In fall 2011, in an act of what can be described only as hubris, I had the bright idea of teaching a course on the farm bill.
For nearly 25 years, I had been writing and teaching about food politics and policy at New York University, and I knew that the farm bill dictated not only agricultural policy, but also such things as international food aid and feeding the hungry in America. It had to be one of the most important laws affecting food systems—if you care about such matters, likely the most important.Withthe 2008 farm bill up for renewal, I wanted to know more about it, and professor that I am, I thought: What better way to learn something than to teach it?
Obesity is a global public health problem of crucial importance. Obesity rates remain high in high-income countries and are rapidly increasing in low- and middle- income countries. Concurrently, the global consumption of unhealthy products, such as soft drinks and processed foods, continues to rise. The ongoing expansion of multinational food and beverage companies, or ‘Big Food’, is a key factor behind these trends.
This collection provides critical insight into the global expansion of ‘Big Food’, including its incursion into low-and-middle income countries. It examines the changing dynamics of the global food supply, and discusses how low-income countries can alter the ‘Big Food’-diet from the bottom-up. It examines a number of issues related to ‘Big Food’ marketing strategies, including the way in which they advertise to youths and the rural poor. These issues are discussed in terms of their public health implications, and their relation to public health activities, for example ‘soda taxes’, and the promotion of nutritionally-healthier products. This book was originally published as a special issue of Critical Public Health.
When these papers came out in Critical Public Health, I did a post on them. The new hardback book is expensive. To save money, try the journal.
Conclusion: Our results showed that, during a marked energy deficit, consumption of a diet containing 2.4 g protein · kg−1 · d−1 was more effective than consumption of a diet containing 1.2 g protein · kg−1 · d−1 in promoting increases in LBM [lean body mass] and losses of fat mass when combined with a high volume of resistance and anaerobic exercise.
Conflicts of interest: SMP has received research funding, travel allowances, and honoraria from the US National Dairy Council and Dairy Farmers of Canada. None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest related to the study.
Comment: Dairy, of course, is a source of protein.
Conclusion: This dose-response meta-analysis of observational studies suggests a possible role for dairy foods, particularly yogurt, in the prevention of T2D. Results should be considered in the context of the observed heterogeneity.
Funding: This meta-analysis project on dairy products and incident diabetes was funded by Wageningen University. SSS-M previously received funding from Global Dairy Platform, Dairy Research Institute, and Dairy Australia for projects related to dairy effects on lipoproteins and mortality; JMG previously received funding from the Global Dairy Platform and Dutch Dairy Association for projects related to dairy and cardiovascular diseases; and ELD previously consulted for the Dairy Research Institute. LG, VSM, and JdG reported no conflicts of interest related to the study. Any prior sponsors had no role in the design and conduct of the study, data collection and analysis, interpretation of the data, decision to publish, or preparation of this manuscript. The current funder had no role in design and conduct of the study, data collection and analysis, interpretation of the data, or decision to publish.
Comment: The conclusions put a positive spin on results that can also be considered equivocal.
Conclusion: These apparent benefits of milk and dairy foods have been attributed to their unique nutritional composition, and suggest that the elimination of milk and dairy may not be the optimum strategy for CVD risk reduction.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors have previously received funding for research from AHDB Dairy. J. A. L. has acted as an advisor to the Dairy Council. J. A. L. has received funding for research from Volac for BBSRC case studentship and ‘in kind’ foods from Arla for an MRC funded study.
Conclusions: Despite improvements in some nutritional markers, overall use of the vitamin and mineral supplement was less than prescribed. New methods are needed to guarantee delivery of micronutrients in children at risk of deficiencies as a result of an essential manipulation of diet in inborn disorders of metabolism.
Funding: Anita MacDonald has received research funding from Merck Serono, Vitaflo Ltd and Nutricia. She is on Advisory Boards for Arla, Merck Serono and Nutricia. Anne Daly and Sharon Evans have received research funding from Vitaflo Ltd, and Nutricia. Research funding was obtained from Vitaflo International for the funding of this project.
Australia has government-sponsored front-of-package nutrient labeling—the Health Star system—that looks a lot like the U.S. grocery industry’s Facts Up Front, but is even more favorable to manufacturers of processed foods.
Deakin University professor of public health nutrition Mark Lawrence said the health star rating system was being exploited as a marketing tool by junk food manufacturers to make consumers think their food was healthy. He said the scheme for packaged food undermined the public health message that people should eat fresh, unprocessed food.
This article quotes a statement by Kellogg that sales of Nutrigrain cereal went up after the company reformulated the product to raise its rating from 2 to 4 stars.
But isn’t reformulation a good thing? It could be but just because a processed food is “better-for-you,” does not necessarily make it a good choice.
Its main design limitation is that it simplistically frames the cause of, and solution to, dietary imbalances in terms of nutrients. This is fundamentally at odds with the latest nutrition advice, which uses a food-based approach…So what the health star rating system ends up doing is encouraging marketing of unhealthy or discretionary foods, as healthy options.
Overall, they point out:
Part of the problem is that the campaign’s main message – “the more stars the better” – is misleading…The actual health message is to eat more of these [recommended healthy] foods; it’s not that we should try to eat food with more stars.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sarah Whyte of ABC 7:30 interviewed me and others for a 6-minute segment on Coca-Cola’s funding of health researchers. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
TIM OLDS, UNI. OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA: I’ve got about $26 million worth of funding, and of that, probably less than $2 million would have come from industry sources. Most of it comes from government schemes such as the NHMRC and the ARC, a lot from government departments.
SARAH WHYTE: So when you take that funding, do you get other academics saying you shouldn’t be taking funding from that?
TIM OLDS: We get a lot of academics saying that.
SARAH WHYTE: He disagrees with people like Marion Nestle who says his work is compromised.
TIM OLDS: I think frankly this is an example old-style, superannuated chardonnay socialism.
Here’s what he’s referring to (the dates are Australian).
February 17 Marcus Strom, a business reporter with the Sydney Morning Herald, invites me to lunch to discuss issues related to Soda Politics.
March 11 I receive an e-mail message from a Coca-Cola official stating the company’s commitment to transparency.
We are continuing to progress on our commitment to enhance our transparency in markets across the globe. Today, in Australia and New Zealand, we launched country-specific websites listing our health and well-being partnerships, research and health professionals and scientific experts that have received financial support from Coca-Cola from 2010-2015. In December 2015, we launched sites with this information in Great Britain, Germany, France, Ireland,Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. We will publish the six-month update for the U.S. later this month.
An editor at the New York Times invited me to write an op-ed on the proposed landmarking of the East River Pepsi-Cola sign, but then said:
We’re not going to use this. People really love that Pepsi sign so much that they don’t want to hear arguments against it.
So I offered it to the Daily News. I’ve written for it before. Its editors are highly professional and a pleasure to work with. And it goes to an audience to which I do not usually have access. See what you think.
I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission had deemed the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City, Queens, so worthy of permanent preservation that it was considering it for landmark status.
Granted, the neon monument has been part of the East River landscape for the past 80 years. And yes, there is precedent for landmarking a sign rather than a building. Pine Bluff, Ark., chose to landmark a McDonald’s sign, and Cambridge, Mass., preserved a Shell Oil sign.
But the fact is that the Pepsi-Cola sign is a highly visible expression of soda industry marketing. The sign advertises a sugar-sweetened beverage — precisely what the city Health Department has, with good reason, been working hard to discourage New Yorkers from consuming in large quantities.
For the past few years, subway poster campaigns have featured the astonishing amounts of sugar contained in carbonated sodas — close to a teaspoon per ounce. They have also illustrated how this excessive sugar turns to fat in the body, how sugary beverages raise the risk for type 2 diabetes, and how much walking it takes to work off the calories in a single 20-ounce drink — a trek from Union Square to Brooklyn.
And let’s not forget former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ultimately unsuccessful though valiant attempt to set a cap of 16 ounces on sugary beverages sold in places under city jurisdiction.
That particular tactic was hugely controversial. But nobody can seriously dispute that sugary drinks contribute to obesity and its consequences.
Pepsi may be the underdog — Americans drink more Coke — but it is a very large runnerup in the sugary drink category. Its revenues in 2015 amounted to $63 billion worldwide.
Pepsi is Big Soda incarnate. It works hard to maintain that position, spending more than $200 million a year advertising Pepsi-Cola alone. It is also Big Food. Altogether it spends about $2 billion a year on worldwide marketing for all of its products, including Frito-Lay snack foods and other brands.
To generate sales, Pepsi relentlessly targets its marketing to teenagers and young adults and, as part of that approach, generously pays sports and music figures to endorse its products.
We’ve all seen the Super Bowl ads. We know about the reported $50 million deal with Beyoncé. And like Coca-Cola, although not quite to the same extent, PepsiCo funds health organizations such as the American heart and cancer associations, and contributes to health programs at universities such as Yale. All of this can buy loyalty from health professionals, and also silence from them about the role of soft drinks in health.
Soda advertising is so much a part of the American landscape that most of us don’t even notice it anymore. It is just there. And that’s how the company intends it. As an industry executive once told me, effective advertising is supposed to slip below the radar of critical thinking.
I’m guessing that’s what’s happening with the Pepsi-Cola sign. Its significance as advertising for a sugary drink — one best consumed infrequently and in small amounts — has become unnoticeable. To the landmarks folks, therefore, this is just a quaint piece of history — not an active, pulsating sign promoting something dangerous to human health.
But landmarking the Pepsi sign, which is visible to millions of New Yorkers and tourists every single day, would engage New Yorkers as formal partners in marketing sugary drinks.
I can’t help but remember the Camel cigarette sign in Times Square, for years blowing smoke rings. Would today’s Landmarks Preservation Commission want that billboard preserved for eternity? Or would it blush at the thought of promoting and sustaining an icon of corporate marketing, and of an unhealthful product at that?
Food-Navigator USA publishes occasional “special editions” with collections of articles on similar topics. This one is on how food companies are dealing with weight management: “With almost two thirds of Americans overweight or obese, weight management is still a huge market opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers. However, messaging is moving away from diet-based concepts to more positive messages about food quality, satiety, and overall health & wellness.”
Thanks to a reader for sending these items from a journal that I don’t usually come across. These bring the casually collected total since last March to 145 studies favorable to the sponsor versus 12 that are not.
Conclusion: Increasing dairy food consumption to recommended amounts is one practical dietary change that could significantly improve the population’s adequacy for certain vitamins and minerals that are currently under-consumed, as well as have a positive impact on health.
Funding: The study and the writing of the manuscript were supported by Dairy Management Inc.
Conclusion: Dose-response analyses did not reveal significant patterns of associations between red or processed meat and prostate cancer….although we observed a weak positive summary estimate for processed meats.
Funding: This work was supported in part by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff. NCBA did not contribute to the writing, analysis, interpretation of the research findings, or the decision to publish…LCB and DDA are employees of EpidStat Institute. EpidStat received partial funding from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, for work related to this manuscript. The conceptualization, writing, analysis, and interpretation of research findings was performed independently.
Conclusion: However, there is currently no evidence stating that added sugar is more harmful than excess calories from any other food source. The addition of restrictive added sugar recommendations may not be the most effective intervention in the treatment and prevention of obesity and other health concerns.
Disclosure: Jennifer Erickson, is a PhD student in Nutrition at the University of Minnesota working with Dr. Joanne Slavin. Joanne Slavin is a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota. In the past 5 years, she has given 150 scientific presentations in 13 countries. Many of these meetings received sponsorship from companies and associations with an interest in carbohydrates and nutritive sweeteners…Her research funding for the past 5 years has included grants from General Mills, Inc., Tate and Lyle, Nestle Health Sciences, Kellogg Company, USA Rice, USA Pears, Minnesota Beef Council, Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council, Barilla Company, USDA, American Egg Board, American Pulse Association, MNDrive Global Food Ventures, International Life Science Institute (ILSI), and the Mushroom Council. She serves on the scientific advisory board for Tate and Lyle, Kerry Ingredients, Atkins Nutritionals, Midwest Dairy Association and the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE). She holds a 1/3 interest in the Slavin Sisters Farm LLC, a 119 acre farm in Walworth, WI.
Conclusion: A cow’s milk-based beverage containing DHA, PDX/GOS, and yeast β-glucan, and supplemented with micronutrients, including zinc, vitamin A and iron, when consumed 3 times/day for 28 weeks by healthy 1- to 4-year-old children was associated with fewer episodes of allergic manifestations in the skin and the respiratory tract.
Funding: This study was funded by Mead Johnson Nutrition…The study products were provided by Mead Johnson Nutrition. Dr. Scalabrin, S. Stolz, and W. Zhuang work in Clinical Research, Department of Medical Affairs at Mead Johnson Nutrition. All of the remaining authors have no financial relationships to disclose.
Conclusions: The data from the current study suggest that greater whole grain consumption is associated with better intakes of nutrients and healthier body weight in children and adults. Continued efforts to promote increased intake of whole grain foods are warranted.
Competing interests: Marla Reicks received an unrestricted gift from the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition during the manuscript preparation to support research at the University of Minnesota. Carolyn Gugger and Nandan Joshi are current employees and stockholders of General Mills, Inc. Ann Albertson was an employee of General Mills, Inc during the conception, analysis and initial preparation of the manuscript. She is currently retired from General Mills.
Non-financial competing interests: General Mills, Inc is a global consumer foods company that manufactures and sells products across a broad variety of food categories, including grain-based foods. General Mills product portfolio includes ready-to-eat cereals, cereal bars, baked goods, flour, and salty snacks that may contain whole grain.
I’m doing a panel discussion on The Politics of Food at the Smithsonian’s food history weekend. The panel will be moderated by Dan Charles of NPR. Warren Belasco and Adrian Miller are co-panelists. This will be at the National Museum of American History, Warner Brothers Theater. Time: 9:45 a.m. Registration: free.