by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Coronavirus

Aug 18 2020

The UK takes on obesity: a new campaign

Boris Johnson, the UK’s admittedly overweight prime minister, has suddenly become a champion of anti-obesity policy, following his bout with Covid-19.

As the Washington Post puts it, “Boris Johnson says ‘I was too fat’ as he launches anti-obesity campaign.”

The campaign is based on two reports, one detailing the high and growing prevalence of obesity in Great Britain and its links to Covid-19 susceptibility.

The second is a government policy report, which says it is

  • introducing a new campaign – a call to action for everyone who is overweight to take steps to move towards a healthier weight, with evidence-based tools and apps with advice on how to lose weight and keep it off
  • working to expand weight management services available through the NHS [National Health Service], so more people get the support they need to lose weight
  • publishing a 4-nation public consultation to gather views and evidence on our current ‘traffic light’ label to help people make healthy food choices
  • introducing legislation to require large out-of-home food businesses, including restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees, to add calorie labels to the food they sell
  • consulting on our intention to make companies provide calorie labelling on alcohol
  • legislating to end the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) by restricting volume promotions such as buy one get one free, and the placement of these foods in prominent locations intended to encourage purchasing, both online and in physical stores in England
  • banning the advertising of HFSS products being shown on TV and online before 9pm and holding a short consultation as soon as possible on how we introduce a total HFSS advertising restriction online

The UK food industry does not like this.  It insists that this campaign is “a terrible missed opportunity.”

I was interested to see Hank Cardello’s comment on this (Cardello is with the conservative Hudson Institute in the US): “How A Libertarian Is Tackling Obesity And Why Big Food Should Worry.”  Cardello thinks that Johnson’s efforts are the wave of the future.  The food industry should stop fighting public health measures, he says.  Instead, it should:

  • Get ahead of imposed regulations instead of resisting change. Instead of fighting public health initiatives, they can lead the way with research that defines workable steps to reverse the obesity crisis.
  • Educate with public service ads. It’s time that food and restaurant corporations air public service announcements (PSAs) about healthy eating and the impact of high sugar, salt and fat on health and obesity.
  • Commit to a BHAG (”Big Hairy Audacious Goal”). They can decide, for instance, that at least 50% of the products they sell will be healthier versions or in smaller portions.

Wouldn’t that be terrific, and it’s great that he’s saying so (I keep telling him that he sounds more like me every day).

But can food companies follow his advice?  Not as long as they put profits to shareholders, first, alas.

That’s what really needs to change.

Aug 12 2020

A deep effect of the Coronavirus: ruining goat and sheep industries in Somalia

Quartz Africa reports that the Coronavirus-induced cancellation of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca will lead to large losses to Somali goat and sheep traders.

Millions of livestock from Somalia have been shipped to Saudi Arabia for the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca over many decades to feed some two million pilgrims from around the world. Livestock export during Hajj season is a lucrative business and is estimated to earn Somali livestock traders up to half a billion dollars a year.

But this year, Somalia’s goats and sheep will not join the pilgrimage because Hajj has effectively been cancelled by Saudi authorities due to the Covid-19 pandemic—only a limited number of locals are allowed to attend Hajj. It leaves the Somali livestock industry at a crossroads and will likely lead to tens of thousands losing their livelihoods.

It’s not just us who are suffering.  The terrible effects of this pandemic run deep, globally, and locally.

Aug 10 2020

Food marketing ploy of the week: Kraft Mac & Cheese for breakfast!

In case you missed it, Kraft Mac & Cheese is now “approved for breakfast.”

Why?  Blame this on Covid-19 and parents having to deal with kids at home all day under lockdown.

It’s all about the small parenting wins these days and serving Kraft Mac & Cheese as part of a balanced breakfast is a sure-fire way to start the day off with a smile. Kids are full and far less cranky, while parents can peacefully work from home, teach, and do the millions of other tasks required of them.

So for the first time, Kraft is replacing “dinner” with “breakfast” on their iconic blue box of macaroni & cheese because it’s acceptable to enjoy deliciously cheesy Kraft Mac & Cheese for breakfast – or any time of day.

When it comes to food marketing, you can’t make this stuff up.
Thanks to Tony Vassallo, “Man on a Nutrition Mission™,” for sending me this gem.

Aug 7 2020

Weekend reading: Transforming the US Food System

The Rockefeller Foundation has a new report out: Reset the Table: Meeting the Moment to Transform the U.S. Food System.

The report summarizes what Covid-19 has added to our dysfunctional food system.  It proposes three goals:

  • An integrated nutrition security system that treats access to healthy food as a right and embeds healthy food access as a core component of
    health and education
  • Reinvigorated regional systems as part of a better-balanced nationwide food chain that includes diverse, agile, and prosperous local and regional food chains alongside a robust national chain, designed to serve all communities from rural to urban.
  • Building more equitable prosperity throughout the supply chain.

It summarizes all this in one graphic.

The challenge, of course, is how.

Aug 5 2020

Hypocritical food ad of the week: Smithfield complains about its critics

This was in Sunday’s New York Times, on page 17 of the edition I get.

Smithfield is Big Pork.  It complains in this ad of critics who, it says, are “cynics and skeptics” who “don’t understand the notion of responsibility to others” and are “seeking opportunities to advance their activist agenda.”

Smithfield, the ad says, puts its “Smithfield family and country first.  By implementing aggressive measures to protect their health and safety during this pandemic.  By rewarding our team members on the frontline.”

The ad does not mention the number of Covid-19 cases among workers in its plants.

Fortunately, Leah Douglas of the Food and Environment Reporting Network is keeping track.

OK.  Smithfield is not the worst—that honor goes to Tyson.

The ad also doesn’t mention Smithfields lobbying to prevent lawsuits from injured “team” members.

Count me in as cynical, skeptical, and as activist as I can be on behalf of the workers in Smithfield plants who are forced to be there under close and dangerous conditions.

Want to know more?  The Counter explains what the ad is about in 12 tweets.

Aug 4 2020

Who is getting billions in farm payments?

This Tweet got me started on farm payments.

Good point.  It sent me to John Newton who is an agricultural economist and lobbyist for the Farm Bureau.

The red sector is payments to agricultural producers and processors.  The tiny little sliver goes to food and nutrition.

All of this got me thinking.  What’s the Big Picture here?

Fortunately, Politico has done the work.

And here are a few other comments on how this is playing out—with taxpayer dollars, recall.

If ever we needed accountability—and rational agricultural policy—the time is now.

Jul 28 2020

Update on Covid-19 among meatpacking workers: an American tragedy

Leah Douglas at the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) is doing a great public service.  She has a website where she reports Covid-19 cases among workers in the food system.

These are not trivial.  As of July 24, she reports Covid-19 cases in:

  • 370 meatpacking plants
  • 139 food processing plants
  • 74 farms and production facilities

As for confirmed cases:

  • 37,197 meatpacking workers
  • 4,635 food processing workers
  • 4,927 farmworkers

She reports 188 deaths among these workers

  • 168 among meatpacking workers
  • 14 among food processing workers
  • 6 among farmworkers

Here’s what this looks like:

Where is all this happening?  She’s got a chart for that too.

These places have a lot to answer for.

This is an American tragedy.

Jul 27 2020

Amazing food study of the week: saurkraut prevents Covid-19 !

What is one to make of a headline like this?

CABBAGE DIET HOPE: Eating sauerkraut, coleslaw and raw cabbage ‘could protect against coronavirus.'”

I raced right to the study, fast-tracked in a not-yet-peer-reviewed paper:

Title: Association between consumption of fermented vegetables and COVID-19 mortality at a country level in Europe, by Susana Fonseca, et al.  

The study: The investigators compared consumption of fermented vegetables (and also pickled/marinated vegetables, fermented milk, yoghurt and fermented sour milk) in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database to COVID-19 mortality.

Result: For each g/day increase in the average national consumption of fermented vegetables (but not the others), the mortality risk for COVID-19 decreased by 35.4%.

Comment: One food—saurkraut—reduces the Covid-19 mortality rate by 35%?  This would be an astounding result for any single food.  The authors’ hypothesis is that consumption of fermented foods promotes a microbiome that helps resist infection, even, apparently, respiratory infections.

At the moment, I’m judging this study as a delicious example of why correlation does not equal causation.

Eating saurkraut is just fine if you like it.

But for preventing Covid-19?  I’m sticking to masks and social distancing while waiting for further research.