How can Big Food help the obesity crisis? Jeesh.

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“Tackling childhood obesity: What role should industry take?”

That’s the headline atop’s story from a panel at the Institute for Food Technologists’ annual meeting last week in Las Vegas, and I had to think, “are you kidding me?”

There are many identifiable contributors to child obesity, and practically no one escapes culpability. But Big Food is the biggest contributor, even if they didn’t start out with a goal of an obese clientele, and even if they’re just doing what other companies do: formulate products that the public will buy, in ever-increasing amounts, for the benefit of the bottom line.

The headline’s question is akin to the alcoholic beverage companies’ campaign, which just turned 30 this month, urging its customers to “drink responsibly.” The clear subtext of that is, “we have to say that for the nanny-staters, but we’ve just spent the other 29 1/2 seconds of this spot telling you to buy as much of our product as we can convince you to, so what do you think we really mean?”

You can’t have it both ways. Big Food is in business to make money. They have found they can make more of it concocting combinations of refined food (less spoilage than fresh food) and then spending billions convincing everyone they will be happier/sexier/etc. if they buy as much of it as they can.

And then, yes, through transparent mouthpieces such as the deceitfully named Center for Consumer Freedom, they spout that personal responsibility is the only remedy to the problems they knowingly, intentionally fuel. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” as the Great Oz said.

They can’t have it both ways. They can’t continue being the foremost agents fueling this globesity epidemic, and also have a role in solving it. Unless we all decide to increase our exercise to two-hours-plus every day, reductions in obesity will have to come out of their bottom line. There is no other way.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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