by Marion Nestle

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Nov 29 2022

Food marketing to kids and people of color: it needs to stop

Two items about inappropriately targeted marketing.

I.  Online marketing to kids

A coalition of 21 leading advocacy groups, led by Fairplay, a nonprofit children’s advocacy group, and the Center for Digital Democracy, has filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission to stop online platforms from manipulating children into spending excessive time online.

The petition describes how the vast majority of apps, games, and services popular with kids:

  • Generate revenue primarily via advertising
  • Employ sophisticated techniques (e.g., autoplay, endless scroll, and strategically timed advertisements) to cultivate lucrative long term relationships between minors and their brands.
  • Use platforms like TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to keep kids online.
  • NYT account NYT on advocacy on adv to kids

The New York Times has a story on this report.

 

II.  Targeting junk food ads to people of color

The University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health has released a new Rudd Report on food marketing targeted to Black and Hispanic consumers.

Its key findings:

  • Food and beverage TV advertising is highly concentrated among a small number of companies; 19 companies are responsible for 75% of all food and beverage ad spending, and 82% of marketing targeted to Black consumers.
  • The proportion of junk food ads targeted to Black and Hispanic consumers is increasing.

I particularly appreciate Shiriki Kumanika’s comment (in the U. Conn press release) on industry arguments that it is giving customers what they want:

I challenge that view,” said Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH,professor at Drexel University, Dornsife School of Public Health, and founding chair of the Council on Black Health.“More likely, racialized marketing of unhealthy products reflects a flawed business model in which leveraging the demographics of social disadvantage to maximize profits from unhealthy foods and beverages is acceptable.”

Resources:

More on junk food marketing tomorrow.

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Nov 28 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: a rare negative outcome

Beyond Meat is taking a beating these days, and this study only adds to its  woes.

Assessing the effects of alternative plant-based meats v. animal meats on biomarkers of inflammation: a secondary analysis of the SWAP-MEAT randomized crossover trial.  Crimarco A, Landry MJ, Carter MM, Gardner CD.  J Nutr Sci.  2022;11:e82.  doi:10.1017/jns.2022.84

Abstract: Alternative plant-based meats have grown in popularity with consumers recently and researchers are examining the potential health effects, or risks, from
consuming these products…the purpose of this work was to conduct a secondary analysis of…a randomised crossover trial that involved generally healthy adults eating 2 or more servings of plant-based meats per day for 8 weeks (i.e. Plant phase) followed by 2 or more servings of animal meats per day for 8 weeks (i.e. Animal phase). Results of linear mixed-effects models indicated only 4 out of 92 biomarkers reached statistical significance. The results were contrary to our hypothesis, since we expected relative improvements in biomarkers of inflammation from the plant-based meats.

Conflicts of interest: “Gardner [the senior author] received gift funding from Beyond Meat which was used to conduct the original research study.”

Comment:  This is a follow up to the original research, which I wrote about previously.  That study found a positive result:

A diet that includes an average of two servings of plant-based meat alternatives lowers some cardiovascular risk factors compared with a diet that instead includes the same amount of animal meat…This study found several beneficial effects and no adverse effects from the consumption of plant-based meats.

The investigators tested the effects of substituting Beyond Meat for animal meats on 92 biomarkers of inflammation.  They found hardly any to be improved by the Beyond Meat substitution.

This disappointed the investigators but I’ll bet it disappointed Beyond Meat even more.

This study was not specifically funded by Beyond Meat.

This work was supported by Stanford University’s Precision Health and Integrated Diagnostics Center (PHIND) and in part by a training grant from the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [T32 HL007034].

It is consistent with the overall observation that industry-funded research tends to find results favorable to the sponsor’s interest; independently funded research can go either way.  See my book, Unsavory Truth, for details and references.

Thanks to Stephen Zwick for sending this one.

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Nov 24 2022

Happy thanksgiving! No matter what it costs!

Let’s start with this good thought:

The Farm Bureau has released its annual survey of the cost of Thanksgiving dinners, and the results will not surprise anyone who has been to a grocery store lately: up by a whopping 20%.

 

 

Food Politics will be back on Monday.  Enjoy the holiday!

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Nov 23 2022

Plant-based meat alternatives: the latest not-good news

Uh oh.  Plenty of bad news in the plant-based meat arena.

I.  Partnership with health organizations. 

The plant-based meat company, Beyond Meat, is partnering with the American Cancer Society to sponsor research on the potential benefits of plant-based meat to cancer preventon.

Beyond Meat, Inc., a leader in plant-based meat, and the American Cancer Society (ACS), today announced a multi-year agreement to advance research on plant-based meat and cancer prevention, as well as to help ACS continue to build the foundation of plant-based meat and diet data collection. The commitment aims to advance the understanding of how plant-based meats contribute to healthy diet patterns and their potential role in cancer prevention and is a crucial step towards long-term research in the plant-based protein field.

Here’s the Cancer Society’s rationale:

Since 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified red meat as a carcinogen that increases the risk of colorectal cancer, and recent studies also suggest a possible role of red and/or processed meats in increasing the risk of breast cancer and certain forms of prostate cancer.  For years, the American Cancer Society investigators conducted foundational work identifying the link of red and processed meat to cancer…ACS guidelines point to evidence of a significant link between high red and processed meat consumption and an increased risk of colorectal cancer as the primary reason for the recommendation to limit those products.

OK, but research sponsored by a company that stands to benefit from studies showing a benefit of highly processed plant-based meat substitutes?

My prediction: the studies will show benefits.

If the ACS wants such studies, it should fund them on its own.

II.  Dirty factories.

Bloomberg News has a report on unclean and unsafe conditions in a Beyond Meat factory.

Photos and internal documents from a Beyond Meat Inc. plant in Pennsylvania show apparent mold, Listeria and other food-safety issues, compounding problems at a factory the company had expected to play a major role in its future.

III.  Loss of customers.

The New York Times says Beyond Meat is struggling.

But these days, Beyond Meat has lost some of its sizzle.

Its stock has slumped nearly 83 percent in the past year. Sales, which the company had expected to rise as much as 33 percent this year, are now likely to show only minor growth…In late October, the company said it was laying off 200 people, or 19 percent of its work force. And four top executives have departed in recent months, including the chief financial officer, the chief supply chain officer and the chief operating officer, whom Beyond Meat had suspended after his arrest on allegations that he bit another man’s nose in a parking garage altercation.

What investors and others are debating now is whether Beyond Meat’s struggles are specific to the company or a harbinger of deeper issues in the plant-based meat industry.

IV.  Business issues.

The Wall Street Journal reports: “Beyond Meat’s Very Real Problems: Slumping Sausages, Mounting Losses.”

Mr. Brown has said Beyond and other meat-alternative companies are facing challenges as they compete with less expensive real meat at a time of inflation and consumer uncertainty over the health benefits of what many see as highly processed products.

IV.  More research needed.

A study looking at the implications of replacing meat with plant-based alternatives makes that point clearly.

See: Santo RE, et al.  Considering Plant-Based Meat Substitutes and Cell-Based Meats: A Public Health and Food Systems Perspective.  Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 31 August 2020.

Research to date suggests that many of the purported environmental and health benefits of cell-based meat are largely speculative…The broader socioeconomic and political implications of replacing farmed meat with meat alternatives merit further research.

An additional factor to consider is that much of the existing research on plant-based substitutes and cell-based meats has been funded or commissioned by companies developing these products, or by other organizations promoting these products.

Of course we need more research.  Don’t we always?

The bottom line:  It’s hard to convince people to like fake foods, especially when they are expensive.

Soylent Green, anyone?

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Nov 22 2022

Cell-based chicken substitute: The FDA says yes!

In big news for the cell-cultured meat industry, the FDA has done its version of approving production of cellular chicken.

Here, in inimitable FDA-speak, is the agency’s essentially tacit approval of UPSIDE Foods, Inc’s cultured chicken cell material:

Based on the data and information presented…we have no questions at this time about UPSIDE’s conclusion that foods comprised of or containing cultured chicken cell material resulting from the production process defined in CCC [Cell Culture Consultation] 000002 are as safe as comparable foods2 produced by other methods. Furthermore, at this time we have not identified any information indicating that the production process as described in CCC 000002 would be expected to result in food that bears or contains any substance or microorganism that would adulterate the food.

And here’s what The Guardian has to say about this breakthrough.

With Singapore currently the only country in which lab-grown meat products are legally sold to consumers, the US approval could open the floodgates to a new food market that backers say is more efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional livestock farming.

That’s the big news.

But there’s more:

Here are my questions:

  • How does this stuff taste?
  • Is it better than chicken?
  • Will anyone want to eat it?
  • If they do, can UPSIDE do this at scale?
  • What will this chicken substitute cost?
  • Is this really better for health and the environment?

I can’t wait to find out.

Tomorrow: What’s happening with plant-based meat alternatives.

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Nov 21 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: Unprocessed red meat is good for you

My theme for this week is meat, poultry, and their alternatives, starting today with this:

The study: Unprocessed red meat in the dietary treatment of obesity: a randomized controlled trial of beef supplementation during weight maintenance after successful weight lossFaidon Magkos, Sidse I Rasmussen, Mads F Hjorth, Sarah Asping, Maria I Rosenkrans, Anders M Sjödin, Arne V Astrup, Nina R W Geiker.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqac152, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqac152.  

Objectives: “We sought to investigate the effects of healthy diets that include small or large amounts of red meat on the maintenance of lost weight after successful weight loss….”

Conclusions: “Healthy diets consumed ad libitum that contain a little or a lot of unprocessed beef have similar effects on body weight, energy metabolism, and cardiovascular risk factors during the first 3 mo after clinically significant rapid weight loss.”

Funding: “The study was supported by The Beef Checkoff (a program of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, CO, USA) and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council (Copenhagen, Denmark). Lighter Life (Essex, UK) sponsored very-low-calorie diet products for the weight-loss phase of the study. The sponsors had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication.”
Conflicts of interest: NRWG has received funding from The Beef Checkoff program (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, CO, USA) and the Danish Agriculture & Food Council (Copenhagen, Denmark) to conduct additional studies relevant to the role of meat in the diet. AVA is a member of the scientific advisory board for Weight Watchers, USA…All other authors report no conflicts of interest.
Comment:  The beef industry is worried about all those dietary recommendations calling for less red meat, for reasons of human and planetary health.  The more studies it can produce that cast doubt on those linkages, the more doubt it can raise about the health impact of red meat.  This study contributes to that effort.

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Nov 18 2022

Weekend reading: Commercial Determinants of Health

From Oxford University Press:

I was happy to be asked to contribute to this book: 

My thanks to Eric Crosbie, who did the heavy lifting on the chapter and also co-authored two other chapters (on trade and investment and on teaching commercial determinants of health.

This book brings together multiple authors and perspectives on how corporations selling unhealthful commodities—tobacco, alcohol, and junk food, for example—act to protect sales and marketing, regardless of effects on individual and collective health.

Chapters cover the policies and politics, the ways commercial interessts have taken over culture, how companies influence science, research, and marketing, examples of such influence, analyses of the legal issues, and recommendations for countering corporate actions.

The chapters are so informative and so well referenced that it’s hard to select specific examples.  But here’s one from George Annas’ chapter on “Corporations as Irresponsible Artificial People.”

The public health goal is to make the social responsibility of corporations a reality rather than just a feel-good marketing slogan.  This will require transforming the corporation from an instrument designed and run to make money while indifferent to polluting the planet and destroying the health of humans to an entity whose money-making must be consistent with preserving the health of the planet and its inhabitants.  Central to this objecti8ve is to replace the currfent post-2008 system in which profits are kept by the owners of capital, and losses are socialized by being paid for by governments, most notably for corporations that are “too big to fail.”  Any sustainable system requires that both gains and losses are shared by corporations and governments.  Sharing gains and lossers will require a restructuring of corporate tax, including a minimum tax for all corporations, but domestic and multinational.

Amen.  Everyone needs to understand that food corporations are not social service or public health agencies.  They are businesses stuck with responding to the shareholder value movement, which forces them to make profits their first and only priority.

This system needs to change.  This book provides the evidence.

Note: I discussed many of these same issues in Unsavorty Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.  

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Nov 17 2022

Hyping research: coffee

I always appreciate the Headline vs. Study sections of the Obesity and Energetics newsletter that arrives in my email once a week.

This one concerns coffee.  It amuses me that researchers are always trying to prove either that coffee is a superfood or that it is poison.

It’s neither, but never mind.  The research is fun to track.

Headline: Coffee Lowers Risk of Heart Problems and Early Death, Study Says, Especially Ground and Caffeinated.

Researchers found “significant reductions” in the risk for coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke for all three types of coffee. However, only ground and instant coffee with caffeine reduced the risk for an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia. Decaffeinated coffee did not lower that risk, according to the study published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Press-Release: Coffee Drinking Is Associated with Increased Longevity.

Study: Self-Reported Coffee Consumption in the UK Biobank… Again. Causation Not Established.

Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day is linked with a longer lifespan and lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with avoiding coffee, according to research published today in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the ESC.1 The findings applied to ground, instant and decaffeinated varieties.

Headline vs Study Déjà Vu: For More Coffee in the UK Biobank Headlines, See Headline vs Study from July 30, 2021.

And just for fun, here’s the Washington Post’s adorable interactive comparison of the relative benefits of coffee vs. tea.

My view?  Drink whichever you like, don’t worry, be happy, enjoy!

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