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GMA: Banning, taxing or restricting access to certain foods or beverages will not solve the obesity problem

By Elaine WATSON , 27-Feb-2013

“Public policy proposals to ban, tax or restrict consumer access to certain foods or beverages will not solve the obesity problem”, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has insisted, following the publication of a book by New York Times investigative reporter Michael Moss.

In his book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, excerpts of which were published in the NY Times this week , Moss claims GMA members are engaged in 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”.

However, the GMA said Moss’s work misrepresented the commitment its members had made to giving consumers “the products, tools and information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle” and listed several reformulation and food labeling initiatives adopted by industry.

It also highlighted the role of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) aimed at ensuring ads on children’s programming promote healthier diet choices.

President Pam Bailey added: “The root causes of obesity are well known.  Too many calories consumed from any source, combined with a sedentary lifestyle are the main risk factors for obesity. 

“To achieve and maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, consumers must learn to balance calories consumed through food and beverages with the appropriate amount of physical activity as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

CSPI: Education and transparency in food labeling is not enough. The food environment has to change

But while food companies are fond of wheeling out voluntary initiatives such as calorie labeling on soda, reduced ‘junk food’ marketing to kids, and the provision of healthier snacks in schools as examples of how proactive they have been, many of these things only came about because of relentless pressure from advocacy groups, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy, CSPI, in an interview with FoodNavigator-USA last week.

“I don’t think the food industry suddenly woke up one day and said we want to stop marketing junk food to kids. We’re been pushing for action on this for 15 years.”

And while voluntary initiatives can generate meaningful change, regulatory interventions may also be needed in areas where food manufacturers cannot see a business case for changing their behavior, argued Wootan.

“The idea that the marketplace will take care of every problem known to man is ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, the ‘there is no such thing as bad foods, only bad diets' argument is starting to wear pretty thin, she claimed.

Of course if your diet is generally very good, you can fit in treats now and again, but the ‘there are no bad foods, only bad diets’ mantra is just an excuse to cover up irresponsible food industry practices.A 3,000 calorie plate of cheesy fries IS a bad food, and trying to fit foods like this into your diet on a regular basis and maintain a healthy weight is almost impossible.”

And while better education and clearer labeling is a good start, the food environment has to change if we are going to make the dramatic changes to our diet and lifestyle required to keep obesity at bay, she claimed.

Even if people have great nutrition education, if healthy choices are not available, reasonably priced and attractively presented and promoted, people will have a hard time eating well.”

Marion Nestle: ‘All of us need to recognize and resist food marketing every time we grocery shop or vote

Moss’ book won praise from Marion Nestle, professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, who wrote in her foodpolitics blog: “Anyone reading this truly important book will understand why food corporations cannot be trusted to value health over profits and why all of us need to recognize and resist food marketing every time we grocery shop or vote.”