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In this era of alternative “facts” and rising industrial sway in Washington, the well-being of Americans depends more than ever on financially and politically independent organizations that inform consumers and advocate for policy changes that help to keep all of us healthy.
One of the most influential such groups is the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, or C.S.P.I., led for more than four decades by Michael Jacobson, who recently stepped down as executive director to work in semiretirement as a senior scientist.
Inspired by Ralph Nader and armed with a degree in microbiology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Jacobson and two co-founders burst onto the nutrition scene in 1971. Backed by the best scientific evidence of the day, C.S.P.I. relentlessly attacked the ingredients, marketing practices and dietary habits that research showed can undermine the health of Americans.
With a natural bent as a communicator, Dr. Jacobson was able to sell serious science with catchy phrases and humor, alerting the public to foods to avoid and offering suggestions for more wholesome alternatives. Today, the organization’s Nutrition Action Healthletter still counters unwholesome products (it calls them “Food Porn”) with healthier options (“The Right Stuff”).
In tackling the powerful soft drink industry, Dr. Jacobson memorably labeled sugar-sweetened sodas “liquid candy,” and C.S.P.I. fought to get “added sugars” listed as a separate item on the Nutrition Facts label. Now consumers can distinguish between sugars naturally present in fruits, vegetables and dairy products — and those sweeteners added in factories.