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Research says tobacco companies hooked the US onto junk food

Research carried out by the University of Kansas has revealed that tobacco companies were a key influence in the commercial explosion of junk food between 1988 and 2001.

Responsible for roughly eight million cigarette-related deaths a year, and the recent mainstream pivot to the abomination that is the single-use vape, big tobacco already has a lot to answer for.

New research, however, has suggested the industry’s empire of dirt doesn’t quite end there. The University of Kansas claims that tobacco’s influence also casts a large shadow over the US’ long fought obesity epidemic and the nation’s original explosion of junk food.

The study states that food producers owned by tobacco companies like Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds conspired to hook consumers onto ‘hyper palatable’ foods between 1988 and 2001.

In the same way that cigarettes were deliberately made as addictive as possible, researchers allege that millions of edible and drinkable items were literally pumped full of sugar, caffeine, fat, sodium, and carbs to ‘create an artificially rewarding eating experience.’

Addictive formulas and thresholds are said to have been periodically adapted over time to remain ‘under the detection of most nutritional advice and public scrutiny.’

Specifically, the study authors found that foods originally linked to tobacco-owned firms were 80% more likely to be ultra-high in carbohydrates and sodium than those of other origin. These figures were ascertained using more than 370 tobacco companies.

Despite the fact that big tobacco significantly divested from the US food system in the early noughties, the damage was seemingly already done. Obesity rates reportedly rose drastically each decade after 1980 (15%), up to 23% in 1994, and 31% in 2000.

Inexplicably, by March 2020 close to 42% of US adults were considered obese, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. You may not have realised, but the grim legacy left behind by big tobacco on our food systems is still palpable today.

Some of the largest offending players include Kraft-General-Foods, which during the 1980s was the biggest food company in the world, and Nabisco, which birthed brands like Oreo, Ritz, Miracle Whip, and Oscar Meyer, among countless others still filling confectionary isles in supermarkets.

The continued obsession with hyper palatable foods is underpinned by what the World Health Organisation laments as a rapid disappearance of fresh foods.

‘We can no longer characterize countries as low-income and undernourished, or high-income and only concerned with obesity,’ a spokesperson explained in 2019.

‘All forms of malnutrition have a common denominator – food systems that fail to provide all people with healthy, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets.’