Eating Liberally’s “kat” took me to see Frank Rich’s interview with Stephen Colbert last night and what fun that was! But no such thing as a free event, apparently. Today, kat wants to know what I think about Doritos’ sponsorship of Colbert’s campaign. Take a look at her question and my response and weigh in on this, please. Even if it’s a joke…?
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My neighborhood grocery store is displaying a wall of Cheerios boxes with this banner over the inevitable heart: “You can lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks (see back for details).” I immediately turned to the back to learn that “Cheerios is the only leading cold cereal clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1 and 1/2 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.” I like Cheerios, but come on? What clinical study? A footnote gives the reference to a study published in Nutrition in Clinical Care (1998;1:6-12). I immediately went to look for it but alas, the journal ceased publication in 2005 and is not available online or in the NYU or Cornell libraries. Want to take a guess at who might have funded the study? If anyone has a copy, please send. The FDA used to be able to demand serious scientific substantiation for health claims like this one, but no more. Congress says one study is sufficient, no matter how old, designed, or paid for. The courts say advertising is a form of free speech and protected by the First Amendment. Caveat emptor.
Update: Andy Bellatti of Small Bites reminds me that as always, Center for Science in the Public Interest was there first. Nutrition Action Healthletter talked about the study–surprise! funded by General Mills–in 2005.
While I am on the subject of food company sponsorship of nutrition and medical professionals, I might as well say something about sponsored research. Analyses of the phenomenon show that when research is sponsored by food companies, it almost always produces results that favor the sponsor’s products. Two recent examples from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: a study comparing the effects of soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sugar (sucrose) finds no difference in perceived sweetness, hunger, or calorie intake. I wouldn’t expect it to, but the study was funded by a grant from the American Beverage Association, which has a vested interest in proving that soft drinks have no effect on obesity. This next one is even better: here is a study showing that if you eat corn or tortilla chips fried in corn oils, which are largely polyunsaturated, your blood cholesterol will be healthier than if you eat chips fried in saturated and trans fats. I thought we knew that already. But doing a study like this gives the sponsor a usable conclusion: “Therefore, if chosen wisely, even snack foods that are often considered to be ‘junk food’ can contribute to a heart-healthy diet.” Would it surprise you to learn that the study was funded in part by Frito-Lay/PepsiCo? I wonder how long it will take to see this research celebrated in Frito-Lay ads.
Thanks to Ellen Fried for sending me the announcement that Dunkin’ Donuts has just appointed a nutrition advisory committee. You might think that it needs one. As is nearly always the case, the members are mostly university professors of nutrition, medicine, and related fields, some of them quite well known. Lots of food companies are appointing such boards. PepsiCo, for example, has a breathtakingly distinguished nutrition advisory board. One of its members, Dr. Dean Ornish, also writes a column for McDonald’s. Academics join the boards in the hope that they can work from within to get the companies to produce healthier foods. I often get asked to join such boards (not this one though), but I politely decline. The goals of food companies have to be to sell more products, healthy or not. The boards make the companies look like they are trying to do something about nutrition, even if they really can’t. When I see my nutrition colleagues joining such boards, I just hope they are getting paid really well for doing so.