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Junk Pushers use Junk Science

By Jeff Nelson

Just like the tobacco industry, the food and chemical industries routinely use "science" to try to convince an unsuspecting public into buying their junky products.

One favorite of the junk-food industry that illustrates how this works was a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.*

In this so-called study, the junk-food industry devised an experiment on very young, impressionable 3- to 5-year-olds.

The food industry researchers first determined that the study subjects equally liked two different junk-food snacks. Over the course of five days then, the researchers showed kids both of the two junk foods--but forbade them to eat one of them, saying they could eat only the other one.

The study found that after five days of having the food put before them to look at but not touch, the children actually wanted it MORE than the junk food they were allowed to eat.

Once the junk-food industry study was published, food industry-funded "science" groups with important-sounding names, like the American Counsel for Science and Health (ACSH), began using this study to conclude that the "food police" are wrong to deny junk food to their kids. Parents must in essence cede control of their children's desires to their children, they argue; otherwise, parents risk creating more desire on the part of the children for the unhealthful foods, and the kids will only end up eating more junk, not less.

In other words, let them eat Twinkies!

Of course, no educational information was provided to the children as part of the study, such as that eating the food in question might compromise their health or was otherwise undesirable.

Obviously, the food industry researchers who set up the study knew enough about human nature and children's curiosity to set it up to get this apparent result. It doesn't take a study to know that small kids will take a chair and climb onto a cabinet and generally do anything in their power to get at something Mommy and Daddy told them they couldn't have.

It also seems obvious that researchers would get the same results if they had used a toy, drug or weapon. Had the researchers found that children's interest in toys, drugs or weapons increased when taunted in the same way, would their advice be not to restrict children's access to these items, too?

And yet this is the kind of "research" the food industry supports in order to promote junk-food sales, and to try to blunt the negative sales impact of the many reputable studies showing nutritional problems of eating too much junk food.

(Incidentally, you know you are reading a food industry-funded article when you read terms like "food police" -- code used by the junk-food industry to disparage good parenting. This is the term used by pro-industry organizations with names like National Center for Public Policy Analysis; Citizens for the Integrity of Science -- run by tobacco and chemical industry-funded Steven Milloy of Junkscience.com; Competitive Enterprise Institute; and Center for Global Food Issues, to name a few of the worst.)

The most appropriate way to help adults get their kids to eat a healthy diet would be for researchers to look at parents who have succeeded in doing so.

Researchers would find, to begin with, that such parents don't play mind games on their children, but rather they don't give the junk food to their children to start with; they don't create an addiction to bad food at an early age, and they keep an eye on their children's nutritional development so they don't have ready, unlimited access to junky foods.

Effective parents also begin to educate their children early about healthy and unhealthy foods.

Children naturally want to be healthy, strong and successful. If you teach a child very early that smoking cigarettes is an addiction that causes death and disease, most will never want to smoke.

The same is true with dietary habits, which is why it's so important to regain control of our children from the junk-food industry, and restore parental choice and parental authority in our homes and schools today.

* "Restricting access to palatable foods affects children's behavioral response, food selection, and intake" Am J Clin Nutr 1999 69: 1264-1272.

Jeff Nelson is vice-chair of the EarthSave Board of Directors and the owner of VegSource.com.