Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed 'healthy foods'.
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There's an obesity epidemic in Britain,
and we think it's all down to us eating too much fast food,
processed ready meals and indulgent desserts.
But what if we are wrong?
What if the food being sold to us as healthier
is the very thing making us fat?
If you live on organic chocolate, organic ice cream and organic oven chips,
you will get fat just as if you lived off non-organic ice cream,
non-organic chocolate, non-organic oven chips, you'd get fat.
My name's Jacques Peretti, and in this series,
I'm going behind the closed doors of big business and government
to reveal how the food industry is making us fat.
Does food marketed as healthier
change the psychology of the very way we eat?
This is something I call the health halo.
It's the idea that when the food is marketed as being healthy,
people think that it has less calories, and as a result,
they think they can eat more of it without getting fat.
I'll reveal how the industry makes money out of our determination to eat more healthily.
There were lots and lots of products which had, "contains fruit!"
But it might only contain 0.1% fruit flavour,
but that's permissible, but, of course, in an age that's concerned about nutrition,
you bring up the fruit to the front of the packet.
And I find out how the food industry put profits first,
despite the explicit warnings of scientists.
Putting the food industry at the policy table
is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.
Welcome to the brave new world of shopping science.
Kantar Worldpanel are the people who track the buying behaviour
of 30,000 households nationwide.
And they sell this intelligence to all the major supermarkets
and food manufacturers in Britain.
If anyone knows about the extraordinary rise of health food, they do.
'Giles Quick, a director at Kantar Worldpanel,
'analyses how the food we buy impacts on our obesity levels.'
Giles, what's the kind of profile for someone who buys healthy food?
Well, they tend to be more middle-class,
more likely to be a woman living in the south of England,
more highly skilled, more knowledgeable about cooking
and about foodstuffs, but the truth is, they're getting fatter,
and that's something that's changed over the past few years.
So, how does that work in regard to health food?
We spend about £54 billion on food and drink from grocery supermarkets,
and of that, about £12 billion is spent on products that we believe are healthy.
We say, "I chose this because I believed it was healthy."
And that's grown by about 20% in the last six or seven years.
That's almost a quarter of your basket of things you bought,
-because you perceive them, perceive them, to be healthy.
Could you tell me a little bit about how you actually market and price a health product?
Are there any kind of rules as to how it works?
In general terms, the more, if you like, brand promises a product can make,
the more ticks in the box, it's good for this, it's good for that,
it tastes great, it's healthy for you, it's low-calorie,
the more ticks a product has, then, in principle, it's likely to have a higher price.
So, the bigger the promise, the bigger the price, in general terms.
More in the way of vitamins, fresh fruit on top,
whatever it is, there seems to be a huge amount
of healthy add-ons to existing products to make them seem healthy.
I've got an example over here of a product that would certainly appeal to the healthy consumer,
and the ingredients listed on the front of the pack
is like a checklist of the sorts of products associated with it.
So, honey granola.
We've got oats, sunflower seeds, flaked almonds, rye flakes, pecans, pumpkin seeds, honey.
How fattening is that cereal?
If we take saturated fats, then, if you compare this product to this one,
then this has a much higher concentration of saturated fats than this.
And yet, in general terms,
this would be purchased because of its health credentials much more than this product.
Do you think consumers get confused about what's healthy and what is less fattening?
There's no question that that is true,
and there are products you can look at, maybe that have got added fruit or fibre,
and your instinct is, "That's healthier."
You may be wrong in some senses,
it may well have more saturated fats, so there is confusion.
There's confusion around lots of processed products.
Sales of food marketed as healthier are rocketing,
but we're deluded about what is and isn't fattening.
This Innocent smoothie has more calories in it
than this can of Coke.
This Pret no bread sandwich with rocket and lentils
has more calories in it than this Big Mac.
And for dessert, this granola yoghurt from Eat
has more calories in it than this Krispy Kreme doughnut.
How did we get here?
In 1992, John Major's government was the first to grapple with obesity in this report.
Back then, it was less than a third of what it is today,
but scientists saw the coming storm, and wanted action.
The food industry, however,
had far bigger problems than a government report.
The very food we ate was becoming toxic.
Mad cow disease and BSE were at their peak.
Images of burning cattle sent sales plummeting as consumers stopped buying beef.
Even Agriculture Minister John Gummer
couldn't persuade his four-year-old daughter to take a bite.
No, it's too hot! Too hot!
And the egg industry was still reeling from the salmonella crisis,
which saw sales drop by 60% overnight,
when, in 1988, Health Minister Edwina Currie,
rather than feeding her children eggs, told reporters...
We do warn people now that most of the egg production
in this country, sadly, is now infected with salmonella.
It was not long before she resigned under industry pressure.
Manufacturers wanted to captivate consumers with nice,
new products that were safe, or appeared to be.
-Mum, can we get a drink?
In 1998, Procter & Gamble launched Sunny Delight
with a £10 million ad campaign.
-And that's new Sunny Delight!
-Sunny Delight, sounds good to me!
It's got orange, tangerine and lime, with a load of lovely vitamins.
Marketed as a healthy soft drink,
it promised a bright and profitable new dawn.
Its rise was unprecedented, putting it just behind Coke and Pepsi.
The future was orange.
But one woman questioned just how fresh and healthy Sunny Delight really was.
'I went to Brighton to meet Sue Dibb,
'co-director of the Food Commission
'at the time of Sunny Delight's launch.'
How did you come to start looking at Sunny Delight?
What made you think this was a product worth examining in more detail?
It was a really big marketing campaign,
and it tapped in to that growing interest in health.
Sunny Delight was sold in chiller cabinets,
it gave the impression that here was a fresh, ie a healthier, product.
But it wasn't a fresh juice by any means,
it only had 5% juice in it, and it had an awful lot of sugar,
as much sugar, in fact, as you'd get in Coke,
though they had added in some vitamins, a sprinkling of vitamins,
to again give it that aura of a healthy food,
but you can't turn a sugary drink into a truly healthful product just by adding a few vitamins to it.
Were they actually breaking any laws with Sunny Delight?
No, they were breaking no laws with Sunny Delight,
and the marketers knew that,
and they were very clever in the way they presented this product.
They didn't make any direct health claims,
they didn't even call it a juice or a juice drink,
they called it an enriched citrus beverage.
Here's the issue of the magazine
in which we wrote about Sunny Delight,
just after it had come out, so it wasn't our front-page story,
but this was what the media then subsequently picked up on.
We were the first people to raise concerns
and ask questions about Sunny Delight.
Were the press quick to run with your story?
Yes, the press did pick up on our story.
We got the national media and television contacting us and asking us for quotes,
picking up on what we'd written in the food magazine.
But it was alongside the story about how big sales of Sunny Delight were.
So, just as Sunny Delight's sales were rocketing,
so were these questions about what was really in it?
It wasn't really until a four-year-old child turned orange
18 months after we'd reported on this
that really that was the nail in the coffin for sales.
What had happened was
this four-year-old had been drinking 1.5 litres of Sunny Delight
and had turned orange because of the amount of beta-carotene she'd been consuming.
And I think it was really ironic, also,
that they were actually carrying advertisements on the television
for snowmen turning orange as a result of Sunny Delight!
Didn't really work out that well for Sunny Delight after that in the UK.
-For whoever might pop in this winter.
the great stuff kids go for.
So, not all publicity is good publicity?
LAUGHING: Not in the end, no.
But it was really interesting to see what it took
to really bring that awareness to people's attention.
If you hadn't written the story and put it on page six,
no-one would have heard about this.
Where were the Government in all of this?
We put this out, the media picked it up
and of course it got a very big news story once the girl turned orange,
but the fact is, it shouldn't have been like that.
The Government's main focus at that time was promoting
and protecting the food and farming industry.
It wasn't about putting consumers first.
Consumers came a poor second at that time.
The massive success of Sunny Delight showed that the public
would lap up a product marketed as healthy, given half the chance.
And it took someone like Sue to kick up a fuss
to actually stop them, because there was no government legislation
that prevented a company like Procter & Gamble
selling a product full of sugar and additives,
and marketing it as healthy.
In 2004, Procter & Gamble sold off Sunny Delight.
Despite being rebranded as Sunny D - with more fruit, less sugar
and no artificial additives - its early success hasn't been repeated.
-New Sunny D - with absolutely nothing artificial.
Improved by mums, approved by kids.
But the health food gold rush was on.
The public were desperate for food they could trust.
And supermarkets saw an opportunity,
turning to an unlikely source for help.
Consumers would pay more for ingredients that were natural and chemical-free.
Within a few months,
all the major supermarkets expanded their organic ranges.
By 1999, the organic business was worth over £600 million -
more than doubling in two years.
-At Sainsbury's, our organic range includes...
Sainsbury's was the first,
launching over 300 new organic products in 1998.
..organic ready meals...
In fact, with our widest ever range,
It's easy to eat organic food every day...
'Organic specialist, Simon Wright,
'was recruited by Sainsbury's to advise on the launch.'
You really went for it in a big way, didn't you?
-Sainsbury's didn't do it in a half-hearted way, did they?
So, what happened?
Well, it was a time when there was a lot of media stuff around problems with food.
We had salmonella,
We had Edwina Currie saying her stuff about eggs,
we had BSE, so, you know, pictures of burning cows.
We had concerns about GM...
It was a time when conventional food supply was under a lot of strain.
So, what happened? Tell me about that summer.
Organics had been trickling along,
being sold through natural food stores, health food stores,
So, very unusually, they actually approached all these small suppliers
and said, "would you like to sell your products in our stores?"
Usually, if you want to start supplying a supermarket, you know,
you're bringing up the buyer everyday, "Can I come and see you?"
"Can I supply you with my product?"
For it to invert, and for the supermarket to go
to these small companies and say, "We'd like you to supply us,"
well, that was unprecedented.
I've never experienced it happening before or since.
So, they turned, really, what was a crisis -
with BSE and salmonella - into an extraordinary business opportunity.
Yes, which is what supermarkets do. They're very clever at it.
Crucially, they discovered that
the people who were buying a lot of organic products
were also shopping extensively in the other bits of the store,
where they wanted to encourage shoppers.
So, for example, they buy a lot of beer, wines and spirits.
They buy a lot from the deli counter.
These are high-margin, high-value items,
so the supermarkets were very keen to retain those organic shoppers,
not just for the organic products they bought,
but for the other products they bought in the store.
Wow, so in a way, organics was almost the sort of,
the tip of the iceberg for the supermarkets. It was really about
everything else that you could shift...
I think there was some of that, yes.
But as someone who buys organic food,
I myself would feel more virtuous about buying organic food,
and almost feel, I think, at some level,
that I wouldn't become obese because I'm eating organic food.
In my mind, that's how it's working.
Yeah, and I think a lot of consumers would share that perception.
But I would emphasise that is a perception,
rather than anything people in the organic sector have said.
If you live on organic chocolate,
organic ice-cream and organic oven chips, you will get fat,
just as if you lived off non-organic ice-cream, non-organic chocolate
and non-organic oven chips, you get fat.
Simon, with supermarkets, of course they're in it to make money,
they're a business, but do you think they have a moral responsibility
when it comes to something like obesity?
What supermarkets are incredibly good at is responding to consumer demand.
But to ask supermarkets to lead the charge against obesity,
I think is a misunderstanding of what supermarkets do.
Talking to Simon, I realised that supermarkets are about profit.
The bottom line. What happened in the '90s was extraordinary.
They were facing a crisis with BSE and salmonella,
and what did they do? They turned it into an opportunity.
They took organic food, which was this cranky, hippie,
weird lifestyle thing and rolled it out.
They turned it into a money-spinner. And that is their genius.
'But behind this, a global disease was spreading to Britain.
'By 2001, obesity had doubled in women and trebled in men.
'And it was rising.
'Two years later, the World Health Organisation
'published this groundbreaking report.
'It found that heavy marketing of high calorie foods to children
'and the excessive consumption of sugary drinks
'was having a major impact on obesity.
'The food industry was being held to account.'
Within a month of that World Health Organisation report,
JP Morgan, who are a major financial institution,
published a report of their own.
But this report was different
because it was of the food industry investors.
What they said was that because obesity
was now being called an epidemic,
governments might actually be forced to regulate,
and if they regulate, this will affect profits.
'The report warned,
'And it actually went as far as ranking companies
'most exposed to financial risk.'
'Professor Philip James was head
'of the International Obesity Task Force,
'and contributed to the WHO report.
'In September 2003, he was invited to speak
'at JP Morgan's headquarters.'
Philip, the JP Morgan report, 2003.
What was it like when it came out?
This was a bombshell, because it was in the business world,
out of the health world, and it was talking about the bottom line,
and whether their returns were going to move up or down,
and that is what gets chief executives
out of bed in the morning, worrying about what's coming next.
What was it in the report that said would threaten the bottom line?
Well, it's regulation, and if you want to think about
what the food industry in general is paranoid about, it's regulation.
This is a whole different world, this is business, serious business.
Well, I mean, JP Morgan was essentially assessing
the biggest global industry in the world.
They start categorising the range of products of a company,
and then work out, "Where is this company making all its money?"
"If it's making its money on unhealthy products,
And they said, "There's profit to be made,
"if you change your portfolio
"and you are developing all these healthier,"
whatever that meant, "products."
And what is amazing from what you've just said is that
here in obesity is a business opportunity.
To make money, you diversify into products that are seemingly healthy,
the important thing being not whether they're healthy or not,
but whether they're perceived to be healthy.
Here is a chance to make money from obesity.
And this was, therefore, in a way, not remotely interested in health.
It was interested in business opportunities,
and threats to a particular business.
So Philip, what happened next? How did things unfold?
JP Morgan rang me up and said, "Would you come and talk,
"and have a chat with us?"
I sent my slides and turned up at this magnificent headquarters
of JP Morgan in London, and they asked me,
"Would you mind standing over there, so that Frankfurt, New York,"
and I think it was Philadelphia, "can hear at the same time?"
And I said, "What?" Well, they said, "Well, they have your report,
"all your slides already there."
And I said, "OK."
And they were there for two and a half hours, and not a soul left.
And how did that make you feel, Philip?
Well, it was quite extraordinary because suddenly we realised
that companies were having meetings of their major executive boards
and deciding that they had to change
in response to this investor analysis.
What's amazing, talking to Philip is that,
all of a sudden this report comes out
and obesity is this massive issue that they have got to confront.
But it's also an opportunity to make money.
'Kath Dalmeny was policy director at the Food Commission
'when industry was reacting to the JP Morgan report.
'At the time, this grassroots organisation exposed record numbers
'of processed foods dubiously marketing themselves as healthier.'
Kath, what kind of effect did the JP Morgan report
have on the food that we see in our supermarkets?
I think the JP Morgan report and some of the other things
that were going on at the time marked a real crossroads
in how a company chose to go forward with their healthiness.
So there are two ways you can approach it
if you're a food industry body who is making food products.
You can either make your products actually healthier,
and that's called reformulation.
You change the things that are in the product.
Or you can go down the line of saying,
"I'm not going to change the actual product.
"I'll have to make it look healthier.
"I'll have to change the perception of the product."
Can you give me any examples of these?
Any examples of making something look healthier?
There were lots of products which had, "Contains fruit!"
But it might only contain 0.1% fruit flavour, but that's permissible.
But, of course, in an age that's concerned about nutrition,
you bring up the fruit to the front of the packet and say,
"Absolutely fantastic, this must be good for health,"
is the implication, even if the claim isn't actually made.
There were all kinds of things about calcium.
Big ticks on the front of children's food packets saying,
"This contains calcium.
"Must be good for teeth, then, mustn't it?" thinks the parent.
But of course, what it actually means is,
"This product is full of sugar, but we're not saying that on the packet.
-They weren't lying in what they were saying?
-No, not at all.
That's not the point. They're not lying, they're just sprinkling
a little bit of magic dust on the top to make it look healthier.
What does a company do when they've got nowhere to go?
When they can't reformulate their food
because they are essentially known as fattening?
The prime example is Cadbury.
There they are, stuck with a product that is a high-fat product,
a high-sugar product. It's got calories in it,
it's something that people can consume a lot of, so the finger
is pointing at it, saying, "That's part of the problem."
So what do they do? They get into a partnership with government and say,
"What we'll do is sponsor a sports equipment scheme,
"and the government will endorse that
"and we'll be seen as part of the solution
"in providing sports activities in schools,
"through children having to collect tokens from the chocolate wrappers,
"having eaten the chocolate."
How did this Cadbury's campaign work?
We found, for example, that for a netball
that would normally cost five pounds in the shop,
you'd have to spend 38 quid to get it by buying chocolate.
There was a cricket set, for example, that,
if you bought it in the shop, it'd cost you £150,
if you got it through the Cadbury Get Active tokens scheme,
then it would cost you £1,100. And in the process,
you'd also have been exposed to half a million calories.
And the whole scheme, when we totted it all up,
my calculator nearly exploded
cos it was 36 billion calories' worth of chocolate.
So what happened when you found all this out
about this sports equipment fiasco?
I came in late on the morning that the story broke in the media,
and I cycled in and saw the headlines
on the news stand outside our office, and nearly fell off my bike.
I realised, "Oh, my word! This is going to be big."
It had all the magic ingredients for a media story.
It was about a national brand everybody would recognise.
It was about an issue parents care passionately about,
the health of their children.
It was about ministers getting involved with endorsing a scheme
that was about promoting fat and sugar
in the middle of a health crisis.
The phones didn't stop going all day.
What do you have to eat 40 quid's worth of to get a free basketball?
Cadbury has decided that the best way to get children fit
is to fill them up full of chocolate.
And so, did you hear from Cadbury after you did this?
My boss and I were called up to go and see the Cadbury bosses
in Berkeley Square in this very posh office
full of mahogany and very thick carpet.
I think they wanted to get the size of us,
and the size of us was quite small.
There was only two or three of us in the office
who had done all these calculations with a glass of wine at night.
So we were called up to meet the head of Cadbury
and also his marketing person who had been involved
in some of the design of the scheme, and we had this bizarre conversation
with silverware and beautiful plates, sort of chinking,
very politely having a meal together,
while we were grilled, my boss and I were grilled
about why on earth we had criticised this wonderful scheme.
And I remember that the marketing person said to me,
"Were you not aware that this would damage children
"by taking away this sports equipment from them?
"This is all we wanted to do was to give children sports equipment."
What happened to their scheme?
In the end, the scheme quietly died.
There was no fanfare about that, but it disappeared off the radar,
and no such scheme has happened since,
and certainly not with government endorsement.
Are the companies still promoting healthy lifestyle
and fitness whilst giving us a product...is this still going on?
Well, it's interesting that you're asking that question in 2012,
because, of course, we've got the London 2012 Olympic
and Paralympic Games coming to London, a few miles down the road
from where we're sitting, and of course, that is sponsored by
a burger company, a soft drinks company and Cadbury once again.
'Cadbury say the scheme gave schools thousands of pounds' worth
'of sports equipment, and sales were not affected.
'But they admit the negative publicity made them offer promotions
'with free entry to theme parks and attractions instead.'
Obesity kept on rising,
and the pressure was mounting on the food industry,
and in 2006, they were to face a real challenge.
A challenge that could potentially wipe billions off their profits,
and it all came down to a tiny label,
about the size of a postage stamp,
being looked at by the Food Standards Agency.
'The Food Standards Agency wanted to help consumers
'see past the seductive packaging
'and understand how fattening food really was.
'They looked at Guideline Daily Amounts or GDAs,
'which lists percentages of nutrients,
'but decided to recommend traffic lights, which uses a colour code.
'Red means high, amber means medium and green means low.
'The industry was divided.
'Some, like Sainsbury's, Co-op and Waitrose, went for it.
'And others, like Tesco, Morrison's and Kellogg's,
'stuck with Guideline Daily Amounts.
'Richard Ayre was on the board of the Food Standards Agency
'when they scrutinised food labelling.'
So, Richard, when you set out, you didn't have any clear preference
as to whether you should go with GDA or the traffic light system.
You didn't have any clear preconception
as to how this would turn out.
The Agency never had an axe to grind.
We had a legislative statutory responsibility
to put the interests of consumers first.
That's what we did, so we asked consumers. We tested with consumers.
What system would enable them to make the healthiest choices?
And it was clear what the answer was. They preferred traffic light.
The companies who opposed traffic lights, what were their reasons?
It was put about that the Food Standards Agency
wanted to slap a red traffic light on every bar of chocolate
or on every block of sugar or on every tub of butter or spread,
of course, we never suggested that. We were absolutely clear -
the traffic lights were only to label what are called complex foods
like processed meals, ready meals -
things that have several different ingredients,
and, unless you have some guidance, you really don't know how much
fat, salt, sugar there is in the total food.
Were you surprised by the response of supermarkets who didn't want to introduce traffic lights?
I think disappointed,
and disappointed because they wouldn't show us the evidence
upon which they rejected what was clear to us
was the right, preferred system for consumers.
Were we disappointed that some of the most important supermarkets,
like Tesco, wouldn't even try traffic lights for real?
Yes, of course we were disappointed.
How would you describe Tesco's response?
Almost 300,000 people in Britain work for Tesco.
If Tesco are unhappy with policy, governments listen,
so Tesco was fantastically powerful in this debate.
What did the industry fear so much about traffic lights?
It would unquestionably have changed consumer choices.
People would, broadly, have bought more of healthier food.
That was the objective, after all.
I wondered what the government actually did once you gave them your results.
Politicians hate the idea of regulation.
For the last 20 years, politicians of all parties
say they are not in favour of regulation.
They want to deregulate it,
but once the Food Standards Agency was set up
and it started to try to regulate in the consumer's interest,
it got up the noses of a lot of politicians and a lot of industry.
It's somewhat paradoxical that we're in a time
where obesity's an epidemic and yet health food
is the fastest-growing sector of the food industry,
and I wonder how those two things square.
So-called health food is. Um, the problem is
in the absence of a single, clear, simple labelling system,
consumers really are at the mercy of the marketing department,
so we know that people can be conned into believing
that a pizza will be good for them
because it has a bit of pineapple on top of it.
We know they can be convinced by being told that a product
is one of their five a day,
one of their five portions of fruit or vegetable a day,
but they're also having their entire daily allowance of sugar,
or of salt, or sometimes of saturated fat.
Richard, put yourself in the shoes of the food manufacturers.
Would you have introduced traffic lights?
Because as a food manufacturer,
I have an obligation to my shareholders first of all,
I have an obligation to my employees, I want to maximise my profit,
and the fact is that if you produce a clear labelling system
of the sort that traffic lights was, then you put at risk
that part of the industry that makes a healthy living
by producing not-very-healthy food.
We asked Tesco about what Richard said, and they say their GDA labels
are clear and simple, but they are open to discussion
for the best way to help customers make an informed choice.
Some very powerful people didn't want traffic lights to happen.
What's more, within six months of the coalition government coming to power,
the Food Standards Agency was stripped of responsibility for food labelling.
But the battle now shifted to Brussels,
where the stakes were raised and the fight was going to get dirty.
In the European Parliament, the votes of the MEPs,
who had the power to introduce traffic lights across Europe,
were fought over in a David and Goliath struggle.
The David being the small health charities lobbying for traffic lights
and the Goliath being the food giants with their enormous wealth and influence.
MEP Glenis Willmott fought hard for traffic lights
and saw first-hand the tactics the food lobby deployed.
How much effort did the food industry make
to influence the decision on traffic lights?
A huge amount. They spent, it's estimated,
over a billion euros to stop traffic lights. That's an awful lot of money.
We were inundated with e-mails, with requests for meetings.
There were lunches, breakfasts, dinners
that people were being invited to in order to try and change their minds
to make sure that traffic light labelling didn't get agreed.
Did they give you any good reasons why traffic lights wouldn't work?
Did they give you any research?
They basically said there was no evidence
that people preferred traffic lights. That's basically what they said,
but they said that meant that people preferred GDAs. It isn't what the research said,
and it's just one of the many, many things that they did
in order to stop this system getting through.
Could you tell me how much effort was made
on the side of the campaign to bring in traffic lights here?
Was there any lobbying by that side here?
Yes. However, it was a completely different scale.
You know, the organisations, the health and consumer organisations,
haven't got the resources anywhere near.
It was miniscule compared to the food industry.
What would they actually say, then, to the MEPs?
I mean, give me an example of the kind of thing they would say to an MEP.
An example would be, to Italian MEPs, for example,
"If you agree these traffic lights,
"then we will lose all of these jobs in Italy
"because we won't be able to produce this particular product any more
"because it will be labelled bad, it will be labelled red."
So the food industry was targeting the MEPs who had food jobs in their area?
Yes, absolutely. So if you had a particular factory in your area,
you were more likely to be targeted and told,
"You will lose jobs in your constituency."
Wow, that shows an extraordinary degree of, kind of,
laser-like precision to hone in on specific MEPs.
That was the problem. You know, people were frightened.
They don't want to lose jobs, obviously.
They've got to go back home to their constituencies
and explain why they voted in this way.
How do you go back and face your constituents? Do you want to get re-elected?
The food industry won,
and traffic light labelling would not be enforced.
The shocking thing is not that the food industry lobbied MEPs,
it's the way that they did it.
They specifically targeted MEPs with food industry jobs,
because this bill really mattered.
If it was passed, it would affect their bottom line,
their profits, and they couldn't afford to let it pass.
'Reading labels to work out what's good for you
'can sometimes be really complicated.'
Yet there were companies that took up traffic lights voluntarily.
'Mostly green means go for it.
'Mostly red means enjoy it once in a while. Simple.'
What made them work for Sainsbury's
when others in the industry resisted?
'Judith Batchelar is director of Sainsbury's Brand.'
Judith, when you introduced traffic lights,
why did you do it at Sainsbury's?
Well, it was back in 2004, and I think it would be fair to say
Sainsbury's had lost a little bit of its sparkle,
and I think we really were up for driving change within the organisation
and putting, as I say, a little bit of that sparkle back into Sainsbury's.
There are a lot of products that are marketed as healthy
which are anything but,
and I wondered if the worry would be around those kinds of products
that seem healthy because of the marketing of them,
but in reality, if you did put a traffic light on it, it would be red.
Yeah, I think what we found with traffic lights was exactly that.
Not that people stopped buying things,
but that they were surprised by things,
particularly things where intuitively
they thought that perhaps the category was healthy.
So, dairy products and things like yogurts, for example,
they thought were healthy, but actually, some yogurts have lots of sugar in them
because they've got different flavours and all sorts of things.
They're not really as healthy as they thought they were.
Sandwiches is another great category, actually, where...
-What did they do with sandwiches?
-Well, they just swapped,
and actually I've got another example here, actually,
and it's just on two chicken products.
Basically, you've got a product here that's got a red traffic light.
It's a southern fried chicken wrap.
The number of calories in that is, well, 525.
You can actually buy a 281-calorie chicken sandwich
in the same range, and those are the kind of trade-offs that people were making.
And in fact, sandwiches was where we saw the biggest shift in behaviours,
of people switching out of ambers and reds into greens and ambers.
How has traffic lights changed the culture within Sainsbury's?
The whole process is completely reversed,
because today we start with that multiple traffic light,
so part of the process is saying, "What kind of traffic light
"do I want to put on the front of this product
"and how hard am I going to have to work to make sure
"I turn a red to amber, or turn an amber to green?"
Clearly you will get to a point where reformulation
does start to have a detrimental effect on the taste of the product.
-Have you found that at all?
-Yes, we have found that.
The argument that has always been used against traffic lights
would be the effect on sales, so is this what you've found?
Have you found that you can square the circle?
Has it affected sales badly or not?
No. No, it has just transferred sales.
People still eat, they still come and buy the same things.
They still buy ready meals, they just change what they buy.
Sainsbury's had, by their own admission, lost their sparkle,
so they went for traffic lights, but if you're a thriving company
doing really well, why would you do it unless regulation forced you?
Home of the most profitable food industry in the world.
If there is a way to get us to buy more food,
it's probably been tried here first.
Pierre Chandon, visiting professor at Harvard Business School,
has done ground-breaking research into how fattening foods are marketed as healthy.
'Pierre explained to me exactly how this worked.'
I call this the paradox of low-fat food and high-fat people,
and I thought, "How come when people are trying to lose weight,
"trying really hard and trying to eat right, they're not losing weight?"
And I thought maybe there's a boomerang effect here.
Maybe all of this healthy food is actually the reason why we're not losing weight as fast as we can.
And what did you discover when you started studying this?
So, in our study we compared two fast food chains,
one of which is called Subway, which in the US is marketed as being
a healthy place where you can get fresh food
and lower-calorie sandwiches,
and McDonald's, which is a fast food chain, a regular burger chain.
And what did you find?
So, for example, in one study we took two products.
We took this really big foot-long sandwich from Subway,
-which actually has 900 calories.
-A foot-long sandwich?!
And we took the Big Mac from McDonald's, and we asked people to estimate the number of calories.
What's fascinating is that even though the Subway sandwich has 50% more calories than a Big Mac,
people thought that it was healthier, hence it had fewer calories.
Now, the other thing that's really interesting is beyond that.
It's when people underestimated the calories of a healthy sandwich,
then they treated themselves to a more indulgent dessert
or to a full-calorie drink.
So the important thing is the actual store that it's coming from.
If the store has a healthy overall perception,
then everything that comes from that store will be seen as being healthy,
regardless of what's actually in it.
Exactly, so people have this idea that if you're healthy
because you're fresh then you're also good in terms of calories
and you have fewer calories.
This is something I call the health halo.
It's the idea that when food is marketed as being healthy,
people think that it has less calories, and as a result,
they think they can eat more of it without getting fat,
and that's a very powerful effect that we find over and over in the US,
in Europe, with different brands, with different types of food.
-It doesn't matter.
-This health halo is really fascinating.
I wonder how else it works, if it works on any other products.
We actually invented some food which does not exist.
You invented some food?
Yeah, we went and we printed on all of these M&Ms "low-fat" or "light,"
and we told people, "Here's some M&Ms.
"There's a new product. Low-fat M&Ms. Have as many as you want."
And we gave other people some regular M&Ms,
and what we found is just because the M&Ms were called low-fat,
-that people consumed up to 50% more of them.
Just simply because they had been labelled as low-fat.
Exactly, because, again, the health halo.
If I'm saying I'm good, I have lower fat, people think
I also have lower calories, therefore they think they can eat more.
It's so illogical, the way we actually behave. Why do we do this?
It's actually, from a psychological point of view,
it makes a lot of sense. We tend to look at food in binary terms.
There's good food and bad food.
The basic idea is very simple.
It's that when you're good at something or in some aspect,
people think you must be good in every aspect,
so if you are also organic, if you think that there's gluten-free everything,
people tend to categorise the food as being a good food overall.
As a result, they think it's going to be less fattening,
and it's not. Not always.
But, Pierre, all this work you've done,
what are the actual implications for the food industry,
in terms of what you've discovered?
I think the food industry has understood
and, first of all, they know this. They know this really well.
They've understood that there's actually an opportunity to market food as healthy.
And today it's almost impossible to buy food that's not saying it's healthy,
because more and more people are interested in being good
and eating healthily, and these are exactly the people
who are most likely to be misled by the health halos.
So the paradox of low-fat food and high-fat people
is not going to go away. I think it's just going to get worse.
Pierre's work on health halos
found that we underestimate the calories in healthy foods
because we subconsciously categorise food into simply good or bad.
If he's right about the food industry knowing this
and cashing in on it, can it ever help us fight obesity
when profits are at stake?
Before the Conservative Party entered office,
Andrew Lansley, then shadow health minister, declared
he was also a paid non-executive director of Profero -
a marketing agency whose clients included Pizza Hut, Pepsi and Mars.
He maintains he did not work on anything that could be a conflict of interest.
But at the same time as he was preparing the Tory policy on obesity,
he invited contributions from food industry giants.
Meetings would take place at the headquarters of global corporation, Unilever.
Andrew Lansley's Public Health Commission would meet with the major players in the food industry,
people like Tesco and Unilever.
The plan was to formulate the incoming government's policy on obesity.
Lansley believed working with the food industry
was a faster way of tackling obesity than regulation.
But Professor Simon Capewell,
a leading expert in public health from the University of Liverpool
who was invited to join, didn't see it that way.
Simon, when you were first contacted by Andrew Lansley's office,
why did they tell you?
I was actually contacted by Unilever, the public relations head,
who followed up on the letter from Lansley inviting me
to be a member of the Public Health Commission.
He sought to explain the purpose of the Public Health Commission.
Give me some idea of what it was like walking into that room for the first time.
-Who was there?
-It was all very grand.
This was a large, glitzy organisation.
It was clearly very successful.
I think some of us felt a little bit flattered.
We felt we were at the top table, that people were taking notice of us.
At no point was that sensation undermined.
Simon, which companies were actually represented at the meeting?
The chair of the Public Health Commission
was the chair of Unilever UK.
Nudging it along, Tesco were there and ASDA as well.
Also the people from the advertising communities.
So, Simon, in terms of obesity, what were you coming to the table to say?
I wanted to lay out the evidence
for interventions in public health that worked.
When you looked around the world, there were a number of countries
that have done amazing things and done it very effectively.
Scandinavia, Finland in particular.
The success of those countries was based on legislation and regulation.
Regulation of the food industry?
Yes, and serious regulation of advertising.
So, yes, there was a recognition that the individual had a role to play
but, at the end of the day,
the big, powerful levers were in the hands of government.
And what did the food industry say when you said this at this meeting?
In retrospect, they were very clever,
because we all had opportunities where we were invited to prepare papers
and, indeed, to do presentations.
On each of those occasions they listened with considerable interest and politeness.
-And then nothing.
So the minutes of the meeting were written up and it would say,
"Professor Capewell gave a presentation on national interventions,
"and material will be used in the final report,"
and then we would move on to something else.
So none of the tricky stuff was ever challenged or contradicted.
What did they say were their objectives? What was their position?
Instead of looking at effective things like regulation,
taxation, we were discussing what sort of pretty package
should we have here to say it is the responsibility of individuals
if they get fat and, in particular, the government has no duty of care.
In terms of Andrew Lansley, where did he lie?
Did he lie on the side of the food companies or the scientists?
It was very clear from his behaviour before,
during and particularly afterwards, that his interests
and the interests of the industry were in complete agreement.
Simon, what is wrong, in principal,
with the idea of consulting with the food industry?
The risk here is conflict of interest.
Apparently, when it comes to the food industry,
who are producing masses of calories that make children obese or diabetic
or they conceal vast amounts of salt or trans fats in the food which make people sick or kill them,
for some reason that principle is completely ignored.
The conflict of interest is outrageous.
Putting the food industry at the policy table
is like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.
Instead of saying the food industry is part of the problem,
they actually come in and say, "From your shareholder perspective,
"would you like to suggest how we take forward food policy in this country?"
What Simon saw first-hand was the government-in-waiting's relationship with the food industry.
He was there, he was in the room.
What he said was that that relationship was too close
and that the science had been left out of the picture.
This is something we have seen again and again with the food industry -
that they have one priority, and that is making money.
In May 2010, the coalition government entered office,
and Andrew Lansley was now the Secretary of State for Health.
Within a year, the new government set out its strategy to fight obesity.
It was called the Public Health Responsibility Deal,
and invited the industry to make voluntary pledges.
There was to be no regulation, and many companies signed up.
But crucially, food companies could choose
what they wanted to do in terms of calorie reduction.
The only actual target was to help the nation as a whole
to reduce its calorie intake by five billion a day by the year 2020.
MP Valerie Vaz sits on the Commons Health Select Committee,
which has declared itself unconvinced
that the Responsibility Deal could tackle obesity.
In March, there was a pledge made to reduce the nation's calorie intake by five billion calories.
Would do you think about that pledge?
We need something much more specific, much more measurable.
Something that you can look at in a few years' time
and say this is working or this isn't.
Five billion is a very large, vague figure amongst the whole population.
No-one wants something specific.
The government don't want it, the food industry don't want it.
The whole point is that it needs to be vague for it to be something
that everyone can sign up to.
It needs to be vague, but it won't be effective.
There will be absolutely no result at the end of this.
We will be sitting here in five years' time
saying there is a problem with obesity, and nothing will have changed.
How are they actually going to review this pledge?
I was asking him how this was going to work.
How was he going to measure the success or otherwise of it?
Only recently he said would there be an evaluation.
He set aside £1 million.
But it is not clear exactly what the terms of reference of that review is.
Is it going to be a review of what the industry pledged in the first place?
Is it going to be a review of the outcomes? It is absolutely not clear.
So I am looking forward to hearing exactly what this review is about.
Do you not think that they have to be made to do something?
If you don't regulate what is going into food,
if you don't regulate the way the industry deals with something,
then you will get these diseases, you will get people cutting corners
and you will get a much more unhealthy society.
Everyone I have met has told me that regulation is the way forward
to stop the obesity epidemic.
So why doesn't the government agree?
Public health minister Anne Milton
is in charge of the government's policy on obesity.
Would you agree that we are in an obesity crisis?
I am not very fond of words like obesity crisis
and obesity epidemic, because somehow it takes on a life of its own.
It's something to do with someone else, it is not to do with me,
me, the government, me, an individual, me, the food industry.
Actually, we've all got a part to play.
You see, I'd love to believe that the world was like that,
but unfortunately, what history has taught us
is that time and time again the food industry has put the onus on the individual,
because it takes the spotlight off them.
When you think of obesity,
everyone would like to think that it is someone else's problem.
So you're right in a way.
The food industry say, "We just sell the food, it is up to an individual what they buy to eat."
The government find this quite difficult
because you've got to navigate your way through all the different factors.
Actually, what you have to do is be very mature and grown-up.
The problem with these voluntary things is that there are so tremendously vague.
Five billion calories by 2020,
and each year you just kind of find out maybe along the way how they are doing.
The key issue here, according to all the scientists, is calories.
The sheer amount of calories we're taking in.
On that issue, you are leaving it vague.
We're certainly not leaving it vague, but are being realistic.
The end point in this is what people put in their mouths.
But we've got to take a very broad approach to this.
It is naive to think that actually, there is one tool that will solve this problem.
It has always been the food industry being in partnership with the government
and deciding pretty much for themselves what the goal will be.
What's quite interesting about the food and retail industry
is they know quite a lot about people's behaviour.
They use it to their advantage to sell their products.
We have to work with them to try and encourage them.
They want to make a profit.
If they can make a profit selling apples
instead of chocolate bars, then that is great by me.
So when would you legislate?
What would make it possible for you to legislate against the food industry?
You can't legislate your way out of this. Everybody's got a part to play.
Sorry, why can't you legislate your way out of this?
It would be lovely to think that that just works. It doesn't just work.
What we have to do is change people's behaviour.
Fundamental to this is changing people's behaviour.
Talking about people changing their behaviour
is putting the onus on us, the public.
Why are you so scared of the food industry?
Why are governments, not just your government,
so scared of bringing in legislation to deal with the food industry?
Can we do a minute of myth-busting here?
First of all, the food industry does not dictate government policy.
Secondly, the government is not scared of the food industry.
Thirdly, we will do what works.
And what I do know, and anybody out there watching this programme knows,
is that there is not one tool that will fix this.
We will legislate, if necessary.
We have got voluntary agreements at the moment.
Those will be independently evaluated.
If it is not working, it is not working, and we will have to do something else,
and the food industry is very clear on that.
But scared of the industry I am not.
The minister couldn't be pinned down
to when they would actually bring in legislation.
So the question is, when will the critical moment come?
In my opinion, there will be a tipping point, and that will be
when the cost to the NHS of the obesity crisis
is greater than the revenue they receive from the food industry.
I have come to Leicester to see a painting of Britain's fattest man.
Not in 2012, but 200 years ago.
This is Daniel Lambert in 1806.
He weighed over 50 stone and was considered a freak of nature,
charging people a shilling to see him
and becoming rich on the proceeds.
Now the money made from obesity is made by the food industry
selling us food that they claim is healthy
but is actually making us fat,
with successive governments letting them do it.
In this series I have gone behind the obesity crisis
to reveal the men who made us fat,
who changed the very nature of what we eat, super-sized everything
and, in so doing, super-sized us.
But the greatest mistake was to believe it was solely our fault.
It was also the men making decisions behind closed doors
who changed the shape of a nation without us even realising it.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed 'healthy foods' such as muesli and juices, both of which can be high in sugar.
He speaks with Simon Wright, an 'organic consultant' for Sainsbury's in the 1990s, who explains how the food industry cashed in on the public's concerns around salmonella, BSE and GM crops. By 1999 the organic industry was worth over £605M, a rise of 232% within two years.
How did the mainstream food producers compete? Peretti speaks with Kath Dalmeny, former policy director at the Food Commission, who explains some of the marketing strategies used by mainstream food producers to keep our custom.
The programme also explores the impact of successive government initiatives and health campaigns, such as the proposal of 'traffic light labelling', the introduction of which the food industry lobbied hard against.
But in 2012, when we have an Olympic Games sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola, has anything changed?