by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coronavirus

Aug 2 2022

USAID’s Framework for assessing the interaction between Covid-19 and nutritional health

I’m getting caught up on reports this week.  Here’s one from the US Agency for International Development:  COVID-19 and Nutrition Analytical Framework

The purpose of the Framework:

  • Allow policymakers and implementers to better track the interaction of the COVID-19 pandemic and nutrition
  • Provide a tool for planning policies, programs, and interventions
  • Help identify data gaps
  • Support a systems approach to addressing problems “caused, increased, or intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic”

The Framework:

What I like about this Framework is how it so clearly identifies the upstream system levels of intervention: food, health, social, education, and infrastructure.

It’s also interactive, but for that you have to go to its source and click on each section.

May 18 2022

Scathing report on meat packing industry v. public health

Here’s a report from a House Subcommitteethe on the behavior of the meat packing industry during the Trump Administration.

The key findings:

  • The Meatpacking Industry Had Notice of the Acute Risks the Coronavirus Posed to Workers in Meatpacking Plants.
    Meatpacking Companies’ Claims of an Impending Protein Shortage Were Flimsy if Not Outright False.
  • Meatpacking Companies Successfully Enlisted Trump USDA Political Appointees to Advocate Against Health Protections for Workers, While Sidelining Career Staff.
  • Meatpacking Companies Worked with Trump’s USDA to Force Meatpacking Workers to Stay on the Job Despite Unsafe Conditions.
  • Meatpacking Companies Worked with USDA and the White House in an Attempt to Prevent State and Local Health Departments from Regulating Coronavirus Precautions in
    Plants.
  • Meatpacking Companies Successfully Lobbied USDA and the White House to Issue an Executive Order Purporting to Insulate Them from State and Local Coronavirus
    Regulations and Liability for Worker Infections and Deaths.

And just to remind you what was at stake, from Leah Douglas’s reporting for the Food and Environment Reporting Network:

Here’s Leah Douglas’s analysis of this report in Reuters, where she now works.

In the meantime, the meat packers deny all of this.

At the end of April, the House Agriculture Committee held hearings on the effects of consolidation in the meat industry.  These were the result of complaints by ranchers that they have been squeezed out by meatpackers and are being forced to sell their animals at prices below their costs.

I’ve written previously about President Biden’s executive order on the meat industry, and about his concerns about lack of competition in that industry.

The hearings followed up on those themes: The CEOs of the four major meat packing companies testified in defense of their practices, and denied colluding on prices.

Should we believe them?

Why does this remind me of the cigarette CEOs denying that their products cause cancer?

If you want more details, here are the links (thanks to Jerry Hagstrom for collecting these at The Hagstrom Report on April 27).  His report is at this link.

Apr 26 2022

USDA’s take on the effects of the pandemic

The USDA has produced three reports on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on consumers.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to significant changes in U.S. consumers’ food-spending patterns in early 2020, with a return to pre-pandemic spending patterns that continued through 2021.

While closures of restaurants and nonessential businesses contributed to record unemployment increases during March and April 2020, unemployment fell to below pre-pandemic levels by December 2021.

Although income and employment have improved, some U.S. households continue to face difficulties obtaining adequate food, particularly in the face of increasing food prices.

It has produced data and charts in three areas.

Here’s one of the charts, this one on prices.

This is the kind of thing the USDA’s Economic Research Service is supposed to be doing.  I’m glad they are back on the job.

Sep 15 2021

Midweek reading: The Meat Atlas

Take a look at this.

The authors write:

It is clear that many (especially young) people no longer want to accept the profit-driven damage caused by the meat industry and are increasingly interested in and committed to climate, sustainability, animal welfare and food sovereignty causes. We consider this an encouraging step for our future and want to use this Atlas to strengthen their commitment with information.

This Atlas is intended to support all those who seek climate justice and food sovereignty, and who want to protect nature. Revealing new data and facts, and providing links between various key issues, it is a crucial contribution to the work done by many to shed light on the problems arising from industrial meat production.

They aren’t kidding about data, facts, and issues.  The graphics alone are worth viewing.  Three examples.

Pesticide applications, global:

Diseases transmitted by animals to humans: A chronological list

Trends and investment in plant-based meat alternatives

And here’s what The Guardian highlights: meat and dairy firms emit more greenhouse gases than Germany, Britain, or France.

 

Aug 10 2021

Good COVID news: it’s not transmitted by food or packaging

I am indebted to Food Safety News for this item: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) has issued a statement:  COVID-19 is not a food safety issue (see my previous posts on this).

  • Food does not spread the virus.
  • Food packaging does not spread the virus.

Highlights of the FAO’s conclusions:

  • Coronaviruses cannot multiply in food or on inanimate surfaces; they can only multiply in humans and certain animals. Once in the environment, viruses degrade and becomes less infectious.
  • It is important to note that, although the detection of virus or viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) remnants on foods and food packaging provides evidence of previous contamination and is not disputed, there is no confirmation of SARS-CoV-2, or any other respiratory illness-causing virus, being transmitted by food or food packaging and causing illnesses in people who touch the contaminated food products or packaging.
  • The virus responsible for COVID-19 is susceptible to most commonly used disinfectants and sanitizing agents used in the food processing environment. Standard cleaning and sanitizing procedures…should therefore be effective at disinfecting the food processing environment.

Well, at least that, and what a relief.

That still leaves us with these preventive measures: vaccinate, mask up, and avoid unmasked crowds.

Mar 17 2021

Overweight is a major risk factor for Covid-19 hospitalization and death

I was struck by headlines last week stating that a CDC study found that 78% of people hospitalized with Covid-19 were overweight or obese.

78%?  That is an enormous percentage.

I looked up the study: Body “Mass Index and Risk for COVID-19–Related Hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit Admission, Invasive Mechanical Ventilation, and Death — United States, March–December 2020.”

Summary

What is already known about this topic?

Obesity increases the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness.

What is added by this report?

Among 148,494 U.S. adults with COVID-19, a nonlinear relationship was found between body mass index (BMI) and COVID-19 severity, with lowest risks at BMIs near the threshold between healthy weight and overweight in most instances, then increasing with higher BMI. Overweight and obesity were risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation. Obesity was a risk factor for hospitalization and death, particularly among adults aged <65 years.

What are the implications for public health practice?

These findings highlight clinical and public health implications of higher BMIs, including the need for intensive management of COVID-19–associated illness, continued vaccine prioritization and masking, and policies to support healthy behaviors.

The data supporting the headline are found in Table 1 in the paper.  This shows that overweight and obesity do indeed account for 78% of hospitalizations, but also close to that percentage for ICU visits and mechanical ventilation, but “only” 73% of deaths.

Overweight and obesity were especially risky for people under age 65, although they caused plenty of problems for people over age 65 too.

Why do they make Covid-19 worse?  The best guesses have to do with inflammation and mechanical pressure on lungs.

I found these figures shockingly high.

Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to reduce the risks for overweight and obesity?  Yes we should.

And what are those risks?

  • Poverty
  • Racial discrimination
  • Inadequate schools
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of adequate health care
  • Air pollution
  • And, of course, poor diets

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that to prevent its bad effects, we need vaccinations and masking for sure, but we also need to change society.

 

Feb 23 2021

Are frozen foods the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic?

I can’t believe we are even talking about this, but the FDA, USDA, and CDC have just issued a rare joint statement addressing it [my emphases throughout].

After more than a year since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak was declared a global health emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to underscore that there is no credible evidence of food or food packaging associated with or as a likely source of viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19.

This, no doubt, is in response to statements from the World Health Organization team that visited Wuhan to determine the source of the virus causing Covid-19.  This team has not yet issued its report, but members of the team have talked to reporters.

Nature, for example, reports:

The researchers largely discounted the controversial theory that the virus accidentally leaked from a laboratory, and suggested that SARS-CoV-2 probably first passed to people from an animal — already a leading hypothesis among researchers. But the team also offered two hypotheses promoted by the Chinese government and media: that the virus, or its most recent ancestor, might have come from an animal outside China, and that once it was circulating in people, it could have spread on frozen wildlife and other cold packaged goods….Dominic Dwyer, a medical virologist at New South Wales Health Pathology in Sydney, Australia, and a member of the WHO team, says there is some evidence that the coronavirus could have spread on contaminated fish and meat at Chinese markets, and more details will be included in the written report.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

Beijing has blamed frozen-food imports as one cause of a string of recent outbreaks, and it has introduced mandatory testing and disinfection of foreign goods, saying it found traces of the virus on packaging of products including American pork, Saudi shrimp and Brazilian beef.

This idea has had a profound effect on sales of frozen foods.

Everyone seems to agree that there are four key hypotheses to explain the origin of this particular Coronavirus: 

  • Direct animal vector
  • Intermediary animal vector
  • Laboratory accident
  • Frozen food products,

The team could not identify a specific animal vector, dismissed the idea of a laboratory accident, but left open the possibility of frozen food.

The frozen food idea was suggested by the Chinese.

Several top Chinese scientists have further suggested that the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 disease may have arrived in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan city, the location of the world‘s first known outbreak, via frozen food imports, or what’s referred to as cold-chain transmission.

The WHO team’s report is considered a public relations win for the Chinese.

The W.H.O. team opened the door to a theory embraced by Chinese officials, saying it was possible the virus might have spread to humans through shipments of frozen food, an idea that has gained little traction with scientists outside China.… The virus was circulating in Wuhan several weeks before it appeared at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where some of the earliest clusters were initially reported, the experts said. It most likely emerged in bats and spread to humans through another small mammal, though the experts said they have not been able to identify the species.

The team, as I mentioned, considered a laboratory origin unlikely.

The team called for further investigation into the possibility of “cold chain” transmission, referring to the transport and trade of frozen food.

US Federal agencies don’t believe this for a minute; hence, their joint statement.

So if frozen foods are not at fault, and no animal vector can be conclusively identified, that leaves us with the dismissed-out-of-hand laboratory origin.

So what’s up with that?  Wuhan, where the pandemic started, happens to be the site of a laboratory that works on Coronaviruses.  

Why does the origin of the pandemic matter?  

  • If we don’t know how this one happened, how can we take steps to prevent the next one?
  • And it matters a lot to the makers of frozen foods.
Jan 21 2021

Vitamin D and coronavirus: more on the ongoing saga

Vitamin D is such a hot topic for its purported role in preventing or treating coronavirus infections that I seem to have written about it four previous times.  These are here, here, here, and here.

Now, a group of 120 scientists has called on world governments to get their populations to increases vitamin D consumption to 2000 to 4000 units per day, five to ten times higher than current recommendations.  Their letter is here.

This is especially interesting because nutrition and health societies in the UK  advise quite the opposite: no change in the usual recommendation for vitamin D intake (400 units/day).  Their report says (my emphasis):

  • Do not offer a vitamin D supplement to people solely to prevent COVID-19, except as part of a clinical trial.
  • Do not offer a vitamin D supplement to people solely to treat COVID-19, except as part of a clinical trial.

I’m always interested to see what ConscienHealth has to say about such things.

The passion of the vitamin D fan club is striking. However, neither passion nor speculation should be a substitute for facts. Right now, the facts tell us that the reason to take a vitamin D supplement is to protect our muscles and bones. Any thought that it will help with COVID-19 is speculation, and taking too much would be quite unwise.

My sentiments precisely.