Industrial ties to nutrition standards have created situations worthy of the best satire.
Froot Loops, a breakfast cereal comprising 44% of calories from added sugars was once labelled a ‘Smart Choice’ by leading nutritionists, because it met the contrived standards required. This is just one example from Unsavory Truth, a new book from Marion Nestle which walks through the tangled web of food and business bucks with authoritative aplomb. Unsavory Truth demonstrates that industry funded research is like pineapple on pizza — it might sound completely wrong, but that’s no reason to ban it.
Marion Nestle is Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and has a long history of public health advocacy. Her writing hints towards the no-fucks-given resignation of someone who’s witnessed enough industry funding debacles to write the ultimate hatchet job, if libel laws permitted. Instead, Unsavory Truth unravels a nuanced understanding of how big food and nutrition can interact, to the benefit of everyone involved.
Moral outrage over conflicts of interest is incredibly tempting when Coca-Cola fund studies that conclude exercise, not calories, are the primary issue in energy balance. When corporate cash shifts the discussion away from food and onto exercise, Hershey-funded studies concluding that chocolate and almonds are good for health also seem laughably co-incidental.
But, what if these studies are true? Or does business truly skew the agenda?
Nestle explores these big questions with candid good humour. Big business has a lot of money and needs good research, while researchers are strapped for cash and want to research. These interactions seem tailormade, if the conflicts can be managed. Unsavory Truth elaborates where the snakes and ladders are found in this arena.
Psychology around funding bias and gifts makes for fascinating reading, the latter of which seems to affect everyone, regardless of how clever you are, Doc. The political nature of research funding also gets good airtime, along with the big food/tobacco/pharma comparisons and the ‘playbook’ employed by all, which casts a shadow over the whole topic.