by Marion Nestle

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Jan 20 2015

The latest report on food marketing to kids: Healthy Eating Research

Healthy Eating Research (HER), a group sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has just released a report on food marketing to kids, an issue brief with recommendations, and an Infographic summarizing the report’s major points.

The recommendations are aimed at the food industry’s voluntary guidelines for what and how junk foods can be marketed to kids.  These are famously weak and HER set out to tweak them to make the recommendations stronger.

This report provides an excellent summary of what’s wrong with marketing to kids.

But its recommendations are disappointing.  Here they are from the Infographic:

Picture1These are undoubtedly too small for you to read and, in any case, are written so tentatively—they do not use the word “should”—that they require translation.  Here’s mine:

Guidelines for food marketing should apply to:

  • Kids age 14 or younger (not 11)
  • Audiences containing 25% or more of kids under age 14 (not 35%)
  • Both food products and brands (not just products).
  • All marketing aimed at kids, everywhere kids are (not just TV or Internet)

These are tweakings of voluntary guidelines.

I don’t see the point.  If we really want the food industry to stop marketing unhealthy foods and drinks to kids, the guidelines can’t be voluntary and tweakings are unlikely to help.

Food marketing to kids is flat-out unethical and should stop.

The industry will never do this voluntarily.

That’s the issue such reports need to address.

Jan 16 2015

Reading for the holiday weekend: agricultural controversies

Two new books deal with a range of issues under current debate: GMOs, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, farm subsidies, local food, livestock raising methods, organics, and what have you.

The first calls on good government to take action to resolve the controversies.   The second takes a cost/benefit approach and argues for technological change to settle the issues.

Singly or together, both should stimulate debate—in and out of the classroom.

F. Bailey Norwood, Pascal A. Oltenacu, Michelle S. Calvo-Lorenzo, and Sarach Lancaster.  Agricultural & Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

New Picture

 

Andrew Barkley and Paul W. Barkley.  Depolarizing Food and Agriculture: An Economic Approach.  Routledge, 2015.

The issues discussed in these books are not easy to resolve.  Research on them is limited and incomplete.  Viewpoints differ widely.  Depolarization—or detente, as USDA Secretary Vilsack called it last year—will not be easy.  It’s worth taking the trouble to understand the basis of the debates and these books are a good place to start.

Happy holiday.

Jan 14 2015

Institute of Medicine releases report: Framework for Assessing Food System Effects

The Institute of Medicine has just released A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System.

The report is enormous (my paper copy weighs more than 5 pounds) and it is about as wonky as these things get.

It’s underlying purpose is buried in the Preface.

The U.S. food system provides a remarkably varied food supply to the U.S. consumer at lower cost than nearly anywhere else in the world. Many are concerned, however, that the cost of food in the marketplace may not reflect its true cost. Some of the costs of food production and distribution are not reflected in the marketplace price of food but are “externalized,” borne by other aspects of the health, environmental, and social domains of our society.

This report is about how to establish a basis for calculating the true cost of industrial food production.

The committee did not actually calculate such costs.  The report just says what researchers need to consider when making such calculations.

Even without having done that work, the report is a fabulous resource for understanding the the effects of the US food system on health, economics, the environment, and society.

It establishes the framework and explains how to use it:

  • Recognize effects across the entire food system
  • Consider all effects
  • Account for complexities
  • Choose appropriate methods

Reading through this takes some doing.  Here, for example, is what it says about using the framework:

The framework provides a set of design considerations for planning an assessment of the food system across the domains of health, environmental, social, and economic effects. It invites the user to think explicitly about system boundaries, dynamics, heterogeneity across space and populations, and the range of driving forces that shape food system outcomes…What this framework suggests is that all else does not remain equal and that any meaningful assessment must consider the likely and unintended consequences of proposed change for the status quo when its performance is in question.

The report gives specific examples of how the framework works for examining the effects of advice about eating fish or fruits and vegetables or changing the way hens are caged.

An Epilogue has some concluding thoughts.  Some selected examples:

  • Comprehensive studies of food systems that use all principles of the committee’s framework are rare in published literature.
  • Policies or actions that aim for an outcome in one domain of the food system (e.g., health) can have consequences not only in the same domain, but also in other ones (e.g., environmental, social, and economic domains.
  • Even though major improvements in the U.S. food system have resulted in the past from the introduction of new technologies, needed future improvements in the system may not be achievable solely through technological innovation and may require more comprehensive approaches that incorporate non-technological factors to reach long-term solutions.

The report ends with some recommendations, among them:

  • The committee recommends that Congress and federal agencies continue funding and supporting the collection (and improvement) of federally supported datasets that can be used for food system assessment studies along with consideration to creating new data collection programs as priorities arise.
  • The committee also notes the need to build human capacity in the field of systems science research.
  • The committee intends the report to stimulate broad thinking about the consequences of food system policies and actions beyond a single dimension.

OK food system analysts: get to work.  Find out what industrial food production really costs—economically, socially, and environmentally.

Here are the documents:

Jan 9 2015

Debra Eschmeyer replaces Sam Kass at Let’s Move!

I thought Sam Kass would be hard to replace as director of Let’s Move! but Debra Eschmeyer is a brilliant choice.

The White House announced her appointment yesterday.

She is best known as founder and director of Food Corps, the offshoot of AmeriCorps devoted to sending participants into schools to teach kids about food, cooking, and gardening.

Her appointment is an immense tribute to the work of Food Corps. It is also a tribute to Eschmeyer’s considerable political and social skills—these will serve Let’s Move! well as it attempts to consolidate its gains under Kass’s leadership.

One piece of evidence for her political skills is this section of the 2014 Farm Bill:

New Picture

Although Food Corps isn’t named in the bill, this section cannot possibly apply to anything else.   And although the funding didn’t make it through the Appropriations process, getting Food Corps into the Farm Bill at all is an impressive achievement.

She will have her work cut out for her during the next couple of years, but don’t underestimate her ability to deal with Congress about sticky issues.

She has my warmest, most enthusiastic congratulations for her willingness to take this on.

 

 

Dec 24 2014

Christmas health advocacy, Mexican style

Rebecca Berner of Mexico’s food advocacy coalition, Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria (Nutritional Health Alliance) sends this press release announcing her group’s new video ads to encourage you to take sodas off your holiday tables.

The Make Someone Happy” counter-commercial:  This ad satirizes Coca-Cola’s Christmas marketing campaign with global statistics on the burden of disease and death associated with sugary drink consumption.

 

Santa Claus resignsThis counter-ad shows Santa acknowledging his “karmic debt” for a lifetime of promoting soda.

Cheers for the holiday season!

Dec 22 2014

GAO: USDA and FDA need to coordinate food safety activities

The Government Accountability Office has just released a new report.

Much of the report is about the need for better coordination of the food safety oversight responsibilities of the USDA (meat and poultry) and those of the FDA (everything else), not to mention the 13 other agencies that deal with aspects of food safety (the report provides a handy summary chart).

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This report points out that both agencies

have mechanisms in place to facilitate interagency coordination on food safety that focus on specific issues, but none provides for broad-based, centralized collaboration…[Existing]mechanisms do not allow FDA, FSIS [USDA], and other agencies to look across their individual programs and determine how they all contribute to federal food safety goals. Nearly all the experts GAO interviewed agreed that a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety is important to foster effective interagency collaboration and could enhance food safety oversight. The Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) served
as a centralized mechanism for broad-based food safety collaboration and resulted in a number of accomplishments, including improved coordination. However, the FSWG is no longer meeting…Without a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety, there is no forum for agencies to reach agreement on a set of broad-based food safety goals and objectives.

The GAO complains that “for more than a decade, we have reported on the fragmented nature of federal food safety oversight.”

Actually, its complaints go back longer than that but here’s one from 1999:

New Picture

I will have to go through my files but as I recall, the GAO started arguing for a single food safety agency sometime in the early 1990s.  Political realities make that idea impossible.  Instead, we have the Food Safety Working Group which seems to have stopped meeting.

It’s good the GAO is still on the case.  We need better food safety oversight.

Tomorrow’s example: Caramel apples.

Dec 19 2014

Farewell to the Colber(t) Repor(t). Alas.

Food Politics will mourn the passing of the Colbert Report.

What, you might ask, did the Colbert Report have to do with Food Politics?

Plenty.

For one thing, I was lucky (well, nonplussed) to appear on the show in August 2009.

The topic?  Sugar trade policy.

Oh.  Of course.

Screenshot 2014-12-19 09.01.08

I explained what this was about in a blog post.

Better, Colbert did occasional pieces: Thought for Food.

Eater has collected them all in one place (thanks to Eleanor Talbot West for sending).

Or, if you want to watch them separately…

It was great while it lasted.  I will miss the brilliant satire.

Addition: A reader just sent this link to Colbert’s in-character testimony to Congress on agricultural labor issues (from the expressions on the faces of the people sitting behind him, they must have been taking him seriously).

Dec 18 2014

The Healthy Nation Coalition doesn’t like the Dietary Guidelines. But what does it want?

This is my week to be talking about the Dietary Guidelines, apparently.  Yesterday’s Politico Morning Agriculture, a news source on which I greatly depend, noted yet another attack on the Dietary Guidelines, this one from a group called  The Healthy Nation Coalition.

The Coalition wrote a letter to the secretaries of USDA and HHS, the agencies sponsoring the Guidelines, with many complaints about process and ineffectiveness.

I had never heard of this group, so I went to its website and laughed when I saw this graph—a terrific example of why epidemiologists insist that association does not necessarily say anything about causation.

Screenshot 2014-12-17 10.46.00

 

The implication here is that the Dietary Guidelines either cause obesity (something patently absurd) or have had no effect on its prevalence (something only to be expected given the other changes in society that predisposed to obesity beginning in the early 1980s).

If anything, the Dietary Guidelines are a result of those forces in society, not their cause.

I have my own issues with Dietary Guidelines (see Fo0d Politics), mainly about the use of advice that is euphemistic (“choose lean meats”) or incomprehensible (reduce SoFAS—solid fats and added sugars), and their focus on nutrients (fat, sugar, salt) rather than foods.

But I can’t understand what this Coalition is about or what it wants.

Its website says the Coalition formed because

A sense of community has arisen around questioning our current approach to food and nutrition. Healthy Nation Coalition has its beginnings in the ancestral health, Weston A. Price Foundation, and low-carbohydrate nutrition communities.

I understand what the Coalition does not want.  It

suggests that the 2010 Guidelines are not appropriate for population-wide diet recommendations, especially with regard to restrictions on dietary fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.

indicates that the 2010 Guidelines may lead to increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, and chronic disease in many populations.

indicates that reducing intake of sugars and starches has health benefits.

indicates that adequate, complete protein is a critical part of the adult diet and that many adults benefit from intakes above current minimum recommendations.

Here’s what it says it wants

the Healthy Nation Coalition proposes that this process be removed from the USDA and HHS and given to one or more independent agencies, offices, or entities that can create dietary guidance that is without bias and responsive to the needs of the people of America.

Really?  Like what?

The “ask” in the letter is this:

It is the duty of USDA and DHHS leadership to end the use of controversial, unsuccessful and discriminatory dietary recommendations. USDA and DHHS leadership must refuse to accept any DGA that fail to establish federal nutrition policy based on the foundation of good health: adequate essential nutrition from wholesome, nourishing foods. It is time to create DGA that work for all Americans.

But what would they look like?

I don’t recognize any of the names of the individuals listed as part of the Coalition.

Can anyone explain to me what this group wants and is about?

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