by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calories

Dec 31 2011

Looking ahead: food politics in 2012

My monthly Food Matters (first Sunday) column in the San Francisco Chronicle takes out a crystal ball…

Q: What’s on the food politics agenda for 2012? Can we expect anything good to happen?

A: By “good,” I assume you mean actions that make our food system safer and healthier for consumers, farmers, farm workers and the planet.

Ordinarily, I am optimistic about such things. This year? Not so much. The crystal ball is cloudy, but seems to suggest:

Political leaders will avoid or postpone taking action on food issues that threaten corporate interests. Sometimes Congress acts in favor of public health, but 2012 is an election year. Expect calls for corporate freedom to take precedence over those for responsible regulations. Maybe next year.

Something will happen on the farm bill, but what? Last fall’s secret draft bill included at least some support for producing and marketing fruits and vegetables, and only minimal cuts to SNAP (food stamps). Once that process failed, Congress must now adopt that draft, start over from scratch or postpone the whole mess until after the election.

SNAP participation will increase, but so will pressure to cut benefits. With the economy depressed, wages low and unemployment high, demands on SNAP keep rising. In 2011, SNAP benefits cost $72 billion, by far the largest farm bill expenditure and a tempting target for budget cutters. While some advocates will be struggling to keep the program’s benefits intact, others will try to transform SNAP so it promotes purchases of more healthful foods. Both groups should expect strong opposition.

Childhood obesity will be the flash point for fights about limits on food marketing. The Lancet recently summarized the state of the science on successful obesity interventions: taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages, restrictions on marketing such items, traffic-light front-of-package food labels, and programs to discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and television viewing. Expect the food industry to continue to get Congress to block such measures, as it did with U.S. Department of Agriculture school nutrition standards (hence: pizza counts as a vegetable).

The Federal Trade Commission will postpone release of nutrition standards for marketing to children. Although Congress asked for such standards in the first place – and the standards are entirely voluntary – it just inserted a section in the appropriations bill requiring a cost-benefit analysis before the FTC can release them. Why does the food industry care about voluntary restrictions? Because they might work (see previous prediction).

The Food and Drug Administration will delay issuing front-of-package labeling guidelines as long as it can. The FDA asked the Institute of Medicine for advice about such labels. The institute recommended labels listing only calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugars – all nutrients to avoid. Although the institute did not mention traffic-light labels, it did recommend check marks or stars, which come close. The food industry much prefers its own method, Facts Up Front, which emphasizes “good-for-you” nutrients. It is already using this system. Will the FDA try to turn the institute recommendations into regulations? Maybe later.

The FDA will (still) be playing catch-up on food safety. The FDA got through the 2011 appropriations process with an increase of about $50 million for its inspection needs. This is better than nothing but nowhere near what it needs to carry out its food safety mandates. The FDA currently inspects less than 2 percent of imported food shipments and 5 percent of domestic production facilities. The overwhelming nature of the task requires FDA to set priorities. Small producers think these priorities are misplaced. Is the FDA going after them because they are easier targets than industrial producers whose products have been responsible for some of the more deadly outbreaks? Time will tell.

On the bright side, the food movement will gather even more momentum. While the food industry digs in to fight public health regulations, the food movement will continue to attract support from those willing to promote a healthier and more sustainable food system. Watch for more young people going into farming (see Chronicle staff writer Amanda Gold’s Dec. 25 article) and more farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, school meal initiatives, and grassroots community efforts to implement food programs and legislate local reforms. There is plenty of hope for the future in local efforts to improve school meals, reduce childhood obesity, and make healthier food more available and affordable for all.

And on a personal note: In April, University of California Press will publish my co-authored book, “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.” I’m hoping it will inspire more thinking and action on how we can change our food system to one that is better for people and the planet.

Happy new year!

 

Sep 2 2011

Sneak preview: the (forthcoming) calorie book has a cover!

Here’s what it’s likely to look like, courtesy of the designer, Lia Tjandra, and University of California Press.

 

 

Publication is still  a long way off—it’s scheduled for March 2012.  I will post occasional progress reports.  Stay tuned! 

Aug 27 2011

The Lancet’s series on obesity

The British journal, The Lancet, has a special series of papers on obesity and obesity policy, just out.

Don’t miss the Body Weight Simulator! It’s great fun to play with while waiting out a hurricane.

You type in your age, weight, and height (you can change the metrics to pounds and inches), and indicate your activity level.  It tells you how many calories you can eat every day to maintain that weight (Yikes!  That’s all? No wonder I have so much trouble).

It also tells you how many calories you need to reduce in order to lose weight over whatever time period you specify.

And here are the papers, reviews, and commentaries (you will need to log in to read more than the summary):

The future challenge of obesity
David King
Full Text | PDF

Reversing the tide of obesity
William H Dietz
Full Text | PDF

Where next for obesity
Harry Rutter
Full Text | PDF

The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments
Boyd A Swinburn, Gary Sacks, Kevin D Hall, Klim McPherson, Diane T Finegood, Marjory L Moodie, Steven L Gortmaker
Summary | Full Text | PDF

Health and economic burden of the projected obesity trends in the USA and the UK
Y Claire Wang, Klim McPherson, Tim Marsh, Steven L Gortmaker, Martin Brown
Summary | Full Text | PDF

Quantification of the effect of energy imbalance on bodyweight
Kevin D Hall, Gary Sacks, Dhruva Chandramohan, Carson C Chow, Y Claire Wang, Steven L Gortmaker, Boyd A Swinburn
Summary | Full Text | PDF

Changing the future of obesity: science, policy, and action
Steven L Gortmaker, Boyd A Swinburn, David Levy, Rob Carter, Patricia L Mabry, Diane T Finegood, Terry Huang, Tim Marsh, Marjory L Moodie
Summary | Full Text | PDF

 

Aug 3 2011

Where did the 2,000 calorie diet idea come from?

I’m in the midst of working on the copy-edited manuscript of my forthcoming book with Malden Nesheim Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (University of California Press, March 2012) and spending every minute I have on it.  So I’m going to take some shortcuts on the blog this week and deal with some questions I’ve been asked recently.

One is right on the topic of the book:

Q.  Could you address the 2,000 calorie a day number (both its history and speculate on how an individual can arrive at a more personalized amount)? Short of metabolic testing (and I read conflicting opinions on that, too), it seems rather difficult to figure out how much I should be eating.

A.  Nothing could be easier, and here’s a preview of the kind of thing that will be in this book (with footnotes, of course):

If you look at  a food label, you will see ingredient contents compared to a 2,000-calorie average diet: “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.”

Here’s the history of where that came from:

The FDA wanted consumers to be able to compare the amounts of saturated fat and sodium to the maximum amounts recommended for a day’s intake—the Daily Values.  Because the allowable limits would vary according to the number of calories consumed, the FDA needed benchmarks for average calorie consumption, even though calorie requirements vary according to body size and other individual characteristics.

From USDA food consumption surveys of that era, the FDA knew that women typically reported consuming 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day, men 2,000 to 3,000, and children 1,800 to 2,500. But stating ranges on food labels would take up too much space and did not seem particularly helpful. The FDA proposed using a single standard of daily calorie intake—2,350 calories per day, based on USDA survey data. The agency requested public comments on this proposal and on alternative figures: 2,000, 2,300, and 2,400 calories per day.

Despite the observable fact that 2,350 calories per day is below the average requirements for either men or women obtained from doubly labeled water experiments, most of the people who responded to the comments judged the proposed benchmark too high. Nutrition educators worried that it would encourage overconsumption, be irrelevant to women who consume fewer calories, and permit overstatement of acceptable levels of “eat less” nutrients such as saturated fat and sodium. Instead, they proposed 2,000 calories as:

  • consistent with widely used food plans
  • close to the calorie requirements for postmenopausal women, the population group most prone to weight gain
  • a reasonably rounded-down value from 2,350 calories
  • easier to use than 2,350 and, therefore, a better tool for nutrition education

Whether a rounding down of nearly 20 percent is reasonable or not, the FDA ultimately viewed these arguments as persuasive. It agreed that 2,000 calories per day would be more likely to make it clear that people needed to tailor dietary recommendations to their own diets. The FDA wanted people to understand that they must adjust calorie intake according to age, sex, activity, and life stage. It addressed the adjustment problem by requiring the percent Daily Value footnote on food labels for diets of 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day, the range of average values reported in dietary intake surveys.

 As to how many calories you personally need, I think they are too difficult for most people to count accurately to bother.  The bottom line: If you are eating too many, you will be gaining weight.   

The best advice I can give is to get a scale and use it.  If your weight starts creeping up, you have to eat less.

The book will go into far more explanation of such issues but for that you will have to wait until March.


Jul 20 2011

Yes calories count, especially in big numbers

Center for Science in the Public Interest anounces its Xtreme Eating Awards and describes them in detail in the latest issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

Xtreme Eating gives the numbers for calories, saturated, fat and sodium (nicely summarized by  FoodNavigator), but let’s just look at calories.

  • Denny’s Fried Cheese Melt  1,260
  • The Cheesecake Factory Farmhouse Cheeseburger 1,530 (1,900 with fries)
  • IHOP Bacon ’N Beef Cheeseburger 1,250 (plus 620 for onion rings)
  • Cold Stone Creamery PB&C Shake 2,010
  • Applebee’s Provolone-Stuffed Meatballs With Fettuccine  1,520
  • The Cheesecake Factory Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake 1,540
  • The Steakhouse (Morton’s) Porterhouse Steak and mash 1,390 for the steak; 850 for the mash
  • Great Steak extra large King Fries 1,500

These, it should be evident, are substantial fractions of the 2,000 to 3,000 calories most people need in a day.  And these numbers don’t include the additional calories from drinks and anything else that’s added.

CSPI gets sarcastic: “Let’s get one thing clear: Restaurants have nothing to do with the nation’s obesity epidemic. It’s not their fault that two out of three adults and one out of three children are either overweight or obese.”

Are the numbers accurate?  My July 20 JAMA hasn’t arrived yet but I hear that it has an article saying that the calorie numbers posted on restaurant menu boards seem close enough.

If an item says it’s 1,500 calories, it probably is.  Best to share with friends.

 

 

 

 

Jun 7 2011

Sedentary work and obesity: another view

On May 26, the New York Times published a report of a new study on causes of obesity.  The study examined changing rates of physical activity in the workplace. Its conclusion?  Sedentary work is a major cause of rising rates of obesity in the United States.

The shift translates to an average decline of 120 to 140 calories a day in physical activity, closely matching the nation’s steady weight gain over the past five decades, according to the report.

Eric Schlosser and I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out a few flaws in that argument.  The Times did not publish our letter, but here it is:

To the editor:

It makes sense that sedentary work is a factor in the current obesity epidemic (May 26). But it cannot be an important cause. The changing American workplace cannot explain why the obesity rate among the nation’s preschoolers has doubled in recent years and that among elementary schoolchildren has tripled.

The rise in obesity worldwide is linked to the embrace of the American diet, not to a decline in manufacturing.

In China, childhood obesity has increased at least five-fold since 1985.

Simplest explanations are usually best. Reversing obesity means eating less and making healthier food choices.

It also means making it easier to do that by setting policies that promote smaller portions, lower prices on fruits and vegetables, restrictions on marketing food to children, and healthier school meals.

Of course, an increase in well-paid manufacturing jobs would help too.

—Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser

 

 

 

 

Apr 19 2010

KFC as a standard for fast food evaluation? The Double Down Gluttony Index

Statistician Nate Silver uses KFC’s nutritional analysis (which nobody seems to believe, for good reason, as you can see from the added note below) to create a Double Down Index for evaluating the nutritional quality of fast food based on fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

I’ve created an index based on the amount of fat, sodium and cholesterol that the Double Down and a variety of comparable sandwiches contain as a portion of the USDA daily allowance. (In the fat category, saturated fats are counted double and trans-fats are counted triple.) The index is scaled such that the Original Recipe version of the sandwich receives a score of 1.00, a measure of gluttony that will hereafter be known as The Double Down (DD).**

** To calculate Double Downs for your own favorite sandwich, apply the following formula: divide the number of mg of cholesterol by 469, the number of mg of sodium by 3,754, the number of grams of total fat by 133, the number of grams of saturated fat also by 133, and the number of grams of trans-fat by 66. Then sum the result.

He also calibrates Double Downs per Calorie (DDPC): “Take the above result, divide by the number of calories, and multiply by 540.”

His charts are great. Take a look.

Thanks to Richard Einhorn for sending.

Additional note: My NYU colleague Lisa Young, author of The Portion Teller, wrote the company to correct the calorie calculations.  She says:

I’ve done my own calculations for calories obtained from USDAs website….Even the grilled chicken version has nearly 600 calories, and that is without any sauce. Also the actual product looks bigger than the serving size info provided to me which would suggest that the breadless sandwich may even contain more calories than I have listed below.

2 3-oz pieces fried chicken = 441 kcal
2 slices Monterey Jack cheese (1 oz each)=211 kcal
2 slices bacon, medium, cooked= 87 kcal
TOTAL= 739 kcal

2 3-oz pieces grilled chicken = 282 kcal
2 slices Monterey Jack cheese (1 oz each)=211 kcal
2 slices bacon, medium, cooked= 87 kcal
TOTAL=580 kcal

Jan 6 2010

How many extra calories cause weight gain?

For years, some people – not me – have been saying that eating one extra 50-calorie cookie a day can make you put on 5 pounds per year.  This calculation comes from basic math: if about 3500 extra calories make you put on a pound of body fat, then 50 times 365 is 18,250 extra calories which, divided by 3500,  equals about 5 pounds.

This never made sense to me.  It is impossible to know how much you are eating each day within 50 calories let alone how many calories you are using in daily activities.  Yet people used to be able to keep their weight steady without thinking about calories at all.

This is because the body regulates weight and can easily compensate for such small changes in calorie intake or output with small changes in metabolic rate.  It takes more calories to move heavier bodies, and fewer to move lighter ones.

For years, I’ve been thinking that it must take a lot more than 50 extra calories a day – I guessed hundreds –  to make people gain weight.  I thought this for two reasons:

First reason: Portion sizes have increased greatly in recent years, and larger portions have more calories.  Sometimes, they have a lot more.  Foods eaten outside the home often have more calories in them than anyone suspects.

That’s why calorie labeling matters.  Labeling may underestimate the actual calories present in a food according to Tufts researchers (see this week’s Time for commentary and also see the industry response).  But even so, a new study shows that labeling encourages people to cut down on food intake, at least at Starbucks.  Make that two new studies: one from the Rudd Center at Yale comes to the same conclusion.

Second reason: I keep hearing from pediatricians who treat overweight kids that they have kids in their practices who drink from 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day from sodas alone.  I can’t judge whether these figures are correct or not, but several different kinds of studies suggest that many people today are eating a lot more calories than their counterparts of 25 years ago.

Now Martin Katan and David Ludwig have done the actual calculations in a paper in this week’s JAMA titled “Extra calories cause weight gain–but how much?”  Their conservative estimate is that it would take an excess of 370 calories to gain 35 pounds in 28 years.   To become obese in 25 years, you would need to eat 680 calories a day more than you expended.

To become 58 pounds overweight at age 17, they predict that a child would need to overconsume 700 to 1,000 calories a day from the age of 5 or so.

These figures are quite consistent with what those pediatricians were telling me.  By other estimates, average caloric intake has increased by 200-500 calories a day since the early 1980s, along with a 700 calorie-a-day rise in the availability of energy in the food supply (from 3,200 to 3,900 per day per capita).

As Katan and Ludwig conclude:

small changes in lifestyle would have a minor effect on obesity prevention.  Walking an extra mile a day expends, roughly an additional 60 kcal compared with resting – equal to the energy in a small cookie.  Physiological considerations suggest that the apparent energy imbalance for much of the US population is 5- to 10-fold greater, far beyond the ability of most individuals to address on a personal level.  Rather, an effective public health approach to obesity prevention will require fundamental changes in the food supply and the social infrastructure.

This is because on the personal level, prevention of weight gain means eating hundreds of calories a day less.  Moving more, useful as it is, will not do the trick unless people eat less as well.

On the societal level, we need measures to make it easier for people to eat less.

I can think of a bunch of examples.  You?

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