Obesity tipped the scales as the nation's No. 1 food news in 2003, according to 1,300 food editors surveyed in mid-December by New York City-based Hunter Public Relations.
Throughout 2003, study after study revealed that Americans (especially children and teens) consume more calories than ever before, partly due to the "super sizing" of portions. Consumer lawsuits proliferated against food companies and fast food providers, blamed in part for the obesity epidemic. Food companies responded with new initiatives to help fight obesity, including a cap on portion sizes and the elimination of in-school marketing for some products.
Although Hunter has conducted annual surveys of the major subjects covered by newspaper, consumer and trade editors for the past three years, this is the first exclusive survey of food editors by the public relations firm. Following are the other food issues that made the Top 10 list.
Struggling against the battle of the bulge, Americans embraced the Atkins Diet, the No. 2 news story. The previously controversial diet , emphasizing proteins and fats while discouraging consumption of rice, bread and fruit -- was vindicated in several studies.
Trans fatty acid(s) was voted the third most important story of the year. In July, the FDA announced trans fats must be listed on the nutrition facts panel of conventional food products and some dietary supplements by 2006, to educate consumers to the confirmed relationship between trans fat and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
A political hot potato captured the No. 4 spot. When France wouldn't join the U.S. in going to war with Iraq, war hawks rebelled against French food. "Freedom Fries" and "Freedom Toast" replaced french fries and french toast on menus, and French wine was boycotted.
Another diet weighed in at No. 5. Cardiologist Arthur Agatston topped the bestsellers lists with his "The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss." The diet initially was developed as an eating plan to improve cholesterol and insulin levels of patients with heart disease.
The No. 6 spot goes to a study, released at the American Heart Assn.'s annual meeting, that found a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, fruits, and vegetables and low in fat may prevent heart disease. The diet follows the current Food Guide Pyramid closely, possibly giving validity to the standard despite growing criticism from supporters of other diet regimes.
No. 7 is a bill introduced in Congress in November that would require restaurants to prominently list nutrition information -- including calories -- on menus.
A redefinition of the word "homemade" bubbled up to No. 8. Several decades ago, homemade meant grinding your own flour to make a cake. Several years ago, something was homemade if you assembled four or five ready-to-use ingredients. Now, the culinary impaired call a cake made from a mix "a homemade original" -- as long as it is doctored up with two or three added ingredients.
Landing at No. 9 is paying to eat airline food. When airlines began cutting meals as part of cost-cutting measures after September 11, 2001, passengers grumbled. So airlines returned food to flights for a fee.
True couch potatoes rejoiced with the launch of reality TV based on food, which rounds out the survey at No. 10. NBC launched "The Restaurant" by opening and operating a restaurant in Manhattan. Chef Jamie Oliver was also the subject of a restaurant reality program, which aired on Food Network.
Asked to predict the big food stories or trends in 2004, editors said food safety/food handling would rise in importance, as well as the source of America's food (including concerns related to genetically modified food and the spread of mad cow disease). Many also see a continued acceptance of a low-carb diet, with more low-carb options. And most food editors also say we'll continue to desire quick and easy meal solutions to fit our hectic lifestyles.
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