If kids really are to eat more healthfully, food and beverage companies have to stop pushing products at them. But if companies don’t market to kids, they lose money. Regulation would solve the problem, but is not politically feasible. Voluntary efforts are limited to companies that agree to participate. Short of regulation, what more can be done?
This invitation felt like history in the making. I accepted with pleasure.
Mrs. Obama’s speech alone was well worth the trip.
And I’m here today with one simple request — and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids…the goal here is to empower parents instead of undermining them as they try to make healthier choices for their families. And we need you to lead the way in creating demand for healthy foods so that kids actually start “pestering” us for those foods in the grocery store. And then parents actually start buying them, and then companies have incentives to make and sell even more of those foods.
And ideally, in a decade or so, we would see a dramatic shift across the entire industry. We’d see companies shifting marketing dollars away from those less healthy products and investing those dollars in your healthier products instead…See, the decisions that you make about marketing won’t just affect what our kids are eating today — those decisions are going to also affect the health of your workforce tomorrow…. You see, over the past few years, we’ve seen some real changes in the foods our kids are eating, starting from the time they’re born…this isn’t just some passing trend or fad.
So there might be those out there whose strategy is to just wait this out — folks who might still be thinking to themselves, well, in a few years, this lady will be gone — (laughter) — and this whole Let’s Move thing will finally be over, so we can go back to business as usual. And I know that none of you here are thinking that way. (Laughter.) But if you know anyone who is — (laughter) — you might want to remind them that I didn’t create this issue, and it’s not going to go away three and a half years from now when I’m no longer First Lady.
Obama Foodorama also posts the list of who attended. This was a diverse group of representatives of the food industry, trade associations, media, government agencies, private organizations, and universities who sought common ground.
A few points seemed clear from the discussion:
Some food companies are making substantial progress in trying to reduce their marketing of less healthful foods.
Advocates wish they would do more, faster.
The business barriers are formidable.
I think it’s wonderful that the First Lady is taking on this critical topic, impressive that such diverse opinions were represented, and remarkable that this meeting, if nothing else, holds the possibility of opening the door to further discussion.
An open door is needed. As Bill Dietz, a former CDC official who was at the meeting, told FoodNavigator: “the food industry has repeatedly thwarted federal efforts to curb food marketing to kids.”
Erica Peters. San Francisco: A Food Biography. Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.
For anyone curious about how San Francisco’s foods and restaurants became world-recognized icons of American regional cuisine, this book is a welcome starting place.
It’s one of a collection of books in the AltaMira Studies in Food and Gastronomy, edited by the prolific Ken Albala. Readers may argue about Peters’ choice of topics to discuss—she left out some of my favorites—but the book is a great way to begin to delve into the city’s food history. It’s well referenced and is wonderfully illustrated with photographs from historical collections (but alas, most of them are undated).
The American Journal of Hypertension has published a series of point-counterpoint articles on the salt debate: are public health campaigns to reduce sodium intake warranted by the data? Public health agencies argue yes.Others argue to the contrary.
This debate is not easily resolved, mainly because everyone eats a high-salt diet; most salt is already in processed and restaurant foods and eaters have no choice.
So the issue really becomes one of whether it makes any difference to high blood pressure to reduce high salt intakes and, if so, to what level—questions difficult to answer with current methods.
Today’s widely-reported message on arsenic levels in rice misses the point. The issue is not the short-term risks of rice consumption. The concern is the long-term effects from exposure to arsenic in rice. As Consumer Reports has said in the past, consumers should not ignore the potential risks from consuming rice and rice products over a long period of time…Consumers are not well-served if they do not have the full story. The concerns about long-term effects are significant and warrant the FDA’s decision to investigate further.
The FDA says it plans further investigations. In the meantime, it says you should:
Eat a well-balanced diet.
Vary your grains.
Consider diversifying infant foods
This is always good advice.
But Consumers Union is more specific. It suggests you worry a little and observe these limits:
At the moment, this is the best information available. FDA: get to work!
Staying hydrated is important to staying in balance, and bottled water provides people with a convenient and popular choice. By supporting this new initiative, our industry is once again leading with meaningful ways to achieve a balanced lifestyle.”
Hydrated? Not an issue for most people (exceptions—elite athletes, people at high altitude, the elderly).
Bottled water? In places with decent municipal water supplies, tap water is a much better choice; it’s inexpensive, non-polluting, and generates political support for preserving the quality of municipal water supplies. See, for example, what Food and Water Watch has to say about bottled water.
Another reporter: “Why aren’t we talking about obesity?”
Another reporter: Are we talking about replacing sugary drinks and sodas with water?”
Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, fielded that one. “It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive. Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “
I consider Let’s Move! to be a public health campaign, and a very important one.
I know we’re just trying to “keep things positive,” but missing the opportunity to use this campaign’s massive platform to clearly talk down soda or do something otherwise more productive is lamentable. Public health campaigns of this magnitude don’t come around every day…Keeping things positive and making an important point are not mutually exclusive, you fools.
Let’s Move! staff have stated repeatedly that they must and will work with the food industry to make progress on childhood obesity. I’m guessing this is the best they can do. Messages to “drink less soda” (or even “drink tap water”) will not go over well with Coke, Pepsi, and the ABA; sales of sugary sodas are already declining in this country.
I’m thinking that the White House must have cut a deal with the soda industry along the lines of “we won’t say one word about soda if you will help us promote water, which you bottle under lots of brands.” A win-win.
Isn’t drinking water better than drinking soda? Of course it is.
But this campaign could have clarified the issues a bit better. Jeff Cronin, communications director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest circulated a poster created by Rudy Ruiz (of the communications firm Interlex) for a public health campaign in San Antonio:
Public health partnerships with food and beverage companies—especially soda companies—are fraught with peril. Let’s hope this one conveys the unstated message like the one in San Antonio: My balance is less soda and more tap water.
Nature Biotechnology, a research journal for biotechnology academics, has the most enlightened explanation I’ve seen recently about why genetically modified (GM) foods don’t go over well with the public (I discussed suchN reasons in detail in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).Its editorial states that despite years of evidence for the safety of eating GM foods,
Consumers are concerned about the close (some might say cushy) relationships between regulators and companies. They are concerned about food safety data being difficult to obtain from regulatory agencies. The revolving door between agribusiness and regulatory agencies and the amounts spent on political lobbying also raise red flags. Even academics have fallen in the public’s esteem, especially if there’s a whiff of a company association or industry funding for research.
Of course, the public’s misgivings about GM food go beyond just the risk to health. Corporate control of the food supply, disenfranchisement of smallholder farmers, the potential adverse effects of GM varieties on indigenous flora and fauna, and the ‘contamination’ of crops grown on non-GM or organic farms all play into negative perceptions. And for better or worse, GM food is now inextricably linked in the public consciousness with Monsanto, which has seemingly vied with big tobacco as the poster child for corporate greed and evil.
What are industry and academic scientists to do about such attitudes?
Changing them will require a concerted and long-term effort to develop GM foods that clearly provide convincing benefits to consumers—something that seed companies have conspicuously failed to do over the past decade.
Well, yes. This was the situation in 2003 when I first wrote Safe Food, and nothing had changed by the second edition in 2010. Or by now, apparently.
This industry still depends on Golden Rice to save its reputation. Maybe it ought to start working on some of the other issues mentioned in this editorial.
New Directions in the Fight Against Hunger and Malnutrition: A Festschrift in Honor of Per Pinstrup-Andersen. Cornell University, Statler Hotel Amphitheater. The conference begins at 7:30 a.m. with breakfast and ends with a reception the following day with remarks by professor Pinstrup-Andersen at 2:25 p.m. For the schedule and details, click here.
My joint contribution with Malden Nesheim is from 1:40-2:00 p.m. on “the internationalization of the obesity epidemic: the case of sugar-sweetened sodas.”