I’m catching up on some reading over the long weekend. Here are some selections from the latest issue of Childhood Obesity (Click here for the complete Table of Contents).
|Food Marketing to Youth: Current Threats and Opportunities
Marlene B. Schwartz, Amy Ustjanauskas
Childhood Obesity. April 2012, 8(2): 85-88.
First Page | Full Text PDF|
|Revolution Foods: Equal Access for All
Interview with Revolution Foods Co-Founders Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey
Childhood Obesity. April 2012, 8(2): 94-96 First Page | Full Text PDF|
|Exploring Effectiveness of Messaging in Childhood Obesity Campaigns
David L. Katz, Mary Murimi, Robert A. Pretlow, William Sears
Childhood Obesity. April 2012, 8(2): 97-105.First Page | Full Text PDF|
|Hard Truths and a New Strategy for Addressing Childhood Obesity
Eric A. Finkelstein, Marcel Bilger
Childhood Obesity. April 2012, 8(2): 106-109.First Page | Full Text PDF|
|U.S. Government Initiatives
Childhood Obesity. April 2012, 8(2): 167-168.First Page | Full Text PDF |
A couple of books, just in. Happy reading!
Kurlansky, Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Doubleday, 2012.
Kurlansky is the author of several distinguished books, notably Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, and Salt: A World History. Here, he takes up the story of Clarence Birdseye, the man who invented and gave his name to frozen vegetables. Anything that Kurlansky writes is worth reading, and Birdseye—an multitasking explorer, trapper, and inventor—is worth writing about. The book is illustrated with Birdseye’s patent drawings.
Thomas McNamee, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance, Free Press, 2012.
I thought McNamee’s previous biography, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, was a great read, wonderfully gossipy and entertaining. Like so many others, I learned to cook from Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. In 1980, I met Claiborne while doing a segment of an Over Easy program on San Francisco’s public television station, KQED. Claiborne has recently had some health problems, had been told to eat better and lose some weight, and had just published Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet with Pierre Franey (with an introduction to principles of healthy eating by Jane Brody). He cooked lemon chicken. I commented on how healthy it was. Claiborne was a fascinating character and McNamee’s account makes me wish I’d been part of the New York food scene back then.
POM Wonderful has a full-page ad in today’s New York Times (how much do these things cost?) titled “FTC v. POM: You be the judge.” The ad includes selected quotes from the judge’s decision (see yesterday’s post) and refers readers to its wonderfully named website, pomtruth.com, where you can see the quotes and the ads for yourself.
I couldn’t help doing some checking.
The POM ad quotes from Chief Administrative Law Judge’s decision:
Competent and reliable scientific evidence supports the conclusion that the consumption of pomegranate juice and pomegranate extract supports prostate health, including by prolonging PSA doubling time in men with rising PSA after primary treatment for prostate cancer (page 282).
I turned immediately to page 282. The sentence before the one quoted would seem to support it:
The basic research, the Pantuck Study, and the Carducci Study, relied on by Respondents [POM Wonderful], support the conclusion that pomegranate juice has a beneficial effect on prostate health.
But what follows the quotation makes it clear that although the research claims to support the effect, it really doesn’t. Here’s what immediately follows the quotation in the same paragraph:
However, the greater weight of the persuasive expert testimony shows that the evidence relied upon by Respondents is not adequate to substantiate claims that the POM Products treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of prostate cancer or that they are clinically proven to do do so. Indeed, the authors of the Pantuck Study and the Carducci study each testified that their study did not conclude that POM juice treats, prevents, or reduces the risk of prostate cancer. And, as Respondents’ expert conceded, no clinical studies, research and/or trials show definitely that the POM Products treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
I will just do one more of the quotes. The ad says:
Competent and reliable scientific evidence shows that pomegranate juice provides a benefit to promoting erectile health and erectile function (page 198).
This is indeed on page 198 but is followed immediately by:
There is insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to show that pomegranate juice prevents or reduces the risk of erectile dysfunction or has been clinically proven to do so…There is insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to show that pomegranate juice treats erectile dysfunction in a clinical sense or has been clinically proven to do so.
Because these statements are attributed to the same expert witnesses, this must mean that while some studies show benefits, the experts do not believe that these studies (many of them sponsored by POM) are scientifically credible.
Pomegranate juice is a juice. Fruit juices are healthy and especially delicious when fresh. I happen to like the taste of pomegranate juice.
But does it have any special health benefits as compared to orange, grapefruit, grape, or any other fruit juice?
Would any fruit juice be likely to prevent heart disease or prostate problems on its own?
Despite POM’s out-of-context advertisement, the Administrative Law Judge did not think so, and neither do I.
Addition: I’m indebted to FoodNavigator.com for noticing some of the other ads.
The caption reads: “Natural Fruit Product with Health Promoting Characteristics–FTC Judge.”
I’ve been following the legal battles between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the makers of POM juice and other pomegranate juice products with avid interest, mainly because they deal with the credibility of sponsored scientific research.
This week, an administrative law judge ruled that POM violated federal law when it deceptively advertised its products as able to “treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.”
The judge ruled that reasonable consumers would interpret the ads as making such claims but that the company had not produced convincing evidence to support them.
The judge’s decision makes entertaining reading for someone like me who enjoys debates about whether sponsorship of scientific studies influences results and interpretation—as evidence shows they most definitely do.
POM has invested more than $35 million in research to prove that pomegranate juice has health benefits. It has sponsored about 100 studies at 44 different institutions. At least 70 of these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals.
It is not difficult to design research studies to give sponsors the answers they want and to make sure they are conducted well. POM is getting the best research that money can buy.
One such study, of the effects of drinking pomegranate juice on myocardial perfusion (MP, blood flow to the heart), was conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, who runs a preventive medicine institute in California (the quotes come from pages 268-269 of the decision).
The Ornish MP study was originally designed to last 12 months, with measurements at baseline, 3 months, and 12 months. [The FTC] charges that the study was cut short when the three-month data came in favorably and Dr. Ornish faced cost overruns.
Dr. [Frank] Sacks [expert witness for the FTC] opined that the shortened study period and failure to report the planned duration are inconsistent with widely accepted standards for conduct of clinical trials and undermine any confidence in the findings.
Dr. Ornish testified that the Ornish MP Study was terminated after three months only because the Resnicks did not provide the funding that they had previously committed to this study….[he said the study]constitutes credible and reliable science showing that pomegranate juice lessens the risk of cardiovascular problems.
The judge found evidence on this study and many others conflicting. He ruled that this level of disagreement about the quality of the research means that the scientific evidence is not good enough to substantiate the claims.
I was interviewed for a story in Business Week about this decision.
This makes it clear why everyone should be suspicious of the results of sponsored studies…POM-sponsored studies produce results favorable to POM.
POM’s owners have their own spin on the decision.
It says the ALJ’s ruling affirms the scientific validity behind the general health benefits of pomegranates and “completely exonerates” POM regarding its claims in broadcast or print interviews.
Let’s be clear what’s at stake here. According to the decision document, the owners of POM control 18,000 acres of pomegranate orchards.
From September 2002 through November 2010, sales of POM juice alone totaled nearly $248 million (the supplements and other products add more).
The owners must believe that nobody will buy pomegranate juice and supplements for any reason other than health benefits.
Health claims are about marketing, not health.
Let’s hope the FTC can make the decision stick.
I haven’t said anything recently about the current status of the farm bill, mainly because it is too early in the political process to know what is going to happen.
The bill still has a long way to go. It must be passed by the Senate. The House has to pass an equivalent bill. The two bills must be reconciled. The final bill must be signed by the President.
Otherwise, the current farm bill expires on September 30.
As is always the case with anything having to do with the farm bill, the devil is in the details. The number of programs covered by the bill is vast, and the details even more so.
In efforts to align agricultural policy with health policy, the current proposal makes a little headway. The proposed bill funds:
- $150 million annually for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program
- $50 million per year for the Defense Department Fresh program, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions
- $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
- $25 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, to go to $50 million by 2017
- $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million 2017 for pest and disease management programs
- $200 million annually for The Market Access Program and $9 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program
- $100 million over 5 years for the Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives
- $100 million over 5 years for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
- $406 million annually for Section 32 specialty crop purchases
This looks like a lot—and from the standpoint of incremental change it is a lot—but these numbers are millions, not billions, and in farm bill terms can be considered “mere rounding errors.”
The farm bill currently costs taxpayers $85 billion a year, with $72 billion of that going for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
The rest of the big money goes to the Big Agriculture growers of commodity crops, mainly in the form of crop insurance.
Here too, the proposed bill includes one small but significant measure. For the first time, it provides for crop insurance for diversified farms—those that grow a variety of “specialty” crops (translation: fruits and vegetables).
Even the most critical commentators think the current proposal, despite its evident flaws, represents the best that can be expected given current political realities.
Let’s hope the good parts of the proposal survive the rest of the legislative process.
Addition, May 24: A reader points out that another bright spot is that the Senate bill also included $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, Chelsea Green, 2012.
This is a big book—498 pages—packed full of anything you’d want to know about fermented foods, not only as something healthful we seem to have evolved with, but also as something delicious to eat and drink. Think: cheese, yogurt, sourdough, beer, kimchi, and soy sauce, but also such exotica as kombucha candy or cod liver oil. The book’s coverage is international, the directions explicit (equipment, gear, troubleshooting), and the design beautiful. Michael Pollan’s introduction says he found it inspirational. Me too.
Peter Kaminsky, Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well), Knopf, 2012.
I blurbed this one:
Kaminsky’s rules for taking pounds off and keeping them off are based on a really good idea: Flavor per Calorie. That works for him and should make dieting a pleasure.
You can eat well and healthfully and everywhere if you apply your inborn Culinary Intelligence. Kaminsky says the CI story can be summarized in ten words: Buy the best ingredients you can afford. Cook them well.
Can’t beat that.
Seamus Mullen, Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better, Andrews McNeel, 2012.
I don’t usually blurb cookbooks, but it wasn’t hard to talk me into doing this one.
Take a look at what Seamus Mullen does with vegetables, fruit, grains and everything else he cooks. I can’t wait to try his 10 Things to Do with Corn. His food can’t guarantee health, but it will surely make anyone happy.
This gorgeous book proves without a doubt the point I’ve been making for years: healthy food is delicious!
Mullen cooks Spanish food at Tertulia, Manhattan. The food is delicious (but bring ear plugs!).