June 19th, 2012
Feeding the obesity crisis
By David Sirota
Major food corporations face a quandary. They are under Wall Street’s constant profit-growth pressure, but they can’t substantially raise product prices because the food market is so cost-sensitive. Therefore, to entice us to spend even more on eating, Big Food has lately been trying to extend the biological limits of consumption by challenging one of the most basic structures of American culture: the traditional meal schedule.
For the last few decades, food companies had aimed their marketing at single meals, pushing to inflate portion sizes. That initiative was wildly successful. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, the average restaurant meal in the United States is now an unfathomable four times larger than it was in 1950. That has translated into “Americans now consum(ing) 2,700 calories a day, about 500 calories more than 40 years ago,” according to the Atlantic Monthly.
One predictable result of this trend is an obesity rate that’s poised to top 40 percent and that already costs the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in additional healthcare expenditures. The other result is that the super-size campaign has become a victim of its own success. Indeed, food companies are coming to realize that, in terms of per-meal product sales, they are quickly approaching the point where the human body simply cannot — or will not — accommodate any more calories in a single sitting. That has left Big Food fretting about a profit-making path forward, and that’s where the innovators at Yum! Brands come in.