Intended for healthcare professionals


US food industry ensures that consumers are not told to eat less

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 06 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:1067
  1. Amanda Elliot
  1. London

    A former adviser to the US government on nutrition has blamed the recent obesity epidemic on the country's commercially driven overproduction of cheap food.

    Marion Nestle, professor and chairwoman of the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, said the US food industry had used sophisticated marketing and advertising techniques to make people eat more.

    Meanwhile, its powerful political lobby had stopped government agencies providing advice to consumers on reducing their energy intake.

    Professor Nestle said, “Advertising and marketing methods have changed society in a way that it has made it too easy to overeat. It is now socially acceptable to eat anywhere, all day, every day, and in larger and larger quantities.”

    Giving evidence at the UK parliamentary health committee's inquiry into obesity, Professor Nestle told MPs how health problems related to obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, cost the United States an estimated $177bn (£105bn; €155bn) a year.

    Average daily energy consumption per person had risen by 2.5 kJ since 1970 and by a further 0.4 kJ between 2001 and 2002. She said it was now “not unusual” for doctors to report children consuming 5.0 kJ to 6.3 kJ a day from soft drinks alone.

    Yet government health education had avoided giving advice on cutting intake and focused instead on “completely uncontroversial” advice encouraging people to engage in more physical activity.

    Professor Nestle said, “Lobbyists and trade associations in Washington do a good job of making sure no federal agency ever says people should eat less.

    “Government education doesn't work at all. We have government recommendations, and they are always in some ways compromised by the political situation. You will never find dietary recommendations about eating less.”