Food, Soda and Candy Bar Companies Unite to Fight Obesity

Last Updated Oct 6, 2009 1:36 PM EDT

It's hard not to be cynical about the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and its anti-obesity campaign, which was announced yesterday by Kellogg head David Mackay.

Food companies involved -- including General Mills, Kraft and PepsiCo -- are investing at least $20 million into the program, which aims to "provide and promote solutions that will help people achieve a healthy weight by balancing the calories they consume with the calories they burn." The program's stated goal is to reduce obesity -- especially childhood obesity -- by some unspecified amount before 2015.

But it's hard to believe that companies like Hershey, Nestle and Mars are in the best position to promote nutrition. Sure, they'll sell junk food in smaller packages (with higher margins) and push their own lower-fat snack options, but the bias will still be towards processed food. Just look at what happened with Smart Choices.

It's great that companies are looking into creating healthier options for people, but they're still food companies. They're not going to push for initiatives that hurt their profits, and they're not going to promote research that goes against their interests.

For example, many of the same companies involved with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation are also behind the Center for Consumer Freedom, which rails against government efforts to discourage unhealthy eating. I don't know for sure whether junk food and soda taxes would be effective, but I do know that no amount of research supporting such taxes is going to persuade the food industry they're a good idea. These companies can't be objective on these issues, and while it's great for them to participate in health initiatives, they might not be the best choice when it comes to who determines what information children receive about nutrition.

  • Katherine Glover