Healthier Food: Are We There Yet?

This week brings more news on the struggle for a healthier food supply and the role of the food industry in bringing change. Yesterday, Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour moderated a discussion with Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, and Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The three spent more than an hour discussing the potential and the challenges for the food and beverage industry to have a positive impact on American health.

This extended discussion came the day after a new pledge from the largest soft drink companies — Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group — to cut the calories consumed in sugary drinks by 20% over the next decade. They unveiled their pledge at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York.

Once again, reactions ranged from enthusiastic to dismissive.

Former President Bill Clinton told the New York Times, “This is huge.” Reflecting on his own experiences and dietary indiscretions, he said, “When I was in my freshman year in college, I drank at least one and sometimes two 16-ounce bottles of Royal Crown Cola a day because they cost 15 cents.” After a quadruple coronary bypass surgery in 2004, Clinton radically changed his diet.

The activist Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a statement calling the soft drink industry’s pledge “welcome news” and applauding Clinton’s efforts. “But we need much bigger and faster reductions to adequately protect the public’s health,” said CSPI Director Michael Jacobson.

Kelly Brownell, Dean of the Sanford School of Public Health at Duke University, said “I suspect they’re promising what’s going to happen anyway.”

None of this is surprising. Anything the food industry does will have a large contingent of critics and cheerleaders. A relatively small contingent will objectively examine the results. Kudos to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for funding work to do exactly that with these food industry programs.

But perhaps the most disheartening reaction to yesterday’s discussion was the complaint that “6.4 trillion fewer calories in our food system isn’t lowering the obesity rate.”

That’s right, we’re not there yet. And complaining about how long it’s taking won’t help any more than wishful thinking will. More objectivity, research, and help from all sectors will be essential to solve this threat to American health.

Click here to read more from the New York Times. Click here to see a summary of this discussion broadcast on the PBS NewsHour.

Judy Woodruff, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, and Indra Nooyi. Photograph © Ted Kyle / ConscienHealth

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