The hearing on Bloomberg’s soda volume limit takes place today. I’m traveling and sorry to miss it (I filed comments).
I shouldn’t be surprised but I am stunned by the intensity and depth of soda industry pushback on this, most of it going on and on about the virtues of personal choice, as if container size has nothing to do with the amount people eat. It does (see below).
In addition to what reporters have been reporting, here’s what I’ve seen personally:
- A phony “grassroots”petition campaign paid for by the soda industry with campaigners paid $30 per hour to collect signatures
- A mailing to my home asking me to protest
- Handout cards
- Subway posters
- Tee shirts
- And highly visible ads on trucks.
And then there’s yesterday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from Seth Goldman, the “TEA-EO” of Honest Tea:
I challenge the mayor and the New York City Board of Health to seriously consider the impediments that entrepreneurs already face in our efforts to offer lower-calorie drinks. Starting a business and building a challenger brand with modest resources is already a daunting task. The proposed ban would create additional barriers to beverage innovation.
Only one thing wrong with this. Mr. Goldman must have forgotten to mention that since March 2011, Honest Tea has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola.
Yes, I know the petition has gathered 75,000 signatures or so. The campaigners and signers should all know better. See this, for example:
USDA has just released the latest figures on nutrient intakes among Americans. These amounts are reported by a statistically determined sample of people interviewed as part of the What We Eat in America NHANES—the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Having just published Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, I’m interested in calories.
The survey results from 2009-2010 for calories per day for adults over the age of 20:
- Men 2512
- Women 1778
How many of those calories are consumed away from home?
- Men 35%
- Women 30%
How are daily calories distributed?
No, the percentages do not add up to 100%. That’s because of snacks. What percent of calories is consumed as snacks?
- Men 24%
- Women 23%
No surprises here, but the figures are fun to play with.
Compared to the figures reported in Why Calories Count for 2008, the figures for daily intake are not significantly changed.
Note: These are reported figures, and remain well below the 3000 calories a day for men and 2400 for women observed in studies that actually measure calorie balance.
I’m on the advisory committee for SNAP to Health, a project of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, chaired by Dr. Susan Blumenthal.
The major points made at the briefing:
- SNAP funding must be preserved; the program is a lifeline for 46 million Americans, half of them children.
- SNAP, as Rep. Ron Wyden (Dem-OR) put it, “is a conveyor belt for calories.” It would be better if the calories came from healthier foods.
- The prevalence of obesity is high among low-income Americans and some evidence suggests that rates may be higher among SNAP participants.
- Buying healthier foods with SNAP benefits is not easy. There are problems with access, cost, and relentless marketing of junk foods to low-income groups in general and to EBT users in particular.
As I discussed in my remarks (which are also supposed to be posted on SnapToHealth.org soon), food companies and retailers specifically target marketing efforts to low-income groups and to SNAP participants. No such efforts market healthier foods to EBT users.
Michele Simon’s recent report documents the extensive lobbying efforts of food companies to make sure that SNAP recipients can use EBT cards to buy their products.
The Snap to Health report is meant to start a national conversation about helping this program to address twenty-first century health challenges.
Let the conversation begin!
A full-page ad in Tuesday’s New York Times (July 17) alerts readers to the astonishing 18-month delay in issuing food safety rules authorized by the Food Safety Modernization Act passed by Congress at the end of 2010.
The sponsor of the ad, Make Our Food Safe, is a coalition of highly respected public health and advocacy groups working on food safety issues.
According to the New York Times report, they are baffled by the delay.
But the F.D.A. rules that are needed to carry out the law have been under review by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House since December, and consumer health advocates say there has been no explanation for what they describe as a lengthy delay.
….Before the rules become official, the F.D.A. still has to circulate them for public comment, adding more months to the process. The rules for importers were expected in January and for domestic food processors in July, advocates said.
Could the delay be due to election-year politics? Advocates wonder if
Democrats may want to avoid the impression that government regulation is growing, a popular cause for attacks by Republicans.
The Office of Management and Budget denies this.
Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said that the agency coordinates suggestions from many institutions across the federal government, and that it is not unusual for the review process to take months. A regulation last year on dangerous snakes, for example, took about 10 months to clear, she said.
Oh come on. These rules are about protecting the public from dangerous microbes. They need to move.
The Make Our Food Safe website makes it easy to write President Obama to release the FDA’s proposed rules. Add your voice!
It’s the (relatively) quiet season and I’m getting caught up on reports coming in. Here are two.
1. The Bipartisan Policy Center, a group founded by former cabinet secretaries, has come up with a plan to improve the health of Americans: Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future. The Executive Summary is online, but the website is difficult to navigate and you have to log into Facebook to read the entire report.
The report calls on the public and private sectors to collaborate in creating healthy families, schools, workplaces and communities. Some of the recommendations are aimed at the food environment, rather than individuals, which is good. And they are addressed to families, schools, workplaces, communities, and farm policy. But like most such reports this one does not explain how any of its recommendations might be achieved.
2. The Rudd Center at Yale has produced Cereal Facts, a study showing that cereal companies:
Increased media spending on child-targeted cereals by 34% from 2008 to 2011, mainly on the least nutritious products.
- More than doubled spending in Spanish-language media.
- Improved overall nutritional quality of 13 of 14 brands advertised to children by 10 percent on average.
- Sponsor TV ads that typically promote products containing one spoonful of sugar for every three spoonfuls of cereal.
Two more findings of interest:
- In 2011, the average 6- to 11-year-old saw more than 700 TV ads for cereals.
- Although General Mills and Kellogg do make nutritious products that are marketed to parents, they do not advertise those products to children.
Watch the video!
Is this the way to make law?
After a 13-hour mark-up session that lasted past midnight last week, the House Agriculture Committee approved, 35-11, its version of the 2012 Farm Bill.
The bill is so flawed that USDA Tom Vilsack felt compelled to issue a critical statement:
Americans deserve a farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families.
Unfortunately, the bill produced by the House Agriculture Committee contains deep cuts in SNAP, including a provision that will deny much-needed food assistance to 3 million Americans, mostly low-income working families with children as well as seniors. The proposed cuts…wouldn’t just leave Americans hungry – they would stunt economic growth. The bill also makes misguided reductions to critical energy and conservation program efforts.
For the politics of what the House Ag Committee is doing, Politico has a good summary. According to its analysis, the problems with the bill are so enormous that it is unlikely that the House will ever get to it.
The reality is that GOP leaders are worried about a messy floor fight over divisive regional policies months before voters head to the ballot boxes. Odd couples could abound: The far left and far right would likely vote against the bill on the floor, the former thinking the bill cuts too much from food stamps, the latter insisting cuts aren’t deep enough.
There’s also division over how much the government should be subsidizing the farm industry and whether it should control commodity prices. Arguing complex farm policy on the House floor in this political climate gives many Republican members pause.
If the House can’t pass a bill, then it would go into negotiations with the Senate with a weak negotiating stance.
…Now, they’ll likely have to grit their teeth and vote to extend current policy. And that will come only after rural lawmakers go home for all of August and face questions about why the bill hasn’t been debated on the House floor.
The Environmental Working Group gives ten reasons to reject the House bill:
- Cuts Nutrition Assistance
- Gives Big Farmers a Big Raise
- Expands Crop Insurance by $9.5 billion
- Cuts Conservation Programs by $6 billion
- Lacks Protections for Prairies
- Includes Anti-Environmental Riders
- Has Few Incentives for Healthy Diets
- Weakens Regulation of GMO Crops
- Guts State Food and Farm Standards
- Repeals Organic Certification Program
Fixing the farm bill is a formidable challenge.
But aren’t lawmakers supposed to take on such challenges as part of what we elected them to do?
Black Americans have the highest rates of obesity, and a conference devoted to promoting healthy diets in this population seems like a good idea. This one has an impressive list of speakers. Sam Kass, Michele Obama’s chef and food policy adviser, is giving the keynote, and many of the speakers are associated with government or private groups devoted to improving the diets, physical activity, and overall health of Black Americans.
The sponsors got my attention. Two are the Office of Minority Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, and HBO, which produced the Weight of the Nation obesity documentary I discussed a few weeks ago.
But the third is the American Beverage Association (ABA), the trade association for Coke, Pepsi, and other sugary drinks linked to poor diets and overweight among children and adults.
This is the group that so opposes Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed bad on soft drinks larger than 16 ounces.
Not only that, but as documented by the Rudd Center at Yale, ABA members devote special efforts to marketing their products to Black Americans. Advertising Age notes that the soft drink industry makes no apologies for targeting minorities and considers it “smart marketing.”
The Rudd study’s findings:
- Soda ads made up 13% of the ads on black prime time shows, compared with 2% of ads on general prime time shows.
- Soft drinks were 13.5% of ads with non-whites (almost exclusively blacks) compared with 6.2 percent of ads with whites.
- Exposure to SSB [sugar-sweetened beverage] ads decreased over time at all ages, but the decrease was less for black than white children.
- As for outdoor advertising, Black and Latino neighborhoods had the most ads for higher calorie/low-nutrient foods, including sugary beverages.
The irony: soft drink companies are sponsoring a conference to solve a health problem that their products helped cause in the first place.
Want to take bets on whether any of the speakers suggests cutting down on sodas or “don’t drink your calories”?
Rumors, as yet unverified, are flying:
- The American Beverage Association dreamed this conference up as a public relations move to position sodas as a solution to minority obesity, not its cause.
- Several of the speakers are former employees of, or have ties to, Coca-Cola.
- The Washington Post will be running a special section on the conference next week, flanked with American Beverage Association advertisements
If this last one is true, please save me a copy.
In the meantime, think about who is likely to derive the greatest benefit from this co-sponsorship alliance: the Office of Minority Health, Black Americans, or corporate members of the American Beverage Association.