by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Junk food

Jun 9 2021

Nestlé admits 70% of its products are junk foods

I always like writing about Nestlé, the huge multi-national food company based in Switzerland, because it gives me the opportunity to explain that no, I am not related to it (although colleagues have suggested that I claim to be the black sheep of the family).

Judith Evans, writing in the Financial Times, had a big story about the company (behind a paywall but can also be read at the Irish Times site).

Its headline: “Nestlé says majority of its food portfolio is unhealthy.”  She based her story on a leaked internal document.

Nestlé, has acknowledged in an internal document that more than 60 per cent of its mainstream food and drinks products do not meet a “recognised definition of health” and that “some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate”….Within its overall food and drink portfolio, some 70 per cent of Nestlé’s food products failed to meet that threshold [a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating system], the presentation said, along with 96 per cent of beverages – excluding pure coffee – and 99 per cent of Nestlé’s confectionery and ice cream portfolio.

Because infant formula, pet food, coffee, and the health sciences products were not counted in this analysis, the data apply to about half of Nestlé’s €84.35 billion ($102.6 billion) total annual revenues—Nestlé is indeed Big Food.

I was interviewed for this story, and quoted:

Marion Nestle (no relation), visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, [*] said Nestlé and its rivals would struggle to make their portfolios healthy overall.

“Food companies’ job is to generate money for stockholders, and to generate it as quickly and in as large an amount as possible. They are going to sell products that reach a mass audience and are bought by as many people as possible, that people want to buy, and that’s junk food,” she said.

“Nestlé is a very smart company, at least from my meetings with people who are in their science [departments] . . . but they have a real problem . . . Scientists have been working for years to try to figure out how to reduce the salt and sugar content without changing the flavour profile and, guess what, it’s hard to do.”

[*]  Oops.  That should have been Professor Emerita at NYU.  I asked for a correction and thought I had gotten one, but maybe only in the Financial Times.

I was also interviewed by Margarita Raycheva at IHS Market Connect(formerly Food Chemical News, and also behind a paywall):

Marion Nestle says labeling systems fail to account for ultraprocessed foods

While Nestlé’s plans to improve nutritional profiles have sparked some hope in nutrition experts like Hercberg, at least one other leading expert remains skeptical. According to Marion Nestle, a leading nutrition expert and professor at New York University, successful efforts to improve nutrition would have to go beyond meeting thresholds set through label ratings.

“What is at issue in this discussion is whether a somewhat healthier option is a better choice or even a good choice,” Nestle told IHS Markit on Monday (June 1).

While label-rating systems may flag some nutrients of concern, they do little to reduce consumption of ultraprocessed foods, which have been linked to both obesity and chronic disease, Nestle noted.

“NutriScore gives points for less sugar and salt, even to foods that are still ultraprocessed, and so do other nutrient-based front-of-package labeling systems, making all of them gameable by taking off a gram or two,” she said.

“Calling for reduction of consumption of ultraprocessed foods is much simpler, but it would exclude most of Nestlé’s products, even with tweaks,” she added.

The Swiss food giant has confirmed it will update its nutrition and health strategy after British newspaper the Financial Times published leaked internal documents acknowledging that nearly 70% of its main food and drinks products, making up about half of Nestlé’s CHF92.6bn total annual sales, do not meet a “recognised definition of health” and that “some of our categories will never be healthy”…. Read more

No matter how much Big Food companies say that want to promote health and wellness, they can only do so if their products continue to make the same kids of profits as do ultra-processed junk foods.  The company knows this and got caught saying so in public.

As for the uncounted other half of this company’s revenues? I’m keeping an eye on pet food.  Pet Food Industry reports that Nestlé is investing 1 billion yuan in pet food manufacturing in China.

Nov 17 2020

Let’s hear it for good food news: the British government wants to ban junk food marketing

Here’s the announcement in The Guardian: “UK to ban all online junk food advertising to tackle obesity:  ‘World-leading’ proposal delights health campaigners and dismays advertising industry.”

The tougher-than-expected rules came after Boris Johnson changed his view on personal health decisions following his coronavirus infection. Overweight people are at risk of more severe illness from Covid, or death. Research has found that one in three children leaving primary school are overweight, or obese, as are almost two-thirds of adults in England…If implemented, the ban would affect digital marketing, from ads on Facebook, to paid-search results on Google, text message promotions, and social media activity on Twitter and Instagram.

This refers to the UK government’s “New public consultation on total ban of online advertising for unhealthy foods.”   The details of the consultation are here.  The government wants comments on

  • what types of advertising will be restricted
  • who will be liable for compliance
  • enforcement of the restrictions

According to the BBC,

The plans will now be discussed by representatives from the food industry, members of the public and the government for six weeks, before a decision is made over whether the advert ban will happen or not.

Comment: I’ll bet this proposal does indeed ‘”dismays the advertising industry” and the food industry too.  Marketing is an enormous influence on food choice, particularly insidious because we don’t recognize marketing as such.  It’s just seen as part of the landscape and affects us at an unconscious level.  Marketing to children is especially egregious, especially because it is so effective in encouraging them to demand junk food.  Cheers to the UK government for this.  Stick with it!

Oct 15 2020

Good news #4: Successes in reducing sugary drinks

Berkeley, California, ever at the cutting edge of public health nutrition policy, is banning junk food from checkout counters and aisles.

The new policy will require retailers larger than 2,500 square feet to stock healthy food at the register and in areas where customers wait in line, instead of items like chips, soda and candy. It forbids food items with 5 grams of added sugars and 200 milligrams of sodium, chewing gum and mints with added sugars, and beverages with added sugars or artificial sweeteners. In Berkeley, the policy will affect stores like Safeway, Monterey Market, Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl.

As a result of efforts like these—public health campaigns, soda taxes, and other initiatives—heavy consumption of sugary drinks (more than 500 calories/day) is declining.

According to a recent study, the percentage of children who drink more than 500 calories worth of soft drinks a day declined from 11% to 3%  from 2003 to 2016, and the percentage of adult heavy consumers declined from 13% to 9%.

This trend is in the right direction.

Aug 10 2020

Food marketing ploy of the week: Kraft Mac & Cheese for breakfast!

In case you missed it, Kraft Mac & Cheese is now “approved for breakfast.”

Why?  Blame this on Covid-19 and parents having to deal with kids at home all day under lockdown.

It’s all about the small parenting wins these days and serving Kraft Mac & Cheese as part of a balanced breakfast is a sure-fire way to start the day off with a smile. Kids are full and far less cranky, while parents can peacefully work from home, teach, and do the millions of other tasks required of them.

So for the first time, Kraft is replacing “dinner” with “breakfast” on their iconic blue box of macaroni & cheese because it’s acceptable to enjoy deliciously cheesy Kraft Mac & Cheese for breakfast – or any time of day.

When it comes to food marketing, you can’t make this stuff up.
Thanks to Tony Vassallo, “Man on a Nutrition Mission™,” for sending me this gem.

May 4 2020

Tone deaf ad of the week, UK version: Krispie Kreme

Thanks to  Jane Snell for alerting me to the UK’s Krispie Kreme efforts to deal with Covid-19.  It provides a Krispie Kreme Coronavirus Update website.

In addition to delivering surprise doughnut packages, we opened our first drive-thru in Manchester on 16th April. The drive-thru is serving NHS, Police and Fire workers, who will be eligible to receive complimentary hot drinks and one of our three-packs of original glazed doughnuts. We hope to have all nine of our drive-thrus opened by the 27th April, to serve NHS, Police and Fire workers, to support them in the battle against COVID-19.

The Update’s Community page, “Serving Smiles,” says:

We’ve all been asked to do our bit. To stay at home and patiently sit. To social distance. To wash our hands. To clap for carers. To call our grans. Big or small we all have our part to play. And ours? It’s delivering moments of joy each day. Now more than ever you all deserve a treat. And we want to remind you that life can be sweet. So we are back up and running throughout the British Isles. We are here to serve. Here to serve smiles.

It gets better: Krispie Kreme wants you to join its social movement.

The site comes with a Coronavirus Q and A.  I know you will be relieved to see this one:

The CEO says “I want to reassure you that the safety and wellbeing of our staff will always be our No 1 priority.”

Yeah, right.

I don’t see anything here about worker pay, alas.

Or about how eating fewer doughnuts might be a good idea right now.

Apr 6 2020

Tone deaf food ad of the week: Doritos

Really, I can’t make this stuff up.

Jul 31 2019

Junk food encourages overeating: the evidence piles up

I was fascinated to see this article about how offering kids greater amounts and varieties of snack foods encourages them to eat more and, therefore, take in more calories.  Snack variety has a greater effect than just larger package sizes (1).

This article immediately reminded me of the infamous cafeteria diet studies of the late 1980s.  The investigators fed rats all kinds of junk foods and compared the calories they ate to those eaten by control rats allowed only rat chow.  The cafeteria-fed rats ate more (2).

This, of course, is what Kevin Hall and his colleagues found when adults were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of ultraprocessed junk foods (3).

The message is clear: junk food encourages overeating; overeating means taking in more calories; more calories means more weight.  Eating a lot of junk food is a sufficient explanation for obesity.

References

  1.  Kerr JA, et al. Child and adult snack food intake in response to manipulated pre-packaged snack item quantity/variety and snack box size: a population-based randomized trial. International Journal of Obesity (2019).
  2. Prats E, et al.  Energy intake of rats fed a cafeteria diet.  Physiol Behav. 1989 Feb;45(2):263-72.
  3. Hall K, et al.  Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake .  Cell Metabolism 2019; 30:67–77.
Jun 20 2018

Not-so-smart snacks for kids

I am ever indebted to Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, the Canadian obesity specialist, for keeping a sharp eye out for the more amazing ways food companies push junk foods.

Check out his Weighty Matters blog.  This particular post describes the “Smart Snacks” for kids endorsed by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the American Heart Association in partnership with the Clinton Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Check out Freedhoff’s selection of “Smart” items drawn from Amazon’s more complete list of Alliance-endorsed items.  Here is his first example (but don’t miss the others):

These are all junk foods tweaked to make them slightly less junky, thereby raising the questions I always like to ask in these situations: Is a slightly better-for-you product necessarily a good choice?

I’ve written about the Alliance’s partnerships previously.  As Freedhoff explains,

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Alliance For A Healthier Generations is the name given to the partnership program founded between the American Heart Association, The Clinton Foundation, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with pretty what at first glance looks like pretty much every food industry corporation on earth…[this] is a partnership with the food industry whose job is to promote sales, not to protect health.

Freedhoff asks:

How is it possible that the American Heart Association, The Clinton Foundation, and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation would describe a child washing down a bag of Doritos or a Pop-Tart with a can of Diet Coke as them consuming a Smart Snack?

The American Heart Association should not be a participant in this Alliance.  The “Smart Snacks” program’s endorsement by the Alliance covers these particular products but, by extension, the rest of those companies’ products—and the companies that make them.