I’m getting caught up on my journal reading and didn’t want to miss this one.
Here are some selections:
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I’m getting caught up on my journal reading and didn’t want to miss this one.
Here are some selections:
On the occasion of the two-year anniversary of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, it’s time to reflect again on what the campaign means for the White House, for childhood obesity, and for the food movement.
A year later, I summarized some of the campaign’s accomplishments. From the beginning, I’ve been impressed with its smart choice of targets: to reduce childhood obesity by improving school food and inner city access to healthy foods.
I’m reminded of the political savvy that went into the campaign by an editorial in The Nation (February 6), “America’s First Lady Blues.” In it, Ilyse Hogue writes about Michelle Obama’s careful treading of the fine line between marital independence and submission, using Let’s Move! as an example.
Hogue praises Mrs. Obama’s choice of a target that looks “soft,” but is anything but:
In an effort to fit Michelle’s role into a traditional profile, the media constantly reminds us that her work is on presumably soft subjects, primarily her hallmark cause to end childhood obesity…Slurs aside, what critics miss is that this campaign is not aimed at soft targets.
The food and beverage industry is a powerful lobbying force, spending nearly $16.3 million in the 2008 cycle to defeat initiatives—like a “soda tax” and limits on aggressive advertising aimed at kids—that would encourage a healthier diet and thus cut into its massive profits.
To tackle childhood obesity, we’ll have to confront complicated issues of race, class, entrenched corporate power, and access to healthy food.
Indeed we will. Childhood obesity is a focal point for issues of social justice.
Happy birthday Let’s Move! And many more.
The latest obesity statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show no change over the last several years in either adults or children. No change is good news.
For adults in 2009-2010 the prevalence of obesity was 35.5% among men and 35.8% among women. Obesity, in these surveys is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) at or greater than 30.
This represents no significant overall change compared to rates in 2003-2008.
Going back to 1999, however, obesity rates increased significantly among men in general, and among black (non-Hispanic) and Mexican-American women in particular. In more recent years, the rates among these groups leveled off.
For children and adolescents in 2009-2010 the prevalence of obesity was 16.9%. For this group, obesity is defined as a BMI at or greater than the 95th percentile of weight for height.
This represents no significant change compared to rates in 2007-2008, but with one exception: the rate of obesity among adolescent males aged 12 through 19 increased.
For decades, rates of overweight and obesity in the United States stayed about the same. But in the early 1980s, rates increased sharply and continued to increase through the 1990s.
The increases correlated closely with deregulatory policies that encouraged greater farm production and loosened restrictions on food marketing. These led to an increase in the number of calories available in the food supply, pressures on food companies to sell those calories, a proliferation of fast food places, and marketing strategies that made it normal to drink sodas all day long, and to eat everywhere, at all times of day, and in larger portions.
Why are obesity rates leveling off now except among boys? Nobody seems to know.
I can make up several reasons, all speculative (and I have my doubts about most of them).
Anyone have any better ideas? It would be good to figure out the reason(s) as a basis for more sensible public policy.
Yes, I know getting kids to eat their veggies can be challenging.
Cornell researchers wondered this is because kids like different ways of presenting foods than adults. They tested this idea in a study just published in Acta Pædiatrica.
Contrary to the default assumption that parents and children share preferences for the ways in which food is presented on plates, we find that children have notably different preferences than adults.
Most remarkably, we show that children tended to prefer seven different items and six different colours on their ideal plates, while adults tended to prefer three different colours and three different items….Given that adults often prepare plates of food for children to eat, these findings suggest new windows for encouraging diverse childhood nutrition.
I suppose this is the rationale behind the latest approach to getting kids to eat better diets: My Fruity Faces. These are edible stickers that kids can stick on whatever fruits, vegetables and, presumably, any other food that happens to be handy.
The stickers are less interactive and creative than the old Mr. Potato Head toy, but kids can eat them.
And they ought to like eating them: Sugar is the first ingredient.
Sugar is followed by Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose(Modified Cellulose), Water, Natural flavor, Modified corn starch, Glycerin, Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, Citric acid, Red beet concentrate, Turmeric, Red cabbage extract, Caramel color, Sodium Bicarbonate.
Will something like this reallyget kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? Cornell researchers: get to work.
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!
Lobbyists are supposed to report what they do and how much money they spend doing it, but this information is not easily available to the public.
CBS News reports that PepsiCo spent $750,000 to lobby government last quarter. This comes to roughly $3 million annually, a drop in PepsiCo’s annual $30.6 billion sales in the U.S.—$57.8 billion worldwide.
What is Pepsi lobbying about? Open Secrets publishes the filing information on its website.
PepsiCo lobbied the House, Senate, Executive Office of the President, FTC, FDA, and USDA, focusing on these issues, among others:
I’m especially interested in lobbying against the IWG guidelines. Pepsi, of course, was not alone in opposing them. As I noted in a previous post, the the Sunlight Foundation reported on food companies lobbying against them.
Media companies also opposed the IWG guidelines, as shown by Viacom’s annual filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, a document forwarded to me by Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy:
…some U.S. policymakers have sought limitations on food and beverage marketing in media popular with children and teens. In April 2011, the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (the “IWG”)…requested comment on proposed nutritional restrictions for food and beverage marketing directed to children and teens aged 17 years and under.
Although the guidelines are nominally voluntary, if implemented by food and beverage marketers, they could have a negative impact on our Media Networks advertising revenues, particularly for our networks with programming targeted to children and teens.
Congress asked the FTC to set up the Interagency Working Group to propose guidelines on marketing foods to kids. Did it really think food companies would accept such guidelines, voluntarily at that?
As I keep pointing out, food companies have to market to kids to sell products and grow sales every quarter.
If they don’t sell products to kids in the U.S., they will intensify efforts to sell products to kids in developing countries, thereby outsourcing childhood obesity.
Surely it’s time for mandatory rules about marketing junk foods to kids? If not now, how about soon?
It’s hard to believe how thoroughly Congress is in bed with the food industry but here is another example: the House has just inserted language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 requiring the Federal Trade Commission’s Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Food Marketed to Children to conduct a cost/benefit analysis of the final recommendations in its report.
This, of course, will delay or even kill the IWG’s recommendations for voluntary nutrition standards for marketing foods to kids (see previous posts).
Get this: Section 626 of the Act says:
None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by the Federal Trade Commission to complete the draft report entitled “Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children: Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts” unless the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children complies with Executive Order 13563.
And what, pray tell, is Executive Order 13563? Agencies may:
Recall that the industry spent a reported $37 million to oppose the IWG recommendations. Apparently, it was money well spent.
Let’s hope the Senate has sense enough to delete this section so that the FTC can put its long-delayed and already watered-down standards in place.
Additions, December 18: No such luck. Consider this passed. Thanks to Michele Simon for pointing out that Congress cannot legally require a cost/benefit analysis of the IWG guidelines because they are voluntary and, therefore, not regulations. And thanks to Margo Wootan for explaining how and where to contact Congress.
Just in time for the holidays, we get some good news. The New York City Health Department reports that rates of childhood obesity are falling.
If the rates were staying constant, I’d consider it a step forward. But these results show rates going down, even if only by a few percentagel points.
The Bloomberg administration says the numbers are a result of its anti-obesity initiatives, some focused especially on children. Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley told the New York Times that he attributes
the progress partly to the city’s aggressive advertising campaign against sugary sodas, which he said may have altered what parents were providing to their children. The city has also tried to add healthier options to school lunch menus, enacted strict rules on the calorie and sugar content of snacks and drinks in school vending machines, and even put limits on bake sales, a move that caused some grumbling.
As I explained to Bloomberg News, if this trend continues, it will represent the first truly positive development in years.
It also suggests that the health department’s unusually aggressive efforts to address obesity may be paying off. If so, they should inspire other communities to do the same kinds of things. If nothing else, they raise awareness of the problem and help create an environment more conducive to healthy eating.
On the national level, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign also has raised awareness. Could it be that we are getting to a tipping point?
It’s pretty clear by now what works. A Cochane meta-analysis of 55 studies finds strong evidence to support beneficial effects of child obesity prevention programs on BMI, particularly for kids age 6 to 12.
The interventions showing the most promise are just like those in New York City:
These are showing measurable benefits. Shouldn’t every city start doing them?