I was recently interviewed for a story on “10 things your grocery store doesn’t want you to know” (see it at msn health and fitness). The writer had some fun with What to Eat and honed in on the take home lessons and then some. She also quotes Brian Wansink, whose book, Mindless Eating, is one I assign to students to explain how something as simple as a large plate encourages people to eat more calories. Enjoy!
I participated in a panel with Charlie Rose last night on the science of obesity. With five people around the table, it was hard to get a word in edgewise, but I did the best I could (take a look and judge for yourself). The central issue for the conversation was whether obesity is the result of genes or the environment. If it’s genes, let’s find a drug and solve the problem. If it’s environment, things get much more complicated because no drug can fix a society that makes food available everywhere, at rock bottom cost, in enormous portions. Genes matter, of course; not everyone who overeats gains weight. But rates of overweight started to zoom up just in the past 25 years or so, too recently for genetics to have changed. While the science types are working hard to find a magic–and highly profitable–bullet, people need to find ways to handle a food environment that encourages overeating. I’m in favor of policies to make it easier to eat more healthfully, ranging from restrictions on marketing junk food to children to elimination of farm subsidies. I’m sure you can think of more. I’m collecting a list. Send suggestions.
In the meantime, I have a bit more to say about these issues at Eating Liberally.
A reporter wrote me yesterday to ask about the first weight loss drug approved by the FDA for over-the-counter use–Alli (a version of Xenical, which prevents absorption of fat). Glaxo, he says, “has mounted a large campaign ($150m) to tell people to exercise and eat low fat if they use Alli. They are touting Alli as safe and more proven than the herbal diet concoctions out there. The…drug, Alli, promises to have a modest weight loss (6-10 pounds) and it causes some uncomfortable side effects. (You my soil yourself if you eat too much fat). [Glaxo is] very upfront about the side effects if you use Alli and eat too much fat. For ex, the drug’s marketing effort makes an impression by telling users to wear dark pants and carry extra clothes in case they soil themselves. I’m wondering if it is worth it…. Do you think people will buy it? Should they?”
I’m wondering exactly the same thing. Do you know anyone who has tried it? What do they say about it?
The FDA announced today that manufacturers of dietary supplements will be required to follow Good Manufacturing Practices, meaning that supplements will have to contain precisely what the labels say they contain. What a concept! The supplement industry, concerned about the decline in sales resulting from loss of consumer confidence, has been lobbying for FDA regulation. This could not be more ironic since the supplement industry essentially wrote the legislation that deregulated supplements in the first place, an issue I had a lot of fun discussing in my book, Food Politics.
I am an occasional contributor to Huffington Post where I recently commented on the need to take action–now–on childhood obesity and school lunches.
Is it really better for health to eat foods that are low on the food chain–grassfed beef, for example? I tackled the subject briefly over at Eating Liberally, where I will be answering questions about healthy and sustainable eating on a regular basis from now on. I cover the grassfed issue in more detail in What to Eat, of course.
A colleague in Berkeley just sent me some photographs of McDonald’s advertisements for its new Hugo drinks. The drinks contain 42 ounces–the same size as the SuperSize servings McDonald’s promised to discontinue after Morgan Spurlock’s movie, SuperSize Me! appeared. They are supposed to sell for 89 cents but the downtown Berkeley outlet sells them for 69 cents, an excellent illustration of what we nutritionists mean when we talk about “cheap calories.” In Berkeley, McDonald is advertising Hugo drinks on the sides of city buses. These are written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish, clearly directed to minority groups.
Large portion sizes strongly encourage people to eat more calories. So do absurdly cheap prices. If McDonald’s wants to be part of the solution to America’s obesity problem, it needs to make it easier for people to eat smaller portions, not Hugo ones. And if McDonald’s really wants to increase sales, it might pay attention to the happy effects of smaller portions on TGI Friday’s bottom line.
In a full-page ad in today’s New York Times, Tyson Foods announces that all of its Tyson brand fresh chicken will be raised without antibiotics and marketed as “100% All Natural Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics–No Hormones Administered and No Artificial Ingredients.”
Tyson deserves applause for taking an important step toward greater food safety. Use of antibiotics as growth promoters increases chicken growth rates by about 10%, but non-therapeutic use of antibiotics increases antibiotic resistance in chicken bacteria. Resistant bacteria can spread to poultry workers, their families, and beyond, meaning that if the bacteria make people sick, the antibiotics will be useless as treatment. Tyson is a huge company that sells more than $26 billion worth of beef, chicken, and pork annually. If it eliminates non-therapeutic antibiotics, other companies may be encouraged to do the same.
The ad implies that only Tyson brand chicken is eliminating antibiotics and that its traditional chicken–undoubtedly the vast majority of what it produces–will continue to be treated with these drugs. If so, Tyson is positioning this particular chicken as a premium brand quite likely to be sold at a premium price. Watch for this at your grocery store.
As for No Hormones Administered: A footnote in tiny print at the bottom of the illustrated package label says “federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in chicken.” Chickens are never treated with hormones anyway.
Finally, “100% All Natural” simply means that the chicken has no artificial ingredients and is minimally processed. It does NOT mean that the chicken is Certified Organic or that the chickens are raised under uncrowded conditions, an issue I discuss in the What to Eat chapter titled “Meat: Organic versus “Natural.”
Take a look at the ad and tell me what you think.