by Marion Nestle
Mar 21 2009

Is food the new tobacco?

The Rudd Center at Yale is devoted to establishing a firm research basis for obesity interventions.  Its latest contribution is a paper in the Milbank Quarterly from its director, Kelly Brownell, and co-author Kenneth Warner, an equally distinguished anti-smoking researcher from the University of Michigan.  Its provocative title: The perils of ignoring history: Big Tobacco played dirty and millions died.  How similar is Big Food?

The paper is getting much attention.  A spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, a group well known for its close ties to food companies, emphasizes that food is not tobacco.  Of course it’s not.  But food companies often behave like tobacco companies, and not always in the public interest.  The Milbank paper provides plenty of documentation to back up the similarity.  Worth a look, no?

April 3 update: Evidently, thinks so.  It is asking readers to file 100 word comments on issues raised by the paper by April 8.   And here are the comments.

  • susanintexas

    i’ve been saying this since I read the China Study…eating animal products is akin to smoking a cigarette. same thing. same addiction I just can’t get over completely…(i never smoked though). and yes, we are omnivores and meant (or evolved) to eat a bit of animal products, nothing like the 3 meals a day Big Food is pushing on us.

  • Arlene Johns

    Tobacco may not be necessary to sustain life, but people sure can use food as a sedative, to forget their problems and as an overall coping mechanism, just like tobacco. The ADA would be wise to address this issue!

  • I completely agree! With the rise of so many diet related illnesses and disease, the comparison to tobacco is completely valid. I am certainly looking forward to more public conversation about this issue, and to contributing to helping people find a healthier relationship to their food!

  • Very interesting. Big business in general seems to create problems. AIG?

  • Jon

    It’s not a valid comparison because with food, it’s all about portion size, whereas with tobacco, you’re healthier just not smoking. (OTOH, it’s hard to justify a Bloomin’ Onion.) On the other hand, the degree to which food companies distort the science is comparable to the tobacco industry.

    The two do get some connections, though. If you’re diabetic, your HDL is probably low, and smoking (or being around smokers) will lower it farther. The immediate symptom is that HDL delivers cholesterol to produce steroids, so you can expect more inflammation, declining sex drive, amenorrhea in premenopausal women, and all the other usual signs of steroid deficiencies. The more dangerous thing is HDL also keeps lipids running smoothly through your bloodstream; if HDL drops, you can have an ischemic event. Smoking increases your risk of breast cancer, and some food additives act as endocrine disruptors, increasing your risk of breast cancer. And of course, many junk foods are made by tobacco companies.