Nutrition Action Healthletter
January/February 2001 — U.S. Edition 
News from CSPI
30 Years... And Counting

Memo from MFJ
Michael Jacobson

(The First Nutrition Action Healthletter, 1971)


   On February 25, 1971, three young scientists (including yours truly) incorporated the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which three years later began publishing Nutrition Action Healthletter. This issue of Nutrition Action highlights some of the major changes in the food and health landscape since then.

   The challenge to eat a healthy diet is far greater today than it was three decades ago. In the 1970s, the threat of a heart attack was a major incentive for people to eat better. Today, powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs can ease the damage caused by a hamburger habit. In the 1970s, many parents of young children had themselves grown up on homemade meals with fruits and vegetables and sensible portions of wholesome foods. Many of today’s parents grew up in a “toxic food environment” in which a typical daily diet included Big Macs, doughnuts, pizza, bucket-sized buttered popcorn, candy, Coke, chips, and other junk foods.

   Today, kids live in a sea of powerful advertising. They’re surrounded by fast-food outlets in schools, soda and candy machines, and junky snacks in classrooms and at parties, parades, holiday celebrations, and just about everywhere else.

   Adults are tempted by ever-expanding opportunities to eat ever-expanding portions of junk at every location and every hour of the day. Is it any wonder that one out of two Americans is overweight? From vending machines at the office to monster pastries at coffee shops, from restaurants to movie theaters, shopping malls, gas stations, and ballparks, it takes enormous willpower to resist the constant onslaught of fast, cheap, and largely unhealthy calories.

   We know far more about the myriad ways in which diet contributes to good or ill health than we did in 1971. Back then, few knew that diet and exercise could cut the risk of cancer, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis. Supplements—from vitamins and minerals to herbs—were given short shrift. And researchers had yet to uncover the dangers of trans fat or the benefits of phytochemicals. The next 30 years undoubtedly will shed light on new foods or factors that can protect our health and may well disprove some of today’s “facts.”

   Over the past three decades, CSPI has—in articles, on television and our Web site, and in books and pamphlets, school videos, and every other means we could think of—nudged people to eat their fruits and vegetables and exposed problems with tropical oils (coconut and palm kernel), saturated and trans fats, refined sugars, salt, meat, cheese, and restaurant meals. We’ve also encouraged the government to require nutrition labels on food packages, to ban unsafe additives, and to mount advertising campaigns for healthy foods.

   While we’ve had a few setbacks since 1971, we’ve also helped change the way America eats. It’s been an exciting 30 years. I hope you’ll continue to be with us for the next 30.

Michael F. Jacobson
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest


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