by Marion Nestle
Jul 17 2012

Summer reading: reports on diet and health

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!

  • “Although General Mills and Kellogg do make nutritious products that are marketed to parents, they do not advertise those products to children.”

    Really? What do General Mills and Kellogg produce that is nutritious? I have pretty much concluded that anything that requires a nutrition label is not fit to eat.

  • Kashi is owned by Kellogg, those cereals, especially Go Lean are mostly very decent. Kellogg produces Mueslix and the high protein Special K. General Mills has Total which isn’t bad. They also own Cascadia Organics which has a few OK cereals.

    I teach cooking and nutrition classes in low income communities. I tell my students that if you are reading a label, you’ve lost half the battle. But you also have to meet people where they are. My students and their families aren’t ready to change all their eating habits top to bottom overnight. So I have a list of breakfast cereals that I think are fit to eat that I can share with them. Not everyone is in a position to move to Shaker Village, join a CSA and start making everything they eat from scratch.

  • I don’t pay for cable, nor do I watch a lot of over the air television. The amount of advertising always amazes. It really puts you in a state of “want”. I can only imagine how it affects a child’s mindset.

  • Anthro

    @Marc Brazeau

    I appreciate your pragmatism and applaud your work on behalf on the communities you serve, but one hardly needs to “move to (a) Shaker village” or even join a CSA to make all or most of one’s meals from scratch. It takes one to five minutes, one pan, a spoon and a box of oats to make real oatmeal, for example–and it’s cheap!. Part of the problem is, perhaps, that people see cooking as something very complicated.

  • Lisa

    You don’t have to log in with Facebook to read the full report… you can sign up for/log in with an account with Scribd instead. It’s easy to provide a junk email address for accounts like that (see, for example,

    Also, the Bipartisan Policy Center used a very dodgy infographic on p. 6 of this report. See here:

  • @Anthro:

    I’m well aware of how easy it is to make oatmeal. I eat lots of oatmeal and even more 10 grain cereal. The problem for most people is not ignorance or fear of cooking, its cultural. Hot porridge for breakfast isn’t that appealing to most people. Starting the day with a bowl of cold cereal and milk is more American than apple pie at this point. People’s identities are bound up with how and what they eat. Shifting that is as heavy a lift as re-educating people on how to cook and manage their kitchen.

    Over the course of a 6 week or 16 week course it’s not reasonable to convert people to my eating habits especially in the first few weeks but they still want guidance navigating their own habits. Telling them that EVERYTHING they eat is wrong and they need to change every habit and cook everything from scratch is not useful advice for people who are starting to make positive changes. Especially when they are cooking for family members who may not be as committed to change.

    After weeks of hammering on the benefits of whole foods, vegetables, the evils of processed foods etc. people still come up to me with packages of neon orange peanut butter and crackers to ask me to read the label and tell them if its an OK snack. Ferrying people from Mars back to Earth requires a period of adjustment. The way that well informed, committed food forward people eat is just alien to a lot of people. It’s important to keep some baby steps handy for the dance lesson.

  • And my comment about the Shaker Village was more about just how distant and foreign a sane diet seems to someone enmeshed in the S.A.D.

  • The report, ”Diet and Health,” addresses the role diet plays in cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, dental caries and chronic liver and kidney diseases. It is based on a three-year study of 5,000 scientific documents by the 19-member committee.
    The National Research Council is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a Federally chartered but independent organization of scientists that studies technical issues for the Government.
    The recommendations are similar to ones suggested in 1977 in a report from the Senate Select Committee on Nurition and Human Needs, whose chairman was Senator George McGovern. The report was severely criticized by the food industry.