Thanks to Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally for pointing out the investigative report in today’s Washington Post revealing how lobbyists for the infant formula industry induced the Department of Health and Human Services to tone down ads describing health risks to babies that are not breast-fed. These anti-public health lobbying efforts emerged in the wake of Congressional Hearings demonstrating widespread political interference with statements of health officials that might adversely affect some company’s products or the Bush administration’s ideology. The Post article links to two letters from a lobbyist, Clayton Yeutter, who in classic “Revolving Door” action used to be Secretary of the USDA under George Bush I. My favorite statement in his April 21, 2004 letter: “For our government to give all those mothers [those who cannot breast-feed] a guilt trip would just be appalling.” He goes on to explain that the proposed campaign would “send a risk-oriented message to [women in the WIC program]…that most of them will find incompatible with what they’re being told by USDA, and will at best confuse them, at worst frighten them.” Those of us who have followed lobbying efforts by infant formula companies (I describe the resulting boycott of Nestle formulas in Food Politics and more recent lobbying activities in the baby food chapter of What to Eat), will not be surprised. Breast feeding may be good for babies, but it is not good for formula companies–and they know it.
A comment on my August 15 post, “Playing With Obesity Maps” (click on Obesity), asks: “…can you “weigh in” on…the fact is that the nation’s getting fatter even though there’s so much information available out there that should make these numbers go down instead of up?”
Sure. Happy to. We like to think that knowing what to do to stay healthy would be enough to make us do it and it would be great if it did. But mere mortals need more help than that. That’s why the social environment is such an important influence on what we do. Right now, we have a social environment that encourages us to eat more (larger portions! food everywhere!) and move less (computers! remotes! cars! elevators!). As individuals, we fight society when we try to eat less and move more. So education, which is easy to do, rarely turns out to be enough. We have to change society–and that, of course, is not so easy, not least because doing so runs up against a lot of vested interests.
That same commenter had a second question: “What’s your take on all the diet books that are out there these days?”
I’m not sure which ones you mean in particular, but it doesn’t matter. They are all pretty much the same. They promise that if you just do this one thing, weight will pour off. All of them work–for some people, for some period of time. All of them say they are easy to follow and are a breakthrough, and all provide a semblance of biological rationale (some better than others). Whatever the gimmick–low fat, low carbohydrate, high volume of fruits and vegetables, low glycemic index, whatever–all have to be based on some method to reduce calories. Calories count. That’s why it matters to eat less and move more. Diets that suggest “eat more” fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, however, do make sense. But the ones that suggest eating more fat usually don’t (because fat has more concentrated calories). Whatever the diets suggest, they are unlikely to be harmful for a few weeks.
I am indebted to Michele Simon for sending a photo of this flier for the latest innovation in home-delivered food–Oreo Dessert Pizza. I’m sorry I can’t figure out how to make the photo bigger so you can see it better, but the way this works is that with any online pizza order you get a dessert pizza worth $3.99 tossed in. And, if you order two 20-ounce sodas, you get slap-on cooler wrappers, whatever those might be. The flier doesn’t disclose Nutrition Facts, so you have to guess the calories. Hint: Lots. Somebody try this and report back please.
Despite his name, Trouble, Leona Helmsley must have adored her dog. She left him $12 million in her will. This ought to take care of whatever he needs for the next few years, including some terrific, melamine-free dog food. According to the Associated Press, she didn’t leave a dime to two of her four grandchildren. Hey, families are like that.
The Robert Wood Johnson report on climbing rates of obesity awards the prize to Mississippi as the first state to reach 30% of the population as overweight. The most distressing finding: rates are rising in one-fourth of the states, with the highest rates in the south. What to do? “Make healthy choices easy choices,” says the report. Good idea: make it easier for everyone to eat less or better and to move more.
And here’s what the New York Times had to say about this.
Today’s New York Times business section is worth reading for an article about advertisements run by PETA and the Humane Society stating that eating meat has a worse effect on climate change than cars do. The ads are based on a report from FAO (the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations) arguing that the “livestock sector” is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases and water pollution. This sector, says the report, accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. This seems like a lot but the report adds it up from three sources: deforestation, digestive gases, and manure. Livestock, the FAO report says, should be a leading focus for environmental policies.
Somehow, this report got by me and I’m glad to know about it. It links diets that are good for people with those that are good for the planet and gives more good reasons for the value of eating a largely plant-based diet.