Good Eats, Food, Pharmaceuticals Can Go Together

March 4, 2000
The Columbus Dispatch

At a recent convention of scientists in Washington, there were cheers all around for the claim that Americans are eating more heart-healthy foods.

Members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science also heard that Quaker Oats and General Mills have announced joint ventures with pharmaceutical companies to enhance foods and devise products with health benefits.

Such products could help change health statistics that have shown that four of the 10 leading causes of death and disease in this country are directly associated with diet.

The scientists were told that sales of oatmeal have risen since the cereal was determined to be heart-healthy and that calcium-enriched orange juice outsells regular orange juice.

What's attractive about eating these so-called functional foods is the idea that people can improve their health and potentially become less reliant on drugs.

The United States, in fact, is in a calcium crisis, in part because people opt for soft drinks rather than milk. "Americans get 1 cup of milk a day, but they need 3 cups,'' the Dairy Council Mid East has said. Calcium-enriched products other than milk could help alleviate that crisis.

Baby boomers, who are aging and becoming more health-conscious, are believed to be driving the market for functional foods. That market is expected soon to top $ 100 billion a year.

Teen-agers and younger children, on the other hand, if left to their own devices, probably would consume too many of their favorite foods: soft drinks, cookies, potato chips and other snacks of questionable nutritive value. Many of these products are high in sugar, salt and fat.

When Mom and Dad no longer play a role in this generation's meal choices, one wonders whether their eating habits will change. Maybe the answer is that as soon as youngsters outgrow the notion that they are immortal, they start heart-healthy oatmeal and drinking orange juice with calcium.

Food and drug companies could take a big step forward if they could engineer foods to make them more healthful, helping to give people a longer life span and a healthier one, to boot.

But when one considers the space in the average supermarket given over to soft drinks, beer, baked goods, dozens of kinds of junk food and sugarcoated cereals, the march toward eating healthier foods clearly has a long way to go.


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