Kraft Foods Announces Plan for Healthier Products To Address Obesity Issue
Kraft Foods, the nation's largest food company, yesterday announced plans to eliminate marketing to children in schools, introduce smaller portion sizes and develop healthier food products in an effort to help combat the nation's obesity epidemic, the New York Times reports (Barboza, New York Times, 7/2). Kraft said it would establish a 10-member advisory council to help develop policies, standards and procedures for its healthier food initiative (Ellison, Wall Street Journal, 7/2). Betsy Holden, Kraft co-CEO, said the company "is committed to product choices and marketing practices that will help encourage healthy lifestyles and make it easier to eat and live better." The announcement comes at a time "when large food companies are being blamed, even sued, for marketing products that have contributed to a growing array of health ills" and an "out-of-control" obesity problem, the Times reports. While many health officials and consumer advocates praised the decision, some said the announcement by Kraft -- which is majority-owned by Altria, which also produces cigarettes -- is designed to "deflect criticism" and "avoid the fate of the big tobacco companies" that have faced lawsuits because of their products' effects on health, according to the Times (New York Times, 7/2). Kraft spokesperson Michael Mudd said while the new initiative is not a "direct response" to the threat of obesity litigation, "if these steps discourage a plaintiff or attorney from future litigation against our products, then so much the better" (Higgins, Washington Times, 7/2). The new policies will not be implemented until next year and will be phased in over three years, the Washington Post reports (Mayer/ElBoghdady, Washington Post, 7/2).
In related news, the Los Angeles Times today looks at the obesity lawsuit movement, in which attorneys who won billion-dollar judgments against tobacco manufacturers "see similar possibilities" in going after food companies with "fat-laden, calorie-loaded" products. Attorneys led by George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf -- who last month formally requested that several fast food chains, including McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell and Burger King, put warning labels on their products about possible negative health effects -- believe the "rapid rise" in obesity "makes fast food chains and snack food companies prime targets" for litigation. The attorneys plan to argue that "vague" ingredient labels, food advertisements that do not include nutritional information and the food industry's marketing to children contribute to rising rates of health problems and obesity. To counter the movement, Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) in January introduced a bill to protect restaurants from obesity lawsuits unless they violate a specific state or local law; the bill is expected to come before the House Judiciary Committee in the fall (Robinson-Jacobs, Los Angeles Times, 7/2). USA Today yesterday also examined several large food companies' responses to the rise in obesity in the United States and the possibility of facing litigation (Horovitz, USA Today, 7/1).
The following broadcast programs reported on Kraft's announcement:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Dr. Marion Nestle, the head of the nutrition department at New York University, and Dr. Derek Yach, executive director of noncommunicable diseases at the World Health Organization (McKenzie, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 7/1). The full transcript of the segment is available online.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Gene Grabowski of the Grocery Manufacturers of America and Nestle (Kaledin, "Evening News," CBS, 7/1). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Grabowski, nutritionist Christiane Rivard and Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Lewis, "Nightly News," NBC, 7/1). The full segment is available online in Windows Media.