Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Mar 30 2016

Issue Brief on use of branded characters to market to kids

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a new Issue Brief on food companies’ use of branded characters to market to kids.  Here’s what it’s talking about:

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These, RWJ says, work better with junk foods than healthy foods, even though some child health advocates have called for their use only for healthy foods.

I don’t want them used to sell anything to kids.  I don’t think anyone should be marketing anything to kids.

RWJ’s assessment of the present situation?  “Significant opportunities for improvement still exist.”

No kidding.

Mar 29 2016

Some food guides are unafraid of sustainability

I’ve just heard about the new Netherlands food guide.  It emphasizes sustainability.  According to an article in National Geographic’s The Plate,

The Netherlands Nutrition Centre says  it is recommending people eat just two servings of meat a week, setting an explicit limit on meat consumption for the first time [but see added comment below].

Here’s what the Netherlands food guide looks like.

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Google translator calls this a pyramid, and explains: “Moreover, the Pyramid helps you eat more environmentally friendly broadly.”

Ours, of course, looks like this.  I’m guessing the USDA is working on a new food guide in response to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.  These do not mention sustainability at all—the S word.

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If you want to check out food guides m other countries, see FAO’s pages on food-based dietary guidelines.  You can search the site by regions and countries.  Fun!

Added comment: A reader from Amsterdam, who obviously speaks Dutch better than Google translator, and who also is well versed in the Dutch nutrition scene, writes:

Sustainability is indeed an important concern in the new Dutch food guide. However, the recommendation for meat is not ‘two servings per week’, but two servings of red meat and two servings of white meat (chicken), for a total of four per week. One serving is 100 gram or 3.5 oz. of meat. Diehards may add a third serving of red meat; 300 g of red meat (11 oz) plus 200 g of chicken (7 oz) per week is considered the absolute limit.

The fish advice has been reduced from twice to once a week because environmental concerns were thought to outweigh the small health benefit of a second weekly serving of fish.

Mar 28 2016

From research to policy: making school food healthier and more effective

Why anyone would be opposed to giving healthy food to kids in schools is beyond me, but school food is a flash point for political fights.

Sometimes research helps.  Two recent studies produce results that can be used to counter criticisms of government school meal programs.

Kids are eating more healthfully than they used to, according to a research study funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The study concludes:

Food policy in the form of improved nutrition standards was associated with the selection of foods that are higher in nutrients that are of importance in adolescence and lower in energy density. Implementation of the new meal standards was not associated with a negative effect on student meal participation. In this district, meal standards effectively changed the quality of foods selected by children.

This is excellent news for proponents of better school food.  USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement:

This study is the latest in a long list of evidence which shows that stronger school meal standards are leading to healthier habits in schools. Children are eating more fruits and vegetables and consuming more nutrients, making them better prepared to learn and succeed in the classroom. After decades of a growing obesity epidemic that harmed the health and future of our children and cost our country billions, we are starting to see progress in preventing this disease. Now is not the time to take as step backwards in our efforts to do what is right for our children’s health. I urge Congress to reauthorize the child nutrition programs as soon as possible and to maintain the high standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Kids who eat breakfast in school are healthier.  Even if they have already had breakfast at home, kids who eat school breakfasts are less likely to be overweight or obese than those who don’t, finds a study from groups at U. Connecticut and Yale.

The press release explains:

The findings of the study…add to an ongoing debate over policy efforts to increase daily school breakfast consumption. Previous research has shown that, for students, eating breakfast is associated with improved academic performance, better health, and healthy body weight. But there have been concerns that a second breakfast at school following breakfast at home could increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain.

So now we know: they do not.

Research like this is unlikely to settle the matter but it ought to help school personnel who are working hard to make sure that kids get something decent to eat and to move ahead on school food initiatives.

Mar 25 2016

Weekend reading: Concentration and Power in the Food System

Philip H. Howard. Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat?  Bloomsbury, 2016.

I don’t know Philip Howard personally but I have long appreciated his graphic visualizations of the extent of concentration—only a few companies owning fast percentages of the market—in various industries:

This brief book summarizes his work in developing these graphics and makes it clear why he thinks industrial concentration is a problem for American democracy.   Without competition, these companies get away with doing whatever they want.  He gives a few examples:

Walmart, which controls 33 percent of US grocery retailing, is challenged for exploiting its suppliers, taking advantage of taxpayer subsidies, and paying extremely low worker wages…Monsanto, which controls 26 percent of the global commercial seed market, is denounced for its influence on government polocies, spying on farmers it suspects of saving and replanting seeds, and the environmental impacts of herbicides tied to these seeds.  These impacts tend to disproportionately affect the disadvantaged—such as women, young children, recent immigrants, members of minority ethnic groups, and those of lower socioeconomic status—and as a result, reinforce existing inequalities…Like ownership relations, the full extent of these consequences may be hidden from public view.

Howard’s solution?  The food movement!

Joining these movements and supporting the alternatives created by others could therefore be essential to maintaining our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

The book is fun to read (“seed-industrial complex”) and, obviously, well illustrated.  If you want to know how current-day food markets really work, this is the place to start.

Mar 24 2016

Beverage Daily’s Special Edition: Calorie-Cutting Initiatiatives

One of the newsletters I subscribe to, BeverageDaily.com, has a special edition—a collection of its articles—on what the industry is doing to address its biggest problem: reducing sugar.

What is the beverage industry doing to cut calories?

Health and wellness is at the forefront of consumers’ minds, and sugar gets plenty of bad press. Obesity is as big a concern as ever, and soft drinks are in the firing line.

What is the beverage industry doing to reduce calories? How are market leaders reformulating and revamping their portfolios; and what healthier brands are appearing?

From alternative sweeteners to packaging sizes, we look at what the industry is doing to cut calories – and how well these initiatives are working.

From reformulation to nutritional labeling, the non-alcoholic beverage industry has adopted a variety of strategies to reduce the calorie content of drinks. We look at how different strategies from around the world are being implemented. .. Read

You can see why the industry has a problem.  Sugar tastes good.  These other things not so much.

Mar 22 2016

GMO labeling: it’s happening!

When the Senate last week failed to pass a bill that would block individual states from passing laws requiring GMO labeling, it meant that Vermont’s labeling law would go into effect July 1.  Vermont passed its bill in 2014.

 

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Too bad for the Grocery Manufacturers Association and its food and biotech company members who spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting labeling requirements.

Food companies now have a big problem.  If they want to sell products in Vermont, they must comply with GMO labeling.  Also, if other states pass slightly different laws, they will have to do labels state by state—a compliance nightmare.

Hence their attempt to get Congress to preempt Vermont’s law.  That ploy failed.

The result: one huge food company after another says it will voluntarily institute GMO labeling to comply with Vermont’s requirements.

As quoted by Reuters, General Mills says:

We can’t label our products for only one state without significantly driving up costs for our consumers, and we simply won’t do that,” Jeff Harmening, head of General Mills’ US retail operations said in a post on the company’s blog. “The result: Consumers all over the country will soon begin seeing words legislated by the state of Vermont on the labels of many of their favorite General Mills food products.”

Politico Morning Agriculture explains:

To be sure, General Mills is labeling as a practical business decision, not to change the policy discussion. The first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law is set to take effect in Vermont on July 1. As of that date, food makers face fines of $1,000 per day for every product type found on grocery store shelves in the state that’s not properly marked.

In the meantime, the Non-GMO Project, which certifies products as GMO-free, has put its seal on tens of thousands of products.

The reality: the public wants GMO foods to be labeled.

This should come as no surprise.  Public surveys since the late 1980s have come to the same conclusion.

Q: Why aren’t GMO foods labeled as such?

A.  Industry lobbying and an FDA too weak to stand up to it (see my book Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

The GMO and grocery industries brought this situation on themselves by so strongly opposing labeling in 1994.  Believe me, they were warned (I witnessed all this as a member of the FDA Food Advisory Committee at the time).

Unless the industry can find another way to stop it, foods will be GMO labeled this year.

My prediction: the world will not come to an end.

Mar 21 2016

The UK soda tax: a tipping point?

Wonder of wonders, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has put a soda tax into his new budget initiative (see BBC account, the video and text of Osborne’s speech, and the Treasury department’s fact sheet on the soda tax).

Here’s how the tax is supposed to work:

Shocking: Many of Britain's most sugary drinks contain more that the daily recommended amount for one person

Osborne says the tax will bring in £520 million ($732 million) in the first year, and he intends to use it to fund more sports in schools.

But it goes into effect in April 2018.  This is to give the industry time to reformulate products with less sugar.  But—the delay also gives the industry ample time to block the tax.

Public Health England supports the tax (see statement).

But the soda industry wasted no time reacting to this bad news.

  • Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drink companies strongly objected.
  • The immediate result: a fall in their stock prices.
  • The immediate reaction: Sue the government.  On what grounds?  Discrimination.  The tax does not affect sugary juices, milkshakes, or processed foods.

New tax: Soft drinks with more than 5g of sugar will be taxed at 6p per can or carton and drinks with more than 8g of sugar will be taxed at 8pm, which if passed on to the consumer means a can of Old Jamaica ginger beer will go up from 58p to 66p

The makers of artificial and alternative sweeteners think this will be a win for them.

Will the tax help reduce obesity?  On its own, that would be asking a lot.

Jamie Oliver, the British chef who favors the tax, says of course it won’t work on its own.  It needs to be accompanied by six additional actions (food labels, better school food, curbs on marketing to kids, etc.).

Why are soda companies so worried about this?  It could be catching.

Will the UK tax stick?  Watch Big Soda pull out every stop on this one.

And think about what they are doing to fight soda taxes when you read or hear that soda companies want to be part of the solution to obesity.

Mar 18 2016

Six industry-funded studies. The score for the year: 156/12

Since March 16, 2015, I’ve been collecting research studies funded by industry or conducted by investigators with food industry connections.  These are studies that I’ve either run across in the course of my reading or that were sent to me by readers (thanks especially to Cole Adams).

It has now been a year since I started doing this.  If I have counted correctly, this somewhat haphazard collection comes to a grand total of 168 funded studies, 156 of them with results favorable to the sponsor’s interests, but only 12 industry-funded studies with unfavorable results.

That’s more than enough to make this point: it’s a lot easier to find industry-funded studies with results favorable to the sponsor’s interest than against it.

I will do a more accurate count and see what other conclusions, if any, can be drawn from this collection as soon as I can get to its analysis.

In the meantime, I’m stopping the collection.  From now on, I will only post sponsored studies that raise particular issues or that I find particularly amusing.

Here’s the last bunch:

Missing Lunch Is Associated with Lower Intakes of Micronutrients from Foods and Beverages among Children and Adolescents in the United States.  Kevin C. Mathias, PhD, Emma Jacquier, MMedSci, Alison L. Eldridge, PhD, RD.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.021.

  • Conclusions: This study identifies potential concerns for children missing lunch with respect to micronutrient intakes and shows that the lunches consumed by children in the United States are an important source of essential nutrients, but also less healthful dietary components.
  • Disclosures: All authors are employed by the Nestlé Research Center, Lausanne Switzerland (Nestec Ltd). Funding was provided by Nestec Ltd (Vevey, Switzerland) 

Higher-protein diets improve indexes of sleep in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults: results from 2 randomized controlled trials.  Jing Zhou, Jung Eun Kim, Cheryl LH Armstrong, Ningning Chen, and Wayne W Campbell.   Am J Clin Nutr March 2016;vol. 103 no. 3 766-774. doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.115.124669.

  • Conclusion: The consumption of a greater proportion of energy from protein while dieting may improve sleep in overweight and obese adults.
  • Disclosures: WWC was a member of the National Dairy Council Whey Protein Advisory Panel while the research was being conducted. The other authors reported no conflicts of interest related to the study.

A randomized trial of high-dairy-protein, variable-carbohydrate diets and exercise on body composition in adults with obesityEvelyn B. Parr, Vernon G. Coffey, Louise E. Cato, Stuart M. Phillips, Louise M. Burke andJohn A. Hawley. Obesity.  Article first published online: 2 MAR 2016.  DOI: 10.1002/oby.21451

  • Conclusions: Compared to a healthy control diet, energy-restricted high-protein diets containing different proportions of fat and CHO confer no advantage to weight loss or change in body composition in the presence of an appropriate exercise stimulus.
  • Funding agencies: Supported by a grant from the Dairy Health and Nutrition Consortium, Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd…to JAH, VGC, SMP, and LMB).  Disclosure: The authors declared no conflict of interest.

Cranberry juice capsules and urinary tract infection after surgery: results of a randomized trialBetsy Foxman, PhD; Anna E. W. Cronenwett, BA; Cathie Spino, DSc; Mitchell B. Berger, MD, PhD; Daniel M. Morgan, MD.  Am J Obstet Gynecol 2015;213:194.e1-8.

  • Conclusion: Among women undergoing elective benign gynecological surgery involving urinary catheterization, the use of cranberry extract capsules during the postoperative period reduced the rate of UTI by half.
  • Disclosure: The authors report no conflicts of interest… We also thank Theralogix, LLC (Rockville, MD) for providing cranberry juice capsules and placebo for use in this study.
  • Comment: With respect to herbal medications, JAMA says “Only the use of cranberry for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women is supported by some scientific evidence.”  It does not say whether that evidence was obtained by cranberry or cranberry supplement producers.

Coffee Consumption Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of Plasma and Has No Effect on the Lipid Profile or Vascular Function in Healthy Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. Gloria M Agudelo-Ochoa, Isabel C Pulgar´ın-Zapata, Claudia M Velasquez-Rodriguez, ´  Mauricio Duque-Ramirez, Mauricio Naranjo-Cano, Monica M Quintero-Ortiz, Oscar J Lara-Guzman, and Katalina Munoz-Durango.  J Nutr 2016;146:524–31.

  • Conclusions: Both coffees, which contained CGAs [chlorogenic acids] and were low in diterpenes and caffeine, provided bioavailable CGAs and had a positive acute effect on the plasma AC [antioxidant capacity] in healthy adults and no effect on blood lipids or vascular function. The group that did not drink coffee showed no improvement in serum lipid profile, FMD [flow-mediated dilatation], BP [blood pressure], or NO [nitrous oxide] plasma metabolites.
  • Funding: Supported by Vidarium, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Research Center, Nutresa Business Group; CES University; and the University of Antioquia.
  • Author disclosures: GM Agudelo-Ochoa, IC Pulgarın-Zapata, OJ Lara-Guzman, ´ and K Munoz-Durango are researchers at Vidarium, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Research Center, Nutresa Business Group. M Naranjo-Cano and M Quintero-Ortiz are researchers at the Colcafe Research Coffee Group, Colcafe S.A.S. CM Velasquez-Rodrıguez and M Duque-Ramırez, no conflicts of interest.

Consumption of Fish Oil Providing Amounts of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid That Can Be Obtained from the Diet Reduces Blood Pressure in Adults with Systolic Hypertension: A Retrospective Analysis. Anne M Minihane, Christopher K Armah, Elizabeth A Miles, Jacqueline M Madden, Allan B Clark, Muriel J Caslake, Chris J Packard, Bettina M Kofler, Georg Lietz, Peter J Curtis, John C Mathers, Christine M Williams, and Philip C Calder.  J. Nutr. March 1, 2016 vol. 146 no. 3 516-523

  • Conclusions: These findings indicate that in adults with isolated systolic hypertension, daily doses of EPA+DHA as low as 0.7 g show clinically meaningful BP reductions, which, at a population level, could be associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk. Confirmation of findings in an RCT in which participants are prospectively recruited on the basis of BP status is required to draw definite conclusions.
  • Author disclosures: CK Armah, EA Miles, JM Madden, AB Clark, MJ Caslake, CJ Packard, BM Kofler, G Lietz, PJ Curtis, JC Mathers, and CM Williams, no conflicts of interest. AM Minihane is academic advisor for International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) Europe Obesity and Diabetes Task Force and receives funding from Abbott Nutrition, USA. PC Calder serves on advisory boards of Pronova BioPharma, Aker Biomarine, Danone/Nutricia, Smartfish, Sancilio, DSM, Solutex, and ILSI Europe.
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