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The Passing of Julia Child the Nation's No. 1 
Food-related Story in 2004; So-called
"Cheeseburger Bill" at No. 10
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December 21, 2004 - The passing of Julia Child, the world's first celebrity chef, bubbled up as the nation's No. 1 food-related news story in 2004, according to a recent survey of the nation's food editors. Eulogized as "a true American treasure" on front-page stories in August, Child was known for encouraging Americans to tackle the challenges of French cuisine. The Emmy award-winning chef started the TV chef trend back in the '60s and hosted several cooking shows throughout her life. Her ability to laugh at her own on-camera mishaps endeared her to the public as she attempted to make complicated recipes foolproof for less experienced chefs. She died two days shy of her 92nd birthday. The survey was conducted by Hunter Public Relations.

The low carb trend held firm at the No. 2 spot for a second year in a row. The Atkins low carb diet mania began in 2003 and reached a crescendo in the middle of 2004, with fast food companies launching bunless burgers and cola companies unveiling reduced carbohydrate varieties. The surge in companies manufacturing low carb products prompted the FDA this year to develop plans to regulate how the term "low carb" can be used in marketing efforts.

Obesity, which was ranked No. 1 in last year's survey, shrank a bit in 2004, and fell to No. 3. Issues this year focused around who is most to blame for Americans' burgeoning waistlines, can the trend be reversed, and how can we prevent today's children from becoming the next generation of overweight Americans.

Closely related, the buzz surrounding the documentary "Super Size Me" gobbled up the No. 4 spot. Morgan Spurlock's movie showcased his experience of eating only McDonald's food for one month and the damage that high fat diets can do to the human body. In doing so, he turned the spotlight on food marketing practices in general. While McDonald's claims the documentary had nothing to do with their decision, the hamburger chain eliminated their trademark "super size" option from their menu shortly after the movie premiered.

Revisiting the famed food pyramid claimed the No. 5 spot. With nearly two-thirds of Americans considered overweight, the government starting looking at the current food pyramid (which had been released in 1992) to determine if those guidelines are partly responsible for the nation's weight gain. The forthcoming new guidelines (which may no longer be in the shape of a pyramid) will most likely advise Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and non-fat or low-fat milk products, while limiting carbohydrates and salt. In addition, the guidelines will be adapted to match a person's age and activity level.

Mad Cow Disease, which reared its ugly head in the United States for the first time, captured the No. 6 spot. After an initial scare in December 2003, cattle in Washington State were quarantined in January by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and fears arose again in November when the USDA stated they had a potential case after two tests were inconclusive. Beef prices plummeted for a week, but rebounded right before Thanksgiving when a third test confirmed the cow in question did not have the deadly disease.

Tipping the scales to secure the No. 7 spot is the debate over whether obesity will become the leading cause of preventable death in America. In March, the Journal of American Medical Association published a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that claimed more Americans will soon be dying from obesity than from smoking. This widely publicized finding was contradicted on Nov. 23 by The Wall Street Journal, which reported major statistical errors in the CDC's report, claiming the study inflated the predicted obesity deaths by more than 80,000. The Wall Street Journal also stated that while preventable deaths linked to obesity is rising, it will not overtake smoking in the near future.

Storming into No. 8 is the produce shortage resulting from Florida's horrific hurricane season. The Sunshine State's tree groves and gardens received billions of dollars of damage during three major hurricanes in August and September. The storms resulted in some of the highest tomato prices ever, along with shortages of peppers, oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, broccoli, and grapefruits.

As contrast to the survey's No. 2 result, the No. 9 story of the year is the decline in popularity of the Atkins diet during the second half of the year. Just as dozens of new low-carb products began saturating the market, Americans began cheating on the diet and feeling less guilty about enjoying a carb-loaded food on a more regular basis. While most experts believe Atkins will be a force to reckon with for years to come, they believe the craze has reached its zenith and will decline slowly over time.

Lastly, the so-called "Cheeseburger Bill" rounds out the list at No. 10. Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March, the bill prohibits obesity lawsuits against the food industry, protecting America's producers and sellers of food and non-alcoholic drinks. Officially known as the "Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act," the bill has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate.

In addition to ranking the year's top food stories, food editors were asked their opinions on several hot topics within the food world.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents, for example, feel that individual consumers are most responsible for the nation's obesity problems, not the food manufacturers or providers. Editors also overwhelmingly feel that both South Beach and Atkins will decline in popularity in 2005.

When asked to write in one thing Americans should do (or stop doing) to improve their health, 33 percent of respondents cited exercise, while 20 percent listed reducing individual portion sizes at meal and snack time. On another question, more than 30 percent of responding editors wrote that vegetables are the one food they feel is most lacking in Americans' diets today.

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Contact:

Hunter Public Relations
Mark Newman
212-679-6600 ext.213
mnewman@hunterpr.com

Also See: Zagat Survey 2005 NYC Restaurants; Average Check Now at $37.45, Only Four Restaurants Left Requiring Jackets and Ties; Gramercy Tavern Rated Most Popular Restaurant in NYC / October 2004
Top 10 Dining Out Trends of 2003; Restaurants Focused on Keeping Guest Counts Up for 2003 / Nov 2002
Clark Wolf, the Food and Beverage Consultant to Loews Hotels, Responding to High-protein, Low-carbohydrate Menu Items / April 2000
Restaurant Menu Study Finds Salads Soaring in Popularity / Aug 1998


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