by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-marketing

Oct 30 2023

Industry-funded health idea of the week: mushrooms improve cognition

I’m talking about the mushrooms in grocery stores here, not the psychodelic varieties.  A reader who is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, but wishes to remain anonymous, forwarded this message to members of the academy.

From: Mushroom Council <>
Date: August 18, 2023 at 11:04:09 AM EDT
Subject: Re: New, free meal plans for your clients + cognition research update
Reply-To: Mushroom Council <>


…Researchers have been exploring the potential role of mushroom consumption in cognitive function. While more research is needed, the emerging evidence is encouraging. Below are some highlights from the current body of evidence:

        • A cross-sectional study exploring the association between mushroom intake and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) among 663 Singaporean adults aged 60 and older found that individuals who consumed more than two servings of mushrooms per week (1 ½ cups total) had reduced odds of having MCI compared to people who consumed mushrooms less than once per week.1 Fresh golden, oyster, shiitake, and white button mushrooms; dried mushrooms; and canned button mushrooms were included in the analysis of mushroom intake.
        • A prospective cohort study examined the relationship between mushroom consumption and incident dementia in a population of 13,230 elderly Japanese subjects aged 65 and older.2 Participants who consumed mushrooms one to two times per week and more than three times per week had a 5% and 19% lower chance of developing dementia, respectively, compared to people who consumed mushrooms less than one time per week. After further analysis by gender, an inverse relationship between mushroom consumption and incident dementia was only found in women.
        • A double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial investigated the impact of lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) supplementation on cognitive impairment among 30 Japanese men aged 50 to 80 years with MCI.3 Participants were randomized to two groups; one group took tablets containing lion’s mane in dry powder form three times a day for 16 weeks and other group was given a placebo. Participants were observed for four weeks after consuming the supplement for 16 weeks. Compared to the placebo group, the lion’s mane group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale, based on the Revised Hasegawa Dementia Scale (HDS-R), throughout the trial. Four weeks after stopping supplementation, the scores decreased significantly. The placebo group scores also showed significant increases at weeks 8 and 16, compared to the start of the trial. Researchers believe possible causes of an increase might be the placebo effect or familiarity with the cognitive function scale.
        • A cross-sectional study looking at the association between mushroom consumption and cognitive performance among 2,840 older adults aged 60 years and older found that greater mushroom intake was associated with certain cognitive performance tests.4

    Findings from cross-sectional and prospective cohort studies do not demonstrate cause and effect relationships – only associations. In addition, these studies cannot be generalized to the broader population, relied on self-reported dietary information which may not always be accurate, and residual confounding could have impacted the results even though researchers adjusted for a range of confounding factors, such as age, education, lifestyle behaviors, and more.

    Future clinical trials in broader populations will help shed light on the unique role of mushrooms in cognition and overall health.

    Sources:1. Feng L, Cheah IK, Ng MM, et al. The Association between Mushroom Consumption and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study in Singapore. J Alzheimers Dis. 2019;68(1):197-203. doi:10.3233/JAD-180959 2. Zhang S, Tomata Y, Sugiyama K, Sugawara Y, Tsuji I. Mushroom consumption and incident dementia in elderly Japanese: The Ohsaki Cohort 2006 study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017;65(7):1462Y1469. 3. Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phyther Res. 2009;23(3):367Y372. 4. Ba DM, Gao X, Al-Shaar L, et al. Mushroom intake and cognitive performance among US older adults: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2014. Br J Nutr. 2022;128(11):2241-2248. doi:10.1017/S0007114521005195

Comment: This is typical of the kind of thing companies send out to dietitians nearly every day.  The Mushroom Council knows perfectly well that the probability of mushrooms having anything to do with improved cognitive ability has to be vanishingly small.  Its critique in the last paragraph tells you everything you need to know.  The Council sponsored some of the studies cited.  This is about marketing mushrooms.  If you like them, enjoy.  If not, don’t bother.  Note to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Such notices should be labeled clearly as advertisements.  Members should also be told how much companies pay the Academy for such mailings.

Oct 5 2023

Annals of marketing: is “not healthy” the latest trend?

My distant but dearly loved cousin, Michael Kravit, has scored again: “Not Healthy.”

According to the company’s website, these things are “Tasty purffs.  Five flavors.  No health claims…So unhealthy, I bought 15 bags for my family and friends…If you are worried about FFUPs being healthy, you’re on the wrong website.  Go eat some carrots! [Not a bad idea, this last one].

I managed to find the Nutrition Facts for one of them.  They have a lot of salt—320 mg per ounce.  The ingredient list:

Besides salty, how do these things taste?  If you can find some, please let me know.

While we are at it, my daughter sent this photo from the new It’s Sugar store on Market Street in San Francisco.

OK.  Let’s give these companies high marks for truth in advertising.  But do these represent the latest trend?

Caveat emptor.


Jul 12 2023

The latest in food marketing: an easy-to-eat healthy snack

My distant (but dearly loved) cousin, the food package designer Michael Kravit, thought I would enjoy seeing this example of first-rate food marketing—and of a healthy product yet.

First, open the box.

Cut. Scoop. Enjoy!

You aren’t sure how?  The company even supplies a video.

I’d like to see more like this.

Jun 30 2023

Weekend reading: Update on the International Code on infant formula marketing

Earlier this week I wrote about the UNICEF-WHO meeting I went to in Geneva on implementing the 1981 International Code governing marketing of infant formulas.

UNICEF has just issued an update: What I [meaning you] Should Know about the Code

This new publication—a one-stop shopping guide to the issues—summarizes UN resolutions on the Code since 1981 as well as subsequent research on breastfeeding and infant formula marketing, most notably the Lancet Commission reports I wrote about earlier.

Incontrovertible evidence demonstrates how inappropriate marketing of infant formulas undermines breastfeeding and can harm children, especially in places that do not have clean water to dilute formulas.

Every country in the world has committed to the Code—the United States was the last holdout.  We do not seem to pay much attention to the Code’s provisions.

Here is one example.  The Code says:I’m not sure how to interpret the “except” phrase, except that our FDA must think that the health claims on a product like this are entirely acceptable, whereas they would not be allowed in many other countries.  [Reference 23 refers to UN General Assembly Resolution 63.23.]

The Code states that infant formulas should not be labeled in any way that suggests formula might be superior to breast milk.  This and the accompanying statement on the product website, would appear to violate that guideline.

Infant formulas do a good job of substituting for the nutrients in breast milk.  Because the FDA tightly regulates their ingredients, they are all pretty much alike, although they vary in price enormously.

The infant formula industry deserves close scrutiny of its marketing practices and this UNICEF publication is an excellent place to begin.

Jun 15 2023

Innovations in food product development: now we have to deal with AI?

I am indebted to the daily newsletter, Food Navigator Europe, for keeping me up to date on the latest developments in European food marketing.

With all of the fuss at my university about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the way we live, I was riveted by this article.

Artificial intelligence designs soda for Swiss market: ‘We were gripped by AI fever’

Its subtitle: It took just two days for Swiss beverage company Vivi Kola to develop the artificial intelligence-designed beverage using ChatGPT, Midjourney and Unreal Engine.

AI to make yet another sugary drink?  THIS is what AI is being used for?

Gripped by AI fever, the Vivi Kola team found that by leveraging AI tools, it was able to develop a low-sugar, vegan soda product with health benefits within just two days.

First steps involved asking ChatGPT to develop a vegan recipe using ingredients with known health benefits. The response included water, lime juice, haskap berry juice, ginger juice, chicory root powder, and cane sugar…According to ChatGPT, the drink would be full of antioxidants, strengthen the immune system, promote a healthy gut, and stimulate digestion.

The Vivi Kola team procured the ingredients, combined them, and conducted first taste tests.

Oh great.  Ultraprocessed foods created by AI.  Just what we (don’t) need.

Jan 20 2023

Weekend reading: The Fulton Fish Market

Jonathan Rees.  The Fulton Fish Market: A History. Columbia University Press, 2022.

I really wanted to read this book and was appy to do a blurb for it.

Rees’s history of Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market is an elegy for a place that reached peak vibrancy in the 1920s, only to decline steadily as a result of overfishing, developers, the Mafia, unions, politics, refrigeration, real estate prices, and, eventually, more developers.  Rees’s thoughtful analysis of these themes has much to tell us about the clash between the natural and built worlds in American cities over the last couple of centuries.

Rees is a history professor at Colorado State-Pueblo, a food historian.  I’ve long wanted to understand the changes I’ve witnessed at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport and the reasons for moving the fish market to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx, a mile from the nearest subway station.

I remember my first visit—at 4:00 am on a cold winter’s day—to the fish market in the mid-1990s.  It was lit up like a stadium, crowded with people, tables covered with fish, and hand-trucks for moving them.  I thought it looked like a move set on which the director has just shouted, “Action.”  We had to move quickly to avoid being hit.

My guide was the chef-owner of a Chelsea fish restaurant who pulled thousands of dollars in cash out of his pockett o pay for the fish he was selecting carefully for the next few days.  His purchases went to a van that would take them to his restaurant within the next hour or so.

We went for coffee at a nearby café and were out of there by 6:00 a.m.

I picked four excerpts from Rees’ book that help explain the history of this place:

(1) Two developments very close to the Fulton Fish Market spurred the transformation of the entire neighborhood into something new by the end of the twentieth century and beyond: the founding of the South Street Seaport Museum in 1967 and the development of the neighborhood by the Rouse Corporation, a Baltimore firm best known for its successful revitalization of the Faneuil Hall area in Boston… More development increased rents. Businesses which made more money than dealing in wholesale fish then bought up properties that the dealers had moved into earlier in the century, thereby changing the character of the neighborhood. The city and the state never deemed the actual fish market worthy of protection. As a result, every new project that made the neighborhood more desirable made it harder for the fish market to stay a fish market.

(2) From a longterm perspective, the geographical advantage of the Fulton Fish Market disappeared when fish stopped arriving there by water….When they arrived in New York by train or truck it no longer mattered where in New York City the fish market happened to be. In fact, with the arrival of modern refrigeration and freezing, you could have moved the largest fish market in America to Connecticut, or South Carolina for that matter….

(3) The original Fulton Fish Market was obviously a market in the sense that it was a place to buy and sell fish, but the longterm historical significance of the place derives more from the other sense of the word “market,” namely the abstract idea that there is a set of dedicated buyers for the good that gets sold there. The wholesalers who ran the Fulton Fish Market expanded the scope of the abstract market in order to keep their physical market going…Nobody really cared about the public good as long as they were all still making money…the actions of the wholesalers who operated there spurred the general indifference of the wholesale fish industry to the problem of overfishing, despite the obvious cost of this behavior to the overall amount of fish in the sea.

(4) In ancient Greece, the marketplace was the center of daily life. The body politic congregated there to interact, make collective decisions and conduct commerce. Fulton Market bore some resemblance to this situation during its early history, but its operations became less public as it evolved into a wholesale market….Today, without a subway stop anywhere near it, average New Yorkers would have difficulty getting to any of the city’s wholesale markets in the South Bronx. Moreover, because of improvements in refrigeration and transportation, wholesale markets aren’t even necessary for restaurants or groceries to operate in the city anymore… These days, it is very easy to forget that Manhattan is an island.


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Nov 30 2022

Food marketing exposed !

TODAY: @Stphn_Lacey will moderate at 1:00 p.m. ET. Register HERE.


The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) has just released this report.

The report documents how marketing of unhealthy food and beverages is linked to complex political, social, historical, cultural and economic forces that make it a key driver of unhealthy food environments:

  • Ultra-processed food and beverage product (UPP) marketers…saturate the marketplace with junk products through tactics that are aggressive, insidious and everywhere.
  • Consumers are ambushed with food marketing through the sponsorship of their favorite sports teams, the hidden product placements in their children’s educational shows and the free products that they receive at events.
  • The dangers are even more apparent when UPPs target children and adolescents who lack the developmental maturity to distinguish advertisements from entertaining or educational content.
  • The UPP industry is notorious for failing to take responsibility for its participation in creating an unhealthier planet.
  • The industry instead places blame solely on the individual or the guardian of the child.
  • UPP corporations exploit consumers through deception and undue influence, and also gain privileged spaces in policymaking tables.
  • UPP marketing threatens public health by decreasing state action to regulate food environments.

More evidence for the need to regulate ultra-processed foods and beverages (see my paper on this precise point).

Let’s get to it !


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Nov 29 2022

Food marketing to kids and people of color: it needs to stop

Two items about inappropriately targeted marketing.

I.  Online marketing to kids

A coalition of 21 leading advocacy groups, led by Fairplay, a nonprofit children’s advocacy group, and the Center for Digital Democracy, has filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission to stop online platforms from manipulating children into spending excessive time online.

The petition describes how the vast majority of apps, games, and services popular with kids:

  • Generate revenue primarily via advertising
  • Employ sophisticated techniques (e.g., autoplay, endless scroll, and strategically timed advertisements) to cultivate lucrative long term relationships between minors and their brands.
  • Use platforms like TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to keep kids online.
  • NYT account NYT on advocacy on adv to kids

The New York Times has a story on this report.


II.  Targeting junk food ads to people of color

The University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health has released a new Rudd Report on food marketing targeted to Black and Hispanic consumers.

Its key findings:

  • Food and beverage TV advertising is highly concentrated among a small number of companies; 19 companies are responsible for 75% of all food and beverage ad spending, and 82% of marketing targeted to Black consumers.
  • The proportion of junk food ads targeted to Black and Hispanic consumers is increasing.

I particularly appreciate Shiriki Kumanika’s comment (in the U. Conn press release) on industry arguments that it is giving customers what they want:

I challenge that view,” said Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH,professor at Drexel University, Dornsife School of Public Health, and founding chair of the Council on Black Health.“More likely, racialized marketing of unhealthy products reflects a flawed business model in which leveraging the demographics of social disadvantage to maximize profits from unhealthy foods and beverages is acceptable.”


More on junk food marketing tomorrow.


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