Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
May 21 2008

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s anti-obesity efforts

If you would like to know what the RWJ Foundation is doing to help prevent childhood obesity, here’s a quick summary of the projects it has funded over the past few years. These have helped get the word out. They also established a baseline for actions to come.

The Foundation is now accepting applications for two kinds of proposals aimed at obesity prevention in low-income communities:  Evaluations of immediate changes in policies or  environments (e.g., an evaluation of calorie labeling), and studies that can provide a basis for policy analysis (these are loosely defined).  Ideas?  Send them in!

May 20 2008

The Washington Post’s series on childhood obesity

My mailbox is flooded this week with notices about the Washington Post’s front-page series on childhood obesity, in so many parts that it’s hard to keep up with. The series will run all week, apparently. Here’s are the starter links for the multiple stories on Sunday, May 18, for those on Monday, May 19, and for those on Tuesday, May 20. I’ll add the others later, but you have to scroll around to find all the parts. One, well hidden, was sent to me by Mike Pertschuk, who was the head of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 1978 when it tried to regulate food marketing to kids. One reason his efforts failed was opposition from the Washington Post. Here is its 1978 editorial ridiculing the FTC for even suggesting that food marketing might have something to do with childhood obesity. Times have changed and let’s hope the FTC has another chance to deal with this question.

Here’s the link to Wednesday, May 21And the one to Thursday, May 22.

May 19 2008

Organic infant formula with sucrose: an oxymoron?

The New York Times reports that the organic version of Similac infant formula is made with organic cane juice – sucrose – not lactose (milk sugar). Sucrose is sweeter than lactose; infants love it. Sucrose encourages infants to drink more formula and could promote weight gain.

But the goal of formula companies is to sell as much formula as possible. Because the number of formula-drinking babies is small and fixed, they either have to expand the number of mothers who use formula (rather than breast feed), or encourage infants to drink more. Either approach raises ethical issues. But why else would Abbott Labs, the maker of Similac, put sucrose in formula and organic formula at that? Can’t the company find a source for organic lactose? Is organic cane juice cheaper? And try this for a price comparison: at my local Duane Reade, organic Similac is nearly $31 per can, whereas Earth’s Best is just $26. This makes Earth’s Best a much better buy, especially because it uses organic lactose. Sucrose in infant formula? That’s one more good reason to breast feed.

May 18 2008

Rising food prices: waste or deeper reasons?

Joachim von Braun, the director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC, explained the reasons behind rising food prices to the State Department on May 6. His powerpoint presentation, (sent to me by a colleague) cites three reasons: high demand, high energy costs, and misguided policies, among them growing food for biofuels and–a new one–neglect of agricultural investment. Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin provide evidence for this last suggestion with an article about how the lack of investment in rice research is hurting the Philippines. Andrew Martin writes in the New York Times about the extraordinary amount of food Americans waste every day–roughly one pound of food per person per day. He cites an estimate from the USDA that recovery of just one-fourth of the waste could feed 20, million people a day. The proverbial food for thought?

May 17 2008

Amicus curiae brief: calorie labeling

Public health groups have filed an amicus curiae brief in support of New York City’s calorie labeling initiative.  If you want to see what one looks like, here it is (I signed it too).  Michael Jacobson tells me that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has received documents in response to its Freedom of Information Act request.  These say that the FDA told the restaurant industry a year ago it would not interfere with the City’s proposal, suggesting that the FDA does not view federal laws as blocking calorie labeling.   In the meantime, the labels are drifting up on menu boards.  Go take a look!  Next: will they do any good?

May 16 2008

Pushing infant formulas: still a problem

Patty Rundall, of the British Baby Milk Action, a group that advocates for breastfeeding, and who also represents the Baby Feeding Law Group, which advocates for laws controlling marketing of infant formulas, sends this most interesting article from The Independent about the latest efforts by Nestlé (really, no relation) to prevent the UK Health Department from enforcing marketing restrictions on infant formulas. Will this saga never end?

May 15 2008

What Americans worry about when they worry about food

The latest consumer survey from the International Food Information Council has arrived, along with its press release. When it comes to food, Americans say one thing but do another (no surprise, this). The respondents to this survey are confused about calories, sugars, and fats, are buying lots of functional foods (although not as many as marketers would like), are not exercising enough, and are not taking nearly enough responsibility for food safety. For those of you interested in public health nutrition, there is much work to be done. Get busy!

May 14 2008

Play with your food!

I’ve been reluctant to post all the photos sent recently of clever food sculptures and carvings, mainly because they typically arrive without attribution. But today’s New York Times has a worthy account of this kind of food art, with links to slides of work by various artists. And then there’s the video of James McMahon carving a portrait of James Beard – “the father of American gastronomy” – on a watermelon.

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