Playing Politics with Your Food, Part 2: Big Bucks Supporting Sugar

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Playing Politics with Your FoodHow the Government, Advertising Giants, and Special Interest Groups Are Threatening Your Health

On Thursday, I began explaining to you some of the barriers you’re facing to a nutritious diet and a healthier life (Playing Politics with Your Food, Part 1: America’s Sugar Stockpile). Today, I’m going to continue by looking at food advertising, special interests, and the scientific community.

Big Advertising Bucks Go to Processed Junk Food

You don’t see a lot of ads for apples. In fact, you don’t see much advertising for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or unprocessed foods, period. In 1997, for example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent $300 million to promote healthy food choices. That’s chump change compared to big food industry spending, which included the dropping of $11.0 billion just on junk food. They build and flood the market, and people respond.

But what’s more interesting—and devious in a way—is that a 2012 report called Apples to Twinkies showcased how the government allocates its farming subsidies. Over a five-year allocation period, the government provided $16.9 billion for the production of corn and soy syrups and oils, and only $262 million for apples. The result is that roughly 80% of the food on grocery shelves is packed with added sugars.

Special Interest Groups Discrediting Evidence Against Sugar

For a number of years, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been recommending vast reductions in sugar consumption. Current recommendations are in the five to 10% range of daily total caloric intake, but most people far exceed that. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 150 calories of sugar per day for men (nine teaspoons), and only 100 calories per women (six teaspoons). But these recommendations come with backlash.

Special interest groups, like the World Sugar Research Organization and even the Department of Health and Human Services, have discredited the science being used against sugar in order to protect big businesses—even if it might be killing you.

Dr. Robert Lustig, well known for speaking out against the sugar industry and its impact on global health, offers a quote from a special assistant to the Department of Health and Human Services (under the Bush II administration), who said he was “questioning the scientific basis of linking fruits and vegetables to decreased risk for obesity and diabetes.” Really? Are you kidding me? These are the lengths the government and sugar industry will go to in order to protect their bottom line.

How to Fight the Odds When It Comes to Your Health

When it comes to your diet, health, and wellness, the cards are stacked against you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to fight back. You can start by changing how you shop. Unprocessed food tends to occupy the perimeter of the grocery store, so do the majority of your shopping there. This is where you can get fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meats, eggs, and other “real food.” Limit processed foods, while avoiding fruit juice and soda to give yourself and your loved ones the best chance of staying healthy.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Lustig, R.H., Fat Chance (New York: Penguin, 2013), 240–254.
“Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar,” American Heart Association web site, May 19, 2014;, last accessed February 25, 2015.
Johnson, R.K. et al., “Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association,” Circulation 2009; 120(11): 1,011–1,020.