Nutrition Action Healthletter
December 1999 — U.S. Edition

Diet and Disease
Michael Jacobson.

This month’s cover story chronicles an exciting work in progress: scientists’ efforts to understand how diet contributes to major chronic diseases.

   Over the past half-century, governments and private organizations around the world have invested billions of dollars in research to understand what causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other diseases. The assumption, of course, is that health officials will do everything they can to apply their findings to protect the public’s health.

   When it comes to treating diseases, giant pharmaceutical firms make sure that their drugs are used as quickly and as widely as possible.

   But when it comes to preventing disease with a healthy diet, health officials are rarely heard. The fruits of biomedical research, won at such great cost and with such great hope, are allowed to wither on the vine.

   As one measure, consider some annual advertising budgets: McDonald’s — $1 billion, Coca-Cola Co. — $770 million, General Mills — $598 million, 5 A Day — $1 million.

   “5 A Day” — I’ll bet most people have never heard of it — is the federal government’s biggest effort to educate the general public about healthy diets. Yet its budget is a joke. McDonald’s spends more every 12 hours to promote greasy burgers and fries than the National Cancer Institute spends in a year on 5 A Day to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

   The reason for such measly government nutrition campaigns is no secret. When you’re talking about changing diets, you’re going up against the meat and dairy industries, soft-drink bottlers, other business interests, and, in most cases, a lack of interest from top key government health officials.

   In the coming year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which publishes Nutrition Action Healthletter, will embark on a campaign to encourage Congress and the Administration to mount a major effort to improve the American diet.

   I urge you to join in by writing a letter to your Congressperson and to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, or by mailing this coupon (or sending an e-mail to

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