Food Politics

by Marion Nestle
Feb 9 2008

Obesity: genetics vs. environment?

I can’t believe researchers are still arguing about whether obesity is due to genetics or environment when it is so obvious that both are involved.  The latest study compared identical with non-identical twins and concludes that genetics explains an astounding 77% of the difference in obesity.  That percentage is enormous in biological terms and reason enough for skepticism.  The accompanying editorial gives additional reasons.  My take on this: of course genetics matters, but 25 years ago kids didn’t used to be so fat and rates of childhood diabetes (type 2) used to be much lower.  Genetics cannot have changed much in the last 25 years.  If the percentage attributable to genetics really is this high, it means that 77% of the population is susceptible to becoming obese if the environmental conditions so predispose, which they most certainly do these days.  Your take?

Feb 7 2008

A functional food dilemma?

Kellogg’s is doing its bit for America’s health by adding whole grain to guess which cereal: Frosted Flakes! Kellogg’s sets its own nutritional standards–Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria. This cereal meets them. Why do this? The whole grains provide enhanced nutrition for kids along with energy. Of course Frosted Flakes provide energy. They contain sugars!

Feb 7 2008

Welcome to the year of the rat

Thanks to Fred Tripp for making sure that no serious foodie misses yesterday’s Wall Street Journal report on eating rats in Viet Nam. Here is the food system connection: Because so many Vietnamese birds were destroyed to prevent the spread of bird flu, people are eating snakes and cats instead. With these predators out of the way, the rat population has exploded and lunch seems an excellent use for them. Interesting idea. A barbecue stand in Washington Square anyone?

Feb 5 2008

Healthy people are too expensive for society?

As suggested by the story in today’s New York Times, we can expect to hear much fuss about a new study showing that obese people and smokers cost less to treat.  Of course they do.  They die sooner. Healthy people are expensive say some Dutch economists in this new study.  Economists have an interesting way of looking at such things; all they care about is money.  But what about quality of life?  Shouldn’t that count as economic value?

Feb 4 2008

Mississippi does what?

So many people have sent me news about the proposed legislation in Mississippi to ban overweight people from eating in restaurants that I must say something about it. I thought it was a joke, but no such luck.  The bill truly exists.  Nobody expects it to get anywhere but I still think it’s bad public policy.  For one thing, I still remember lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement, plenty of them in Mississippi.  For another, this won’t fix the environment to make it easier people to eat more healthfully.  Here are some alternative suggestions: How about requiring restaurants to give a price break for smaller portions or making smaller portions and healthy kids’ meals the default?

Feb 4 2008

USDA reviews food industry progress on fiber

The USDA has now given us a poster child for the food industry’s good intentions in helping to improve the American diet.  The agency’s new fact sheet on dietary fiber documents how the food industry has used technology to add fiber and whole grains to processed foods.  Even so, the total amount of fiber and whole grains available in the food supply just doesn’t seem to budge.   Why not?  The USDA says the grain-based food industry isn’t giving the agency the data it needs to demonstrate increases and that “a collaborative working relationship” is needed to get better data.   Getting more data from the food industry–especially about food composition–would be nice but isn’t going to help people eat more fiber-rich foods.  For that, how about eating unprocessed foods!

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Feb 2 2008

NYC calorie labeling in litigation again!

New York City’s calorie labeling proposal, which seemed to be heading for menu boards at the end of March, is now back in litigation thanks to the NY State Restaurant Association.  CSPI filed an amicus curiae brief on the previous round of litigation and is working with Public Citizen on a new version.  The saga continues.

Feb 1 2008

New report on marketing to kids in schools

CSPI has just completed its investigation of the extent of food marketing in the Montgomery County, Maryland, school district. Guess what? There is plenty of it, even in elementary schools:30% of elementary schools use candy, baked goods, soda, fast food, or restaurant food at fundraisers. Guess what? Most of the marketing in junior high and high schools is also for junk foods. And all this is still happening despite excellent wellness policies. We have work to do!