by Marion Nestle

Search results: MSG

Aug 19 2011

More on the ethics of childhood obesity interventions

This seems to be my week for discussing ethical issues in food politics.

The September issue of Preventing Chronic Disease (PCD), a professional journal published by the CDC, is devoted to papers on this topic.

I taught a graduate course a couple of years ago at NYU titled “Ethical issues in nutrition, food studies, and public health.”   These papers, and the ones I referred to earlier this week, could be the basis for a course on their own.

You are wondering why childhood obesity interventions raise ethical issues?

This diagram, from the paper by Shiriki Kumanyika, is a good starting place.  It asks: Should governments, health professionals, advocates, and others balance the protection of vulnerable populations against corporate imperatives and, if so, how?

Maybe next semester!

In the meantime, here are the papers along with thanks to CDC for taking this on.

ETHICAL ISSUES IN INTERVENTIONS FOR CHILDHOOD OBESITY
A91: Ethical Concerns Regarding Interventions to Prevent and Control Childhood Obesity
John Govea
 


PEER REVIEWED
A92: Protecting Children From Harmful Food Marketing: Options for Local Government to Make a Difference
Jennifer L. Harris, Samantha K. Graff
 


PEER REVIEWED
A93: Childhood Obesity: A Framework for Policy Approaches and Ethical Considerations
Rogan Kersh, Donna F. Stroup, Wendell C. Taylor
 


PEER REVIEWED
A94: Childhood Obesity: Issues of Weight Bias
Reginald L. Washington
 


PEER REVIEWED
A95: Children With Special Health Care Needs: Acknowledging the Dilemma of Difference in Policy Responses to Obesity
Paula M. Minihan, Aviva Must, Betsy Anderson, Barbara Popper, Beth Dworetzky
 


PEER REVIEWED
A96: Public Policy Versus Individual Rights in Childhood Obesity Interventions: Perspectives From the Arkansas Experience With Act 1220 of 2003
Martha M. Phillips, Kevin Ryan, James M. Raczynski
 


PEER REVIEWED
A97: A Question of Competing Rights, Priorities, and Principles: A Postscript to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Symposium on the Ethics of Childhood Obesity Policy
Shiriki K. Kumanyika
 


PEER REVIEWED
A98: The Ethical Basis for Promoting Nutritional Health in Public Schools in the United States
Patricia B. Crawford, Wendi Gosliner, Harvey Kayman
 


PEER REVIEWED
A99: Ethical Family Interventions for Childhood Obesity
Mandy L. Perryman
 


PEER REVIEWED
A100: Public Policy Versus Individual Rights and Responsibility: An Economist’s Perspective
Frank J. Chaloupka
 


PEER REVIEWED
A101: State Requirements and Recommendations for School-Based Screenings for Body Mass Index or Body Composition, 2010
Jennifer Linchey, Kristine A. Madsen

 

Aug 13 2011

Q and A: Truck Farm (the movie)

Q. Have you seen this clever project? By the filmmakers of King Corn, comes “Truck Farm,” a movie about the smallest CSA in the biggest city. You can grow food anywhere….

A. Have I seen it? Of course I’ve seen it.

I’m in it.

I joined the CSA and got filmed when they delivered my share.

Cool.

Tags:
Jul 25 2011

Campbell Soup fights the salt wars

As I endlessly repeat, even companies that want to make “healthier” products cannot do it—unless the products sell. If they don’t, forget it.

Witness: Campbell Soup. The company has given up on reducing the absurdly high salt content of its soups and is adding back the salt. Why? Its “health-inspired low-sodium push failed to lift sales.”

Campbell’s new CEO announced this at, no surprise, its annual investors’ meeting: “For me it’s about stabilizing it [company sales] first and then planning growth beyond that.”

Campbell shares rose by 1.3%.  Investment analysts were optimistic: “We look for future results to benefit from an increased emphasis on bolstering sales with tasty soup products.” 

From Campbell’s point of view, any guidelines that require it to reduce salt set “virtually unachievable” standards that are “misguided and counterproductive.”

In practice, the “draconian” thresholds for sodium, fat and sugars meant a high proportion of foods currently on the market would not meet the standards, while the proposed nutritional principles “describe products that manufacturers will not produce because children and teens will not eat them.”

From the standpoint of the advertising industry, Campbell’s “U-turn is a cautionary tale.”

Campbell’s problem, according to the industry, is that it “didn’t just dip its toe in the water with some stealthy, under-the-radar sodium reduction, it went for it all guns blazing as part of an overall commitment to ‘nourish people’s lives everywhere, every day.”

Clearly, concern about its customers’ health was a big mistake. And business analysts note that Campbell’s

u-turn – albeit just on one product line – raised questions about just how strong this commitment actually was…What would happen if instead of investing marketing dollars into a ‘please try me again’ campaign, Campbell’s embarked on a ‘we are absolutely determined to make this work’ campaign?

Oops. Bad press. In response, Campbell backtracked again.

In a press release, the company insisted that it is continuing to produce lower-sodium choices including 90 varieties of Campbell’s soups and more than 100 other Campbell products, such as V8 juices, Prego Italian sauces, SpaghettiOs pastas and most Pepperidge Farm breads.

The CEO said:

“Reducing sodium was absolutely the right thing for our company to do”  and Campbell’s Healthy Request, the company’s popular line of heart-healthy soups, has had compound annual sales growth of 21 percent over the past five years.

Campbell also says it “plans to shift the allocation of its R&D resources to ensure the company’s efforts are focused on a variety of ways to bring innovative products to market, not only on sodium reduction.”

We know that many consumers take great interest in the impact of the foods they eat on their long-term health and well-being … But we also recognize that the health and wellness attributes of foods mean different things to different people. For many, weight loss and weight maintenance is of primary importance. Others define their wellness needs in terms of vegetable nutrition, sodium reduction, energy and stamina, or digestive health. Thus, reducing sodium is just one component of our wellness strategy.

And one the company feels must be sacrificed to sales.

Make no mistake: food companies are not social service agencies. When it comes to a commitment to public health, the bottom line is all that counts—and has to be, given the way Wall Street works.

This needs a system change, no?  And one starting with Wall Street, which isn’t a bad idea for other reasons as well.

Jul 3 2011

Food Matters: How to shape policy: Advocate! Vote!

My monthly (first Sunday) Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about how you as an individual can influence food policy:

Q: I know you say “vote with your fork,” and I do, as often as possible, but it seems so small a gesture. In what other ways can we, as consumers, speak out or act to change our food system?

A: Vote with your fork and vote with your vote. Today’s food movement gives you plenty of opportunity to do both.

Voting with your fork means buying and eating according to what you believe is right, at least to the extent you can.

When you vote this way, you support farmers, processors, retailers and restaurant chefs who are working to create a food system that is healthier all around – for the public, farmworkers, farm animals and the planet.

You set an example. You help make it socially acceptable to care about food issues. You make it easier for others to shop at farmers’ markets, join CSAs, grow food at home, stop buying junk food and teach kids to cook.

Part of taking personal responsibility for food choices also means taking social responsibility. When you act, you make it easier for everyone else to do what you do. And yes, one person makes a difference.

My favorite current example is the work of an NYU graduate student, Daniel Bowman Simon, who researches – and advocates for – public policies to promote growing vegetables.

By chance, a food stamp (SNAP) recipient told him that she used the funds to buy plants and seeds to grow her own food. Could this be possible?

Simon found the 1973 food stamp legislation and read the fine print. There it was. He joined others and formed a group to publicize this benefit (see www.snapgardens.org).

Today, SNAP recipients throughout the country are encouraged to grow food – not bad for what one person can do.

I particularly like school food as a starter issue for advocacy. Improving school food is nothing less than grassroots democracy in action.

Schools matter because kids are in them all day long and they set a lifetime example. If you have children in school, take a look at what they are eating. Could the food use an upgrade? Start organizing.

All schools are supposed to have wellness policies. Find out what they are and talk to the principal, teachers and parents about how to improve access to healthier food and more physical activity.

Another well-kept secret: The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers technical assistance to help schools meet nutritional standards. The USDA encourages advocacy. It says its work is easier when parents push the schools to do better.

Many groups are devoted to school food issues. Some have published guides to getting started or developing strong wellness policies. They range in focus from hands-on local to national policy.

Other groups are gearing up to advocate for changes in one or another provision of the Farm Bill, now up for renewal in 2012. This legislation governs everything having to do with agricultural policy in the United States – farm subsidies, food assistance programs, conservation, water rights and organic production, among others.

In this era of budget cutting, every stakeholder in this legislation – and this also means everyone interested in creating a healthier food system – will be lobbying fiercely to defend existing benefits and to obtain a larger share of what’s available. Let legislators hear your voice.

And now is an excellent time to identify candidates for office who share your views and are willing to fight hard for them.

The ability for individuals, acting singly and together, to exercise democratic rights as citizens holds much hope for achieving a more equitable balance of power in matters pertaining to food and health.

Join the food movement. Use the system to work for what you think is right. Act alone or join others. You will make a difference.

Resources

The following are among the many groups advocating for healthier school food or farm policies [I submitted a much longer list but it got edited out.  I will post the rest of it in the next day or two].

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Community Food Security Coalition

Environmental Working Group

Food and Water Watch

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

E-mail Marion Nestle at food@sfchronicle.com.

E-mail questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with “Marion Nestle” in the subject line.

This article appeared on page H – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

May 28 2011

Redesign the Nutrition Facts label? Here’s your chance!

Utne reader has just announced the most interesting contest: redesign the food label.

The contest is sponsored by Good magazine and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 program.  It is called the Rethink the Food Label project.

Anyone can enter.  Just think of some way that would make the label more useful.

The FDA is currently working on doing just that, and for good reason.  The label is so hard to use that the FDA devotes a lengthy website to explaining how to understand and use it.

This too is understandable.  The Nutrition Facts label is the result of regulations in response to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.  When the FDA started writing regulations to implement the Act, it tested consumer understanding of a bunch of potential designs.

The result?  Nobody understood any of them.  The FDA, under pressure to complete the regulations by the congressional deadline, chose the option that was least poorly understood–the best of a bad lot.

Surely someone will come up with something better than this?  The deadline for submission: July 1. One of the judges is Michael Pollan. Give it a try!

 

Jan 5 2011

Pepsi’s answer to “eat natural”: snackify beverages and drinkify snacks

Over the holidays, Pepsi announced two changes to its products.

“All Natural” Frito-Lay: First, the company announced that half its Frito-Lay chips would now be made with “all natural” ingredients.

“Natural,” you may recall, has no regulatory meaning.  Companies pretty much get to define for themselves what the word means, provided what they say is “truthful and not misleading.”

By “natural,” Pepsi means removing MSG, artificial colors, and other chemical additives from some—but by no means all—chips and other snacks.  This is a good start, but Cheetos and Doritos?  Not a chance.

As to worries that the word “natural” is a calorie distractor and might encourage overeating, a Pepsi spokesperson said: “It’s meant to say: made with natural ingredients….It’s not meant to say: eat more.”  Really?  I’m not convinced.

Tropolis Squeezable Fruit: Next, Pepsi announced the latest innovation in kids’ products: Tropolis pouches of squeezable fruit.

I learned about Tropolis from a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, Valerie Bauerlein, who forwarded Pepsi’s press release:

Each fun-flavored 3.17 fl oz (90g) pouch provides a smooth blend of real squeezable fruit, is a good source of fiber, and offers 100 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C – all for less than 100 calories.

Tropicana Tropolis is made with no added sugars, artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup; and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

“Fun-flavored” is a euphemism for sugar.  The press release explains what’s not in the product.  So, what does it contain? It took some doing to find out, but it arrived eventually along with some further background information from Pepsi:

The issue is kids aren’t getting enough fruit, so Tropicana Tropolis is trying to help solve that problem in a fun, nutritious way…Studies show that families are not getting enough fruit and vegetables in their diets, and the health experts we talked to (registered dietitians and pediatricians) when developing Tropolis also raised this issue.

As you might imagine, I was not one of the experts they talked to.  Here are the ingredients:

  • Grape World: Apple puree, filtered water, banana puree concentrate, fibersol-2 fiber (maltodextrin), grape juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
  • Cherry World: Apple puree, filtered water, banana puree concentrate, fibersol-2 fiber (maltodextrin), apple juice concentrate, cherry juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
  • Apple World: Apple puree, filtered water, banana puree concentrate, fibersol-2 fiber (maltodextrin), apple juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Translation: “Juice concentrates” is another euphemism for sugar.  You don’t believe me?  See the list of sugar euphemisms in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines (Table 14).

My translation: this is watery apple and banana sauce, artificially thickened, sweetened with fruit sugars, flavored with additives, and with added vitamin C.

As Valerie Bauerlein’s Wall Street Journal account explains,  this product is about expanding Pepsi’s profits in the “better-for-you” category as captured in a quotation that is sure to become a classic.

Ms. Nooyi [Pepsi’s CEO] has said she wants to build the nutrition business to $30 billion from $10 billion by 2020.…We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience,” Ms. Nooyi said.

I ’m also quoted in her article (I did the interview while stranded in Miami trying to get back to snowbound New York):

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, said that the fruit concentrates are simply sugar. “They start out with real food, so let’s give them credit for applesauce and mashed-up bananas,” but “the rest of it is sugar,” she said. “Kids would be better off eating an apple or a banana.”

PepsiCo said Tropolis should get kids to eat more fruit, which is what’s most important.

Tropolis raises my favorite food philosophy question: Is a “better-for-you” product necessarily a good choice?  Is this a good way to get kids to eat more fruit?

You decide.

Oct 8 2010

Food company responses to obesity

Jeffrey Koplan (Emory) and Kelly Brownell (Yale) have a commentary in JAMA (October 6) titled “Response of the food and beverage industry to the obesity threat.”   They describe how the food and beverage industries:

  • Associate their products with health
  • Frame the issues to emphasize balance or physical activity
  • Pick and choose the science
  • Reformulate products to make them appear healthier
  • Defend themselves and attack critics

Sound familiar?  For details, see  Michele Simon’s excellent book, Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back (Nation Books, 2006).

Addition, October 10: Lori Dorfman of the Berkeley Media Studies Group reminds me about its 2007 Framing Brief, “Reading between the lines: understanding food industry responses to concerns about nutrition.”  This group’s publications are always terrific resources for educating and taking action on food issues.


Aug 1 2010

Self-promotion alert: books just published

It’s been a busy summer with three books just out, all three in paperback or Kindle editions.  Click on Books above or the covers in the upper right-hand corner of the site to get information about them, or the ones below to see what Amazon has to say about them.
To be published August 4: the University of California Press paperback edition of Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine.

In June, University of California Press issued the revised edition of Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, with a new introduction and concluding chapter that bring everything up to date since the book first came out in 2003.  I can’t help commenting that at the time the book went to press in December, the Senate had not yet passed the food safety bill.  Guess what?  It still hasn’t.

And in May, Free Press/Simon & Schuster issued Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat.

Enjoy!

Tags: