The Food Industry: Scamming Some of the People Some of the Time

food industry

$1.6 billion spent on advertisements to promote food and beverages to children and adolescents in 2006, by 44 major food and beverage marketers, reports the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Now consider this, childhood obesity has tripled among adolescents and doubled among younger children since 1980. Sounds like dollars to pounds. What are we eating nowadays?

Pushing the edges of food and beverage advertising

But, this article is not focused on obesity as much as advertising. Given the large influence that food and beverage advertising visibly bestows upon Americans, perhaps the time to delve into truth in advertising has ripened again. Let's face it, although we choose what we put in our mouths, the media strongly influences our behavior. If that weren't so, it's doubtful food and beverage marketers would put their millions where our mouths are.

Unfortunately, despite an array of rules and regulations promulgated by the United States FTC, some marketers continue to practice deceptive, or borderline, advertising. Consequently, those extra healthy calories might not be all they're cracked up to be. The following might surprise you:

The Dannon Company, Inc.

On December 15, 2010, an FTC news release revealed that The Dannon Company, Inc., agreed to settle FTC charges of deceptive advertising. Apparently, Dannon's claims that Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drink that contain probiotics that help relieve temporary regularity, helps prevent colds and flu, as seen on television, the Internet, in print ads on on package labels overstated the products' benefits.

Do Dannon's claims lead to indigestion?
According to one FTC official, Chairman John Leibowitz, "[t]hese types of misleading claims are enough to give consumers indigestion."

Although the FTC usually does not require FDA approval for health claims of food companies, Dannon must obtain the FDA's approval before going forward with any claims that "any yogurt, dairy drink, or probiotic food or drink reduces the likelihood of getting the cold or the flu," that according to the news release. As for Dannon's advertisements that Activia yogurt relieves temporary irregularity or "helps with slow intestinal transit time," the company must rely on two well-designed human clinical studies to substantiate that Activia rectifies irregularity.

Silk Original Pure Almond milk

The October 2010 Nutrition Action Healthletter lists some other "scams." For instance did you know that one cup of Silk Original Pure Almond milk, with 2.5 grams of fat per serving, contains about four nuts and the "milk" consists of mostly water with enough evaporated cane juice to make up two teaspoons of sugar. The Vanilla and Chocolate versions this Pure Almond milk contain 4 and 5.5 teaspoons of sugar each, respectively. According to the Healthletter, most people are better off with protein-rich soymilk.

Nabisco's Ritz Crackerfuls

Although Nabisco touts the fiber content of their Crackerfuls, the Healthletter points out that the crackers are mostly white flour. The fiber? Well, more than two-thirds of are added in the form of "resistant corn maltodextrin." Would you care for some resistant corn maltodextrin? It's nomenclature derived from the fact that it resists digestion also allows it to be counted among fibers. It doesn't take long to make a mental note of many items that resist digestion. The question is, does resistant corn maltodextrin help prevent heart disease, diabetes or irregularity? Whole grain intact fibers do just that.

The takeaway? Read the labels, read the labels, read the labels. The Healthletter comments on a variety of other food products that, upon first glance, might suggest lower calories, lower sodium, higher antioxidant levels, more fruits and veggies, but it's important to then check the serving size and divide up that box of Macaroni Grill's Creamy Basil Parmesan Chicken & Pasta (for instance) into the five servings it's meant to provide, though most people (at least according to the Healthletter) only get two servings out of it. At the allotted five servings, that's 300 calories per serving with 500 mg of sodium. Two adults, on the other hand, more than likely divide that box into half, winding up consuming 750 calories plus 1,250 mg of sodium, not to mention half the saturated fat recommended per day.

Not to burst your bubble, but if you're trying not to burst your waistline, then instead of relying on product benefits highlighted on the front of the package, pull out those reading glasses and turn the package sideways. You do the math, if you recognize the ingredient.
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