The Extraordinary (and Pretty Damn Cool) Science of Junk Food


If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read this fascinating NY Times piece (excerpted from a forthcoming book) on “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”.

A friend tweeted that it was a ‘brilliant indictment of the food industry’, which I gather it was meant to be, and which I agree it was to some extent. There are some pretty chilling descriptions of industry strategies to sell more calories, including some pretty off-putting language to describe the bodies that those calories are designed for:

In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

One of Dunn’s lieutenants, Todd Putman, who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001, said the goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands; Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?”

So while I remain sceptical of the “addictive” nature of “junk food” – or rather, I am concerned with how easy the criteria for “addictions” seem to be to fulfil these days – I can appreciate that it’s in the interests of people selling food that we don’t really need to strive to get us hooked on them. And the evident success of that venture has obviously contributed to the rising levels of obesity and poor health.

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No, Coca Cola. You may not comment on obesity.

So Coca Cola has made a new ad in which, as I tweeted yesterday, the [*big evil*] corporation ‘dares to consider itself part of the solution to obesity’:

In my tweet I also predicted that the grumps would be arriving, and of course they have. A sample of comments from YouTube:

‘I really wonder how you guys can sleep at night. This is TOTAL BULLSHIT.’

‘An advert showing that we are still being taught that all calories are the same and energy balance is the key to weight loss/gain. What a load of rubbish! Shame on you all…..’

‘I see what you people did here. You’re smart, people at coca cola.You people took what the tobacco industry did and adjusted it to fit your needs. What tobacco companies do is put label that tell you not to smoke. Now smokers associate “don’t smoke” signs with cigarettes. Coca cola is attempting to associate its brand with calorie counting. … [Reluctantly concluding] As a student in my university’s college of business, i appreciate your hustle.’

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