Abstract: Faux Food Fight: Regulating a New Health Food Economy in the Wake of the “Cholesterol Scare”

Xaq Frohlich


This paper examines the debates among medical professionals, businesses, and the Food and Drug Administration in the 1960s over whether to allow businesses to make health claims on foods regarding their "polyunsaturated" fats content and its relationship to heart disease. The paper describes the emerging medical, followed by popular, interest in this period in the "diet-heart thesis," the argument that there was a correlation and thus a link between certain diets and incidences of heart disease, and then examines how that interest was translated into new advertising campaigns for products like vegetable cooking oils and special margarines. For businesses, such health food campaigns provided an avenue for the diversification of "taste" through the diversification of new product lines, creating demand when consumers already had "the basics"; but it created headaches for regulators who sought to maintain a neat division between ordinary food products for ordinary consumers and special medical products for special groups like patients. In part, the stakes were institutional: should consumers be empowered to take dietary decisions into their own hands, or does this subvert the role of the doctor in treating a patient? But the debate was also about what was meant by an "ordinary" consumer and "risky" food.