Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Aug 26 2015

Five more industry-funded studies with expected results. Score: 47 to 1

The Inadmissibility of What We Eat in America and NHANES Dietary Data in Nutrition and Obesity Research and the Scientific Formulation of National Dietary Guidelines. Archer EPavela GLavie CJ. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015 Jul;90(7):911-26. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.04.009. Epub 2015 Jun 9.

  • Conclusion: we conclude that M-BM [memory-based dietary assessment methods] data cannot be used to inform national dietary guidelines and that the continued funding of M-BMs constitutes an unscientific and major misuse of research resources.
  • Funding: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.
  • Potential Competing Interests: Dr Archer has received honoraria from the International Life Sciences Institute and The Coca Cola Company. Dr Lavie reports receiving consulting fees and speaking fees from The Coca-Cola Company….
  • Comment: This is part of what appears to be a concerted effort by Coca-Cola to discredit NHANES, the national survey of dietary intake and disease risk that consistently associates soda intake to poor health.

A high-protein breakfast prevents body fat gain, through reductions in daily intake and hunger, in “Breakfast skipping” adolescents.  Heather J. Leidy, Heather A. Hoertel, Steve M. Douglas, Kelly A. Higgins and Rebecca S. Shafer.  Obesity.  Article first published online: 4 AUG 2015.  DOI: 10.1002/oby.21185

  • Conclusions: The daily addition of a HP [high-protein] breakfast improved indices of weight management as illustrated by the prevention of body fat gain, voluntary reductions in daily intake, and reductions in daily hunger in breakfast skipping adolescents with overweight/obesity.
  • Funding: The Pork Checkoff supplied the funds to complete the study.
  • Disclosure: The authors declared no conflict of interest.
  • Comment: Industry-funded investigators typically state that funding does not introduce conflicts of interest.

Breakfasts Higher in Protein Increase Postprandial Energy Expenditure, Increase Fat Oxidation, and Reduce Hunger in Overweight Children from 8 to 12 Years of Age.  Jamie I Baum, Michelle Gray, and Ashley Binns.  J. Nutrition.  First published August 12, 2015, doi: 10.3945/jn.115.214551  J. Nutr. jn214551

  • Conclusion: This study indicates that breakfast macronutrient composition affects postprandial responses in both NW [normal weight] and OW [overweight] children. A PRO [protein-rich breakfast] increases postprandial EE [energy expendititure] and fat oxidation, reduces hunger, and increases satiety when compared with a carbohydrate-based breakfast.
  • Funding: Supported by a grant from the Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board, Chicago, IL. The Egg Nutrition Center/American Egg Board was not involved in the design, implementation, analysis, or interpretation of the data.
  • Author disclosures: JI Baum, M Gray, and A Binns, no conflicts of interest.
  • Comment: These industry-funded investigators also deny that funding introduces conflicts of interest.

The Effect of Breakfast vs. No Breakfast on Brain Activity in Adolescents when Performing Cognitive Tasks, as Assessed by fMRI [functional magnetic resonance imaging].  Jonathan Fulford1, Joanna L Varley2 and Craig A Williams.   Nutritional Neuroscience 2015 epub ahead of print.

  • Conclusion: Although no statistically significant (P > 0.05) improvement in task performance was determined, significantly higher activation was recorded in the frontal, premotor, and primary visual cortex areas in the breakfast trial relative to the fasting condition…Such a finding may have important implications in the examination of the role of diet, and specifically breakfast, in determining children’s performance within the school environment.
  • Funding: A grant was received of £18,678.08 from Kellogg Marketing & Sales Company (UK) Ltd to cover MRI scanning costs. Otherwise the research was conducted with the support of internal institutional funds and the authors received no other direct or indirect support, with no further competing interests.
  • Comment: Ordinarily I’m not concerned about food companies’ donating products to be tested but £18,678.08 seems noteworthy, especially since the only point of this study is to demonstrate that breakfast-eaters do better (higher brain activation even though no significant gain in task performance).

Suboptimal Serum α-Tocopherol Concentrations Observed among Younger Adults and Those Depending Exclusively upon Food Sources, NHANES 2003-2006. McBurney MI, Yu EA, Ciappio ED, Bird JK, Eggersdorfer M, Mehta S (2015). PLoS ONE 10(8): e0135510. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135510

  • Conclusion: The prevalence of inadequate vitamin E levels is significantly higher among non-users of dietary supplements…Our findings provide evidence that most Americans have serum α-tocopherol levels below 30 μmol/L. The EAR [Estimated Average Requirement], epidemiological and randomized controlled studies all indicate that maintaining a serum α-tocopherol concentration of 30 μmol/L may have beneficial effects on mortality, cognitive function and reproduction [Note: “may” indicates that what follows is speculative].
  • Funding: This statistical analysis of data collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)…was supported by DSM Nutritional Products, a manufacturer of vitamin E. MM, EC, JB and ME are employees of DSM Nutritional Products. DSM Nutritional Products provided support in the form of salaries for authors MM, EC, JB, and ME and as an unencumbered gift to Cornell University that was used to support EY as a graduate research assistant.
  • Competing interests: This study was supported by DSM Nutritional Products, a manufacturer of vitamins, including vitamin E, for food, dietary supplement, and pharmaceutical use. MM, EC, JB, and ME are employees of DSM Nutritional Products.
  • Comment: Inadequate vitamin E in this study is defined as a serum level below a certain cut-point with uncertain clinical significance.  According to the Dietary Reference Intakes, clinical signs of vitamin E deficiency have not been observed in healthy populations.

Note: Since mid-March, I have posted 47 industry-funded studies with results favorable to food companies or trade associations, vs. 1 study with unfavorable results.

If you see industry-funded studies with results that must have made the sponsor unhappy, please send.

Aug 25 2015

Update on the school meal situation

School is starting and the school food debates will no doubt be starting up again.

The USDA has a new report on what’s happening with adoption of the new nutrition standards.

  • A national study of elementary school principals and foodservice managers finds the majority (63%) to agree or strongly agree (7%) that students seem to like the new lunches.
  • The participation rate for paid school lunches declined from FY 2008 through FY 2014, with steeper declines during FY 2012-2014.  This could be do to the changes in standards but is more likely the result of higher prices charged for meals.
  • Smaller, more rural, and wealthier districts had the most difficulty adopting the new meal standards. Higher meal prices affected smaller and more rural districts.

The 2015 School Food Poll conducted by the Kellogg Foundation just reported:

  • 90% of respondents support the national school nutrition standards.
  • 86% say the school nutrition standards should stay the same or be strengthened.
  • 91% say kids need access to safe drinking water in schools.
  • 88% support increased government funding to expand farm to school programs.
  • 84% believe sustainable agriculture should be part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Kellogg Foundation provides

My interpretation: The nutrition standards are working well enough but it’s time to advocate even more strongly for universal school meals.  It’s absurd and unconscionable that poor kids are getting priced out of school meals.

Addition: The School Nutrition Association, the group doing everything it can to undermine the new nutrition standards, has just issued a report finding that the standards have caused severe financial harm to 70% of schools.  The reason?

There is strong consensus as to the leading reason for the decline in lunch ADP: decreased student acceptance of meals [.underlined in report].

The report does, however, provide a table of reasons for increased costs:

  • Increased per meal food costs — 70.1%
  • Decreased lunch participation — 56.8%
  • Decreased a la carte revenue — 53.0%
  • Increased labor/benefits costs — 48.5%
  • Declining student enrollment — 20.6%

Given these results, you might think the SNA would be lobbying night and day for higher reimbursement rates, but no such luck.  The SNA is lobbying for weaker standards.  Pity.

Addition, August 25:  A study from the University of Vermont finds school kids to be consuming slightly fewer servings of fruits and vegetables since the nutrition standards were implemented and to be producing 56% more plate waste.  This is not good news.

Aug 24 2015

USDA wants to pre-test Dietary Guidelines’ messages. Good idea!

The USDA is asking for input on its plan to test educational messages in the forthcoming 2015 Dietary Guidelines and related products.

It wants the tests to involve about 57,000 respondents in

qualitative and possibly quantitative consumer research techniques, which may include focus groups (with general consumers or with specific target groups such as low-income consumers, children, older Americans, educators, students, etc.), interviews (i.e., intercept, individual, diads, triads, usability testing, etc.), and web-based surveys.

The purpose of the testing is to identify consumers’ understanding of the guidelines’ education messages and to obtain reactions to “prototypes of nutrition education products, including Internet based tools.” As USDA puts it, this information “will be formative and will be used to improve the clarity, understandability, and acceptability of resources, messages and products.”

USDA says this information

will be used to further develop the Dietary Guidelines and related communications. These may include: (1) Messages and products that help general consumers make healthier food and physical activity choices; (2) Additions and enhancements to ChooseMyPlate.gov; and (3) Resources for special population groups that might be identified.

This is interesting.  I don’t remember USDA asking for consumer input on nutrition education materials since the 1992 pyramid.

Let’s encourage USDA to do this.

Send comments to Dietary Guidelines Communications, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 1034, Alexandria, VA 22302. Comments may also be submitted via fax to the attention of Dietary Guidelines Communications at 703–305–3300 or through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments electronically.

Aug 21 2015

Weekend reading: Savor: Stories of Community, Culture & Food

Kate Harrington and Mary McIntyre.  Savor: Stories of Community, Culture & Food.  Edited by Adrienne Cachelin.   Foreword by Gary Paul Nabhan.  Available from www.savorbook.com, 2015.

CaptureProceeds from sales of this book go to support the Glendale-Mt. View Community Learning Center where the authors work.  I liked the community aspects of this book so much that I did a blurb for it.

I can’t think of a better way to build community–to bring people of diverse cultures and histories together in common cause–than to ask them to describe what they most love to eat.  The Glendale Community Project has done just that and to gorgeous effect.  This book should inspire anyone to dig out treasured family recipes and share them with friends, new and old. 

Aug 20 2015

Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s CEO, and scientist Steven Blair respond to critics

Coca-Cola, in case you missed the furor over last week’s New York Times article, has a huge public relations problem.

The damage control begins today with Coke’s CEO’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

Our company has been accused of shifting the debate to suggest that physical activity is the only solution to the obesity crisis. There also have been reports accusing us of deceiving the public about our support of scientific research…I am disappointed that some actions we have taken to fund scientific research and health and well-being programs have served only to create more confusion and mistrust. I know our company can do a better job engaging both the public-health and scientific communities—and we will.

By supporting research and nonprofit organizations, we seek to foster more science-based knowledge to better inform the debate about how best to deal with the obesity epidemic. We have never attempted to hide that. However, in the future we will act with even more transparency as we refocus our investments and our efforts on well-being.

He promises that the company will:

• Publish on our website a list of our efforts to reduce calories and market responsibly, along with a list of health and well-being partnerships and research activities we have funded in the past five years, which we will continue to update every six months.

• Charter and recruit an oversight committee of independent experts to advise and provide governance on company investments in academic research.

• Engage leading experts to explore future opportunities for our academic research investment and health and well-being initiatives.

Personally, I can’t wait to see the list of Coke-funded research activities.  Want to bet how many of those studies came out with results that Coca-Cola can use to claim that sugary drinks have no effect on obesity or type 2 diabetes?  I’d also like a count of the number of studies Coca-Cola has funded to cast doubt on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the country’s major dietary monitoring program, which has the annoying habit of linking sugary drinks to those conditions.

Mr. Kent ends his piece with this plea:

As we continue to learn, it is my hope that our critics will receive us with an open mind. 

Unless Coca-Cola stops pouring millions of dollars into fighting soda caps and taxes, stops targeting its marketing to minorities, and stops lobbying against public health measures to help people eat more healthfully, keeping Mr. Kent’s version of an open mind will be difficult. 

Steven Blair, one of the scientists involved in Coke-funded research, posted this statement today:

I have asked that my video addressing energy balance be taken down from the GEBN website. I regret that a statement I made in this video has been used by some to brand GEBN as a network focusing only on physical activity. This is not true and never has been true. From the beginning the mission of GEBN has been to study the science of energy balance which involves both diet and physical activity. GEBN has some of the top nutritionist experts in the world who have published research showing the importance of diet and in particular of soda consumption in causing obesity. My dismissal of diet as a cause of obesity did a disservice to their work. I hope many of you can relate to feeling so passionate about an issue that you say some things that you later regret. I believe that both diet and physical activity are important in obesity and that we must address both together to help people achieve healthy weights. I look forward to working with other GEBN researchers to do this.

James Hill, another of the scientists involved in this fiasco, also has issued a statement.  When it becomes public, I will post a link to it.

Additions, August 21

Aug 19 2015

Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of favorable research: the saga continues

When the New York Times published an article describing Coca-Cola’s financial sponsorship of university researchers who de-emphasize the role of sugary drinks in raising the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, it kicked up a storm.

USA Today’s editorial board said:

It isn’t that companies pay scientists to put out false research. It’s that companies fund the work of scientists who happen to be doing research that spurs consumers to look away from science that hurts corporate interests.

Soft drinks are far less dangerous than cigarettes, but GEBN’s website, tweets and videos come right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, brought into the digital era. Its leaders have done research in the past under about $3 million in grants given to their universities.

USA Today also printed a response by a Coca-Cola spokesman:

A recent New York Times article created confusion about our support of research and non-profit organizations, stating we want people to think that only exercise matters and not diet — but nothing could be further from the truth. We have always operated under the fact that a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are key ingredients for a healthy lifestyle.

That said, we need to do a better job of being even more transparent about the research we fund, the non-profit organizations we support and the way we publicly share this information. And we will.

Yesterday, Senator Richard Blumenthal sent letters to the University of Colorado, West Virginia University, and the University of South Carolina urging them to  clarify the nature of the University’s relationship with projects funded by Coca-Cola and to review the academic integrity of such grant agreements.

I believe your university must determine whether this research is in effect promoting a predisposed and biased agenda, rather than reflecting the impartiality and objectively (sic) expected from a public academic institution.

Years of litigation with tobacco companies were necessary to fully expose the tragic public health consequences when companies lie about the hazards of the products they sell.  I am deeply concerned that we may force future generations to relive this history if corporate-sponsored studies devoid of scientific integrity are permitted once again to deceptively downplay and conceal the dangers of a product consumed on a mass scale.

Do not underestimate Senator Blumenthal’s ability to deal with food companies.  He, you may recall, was responsible for withdrawal in 2009 of the ill-conceived Smart Choices program during his stint as Connecticut’s attorney general.

I’m still waiting for the Global Calorie Balance Network to issue its promised statement.  Stay tuned.

Aug 18 2015

Australian beer company says don’t worry about beer calories: be active!

Louise Fisher, a dietitian and food and nutrition consultant in Australia, writes:

I’ve loved your recent blog posts on Coca Cola’s sponsorship of research that fortuitously concludes that it’s not Coke that’s making us fat, it’s lack of exercise.  It’s no surprise to see that the alcohol industry here in Australia is running the same line. I just received a link to a guide to “get the facts on alcohol” Beer the beautiful truth from Lion, one of our biggest suppliers of beer. And what do you know, beer doesn’t make you fat, you just need to be more active.

Under Myth Busters on page 4:

DOES ALCOHOL CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN? DOES BEER MAKE ME FAT? It’s not the alcohol per se that causes weight gain. Eating or drinking more calories/kilojoules (energy) than you burn, from any food or drink, can contribute to weight gain. It is important to balance the calories we eat and drink with those we burn through physical activity and basic functioning like breathing and sleeping.

If you do drink, it’s important to know the calories in alcohol mainly come from the alcohol content, as well as the carbohydrate and sugars content. For example, a low strength beer will typically have less calories than a full strength beer. So really, it comes down to how much and what type of alcohol you have and what you eat with it – the chips, the kebab. Plus how active you are.

Hey.  If this strategy works for Coca-Cola….

 

Aug 17 2015

Coca-Cola’s partnership with cooperative scientists: a cartoonist’s take

Now cartoonists are producing their own interpretations of the revelations in the New York Times of Coca-Cola’s funding of scientists to argue that what you drink has far less to do with obesity than does how much you move.

In Sunday’s Times, Brian McFadden comes to this conclusion:
Capture2Here’s the entire strip

Capture1:

 

 

 

 

 

The Global Calorie Balance Network (GEBN) scientists say they will have a response to all the criticism (and now ridicule).

GEBN welcomes the opportunity to engage in a global debate and discussion on the science and application of energy balance to promote health and reduce chronic disease. GEBN also welcomes scrutiny and constructive criticism. We respect our critics and ask that they respect us in return. The recent media attention has raised important issues about the goal and mission of GEBN. We have taken these comments very seriously and are in the process of clarifying these issues here on our website. We will have that information available early this week.

I look forward to seeing it.

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