Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Corporate influence on our dietary advice

Increasing levels of recommended food consumption, especially of meat and dairy products rates are heavily influenced by food corporations. The US dietary guidelines are directly influenced by the food industry. Jennifer Falbe and Marion Nestle, in A Sociology of Food and Nutrition: The Social Appetite[1], state that “seven of the 13 members of the 2005 committee had financial ties to the International Life Sciences Institute, National Dairy Council, or other industry groups.” The recommended total number of daily servings in 1982 was 11 to 14, and has increased to 17 to 24 as of 2007. [1] This increase in recommended consumption has followed a general trend of nutritionism, increasing amounts of information available about the effects of specific nutrients, and rising confusion about what people should eat to have a complete diet.

Gyorgy Scrinis, in his article On the Ideology of Nutritionism[2], describes a general trend of ‘nutritional reductionism’ which occurs at two levels. The first is an attempt “to understand all issues relating to the quality of foods and their relationship to bodily health at the nutria-biochemical level,” and the second is “a simplified focus on particular nutrients, or on particular bodily processes and biomarkers.” This trend of nutritionism has increased the amount of information consumers need to know, making them focus on specific aspects of food rather than the general impact types of food have on the body. The US dietary guidelines have followed this trend, and the number of key recommendations and pages in the guidelines has increased from 7 and 19 in 1980 to 41 and 70 in 2005.[1] The recommendations made in the guidelines have become lengthy and obtuse, changing from “Avoid too much sugar” to “Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners, such as amounts suggested by the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan.”[1]

The food industry is largely behind the changes in how we perceive food and the increasing obtuseness of our guidelines. According to Scrisis, the food industry sees us as “in need of nutritional advice, weight loss plans and products, functional foods, nutritional supplements, …”[2] While creating food guidelines that increase sales, the food industry do not create guidelines that allow consumers to decide what to eat or plan a balanced diet. In order to get dietary guidelines that provide accurate and sound nutrition advice, corporations need to be removed from process, so that the government is solely responsible for the national dietary guidelines. Fable and Nestle suggests that we be “diligent in encouraging governments to issue dietary advice that is clear, unambiguous, and useful to the public.”[1] While this is a good strategy, I think we should first encourage our government to restrict the influence that the food industry has on the guideline making process, and that then the dietary advice will resume a more reasonable level of usefulness.

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