet, CEO, Carbolite Foods.|
|Dr. Barry Sears, author of The Zone.|
|Irwin Simon, CEO, Hain Celestial Group.|
|Tracy Bargman, President of|
|Sylvia B. Rowe, President and CEO, International Food Information Council (IFIC).|
|Paul M. Hyman, Director, law firm of Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C., which specializes in the regulation of foods; past Chairman of the Federal Bar Association\'s Food and Drug Committee.|
|Stuart Lawrence Trager, M.D., Medical Director, Atkins Nutritionals Inc. and Chairperson of the Atkins Physicians Council.|
|Mark Baum, Executive Vice President, Grocery Manufacturers of America.|
|Tim Straus, Principal and CMO,|
|Turover Straus Group.|
|Jim Williams, President and CEO,|
|Paul Stitt, Founder and CEO, Natural|
|Miriam Erickson Brown, President and COO, Anderson Erickson Dairy.|
|Arne Bey, Chairman and CEO, KETO LLC.|
|Phil Mesi, President, Subway Development Corp.|
|Catherine Roberts, VP Market Research,|
|Food Spectrum LLC.|
|Dr. Mary Mulry, Senior Director, Research, Development and Standards, Wild Oats|
|Lisa Talamini, R.D., Chief Nutritionist,|
|Jenny Craig Inc.|
|Stacey Lauen, New Product Manager, Freschetta, Schwan’s Consumer Brands|
|North America, Inc.|
|Jerry P. Smiley, Principal, Strategic|
|Joan Schneider, President, Schneider & Associates.|
|Colleen Zammer, Principal,|
|Food and Beverage Technology, TIAX LLC.|
|Suzanna Prong Eygabroat, Director of Information Services, Productscan Online.|