by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Calories

Sep 28 2009

The cost of obesity (and fixing it)

I don’t usually take estimates of the cost of bad diets and obesity too seriously because they are necessarily based on multiple assumptions, none of them verifiable.  But I do like to collect them.  Here are two papers from the American Journal of Health Promotion estimating such costs.  One estimates the health benefits and savings in medical costs from diets reduced in saturated fat, sodium, and calories (a savings of $60-120 billion), and the other estimates cost savings and productivity increases for reduction in calories and sodium ($109-256 billion).  Whatever the real savings are, they are likely to be enormous.  And that’s just money.  It’s harder to put a value on quality of life.  Maybe that’s all we need to know at this point.

Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy has invented a Revenue Calculator for Soft Drink Taxes for estimating the amounts of money states and cities could raise from taxes on soft drinks.  You type in the state or city, estimate the size of the tax, decide what kinds of drinks it’s for, and push the  button.  Bingo.  California could raise about $1.8 billion a year from a 1 cent tax.

And the Department of Health and Human Service has hooked up with the Advertising Council for a new kids’ activity campaign on the Internet, this one using Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things tied in to a movie coming out in October.  I wasn’t so happy about the last such campaign, which featured Shrek and is still up on the site.  Shrek also advertises junk foods.  Maybe this one will work better?

Aug 5 2009

What We Eat in America: Latest Info

I’ve long argued that finding out what people eat is the most intellectually challenging aspect of nutrition research.  To put it bluntly, everybody lies. OK.  We don’t lie.  We just can’t remember or estimate portion sizes accurately.  For years, government agencies have gone to great trouble and done the best they can to get some reasonable idea of what Americans actually eat.  They report the results as “What We Eat in America.”  The data may not be perfect (they almost certainly underestimate actual intake), but they are the best we have and always of great interest.

I always like to know what is going on with calories.  The USDA’s most recent data are from 2005-2006.  These show that women on average consume 1785 calories a day, men 2638, and together 2157.  These figures are based on intake reported for 24 hours and almost certainly underestimate real calorie intake by one-third or more.  Compare these figures to calorie production, which is now 4000 per capita per day! (See Table 1).   The truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between and all we can do is make good guesses.

USDA files its dietary intake reports under Products & Services.   Its latest looks at intake of four nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium.  In comparison to dietary reference intakes (DRIs), Americans eat pretty well.  The low magnesium intake makes me wonder if the  DRI for that nutrient is too high, but I tend to be skeptical about such things.

Everything about these reports requires much careful interpretation, since every element of obtaining dietary intake information is fraught with error.   Better methods would help a lot.  If only we could figure out how to do this better.  A challenge, indeed.

May 19 2009

Eating well on a low budget?

Adam Drewnowski and his colleagues at the University of Washington have been doing a series of papers on the cost of food per calorie.  The latest is a research brief answering the question, “Can low-income Americans afford a healthy diet?”  Not really, they say.  Federal food assistance assumes that low-income people spend 30% of their income on food but that assumption was based on figures from an era when housing, transportation, and health care costs were much less.  As Drewnowski has shown repeatedly, healthier foods cost more, and sometimes a lot more, when you look at them on a per-calorie basis.

May 12 2009

The amazing New York Times birthday cake!

I’m still in awe of Melissa Clark’s “mature and restrained” recipe for Almond Birthday Cake with Sherry-Lemon Butter Cream. She says the recipe yields 8 servings.  But she surely must mean 24.

I used the USDA’s handy food composition data base to add up the calories: 1,060 per slice!


Apr 25 2009

Weekend entertainment: the cost of fast food calories

Smart Money has produced a most instructive display of the cost of 100 calories in meals at fast food restaurants.  Click on the numbers starting with #1 (for which you have to click on #2 – the numbers are off by 1 for some reason).  #1 is the most expensive: $1.47 per 100 calories for at McDonald’s Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken.  # 13 (click on #14) is a Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese at 49 cents for 100 calories but you have to buy 1010 calories at this price.  The cheapest, #15 (click on #16) is a 32-ounce Coca-Cola at 38 cents per 100.

It would be interesting to do the same thing for nutritional value.  Could nutrients (other than calories) be proportional to cost?  That idea might be worth a closer look.

Feb 27 2009

Calories count (duh?)

Researchers, bless them, have done the obvious at last and published it in the February 26 New England Journal of Medicine (and here’s how USA Today explains the study).  They put some intrepid volunteers on 1400-calorie diets varying in content of protein (15-25%), fat (20-40%), and carbohydrate (35-65%) and waited to see how much weight they would lose by the end of two years.  Ta-da!  The participants all lost a lot of weight in 6 months, but slowly gained it back.  By the end of 2 years, they lost about the same amount of weight regardless of the mix.  Conclusion: when it comes to weight loss, how much you eat matters more than what you eat.  Or, as I am fond of saying, if you want to lose weight, eat less!

Jul 16 2008

My new column in the San Francisco Chronicle

I start a new column today – Food Matters – in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section. It’s a Q and A, with room for comments on the online version. I will answer a question or two whenever it runs (how often? I’m not sure). This first one deals with the editors’ question: “What’s the most pressing nutrition issue today, and why?” In a word: calories.

And while we talking about calories, today’s New York Times printed my letter about  last week’s post on the 500-calorie cookie recipe.

Jul 10 2008

Nathan’s hot dogs: a winner

Thanks to Andy Bellatti of Small Bites for announcing the winner of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. 64 hot dogs? The contestants do not look like happy campers, alas.

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