Obesity: Control of food intake, including the endocannabinoids. Also, a review of: “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” by Michael Moss
A lecture was presented by Joe Dixon on February 26, 2014 on the subject of the control of food intake in humans. This area has now been researched for over sixty years and we are still in the infancy of understanding this complex process. However, it is evident that the food companies have made significant discoveries concerning what makes humans crave certain foods. The reading assignment for this week was “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” by Michael Moss, published February 20, 2013 in the New York Times Magazine. Michael Moss is an investigative reporter for The NY Times and he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for his news reports concerning the meat industry. The article was adapted from “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” published in 2013 by Random House.
Here is short summary of Mr. Moss’ article:
What makes this article, and the book which it is exerpted from, so powerful is that Mr. Moss was able to obtain documents that support this entire story. Michael Moss stated, “What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.” Mr. Moss interviewed over 300 people who had been involved, or were still involved, with the food industry. In this article, he relays examples of how certain foods were formulated to make products irresistible to consumers. Foods that he mentioned in the magazine article were Dr. Pepper soft drink, Prego spaghetti sauce, Lunchables with dessert, the line extension for Lay’s potato chips, and several other major processed foods.
Mr. Moss’s article begins with a recap of a one-day meeting in 1999 of major food executives. In a presentation by a vice president of Kraft, named Michael Mudd, it was posited that the high rates of childhood and adult obesity were in part due to products supplies by the major food companies. Mr. Mudd suggested that one way to combat obesity included lowering salt, fat, and sugar in their products, and pulling back on their advertizing of packaged and front line food products. However, later in the same meeting, Stephen Sanger, CEO of General Mills, indicated that General Mills would not change course and that he would not alter recipes that had been formulated. The possibility that major food companies would do their part to fight the obesity epidemic was definitely deflated in this meeting.
Here are some major food products that Mr. Moss discusses in his article:
For Dr. Pepper, Moss saw the report where Howard Moskowitz, a food industry consultant, detailed how to increase the acceptance of Dr. Pepper by consumers. He even cited specific pages in the report where Moskowitz described how to increase the allure of Dr. Pepper.
We learn that in Prego spaghetti sauce, after tomatoes, sugar was made the next greatest ingredient in amount.
One extremely revealing story was that the grandchildren of Bob Drane, the man who invented Lunchables, did not seem to eat them because their mother, Drane’s daughter, indicted that her family “eat very healthfully.”
One interesting strategy that all of us who spend time in major supermarkets are aware of is the line extension, where products such as the original Oreos morphed into over thirty different “Oreo” varieties. The possibility of finding that perfect Oreo was enhanced many fold!
In the case of potato chips, food industry scientists again followed the food industry’s very effective strategy (line extension) to increase the sales of well-known products. In this case, the classic Lay’s potato chip brand was extended to include cousins such as chips with salt & vinegar, salt & pepper, cheddar, and sour cream flavoring. Mr. Moss goes on to describe how Frito-Lay executives hope to develop “designer sodium,” which may decrease the sodium content of their products by a considerable amount.
Moss ended his article by writing about Jeffrey Dunn, who was trying to stimulate interest in selling carrots to consumers using tactics he learned in the food industry. However, Mr. Dunn had been an executive with the Coca-Cola Company, where he was the president and chief operating officer for the regions of North and South America. One of the executives who worked with Mr. Dunn at the time described to Mr. Moss that Coca-Cola’s goal was to “outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water.” Certainly, this comment brings to mind the Empire in the Star Wars Trilogy!
An interview of Michael Moss conducted by Johannah Sakimura, one of the students in this class, can be viewed at: