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The campaign against obesity "needs to be a joint effort between industry, government and the public" if it is to succeed, says Earl, who notes the industry already has participated extensively in efforts to provide nutritional information and recommended serving sizes on labels, as well as shape the Food Guide Pyramid.
Ortiz, meanwhile, credits food companies such as Coca-Cola for developing new products that are healthier for children, such as the new Swerve milk-based drinks, which will be distributed in vending machines in middle and high schools. However, parent and industry groups already are complaining that Swerve, along with Dr Pepper/Seven Up's Raging Cow, another milk-based drink, are too rich in sugar. Susan Ruland of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) told Scripps Howard News Service, "It's not just the calories. I don't like the idea of packaging junk as healthy foods."
Nestle isn't surprised. She notes that even as orange juice manufacturers work to promote the healthy aspects of their products, they fail to warn consumers that those attributes are accompanied by high calorie counts. "Everything in moderation," she says. "A glass or two of orange juice is fine. What consumers don't realize is that those drinks contain the same number of calories as a soda."
Even Frito-Lay, which last year announced plans to eliminate hydrogenated oils and instead use trans fat-free corn oil in the production of its Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos brands, acknowledges that consumers of such products aren't likely to shed calories as a result of these reformulations. "The switch from trans fat does not lower the total amount of fat in the products, though it does remove those that are associated with bad cholesterol, which studies have shown are linked to heart disease," says a company spokesperson.
It's a step in the right direction. Manufacturer Kraft Foods arguably took a much larger one when earlier this month it announced plans to improve product nutrition by reducing sugar, fat and calories in most of its products and shrinking the size of its single-serve portions. The question is whether other food companies will follow suit.
"The food industry puts so much pressure on growth. That may be uniquely American," Nestle observes. But the war on obesity, she continues, can't be won unless food companies, either by force of reason or sheer force, alter some of their practices, and revise their earnings forecasts accordingly. "Not everyone can win," she says. "It can't be a win-win for everyone."
As if McDonalds and Burger King don't have enough headaches as major fall guys for the nation's obesity epidemic, they may now face lawsuits alleging the two chains conspired to withhold information about properties that make their foods addictive, or so says attorney John Banzhaff, whose crusade against the tobacco industry in the 1970s resulted in a ban on cigarette commercials.
Four steps to a trimmer America
Though Dr. Marion Nestle, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, contends that overeating is largely to blame for the nation's skyrocketing obesity rates, she also acknowledges that solving the problem won't be easy. Nonetheless, she says the following initiatives might help get the ball rolling:
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