The obesity industry: Bait and switch

As far as the health of Americans is concerned, obesity is a serious problem. For snack-makers, however, it’s a $77 billion a year industry. While many companies pay lip service to being part of the solution, they’ve developed clever marketing ploys to sidestep the few regulations meant to protect kids from overindulgence.

The food industry is long used to making money by making us fat with highly processed, high calorie junk foods and then making more money by selling us so-called diet-foods to slim back down. Now, through the sale of “copycat snacks,” the industry is trying to do an end-run past the USDA “Smart Snacks” nutrition criteria for in-school sales.

It’s pretty clever, or devious, depending on how you feel about creating another generation of high-fat snack-addicted kids. Starting with the upcoming fall term, snacks sold in vending machines or school stores have to meet nutritional requirements designed to make junk food a bit less junky. Major firms have reformulated their school-sold snacks to meet these requirements but, for the most part, haven’t significantly reformulated their branding or graphics. And, according to a study by The Public Health Advocacy Institute, the snack makers aren’t making these healthier versions available in the general marketplace.

This means that a kid who’s been trained to think his Doritos, Cheetos and Goldfish are OK snacks — they’re sold in school, after all — won’t be getting the low-fat version when they shop at Walmart, and probably won’t notice because the copycat packaging is so similar. And rather than learning the principles of healthy eating, the kids will have become fans of a brand.

Why won’t the major food companies make “Smart Snacks” globally available? As far as we can tell, it has to do with the bottom line. Period.


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