by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fruits-and-vegetables

Jan 23 2014

Let’s Move!’s latest move: Subway will “Pile on the Veggies”

This morning, Subway is announcing that as part of its commitment to Let’s Move!’s efforts to reverse childhood obesity, the chain will put $41 million into encouraging kids to “pile on the veggies.”

Subway says it will:

  • Run a fun campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Set nutrition standards for marketing to kids.
  • Strengthen its “already nutritious” children’s menu.
  • Put signs on doors that say “Playtime powered by veggies.”
  • Do a video collaboration with Disney’s Muppets to encourage piling on the veggies.
  • Provide kids’ meals with lowfat or nonfat milk or water as the default.

I could, but won’t, nitpick over the nutrition standards.  Let’s just say they are a start.

But I love it that Subway is focusing on foods—veggies, apples, and no sodas unless parents specifically order them.

And I think “pile on the veggies” is one terrific slogan.

I will be keeping an eye out for those signs on Subway’s doors and the other ways the chain says it will promote healthier meals for kids.  I didn’t see anything about when all this starts, but I hope it’s soon.

Jan 20 2014

How to get people to buy healthier food: cardboard cutouts?

Can it really be this easy?  Morrison’s, a grocery chain in the U.K., put cardboard cutouts of doctors near the produce section.

A new pilot scheme in a Morrisons store in Salford, using cardboard cut-outs of local GPs in the fresh produce aisles delivered a 20% rise in the sales of fresh fruit and a 30% uplift for frozen fruit.

All of this is part of Great Britain’s Public Health “Responsibility Deal,” which aims to enlist businesses to voluntarily promote health objectives.

The Responsibility Deal embodies the Government’s ambition for a more collaborative approach to tackling the challenges caused by our lifestyle choices.

Organisations signing up to the Responsibility Deal commit to taking action voluntarily to improve public health through their responsibilities as employers, as well as through their commercial actions and their community activities. Organisations can sign up to be either national partners or local partners.

The principles and ambitions of the Responsibility Deal are set out in its core commitments and supporting pledges.

This is all it takes?  Really?

Why do I think this won’t work nearly as well in America?  We have a long way to go, says the USDA.

What might work?  Celebrities?  Sports figures?  Political figures?

Aug 8 2013

Agriculture policy needs to support health policy: Fruits and vegetables!

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a new report yesterday: “The $11 trillion reward: How simple dietary changes can save lives and money, and how we get there.”

Never mind the hype ($11 trillion?  That’s too big to understand).   Whatever the real number, the report makes one thing clear: if we don’t get healthier, health care costs will rise.  A lot.

To stay healthy, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables (F&V).  But that’s not  so easy.  They are relatively expensive, not always easy to deal with, and thoroughly unsupported by federal agricultural policy.

To fix that, UCS calls for federal policies to:

  • Increase research on F&V.
  • Remove planting restrictions that stop commodity farmers from growing F&V.
  • Make crop insurance available for F&V producers.
  • Make healthy, locally grown food more available and accessible.
  • Promote the growth of farmers markets, local food outlets.
  • Facilitate the use of SNAP benefits at local food markets.
  • Educate consumers about F&V and how to prepare them.

Here’s more on this report:

 

 

 

May 28 2013

It’s summer reading time, at last

I’m going to try to get caught up with some reading recommendations this week, starting with this lovely one:

Marcy, Nikiko, and David Mas Masumoto.  The Perfect Peach: Stories and Recipes from the Masumoto Family Farm.  Ten Speed Press, 2013.

The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm

I was asked to blurb this book and did so right away (who could possibly say no to Mas Masumoto?):

I have one word for the writing, photography, essays, and topic of this book: luscious.  The Masumoto family has produced a glorious paean to the fruit they raise along with delightful ideas about what to do with an abundance of this heavenly fruit: sangria, salsa, pizza, and, of course, shortcake.  I can’t wait for summer.

Aug 31 2012

Advocacy groups sue FDA to get busy on safety standards

I’ve written previously about the holdup on implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act by the White House Office of Management and Budget, reportedly because anything regulatory is likely to be a campaign issue in this especially contentious election year.

To get things moving, The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Environmental Health have sued the FDA to implement the rules on the grounds that the law requires federal agencies to conclude matters presented to them “within a reasonable amount of time.”

The suit complains that the FDA is failing to meet required deadlines for at least seven new food regulations and that nine more are coming due in 2013.  It asks the court to order the agency to enforce the law right now.

In several instances, the FDA has attempted to make FSMA’s deadlines only to have its work held up at the White House Office of Management and Budget. FDA reported sending its proposed Foreign Supplier Verification Program to the OMB in November and its proposed produce safety standards in December, though the OMB has yet to release either regulation. Both were required by FSMA on Jan. 4.

FSMA also required FDA to establish standards for analyzing and documenting hazards and implementing preventative measures by July 4 of this year, the suit recounts.

The plaintiffs are especially alarmed that the FDA is not enforcing policies that are “self-executing,” meaning the new preventive standards for example.

From where I sit, the preventive standards are the critical factor in stopping outbreaks of foodborne illness before they happen.

While we are waiting for politics to resolve, the CDC keeps adding new outbreak home pages.

Would implementation of preventive standards help?  Yes it would, especially if the problem is in the packing houses (packing houses can be cleaned).

Aug 22 2012

Entertaining nutrition research: “nutrifluff”

I consider the results of studies showing remarkable health benefits attributed to single foods or single nutrients to be “nutrifluff”—fun, but not necessarily meaningful unless you are eating a healthy diet anyway.

Here are four recent examples:

Dark chocolate reduces heart disease risk: Everybody loves this one—an excuse to eat chocolate (but only the dark, bitter kind, alas).  This comes from a Cochrane meta-analysis of studies on the role of flavonols in blood pressure.  It concludes that chocolate eating is associated with a small reduction in blood pressure of 2 to 3 mm Hg—but only in short-term trials.  How many of the studies were sponsored by chocolate companies?  The report doesn’t say.

Apple peel extracts reduce blood pressure: Apples also have flavonols.  These were test-tube studies.  Note: Eating fruits and vegetables in general is associated with lower blood pressure.

Walnuts boost semen quality: Here’s a fun one.  Eat 75 grams of walnuts a day, and you improve your sperm vitality, motility, and morphology, at least if you are age 21 to 35 (and male).  This one was sponsored by the California Walnut Commission.  One report on this study has the best title ever: “Nuts for your nuts.”

Goji berries promote immune function in the elderly: This one, done by researchers working for Nestlé  (no relation), tested daily supplements of “lacto-wolfberry” on immune responses to influenza vaccine.  I’m assuming Nestlé must be planning to market this supplement.

What does all this tell us?  These kinds of studies confirm that eating fruits and vegetables is good for health (I think we might have known that already).

But the main (perhaps only) reason for doing such studies is for marketing purposes, which is why food companies sponsor them.

May 21 2012

Some comments on the progress of the farm bill

I haven’t said anything recently about the current status of the farm bill, mainly because it is too early in the political process to know what is going to happen.

On April 26, the Senate Ag Committee voted to pass the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012.

The bill still has a long way to go.  It must be passed by the Senate.  The House has to pass an equivalent bill.  The two bills must be reconciled.  The final bill must be signed by the President.

Otherwise, the current farm bill expires on September 30.

As is always the case with anything having to do with the farm bill, the devil is in the details.  The number of programs covered by the bill is vast, and the details even more so.

In efforts to align agricultural policy with health policy, the current proposal makes a little headway. The proposed bill funds:

  • $150 million annually for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program
  • $50 million per year for the Defense Department Fresh program, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions
  • $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
  • $25 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, to go to $50 million by 2017
  • $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million 2017 for pest and disease management programs
  • $200 million annually for The Market Access Program and $9 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program
  • $100 million over 5 years for the Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives
  • $100 million over 5 years for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
  • $406 million annually for Section 32 specialty crop purchases

This looks like a lot—and from the standpoint of incremental change it is a lot—but these numbers are millions, not billions, and in farm bill terms can be considered “mere rounding errors.”

The farm bill currently costs taxpayers $85 billion a year, with $72 billion of that going for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

The rest of the big money goes to the Big Agriculture growers of commodity crops, mainly in the form of crop insurance.

Here too, the proposed bill includes one small but significant measure.  For the first time, it provides for crop insurance for diversified farms—those that grow a variety of  “specialty” crops (translation: fruits and vegetables).

Even the most critical commentators think the current proposal, despite its evident flaws, represents the best that can be expected given current political realities.

Let’s hope the good parts of the proposal survive the rest of the legislative process.

Addition, May 24: A reader points out that another bright spot is that the Senate bill also included $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.

Apr 30 2012

Will better access to healthier foods reduce obesity?

A question from a reader:

Q.  I was wondering if you could comment on the recent article in the New York Times which questions the link between food deserts and obesity.

A.  Sure.  Happy to.  The article talks about two recent studies finding no relationship between the types of foods children eat, what they weight, and the kinds of foods available within a mile and a half of their homes.

These finding seem counter-intuitive in light of current efforts to improve access to healthier foods in low-income communities.

Obesity is more common among the poor than among those who are better off.   Poor people must be eating more calories than they expend in physical activity.

Eating more calories means eating more of foods high in calories, especially fast food, snacks, and sodas.  Kids who are heavier have been found to eat more of those foods than those who are not.

I can think of several reasons why this might be the case:

  • Access: healthier foods are less available
  • Cost: healthier foods cost more
  • Skills: healthier foods require preparation and cooking
  • Equipment: cooking healthier foods requires kitchen facilities, pots, and pans
  • Transportation: even if stores are available, they might be too far away to walk to
  • Quality: even if stores sell fruits and vegetables, they might not be fresh
  • Marketing: fast foods, snacks, and sodas are heavily marketed in low-income areas
  • Peer pressure: eating high-calorie foods is considered the norm

I can think of ways we might try to improve any of these factors, but I’m guessing that cost is the critical factor for people with limited means.  The Department of Commerce reports that the indexed price of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased by 40% since 1980, whereas the indexed price of sodas has declined by about 30%.

Fast food, snacks, and sodas are cheap.  Fruits and vegetables are not.

Without access to healthful foods, people cannot eat healthfully.  But access alone cannot reverse obesity.

The real issue is poverty.  Unless we do something to reduce income inequality, and to make healthier foods more affordable, fixing the access problem is unlikely to produce measurable results on its own.

Posted from the World Public Health Association annual meeting, World Nutrition 2012, in Rio.