Food Coverage Finds Niche Between War, SARS Coverage
The way in which 2003 began, the year did not appear to become a favorable one for news coverage of food science–related topics. The war against Iraq not only influenced news media coverage but also affected the nation in general and hundreds of thousands of families specifically. The SARS virus not only curtailed international travel and, to a great extent, tourism in the United States and abroad but also significantly affected IFT as planning for the Annual Meeting + Food Expo® in Chicago went into overdrive to best accommodate international members and attendees and ensure safety. Yet amid all that, food science remained a topic of interest to journalists—both broadcast and print—and IFT assisted in providing scientific perspective and commentary.

With final figures now tabulated, IFT experienced a 10% increase over 2002 in the number of inquiries it received from news media seeking information and expertise on a myriad of food topics. That correlates to a better than 25% increase over the rate of inquiries in 2001.

The Chicago Tribune—one of America’s largest daily newspapers and the flagship paper of one the largest and most powerful news media companies—came calling in October for information on food companies’ intentions to reformulate popular products to improve healthful eating. IFT Food Science Communicator and product development expert William “Benji” Mikel, University of Kentucky, answered the call in an October 5 Tribune article, providing a sample of the give-and-take that comes along with a decision like McDonald’s to make all-white-meat chicken nuggets. “You may see other (companies) using cheaper cuts for their products because they can’t compete with a McDonald’s,” he was quoted as saying. “There’s no doubt such a change will have a huge impact on the industry, which simply can’t just ramp up production.” Sunday issues of the Tribune boast a circulation of more than 1 million. A version of the article was distributed by the Associated Press, the nation’s largest news wire service, and republished in USA Today, the largest daily newspaper.

Approximately one week earlier, Reuters, the news wire competitor of the Associated Press, published an original article on product reformulation. Its author was directed by IFT to Mark Kantor, University of Maryland, for his expertise on diet and health and public health aspects of nutrition. The September 26 article highlighted prominently Kantor’s assessment of the role that leaner products will play in the fight against obesity. “Whether it’s going to help solve the problem of obesity, I doubt it, because [the problem] is so complex,” he said. “One of my main questions would be, ‘How many people are going to embrace this?’” Reuters is the world’s largest news distribution service, publishing 30,000 articles daily, with bureaus in 130 countries. Among the outlets which republished the article and Kantor’s comments was Canada’s Calgary Herald and National Post. Combined, their circulation reaches 400,000 in Alberta and Ontario.

Kantor’s comments on the low-carbohydrate frenzy made print in the September 29 issue of Crain’s Chicago Business, the leading weekly business publication in the Windy City. The nutrition specialist offered his reservations from the standpoint of public health. “People mortgage their health for short-term weight loss,” Kantor said. “The science could not be clearer: A healthy diet is built around carbohydrates [such as] whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and not much fat or protein.” Crain’s Chicago Business has a circulation of 55,000.

Joanne Slavin, University of Minnesota, also stressed the importance of including carbohydrates as part of a healthy diet in comments published in October’s issue of Prevention, a national magazine with more than 3 million readers. Slavin endorsed including whole grains in the diet, in part for their ability to help protect against some types of cancer. “The fiber in whole grains isn’t broken down in your small intestine,” she said, “so it survives intact into your colon, where it creates a healthier environment that seems to help protect against cancer.”

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  1. Food Sciences