Wednesday, May 19, 2010


The increasingly hostile attitude of consumers towards food processing industry is due to the perceived notion that products being manufactured and marketed by them are causing immense harm to the health of the population. In many rich countries processed food products form a major part of daily diet with very little time and efforts spent on cooking at home. Against such a background the reported comments by one of the major food players recently, that consumers have to blame themselves for all the ills that confront them since they do not do adequate exercise, can only further damage the image of the industry as a whole. No wonder that the above insensitive remark attracted stinging criticism all around.

Asked about Pepsi's role in the obesity problem, Nooyi declared: "If all consumers exercised, did what they had to do, the problem of obesity wouldn't exist." There you have it. Obesity, which costs the nation $150 billion a year in direct medical costs, solved. Now we can move on to cancer. The problem with Nooyi's statement — besides its absurdity, that is — is that science doesn't back up the idea that obesity is caused exclusively by a refusal to get off the couch. In fact, recent studies have shown that food is a much more important component of weight gain than exercise. For instance, despite the proliferation of health clubs across the land and the nearly universal understanding that working out is good for you, exercise levels have remained remarkably flat over the past 20 years. What's changed is food. There's way more of it available everywhere and we eat a lot more than we used to, 23% more calories a day in 2008 than in 1970. And while exercise can certainly help with weight loss, to really lose significant weight without changing your diet might just require you to register for the Ironman Triathalon. Down one Starbucks (SBUX) venti caramel frappucino after a five mile run and the calorie-burning benefits are gone. Even if you just want to counter the effects of the 50 gallons of sweetened beverage the average American consumers in a year — many of them sold by Pepsi — you'd have to run 800 miles a year, or approximately 2 miles every day. How many people are going to do that?

It must be conceded that there is lot of truth in the statement by the industry spokesperson as the most crucial reason for to day's obesity and related health disorders is the sedentary life style of most of the population with high income and exercise is definitely a palliative for preempting such undesirable consequences. But such realization has to come from within rather than as a part of the blame game for identifying the real culprit. Industry must share the blame to the limited extent because of its overwhelming portfolio of "junk" foods, providing limited alternative options to the consumers in the form of balanced and healthy products.


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