Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Changing junk food policies may slow obesity epidemic

By Samara Abramson

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Flickr/Chrissy Marie

Picture this: 11 of the most powerful CEOs of America’s largest food companies, including Nestlé, Kraft, General Mills and Mars, sitting in the auditorium of Pillsbury’s headquarters discussing the prevalence of obesity in the United States and what they can do about it.

An article in Wednesday’s The New York Times, entitled, “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” discusses the connection between the addictive aspects of junk food and high obesity rates in the United States.

From personal experience, I have always believed that junk food is addictive. The article contains an excellent graphic that demonstrates the dependence. With the image of a Doritos chip in the background, the text represents a fictitious scientific equation, which includes salt, fat, the satisfying crunch and a pleasing mouth feel. All of these features are supposed to create “A Food Designed to Addict.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized that salt has addictive qualities, which proves the possibility that junk food can be addicting. In May 2010, the FDA talked about limiting the amount of sodium allowed in processed foods in an effort to prevent heart disease and hypertension, according to an article in The Washington Post.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009 to 2010, 35.7 percent of U.S. adults were obese. The CDC also presents trends in obesity in the United States. For instance, its one CDC report says, “Among black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to be obese than those with lower incomes.” Women with higher incomes are  less likely to be obese than those with lower incomes.

I can speculate that this is the case because of the high prices of healthy, organic food. Step inside your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and the prices skyrocket compared to those at Stop & Shop, especially when comparing organic or non-GMO granola bars to the chemically processed ones.

The FDA, World Health Organization and The Non-GMO Project have researched genetically engineered foods, or GMO’s, which constitute key ingredients in junk food. Although many of these studies have proven theories about the detrimental effects of consuming GMO’s, there is enough research to suggest that it is safer to eat naturally and organically. Unfortunately, more nutritious food is more expensive and therefore reserved for those of higher economic status.

Another trend coinciding with economic status is the fact that women with college degrees are less likely to be obese than those without college degrees. This relates to  economic status, again, because one reason why some people do not attend college is because they cannot afford the cost of tuition. This may suggest that universities are helping to create good eating habits and teaching students about the importance of nutrition.

On the other hand, it also suggests that everyday marketing publicizes and encourages unhealthy eating habits. Turn on any television channel and wait for the commercial break. What you will see are bouts of subliminal messaging convincing American society, and especially American youth, of the charms of processed snacks.

At the meeting in the Pillsbury auditorium, a slideshow portrayed the current dismal facts linking obesity to junk food. According to The New York Times article, more than half of all American adults are now considered overweight. Nearly 25 percent of the adult population (40 million people) is clinically defined as obese. Food manufacturers, such as the ones at this meeting, are being blamed for what the secretary of agriculture calls a “national epidemic.”

Michael Mudd, the vice president of Kraft, presented a comparison the inconceivable to any food manufacturer: He drew a parallel to the tobacco industry. If these CEO’s didn’t see it before, or maybe if they didn’t want to see it before, how could they not grasp the correlation now? The tobacco industry was criticized for years for essentially murdering the population of the U.S. until 1970, when Congress passed the Public Health Smoking Act, which banned cigarette advertisements on television and radio. Additionally, as tobacco prices go up, tobacco consumption decreases nationally. According to CDC, from 1965 to 2009, cigarette smoking has decreased.

What can we learn from this? Raise the prices of junk food, ban advertisements for junk food on television and radio and watch the numbers decline.

Samara Abramson is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]



21 Responses to “Changing junk food policies may slow obesity epidemic”

  1. David Hunt, 1990 on February 22nd, 2013 8:02 am

    Or… let people make their own decisions and deal with the consequences. Oh, wait, that would mean they’re FREE instead of subject to your good-intentioned fascism.

    I have lost over 30 pounds after reading “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes. Another 30 to go. THERE is freedom – the freedom to choose, and the requirement to have willpower, not be subject to the nanny state.


  2. salt on February 24th, 2013 9:51 pm

    Lets punish poor people by raising the price of cheap food, while simultaneously propagating the nanny state. Lets also trample all over the 1st amendment by banning advertisements for…food?

    And why? Because “salt has addicting qualities?” It’s interesting that these “qualities” aren’t mentioned, probably because it’s not true. Google salt addiction and all it talks about is bath salts. Whens the last time you heard of a salt rehab center? Never? That’s because salt isn’t addicting.


  3. mason on February 25th, 2013 4:38 am

    It does not seem intuitive that salt is addicting however I think the op-ed author should provide research to support that claim. Anyway good article and kudos for writing about this important subject.

    I don’t think junk food is addicting but I agree it’s very unhealthy because of it’s lack of any nutritional content and because of it’s high calorie content. A small bag of Doritos chips has 300 calories and it’s barely filling. 3 apples have the same amount and actual leave a sensation of being filled. 2 bags are 600 calories versus a pound of chicken which is 500. It’s not the preservatives(although not a concern because they’re consumed in trace quantities,almost all preservatives are proven to cause cancer) that are so damaging in junk food because nearly all junk food and processed food contains high amounts of sugars and oils. Sugars and oils contain high amounts of calories and often are the main ingredients responsible for the majority of calories in junk foods.

    This is coupled with the fact that eating healthy is often more expensive than purchasing processed foods, people tend to be lazy, view food as a “personal freedom” and have poor cooking knowledge. Furthermore sedentary lifestyles have become increasingly more common.

    I think there are several approaches to this. The government can mandate increased physical exercise by both educating the populace, providing incentives and mandating companies require their employees to exercise. The latter sounds harsh but if people are unwilling to make responsible decisions and society pays the consequences, than they should be induced into correct behavior. The government could pass legislation that employees engage in a cardiovascular exercise 30 minutes a day.(not that different from the education system that require students take physical education)

    Another approach is to further subsidize the cost of vegetables,fruits,meats and grains,teach citizens how to cook meals which are healthy and appetizing but most importantly change how the food industry operates. The food industry is partly responding to the demands of consumers but because of those demands and because the food industry creates unhealthy products legislation similar to fuel economy standards to force the industry over a period of years to reduce the calorie contents of their products and also to encourage food innovation. Although the latter will be controversial with individuals concerned about food engineering, i.e.fat substitutes.


  4. David Hunt, 1990 on February 25th, 2013 4:57 pm

    Mason: People should be induced to do what’s good for them?

    Been to any Bund meetings lately?


  5. mason on February 27th, 2013 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the intelligent, well-reasoned and factual response. In this case an ad hominem argument, what I said has nothing to do with nazis.


  6. mason on February 27th, 2013 3:19 pm

    If people are unwilling to take personal responsibility over their lives and you place an emphasis on people having control over their life and their consequences of their behavior regardless of the sensibility of it than perhaps there is an alternative to accommodate that philosophy without society having to pay the costs.

    An alternative is to sequester the monetary consequences of their behavior. One way to do that is to similar car insurance when drivers are shown to be irresponsible and engage in poor behavior, than instead of distributing higher premium costs to all drivers, those individual drivers are charged more. Insurance companies could similarly be allowed to charge higher premiums for customers who choose to engage in lifestyles which are proven to be discretionary and as result of that behavior damaging to their health, i.e the obese,smokers and substance abusers could be charged higher.


  7. David Hunt 1990 on February 28th, 2013 4:39 pm

    Mason: Your post has EVERYTHING to do with governmental power to tell people what’s good for them.

    So, given your other post about financially-leveraging behaviors… given that AIDS is still primarily a gay (male) disease, should insurance companies charge gay males a higher premium because they are, statistically, the most likely group to catch it?


  8. mason on March 1st, 2013 9:19 pm

    We’re not talking about Aids, we’re talking about obesity. You don’t provide logic,reason or facts to support your points, you just type in CAPS, change the topic or make absurd comparisons to try to devalue the other poster’s viewpoint.


  9. mason on March 1st, 2013 9:23 pm

    In addition aids is considered to legally be a disability, engaging in drugs, overeating or smoking are not. If obesity is caused by a medical illness than insurance companies shouldn’t be allowed to charge higher premiums. Also you obviously ignored what I wrote, ignored all my points and reduced the topic to the simplest point possible i.e “government intervention is bad”. I mentioned many methods that could be considered to tackle obesity because I am actually interested in solving the problem. Other people just simply interested in arguing or making ideologicalpoints.


  10. David Hunt 1990 on March 2nd, 2013 10:44 am

    Yes, government intervention is bad. People have a right to be stupid in their personal habits. And a government that “intervenes” to the point of your stated/desired goal of enforced exercise is FASCIST.


  11. Joseph dipoala md on March 2nd, 2013 3:37 pm

    Stop obesity and pay for health care with taxfat follow on Twitterhave the addicting substances like tobacco pay for the healthcareproblems


  12. anna on March 3rd, 2013 12:02 am

    David hunt doesn’t seem to get it. People have the right to their persona habitl, but the fact is others shouldn’t have to pay the consquences of their behavior.

    You seem to have a hard time grasping that. It’s an entirely different argument, the argument is not about personal choice but the consquences of personal choice.


  13. anna on March 3rd, 2013 12:03 am

    Also I guess making kids exercise in school is facist, what devils we have become!


  14. David Hunt 1990 on March 4th, 2013 2:41 pm

    Anna: So you agree with me that people who catch AIDS (or other STDs) through “casual encounters” should have to pay a higher premium, since such things are entirely avoidable? What about those who – rape, etc., aside – get pregnant and want an abortion?

    And kids aren’t adults; they don’t have the luxury of free choice.


  15. anna on March 6th, 2013 5:33 pm

    This has nothing to do with aids, why does david hunt even bother posting on this site? All he does is antagaonize commentators and op-ed authors, fails to provide reasoned points and generally adds nothing productive to the discussion. Are you the directory of a non-profit organization, do you work for a PAC, are you involved in politics? Have you conducted undergraduate or graduate political science or economic policy research?

    Do you have anything to add to the discussion with experience or facts or knowledge of the healthcare industry/nutrition substantiated by your success in those topics or study of it? I think it’s clear the op-ed article and some of the commentators understand the issues they discuss, but I am doubtful if you do.


  16. David Hunt 1990 on March 7th, 2013 8:36 am


    Make the mean Conservative go away, right?

    Here’s the point, sweetie: If you demand the state’s involvement in ONE aspect of life – fitness, obesity, etc., because it costs the state money, you open the door to the state’s involvement in EVERY facet of your life.

    HIV/AIDS is a totally preventable disease these days. Blood is screened. Aside from being raped by someone with the disease, there is absolutely NO reason ANYONE should get it. But people do. Why? Because they engage in risky behaviors. The same for EVERY “social disease”… more and more critical as new strains are emerging that are immune to every antibiotic known.

    Do you want the “Protection Police” sweeping down on you and your boyfriend to be sure you’re doing everying “safely”? Spot-checks on random occasions of coupling to be certain? No? Then don’t demand the power of the government swoop down on people whose dietary habits you disapprove of.

    Many years ago, probably back when you were a toddler, Canada passed a law about pornography. Hailed by such feminists as Dworking and McKinnon, what was the first use of that law? To close down a lesbian bookstore.

    What’s my point? That power ceded to the state to regulate you will metastesize into unforseen consequences. And all you people so eager to control others will find yourselves controlled… by chains you helped forge.


  17. mason on March 10th, 2013 5:45 pm


    Make the mean Conservative go away, right?

    Here’s the point, sweetie:

    What a belitting way to talk to a woman and not to mention his rant has nothing to do with the op-ed piece. I agree with anna, all david hunt does is antagonize people and try to goad them into fights.


  18. David Hunt 1990 on March 11th, 2013 7:28 am


    Actually, it’s called “tactics” – and upsetting your opponent is part of it. You might need to read up on your Alinksy.

    My point is spot-on. You Leftists want to control PRIVATE BEHAVIOR in the kitchen because it might cost “the public” money. Well, your PRIVATE BEHAVIOR in the bedroom might also cost “the public” money so it is equally within the purview of the precedent YOU SET to control your sexual behavior as well.


  19. mason on March 12th, 2013 5:01 pm

    Tactics for what? All you do is leave comments on a newspaper website, it doesn’t accomplish or lead to anything. I’m sure your tactics and intelligence have enabled you to achieve great success and will lead you very far in life. lol


  20. David Hunt 1990 on March 14th, 2013 12:34 pm


    And I’m sure the precedent you set in wanting to control people’s behaviors they enjoy won’t rebound on you and behaviors you enjoy.



  21. Brian Walpole on March 19th, 2013 7:16 am

    There is nothing real or natural anymore about the food we eat – all the smells and flavours are artificially created, to trick our brains into grabbing more and bringing on a host of health issues like hypertension, diabetes and obesity that have become typical of the modern age. To add to the woes, it is the corporate shielding government policies that are fuelling the conflicting interests between a callous profit hungry industry and the social, environmental and nutritional welfare of the general populace. It is indeed ironical that the very industry, intrinsic to our well-being should be the cause of the obesity epidemic under which much of the industrialised world is reeling. So what’s the solution? Have we and our highly capitalistic society really succeeded in the true sense of the word? More of my thoughts on this in my blog post


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