Ads blare everywhere. How can you resist eating more?
May 29, 2000 -- I'm hungry but on a deadline, so to save time I head for the
McDonald's drive-through where I plan to order the grilled chicken sandwich,
hold the mayo -- just 300 calories and 5 grams of fat. Making my way to the
pick-up window, I drive past large illustrated menus of burgers, fries, milk
shakes, and that yummy new yogurt parfait.
But I'd expect these temptations from Mickey D's. The truth is, temptations
like that yogurt-with-granola goody aren't the only foods calling my name these
days. It seems that once I set foot outside my door (or turn on the
television), everyone is telling me to "Eat! Eat! Eat!"
At the mall with my son, I stop at the food-court bakery for a cup of
coffee, and he points out the "Buy three cookies, get one free" sign.
At dinner with my brother, the waitress hears he is "starving" and
offers up potato-skin appetizers dripping in cheese. She waves dessert menus in
our faces twice. My grocery store always has someone handing out food
It's frustrating. After overcoming a chubby childhood, I've managed to hold
down my weight through a dull but successful strategy of watching my food
intake and exercising. But lately I feel like I am losing the tug-of-war
between what I know is the right stuff to eat and what some nutritionists call
the "pressure to eat."
Yes, It Really Is a Plot
It's not my imagination. The world is trying to make us all fat. It's
not as if we're being encouraged to eat our peas and carrots, says Bonnie
Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public
Interest. "Unfortunately, we are constantly being pressured to eat
Every year, the food industry forks over about $11 billion for advertising
and another $22 billion on trade shows and other promotions, according to a
report on obesity in the January-February 2000 issue of Public Health
Reports. In 1998, promotion costs for popular candy bars ranged from $10 to
$50 million, says Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, professor and chair of the
department of nutrition and food studies at New York University, who
co-authored the article. That same year, McDonald's spent more than a billion
dollars for promotion.
With an annual public campaign budget of just $1 million, it's hard for the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other governmental agencies to
compete, Nestle says. And even then, people complain that the amount is
wasteful, especially when Americans keep putting on the pounds, despite the
public health messages.
So why aren't there ads coaxing us to enjoy, say, an apple or a peach?
Produce growers often view each other as competitors, Nestle says. "And
they don't see the value of generic advertising and don't have the same kind of
money [as the producers of fast foods and snack foods]. Plain fruits and
vegetables are not very profitable compared to processed foods."
Even worse, the messages we get about eating from media and society are
often mixed, says Diane Quagliani, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic
Association and a Chicago dietitian. Magazines brim with food ads but also
include diet articles -- driven by ad budgets and their readers' desire to lose
"We are diet-focused," she says, "yet getting fatter and
fatter." From 1991 to 1998, the percentage of obese adults -- defined as
those with a body mass index of 30 or higher -- rose from 12% to nearly 18%,
according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.