Canadian food companies argue that there is no point in banning food marketing to kids because the bans don’t keep kids from becoming obese. Maybe, but I’m just back from the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue in Washington, DC, a conference in which officials from Canada and Europe discussed what they were doing to address childhood obesity on the policy level. In a word–European countries are taking the challenge seriously and are doing a lot more than we are. I was most impressed by a report about Quebec, which banned marketing to kids in 1982. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but rates of childhood obesity are lower in Quebec than in any other Canadian province. But so are fast food sales so it’s no wonder food companies are upset.
The USDA says it has no intention of ending its recommended voluntary moratorium on introduction of meat and milk from cloned animals into the food supply. This continues to be an example of bizarre regulation. The government says it’s OK to eat such foods; it just thinks companies should not try to sell them. “Clone-free” labels, anyone?
The intrepid investigative reporting team of Donald Bartlett and James Steele has taken on Monsanto in the current issue of Vanity Fair, of all places (I am most familiar with their prize-winning but controversial work for Time, which fired them in 2006). Monsanto is the company that brought us genetically modified bovine growth hormone and Roundup-Ready corn and soybeans, and, of course Roundup itself. Bartlett and Steele have much to say about the company’s methods for enforcing its patent rights and casual dealings with worker safety. It’s a long article, but worth reading.
People keep asking me if I know anything about the presidential candidates’ positions on food policy. I didn’t, but thanks to Alexandra Lewin, a doctoral student at Cornell, I now do. She has just filed a summary of where the candidates stand on food issues – “Corporations, health, and the 2008 presidential race” – on the Corporations and Health Watch site. Take a look!
So now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have reviewed the literature on claims that drinking 8 glasses of water a day makes you healthier. Their conclusion: not really (except under conditions of excessive heat, exercise, or illness). This is old news–you get plenty of water from whatever you are drinking and what’s naturally in food–but it’s bad news for health claims made by bottled water manufacturers. They, as you might expect, do not have nice things to say about this research.
The April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association carries three research papers on the current state of food marketing to children. One finds that websites targeted to kids carry advertising for junk foods. One compared breakfast cereals marketed to children to those marketed to adults; the kids’ cereals had more calories, sugars, and salt but less fiber and protein (oh, great). The third looked at Saturday morning TV and found 90% of the food commercials to be for junk foods. Hmm. Doesn’t sound like much has changed since the Institute of Medicine’s call for stopping all this (or at least slowing it down). Time to hold food companies accountable, I think.