An article “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food” was just published in the Health section of The New York Times. The article reveals how big global companies, American and European, have successfully expanded their markets to developing countries, like Brazil, and in the process, are damaging the health of the people.
Just as American tobacco companies have targeted less developed countries to make up for lost sales as North Americans buy fewer cigarettes, processed food companies are targeting countries such as Brazil to sell more of their less-than-healthy products.
The Times article quotes Carlos A. Monteiro, professor of nutrition and public health at the University of São Paulo “What we have is a war between two food systems, a traditional diet of real food once produced by the farmers around you, and the producers of ultra-processed food designed to be over-consumed and which in some cases are addictive,”
Overweight AND undernourished
The article implies that global companies such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Pepsi, and KFC are attempting to addict people on high-calorie, sugary, and nutrient-poor foods. These efforts are contributing to a relatively new and disturbing global public health problem: people who are overweight, yet undernourished.
Children especially targeted
Some of these companies are targeting children. If children become addicted to processed junk foods, they are likely to become life-long customers. Alarmingly, the childhood obesity in Brazil has risen 270% since 1980.
Obese adults: US vs. Brazil
For Brazilian adults, obesity rates have nearly tripled in the last 10 years. The World Health Organization says 55% of Brazilians over the age of 18 are overweight. The percentage in the US is 73%. So, while the problem is not as severe in Brazil as in the US, if the trend continues, Brazil may have as many fat people as the US.
How the companies target Brazil
The article notes how Nestle, as one example, has employed thousands of women (only women) to sell Nestle products door-to-door, mostly in the poorer northern states. Some of the women used to sell Avon or Tupperware, but find Nestle products pay better. Nestle has even sponsored a barge to deliver tens of thousands of packages of powdered milk, yogurt, cookies, and candies deep into the Amazon.
Some critics have complained that Nestle has pushed their infant formulas onto new mothers, when all the medical research has proven that breast feeding is far better for the health of both the child and the mother. The global companies have contributed millions to congressional candidates. The companies have successfully lobbied the government to suspend plans that would have regulated the advertising of unhealthy foods directed to children (similar to restrictions on tobacco advertising).
In fairness to Nestle, the company has made many of their products healthier, reducing sugars in products like Molico, and investing more in whole-grain cereals. However, the majority of people still prefer the sweeter, less healthy products.
For more information, read the original Times article. In the meantime, we should all be aware of what is going on, and speak up about the benefits of real food over packaged and processed foods. Unlike many other areas of our lives, for food, traditional is better. While consuming processed foods is faster, it is much more likely to lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a less enjoyable life.
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