Poll: Is 'Salt Sugar Fat' Keeping You Awake at Night?

New Book By Michael Moss Makes Big Food Look Like Big Tobacco

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Perhaps you missed the Feb. 24 issue of The New York Times Magazine that featured a woman eating what looks like a Dorito. Next to the image was a quote from Robert I-San Lin, a former chief scientist for Frito-Lay, that read "I feel so sorry for the public." Below that were the words "Inside the hyperengineered, savagely marketing, addiction-creating battle for America's 'stomach share."

In case you were wondering where this was leading, story was headlined "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" and was, in fact, a 9,000 word excerpt from Michael Moss' new book "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us."

Moss, a Pulitzer-prize-winning New York Times journalist, told Amazon that he got the idea for the book while "investigating a surge in deadly outbreaks of E. coli in meat [and] an industry source, a microbiologist, suggested that if I wanted to see an even bigger public health hazard, I should look at what food companies were intentionally adding to their products."

The excerpt opens on a meeting of food and beverage CEOs concerned enough about government response to the obesity epidemic that they decided to gather in the Pillsbury auditorium. The first speaker of the evening was Michael Mudd, then a Kraft exec.

As he spoke, Mudd clicked through a deck of slides -- 114 in all -- projected on a large screen behind him. The figures were staggering. More than half of American adults were now considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the adult population — 40 million people — clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980, and the number of kids considered obese had shot past 12 million. . . . Food manufacturers were now being blamed for the problem from all sides — academia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. The secretary of agriculture, over whom the industry had long held sway, had recently called obesity a "national epidemic."

Mudd then did the unthinkable. He drew a connection to the last thing in the world the C.E.O.'s wanted linked to their products: cigarettes. . . .

"If anyone in the food industry ever doubted there was a slippery slope out there," Mudd said, "I imagine they are beginning to experience a distinct sliding sensation right about now."

That was in 1999. As Moss points out, the obesity rate has only gone up since then.

And marketers of food and beverages are once again feeling the heat. A book like this, coming amidst renewed pushes for regulation, may or may not spark public outcry -- though it's getting great reviews and plenty of media play. What doesn't help is the sense that food companies were using scientists to purposely hook people on junk food. What also doesn't help (from a PR perspective) are the ex-food executives and food scientists quoted by Moss.

So our question is this. Are you worried that this book could lead to increased activity on the regulatory front.

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