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Myths and Realities

Myth: All food, beverage and restaurant corporations care about is making money at the expense of their customer’s health
Reality: There is no doubt that profits, market share and revenues are important (actually essential) to all corporations. And, yes, there are many who will load you up with gargantuan portions and a sickly ingredient list. But you may not know that several are doing just the opposite: making their profits and doing what’s better for their customer’s well-being. Some examples:
  • Group Danone, the makers of Dannon yogurt, converted its business to 100% healthier products and have increased their profits sevenfold since 2003.
  • Behind the introduction of no-calorie Coca-Cola Zero and pushes on healthier non-carbonated Minute Maid and Vitaminwater brands, The Coca-Cola Company’s sales and profits each have increased 38% since 2003.
  • General Mills has improved the nutritional profile of its product lines significantly, while increasing sales 29% and net income 41% over the last 5 years.
  • And Subway, by positioning itself to be the healthy fast-food alternative, has powered up sales to $10 billion annually.

Myth: Sandwich shops are healthier than burger and chicken chains
Reality: Not necessarily. While chains such as Subway’s tout their fresher menus and highlight Jared Fogle’s losing 245 pounds by eating 2 subway sandwiches per day, once the mayo and sauces hit the bread, you’re likely to end up with more calories than a McDonald’s combo meal. According to the McSubway Project, consumers added over 200 calories when purchasing a 12-inch sandwich at Subway’s, while only adding about 50 calories when purchasing a Big Mac. Further driving this point home, consumers generally underestimate the calories consumed overall, but underestimated the calories eaten in Subway’s by 51% compared to 36% for McDonald’s. So much for the “healthy halo” effect.

Myth: It’s better to drink a sugar-sweetened beverage than one sweetened artificially.
Reality: This is a tough one. If you’re talking obesity, calories are king; and that means sugar-sweetened beverages will add on the pounds more quickly. In a recent statement, leading obesity researchers Dr. Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina, Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University, and Dr. George Bray of Pennington Biomedical Research Laboratory proclaimed that “the evidence is sufficiently clear that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is having a devastating effect on the health of Americans.” They noted further that “for adults who have difficulty reducing full sugared sodas, the clear harm of the [sugar sweetened] soda clearly outweighs any hypothetical effects of beverages sweetened with aspartame.” While not offering ringing endorsements for artificially sweetened drinks, they lean toward those as a better option than sugar-sweetened beverages.

Myth: Government must intervene to solve the obesity crisis.
Reality: Government does not have the infrastructure or operating management skills to effectively implement solutions to the obesity crisis. To date, Government programs have a poor track record and no regulatory initiatives have arrested the rise in obesity rates. Despite mandated nutritional labeling on all packaged goods, Food Pyramid Guidelines and Five-a-Day fruit & vegetable programs, adult obesity has risen from 14% of the population in 1990 to 34% in 2007.

Myth: I can eat more if I choose foods made without trans fats.
Reality: Not so fast. Eliminating trans fats from fried and baked foods, while better for your heart, will do nothing to take off the pounds since the replacement baking and frying oils contain the same # of calories. Nice try!

Myth: It’s up to the consumer to control their weight and health. They’re the only ones who can fix things.
Reality: Like government regulators, consumers bring home failing grades for their ability to control their weight. There are many factors affecting this dismal performance, including our emphasis on convenience over health, stress, not exercising enough, an inability (or unwillingness) to say no to super-sized portions or simply being confused about what is best to eat. Digging deeper, an evaluation of personality types validates that we are not all wired like disciplined Navy Seals and have a tough time sticking with diets or any health & exercise regimen.

Myth: Fast food restaurants sell big sizes and combo meals to provide their customers better value.
Reality: This is 50% correct. These concoctions give consumers a better deal. But the other 50% is that the bigger it gets, the more profitable it becomes. Consider this: A beverage costs about a penny an ounce plus an additional 3 to 4 cents for the cup, lid and straw. You can do the math. The bigger it gets, the better the bottom line.

Myth: Removing soft drinks from school vending machines will slim down our kids.
Reality: I believe that limiting highly caloric foods and beverages to a young “captive audience” makes sense. There are many lower calorie products that taste just as good and can be substituted, often by the same manufacturer. The jury is still out on a program negotiated by the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Beverage Association to eliminate soft drinks in elementary and middle schools and limit them in high schools. So far only 4% of schoolchildren who attended schools without soft drinks in vending machines actually reduced their intake of daily calories. Let’s keep an eye on this.

Myth: Weaning America off soft drinks and fried foods will solve the obesity epidemic
Reality: My belief is that the problem does not stem from ordering a burger with fries and a soft drink. A McDonald’s cheeseburger combo meal with medium fries and a Coca-Cola Zero contains 680 calories. Hardly an amount that will break the bank on a 2000-2500 calorie daily target. The trouble begins when these morph into Weapons of Mass Consumption (WMCs). Take Hardee’s Monster Thickburger. At 1420 calories by itself, one could quickly gorge on 2300 calories by adding large fries and a 32 ounce soft drink. It is these practices which cause the excess calorie problem, not the foods themselves.

Myth: Buying local and eating organic foods will help control obesity
Reality: While the locavore movement helps local farmers, keeps money in the community and potentially reduces shipping and distribution costs, it does nothing to ameliorate obesity. Same holds for organic foods. Studies have shown that organic foods contain higher levels of antioxidants which are good, but, again, do nothing to lower your weight (except for your wallet).

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