by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Nutrition-standards

Aug 16 2012

Surprise! Kids who don’t eat junk foods in school don’t gain as much weight

I love the new study reported in Pediatrics.    It confirms just what I have long expected.  If you don’t expose kids to junk foods and sodas, they won’t eat as much, and they won’t put on as much fat.

The study found that kids who go to schools where lots of junk foods are sold are heavier than those who go to schools in states with strict standards about the nutritional quality of snacks and drinks.

The investigators compared the body mass indices (BMIs) of kids in schools in 40 states with varying nutrition standards for what is allowed in “competitive” foods–those sold outside the lunch programs.

Kids from schools with stricter standards had lower BMIs.

The authors explain their result:

Experts argue that education will not suffice without changing the contemporary ‘obesogenic’ environment in which adolescents have countless sources of high-caloric-density, low-nutrient-density foods and beverages. Schools have become a source of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), candy, and other foods and beverages of minimal nutritional value.

Food Chemical News (August 14) reminds me that when Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids act of 2010, it authorized the USDA to develop nutrition standards both for meals—but also competitive foods.

USDA issued final rules for school meals in January (remember the fuss over pizza is a vegetable?).

Its rules for competitive foods were sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget in mid-March, but are still stuck there, most likely because the White House does not want to introduce regulations that might adversely affect food company sales during an election year, especially one in which the role of government is so prominent an issue.

This is an election year, in case you haven’t noticed, and looks like it will be an especially unattractive one, unfortunately.

Jan 26 2012

Cheers for USDA’s new nutrition standards

Michelle Obama and Tom Vilsack announced new nutrition standards for school meals yesterday, to what seems to be near-universal applause (the potato growers are still miffed, according to the New York Times).

The new standards are best understood in comparison to current standards (see chart).  They call for:

  • More fruits and vegetables
  • A greater range of vegetables
  • A requirement for whole grains
  • All milk to be 1% or less
  • Only non-fat milk to be permitted to be flavored

This may not sound like much.  But given what it has taken USDA to get to this point, the new standards must be seen as a major step forward.

See, for example, the comparison of an old and new weekly menu (this has not changed since USDA’s original proposal in January last year).

The new one looks so much better.   Now it’s up to schools to make the new standards work, make the foods taste yummy, and get kids to be willing to try new foods.

To review the history: This all started when the USDA asked the Institute of Medicine to design nutrition standards that would:

  • Increase the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Set a minimum and maximum level of calories
  • Focus more on reducing saturated fat and sodium

The new standards come pretty close to what the IOM recommended (see the earlier chart), with some now-famous exceptions.  The IOM proposed limits on starchy vegetables.  USDA then proposed to limit starchy vegetables to two servings a week.  It also set a minimum for the amount of tomato sauce on pizza that could count toward vegetable servings.

Under pressure from potato growers and suppliers of school pizza, Congress weighed in and overruled the USDA on both counts.

The result: pizza now counts as a vegetable.

To give some idea of the extent of lobbying on all sides of this issue, USDA’s January proposal elicited 132,000 public comments (these are someplace at www.regulations.gov and are addressed in the Federal Register notice).

I asked in a previous post whether this kind of congressional micromanagement made sense (absolutely not, in my view).  I also wrote previously about the intense lobbying efforts to make sure these standards would never be released.

Despite congressional and industry opposition, the standards are out.

Applause is very much in order for Mrs. Obama’s leadership on this issue.

Good work.  Now let’s get busy on the next challenges:

  • Set nutrition standards for competitive foods in schools—those sold outside of the lunch program as snacks and meal replacements.
  • Teach kids where food comes from
  • Teach kids to cook

For the record:

The initial press release: It is headlined “First Lady to Announce New Nutrition Standards for Meals Served in America’s Schools: Public-Private Partnership Aims to Connect More Kids to Nutrition Programs.”  I’m not sure where the Public-Private Partnership comes into this.

USDA’s actual press announcement provides links to the Nutrition Standards home page and other relevant documents.

Additions: Dana Woldrow sends this link to shed some light on the curious business of private-public partnerships.  Here’s one where Goya foods is giving out teaching materials in schools.

Dec 14 2011

Update on marketing to kids

I subscribe to The Lancet, and always enjoy reading its editor’s weekly Offline column.  In October, editor Richard Horton wrote about how  government obesity policy needs to be based firmly on scientific evidence.

And what is that evidence?

On this question, the evidence is utterly clear.  Thanks to the work of the best scientific minds in obesity research, the most reliable evidence shows that the government’s plan should include taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages, front-of-pack traffic-light nutrition labeling, reductions of junk food and drink advertising to children, and school-based programmes to reduce television viewing and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption (Lancet, 2011;378:1451).

If you care about public health evidence, that’s what it shows.  But doing these things goes against the business interests of food companies and they are doing everything they can to oppose such science-based measures.

In the U.S., the Sunlight Foundation has just released a report detailing the amounts of money food companies have spent on lobbying to block federal attempts to set nutritional standards for marketing foods to children (see previous posts).

Big companies such as Nestle, Kellogg, Viacom, McDonalds, General Mills, and Time Warner have indicated on official reports that they have lobbied on the controversial proposed guidelines; all together such companies have reported spending more than $37 million on lobbying this year.

The Sunlight report lists reported lobbying expenses (for example, Coca-Cola $4.7 million, General Mills $660,000).  It also points out that

…Over all public relations were handled by Anita Dunn, formerly communications director at the Obama White House, at the firm SKDKnickerbocker Consulting.

Anita Dunn is of special interest because of her previous position at the White House.  Now she’s working for the not-so-loyal opposition.  Marian Burros reported on this switch for Politico:

Dunn, who served as White House communications director, is a senior partner at SKDKnickerbocker Consulting, which is handling public relations for the food industry’s campaign. Switching sides isn’t uncommon in the incestuous world of Washington consulting and lobbying, and the food industry coalition seeking to scuttle the voluntary guidelines argues that they are actually enforceable regulations in disguise that could lead to billions in lost sales.

Dr. Horton’s comments in Lancet imply that the British government isn’t doing much better.

As for the European Union (EU),  Food Chemical News reported on December 8 that major food companies— McDonald’s, Burger King, Coca-Cola, Danone, Kellogg, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, as well as the European Snacks Associations—have just pledged to promote only healthful products on their websites aimed at children under age 12.

By “healthful,” they mean products that meet “better-for-you” criteria.  Food Chemical News cites a study suggesting that European children now see 79% less advertising of really bad junk foods on kids’ TV than they did in 2005, and 29% less across all TV programs.

The study did not say whether sales of those products were down too. If not, this could explain the willingness of companies to extend the voluntary restriction to websites aimed at very young children.

All of this would be much simpler for parents if governments paid attention to the research.  If they did, they would:

  • Tax unhealthy foods and beverages
  • Require traffic-light front-of-pack labels
  • Stop junk food and drink advertising to children
  • Institute programs to reduce television viewing
  • Institute programs to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption

Taken together, these might actually make some progress in reducing childhood obesity.

Oct 12 2011

House holds hearings on nutrition standards for food marketing to kids

Reports are coming in on the House hearings on the IWG report recommendations.  The IWG, recall from the previous post, is an Interagency Working Group of four federal agencies attempting to set nutrition standards for foods allowed to be marketed to kids.

This first report comes from Broadcasting & Cable:

The first panel of a joint hearing Wednesday on government-proposed food marketing guidelines featured government officials explaining that the principles, announced last April, are only voluntary recommendations to Congress that industry can ignore if they chose, while legislators, primarily Republicans, countering that they represent Big Brother government intruding into meal planning for families and a focus on marketing, without scientific backing, rather than focusing on more physical activity.

Republican lawmakers, it seems, want more science.  That’s always step one in undermining public health proposals: attack the science.  Subsequent steps, you may recall, include attacking critics, focusing on physical activity, and blaming personal responsibility for obesity and its consequences.

According to Healthwatch, Representative Henry Waxman (Dem-Calif)

Compared Republican defenders of unbridled food marketing to children to past champions of the tobacco industry. [He]  drew parallels between Wednesday’s hearing on proposed voluntary marketing restrictions and a 2003 hearing during which some Republicans promoted the safety of smokeless tobacco.

“I just find this an amazing hearing,” Waxman said. “The only thing I can analogize it to is after all the tobacco issues we discussed for many years, Republicans took charge and we never heard anything more about tobacco. Then, suddenly we had a hearing about tobacco.

And the hearing was about how smokeless tobacco should be encouraged as a way for smokers to give up smoking. It was geared to promoting an industry that no doubt supported financially many of the members. I wonder if this hearing is about the same subject.”

What I find most disturbing is the FTC’s backing down on the recommendations which were agreed upon by four federal agencies and voluntary.  CNN reports that David Vladeck, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:

The coalition of government agencies is “in the midst of making significant revisions” to the original proposal.

Among the changes he suggested are narrowing the age group targeted and focusing on children aged 2 to 11 instead of up to age 17 and allowing marketing of the unhealthier foods at fundraisers and sporting events.

Vladeck also said that his agency would not recommend that companies change packaging or remove brand characters from food products that don’t qualify, as was originally suggested in the guidelines.

“Those elements of packaging, though appealing to children, are also elements of marketing to a broader audience and are inextricably linked to the food’s brand identity,” Vladeck said at the hearing.

This, as I keep pointing out, is about protecting corporate health at the expense of children’s health.

Sad.

Oct 10 2011

Rumor alert: White House backing off from standards for food marketing?

Sometimes when I hear rumors that I can’t corroborate, I keep fingers crossed that they aren’t true.  Here’s one.

Rumors say that the White House has caved in to food, beverage and advertising lobbying groups on the nutrition standards for food marketing to children developed by the Interagency Working Group (IWG).

Recall: the IWG’s members—the FDA, FTC, USDA, and CDC–produced recommendations for nutrition standards for marketing foods to kids (see previous posts).

The food and beverage industries think that if the standards are adopted, they will have to abide by them, thereby losing sales.  They do not want restrictions on how, when, and where they advertise their products to kids.

Rumors say that the FTC—the agency that regulates food advertising—is being pressed by the White House to back off.

Rumors say the FTC is withdrawing the proposedstandards for teens except for some in-school marketing, and that the FTC’s explanation is that  “to be successful in this endeavor food companies must be given leeway to shape an approach that will promote children’s health, without being overly burdensome on industry….”

Could the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s  October 12 hearings on the standards have anything to do wth this?   Or the tough memo prepared by committee staff in preparation for the hearing?  The staff memo raises highly critical questions about the FTC and the IWG report.

The proposed standards, please recall, are voluntary.  And I didn’t think they were all that restrictive (see previous post).

But if the rumors are true, even this administration can’t do anything to limit  food marketing to kids and we are right back where we were in 1979, the last time the FTC tried to do so.

Please say it isn’t so.

Addition 1: FTC has now posted its prepared testimony: “As a result of the many comments we received from various stakeholders…the Working Group is in the midst of making significant revisions to its preliminary proposal. The anticipated revisions go a long way to address industry’s concerns.”

It gets worse:

The Commission staff believes that this approach resolves many of the flashpoints that generated strongest industry concern.

For instance, FTC staff has determined that, with the exception of certain in-school marketing activities, it is not necessary to encompass adolescents ages 12 to 17 within the scope of covered marketing….In addition, the FTC staff believes that philanthropic activities, charitable events, community programs, entertainment and sporting events, and theme parks are, for the most part, directed to families or the general community and do not warrant inclusion with more specifically child-directed marketing.

Moreover, it would be counterproductive to discourage food company sponsorship of these activities to the extent that many benefit children’s health by promoting physical activity.

Finally, the Commission staff does not contemplate recommending that food companies change the trade dress elements of their packaging or remove brand equity characters from food products that don’t meet nutrition recommendations.

Addition 2:  Margo Wootan of CSPI provides a copy of her written testimony for the IWG .

Addition 3: Here’s the written statement of Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona.

Addition 4, October 11Adweek headlines its story on this fiasco, “Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam to get pardon from feds?”

Sep 6 2011

The food industry vs. nutrition standards: a First Amendment issue?

I just received a message from Samantha Graff, the director of legal research at Public Health Law & Policy, an advocacy group in Oakland, California.

This morning, she writes, 36 legal scholars—including several experts on the First Amendment—weighed in on the food industry’s fight against proposed nutrition standards for foods and beverages marketed directly to children.  This is the very issue I wrote about in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle column and have discussed in previous posts.

In a letter sent this morning to federal agencies, the legal scholars point out that because food and beverage companies are free to ignore the nutrition recommendations, the draft principles “do not restrain or compel anyone’s speech. They are not, in fact, government regulations at all.”

A key industry strategy has been to recruit lawyers to write white papers charging that the proposed nutrition standards violate First Amendment rights to free speech.

Recall that Congress asked the FTC to join with the FDA, CDC, and USDA to recommend standards for food products marketed to kids.  These agencies, collectively known as the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG), issued Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts.   This report outlines proposed voluntary standards that have been open for public comment.

My initial reaction: the standards were much too generous.  But that’s not how the food industry sees them.  Food companies realized that the standards exclude large proportions of the junk foods they currently market to kids.

They created a new lobbying group, “Sensible Food Policy Coalition” (shades of George Orwell’s 1984).   This group is doing everything it can to block the proposed standards.   Its website links to white papers opposing the recommendations on First Amendment grounds.

David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, responded to some of these claims in a recent blog post, in which he emphasizes the voluntary nature of the proposals.

I’ve said it before and repeat: I am not a legal scholar but intention seems to matter in legal decisions.  The intent of the First Amendment was to protect political and religious speech. I cannot believe that the intent of the First Amendment was to protect the right of food companies to market junk foods to kids.

Marketing to children is unethical.  It should be stopped.  And it’s the government’s responsibility to do it.

Jul 14 2011

Last chance to comment on proposed kids’ food marketing standards

Today is the last day to comment on the federal Interagency Working Group’s (IWG) proposed nutrition standards for marketing food products to kids.  The IWG is a joint project of four federal agencies with at least some responsibility for public health: FTC, FDA, USDA, and CDC.

As I discussed back in April, I thought the IWG standards were generous and gave food companies plenty of room to market junk foods with impunity.  Maybe, but that’s not how food companies see it.  They think it will cause so much havoc with their marketing that they are fighting back, big time.

Large food companies joined together to create the “Sensible Food Policy Coalition.”  This entity paid for an economic assessment.  On July 8, the Coalition released Global Insight’s report of this assessment—a call to arms arguing that the “administration’s misguided ad restrictions would cost 74,000 American jobs.”

The report’s point is that restricting advertising would have unintended economic consequences, particularly losses in sales and revenues, and therefore jobs.  The report estimates an astonishing loss of $28.3 billion from manufacturing and retail sales, just in the first year, translating to “at least 74,000 lost jobs.”

This makes me think that the standards may have some merit.  Campbell Soup, for example, has just announced that because its low-salt soups aren’t selling, they are putting the salt back in.  Oh.

In any case, industry pushback seems to be having an effect.  As I discussed in my post a week or so ago, David Vladeck of the FTC used his blog to discuss industry mythology about the proposed standards.  I thought his statement backpedaled on even a hint of federal regulation of food marketing to kids.

MYTH #2: The Working Group’s proposal is regulation by the back door

….This is a report to Congress, not a rulemaking proceeding, so there’s no proposed government regulation. In fact, the FTC Act explicitly forbids the Commission from issuing a rule restricting food advertising to children. So the FTC couldn’t issue a rule on this subject if it wanted to, which it doesn’t. Simply put, a report like this can’t be a rule — whether it’s delivered to Congress by the front door, the back door, or the kitchen door.

The IWG is collecting comments on its proposals through close of business today.  If you need a rationale for filing a comment, read Larry Cohen’s piece in the Huffington Post.

Comments don’t have to be long or complicated.  Just say what you think.

Go to this site to file them.

Or go to the PreventObesity site for additional suggestions.

Do this today!

 

 

 

Jul 1 2011

How Washington gives marketing to kids a free pass

The saddest thing I’ve read in ages is the FTC’s rebuttal to industry charges that it is trying to regulate food marketing to kids.  Not so, says FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection head David Vladeck:

The preliminary voluntary principles proposed in April by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children have got people talking about kids, advertising, and nutrition…Here’s my take on some of the myths that have been percolating about the proposed principles.

MYTH #1:  The FTC plans to sue companies that don’t adopt the Working Group’s proposed nutrition principles.

Not so.  The Working Group’s job is to submit a report to Congress.  That’s all.  That’s what Congress told the group to do.  A report to Congress by an interagency working group provides no basis for law enforcement action by the FTC or by any of the other agencies participating in the Group.

MYTH #2:  The Working Group’s proposal is regulation by the back door.

Second verse, same as the first.  This is a report to Congress, not a rulemaking proceeding, so there’s no proposed government regulation….the FTC couldn’t issue a rule on this subject if it wanted to, which it doesn’t.  Simply put, a report like this can’t be a rule — whether it’s delivered to Congress by the front door, the back door, or the kitchen door.

And so it goes through ten more of the same.

Alas, food companies are not going to self-regulate themselves out of marketing to kids because they will lose sales if they do.

That’s why some government regulation would be helpful.  Isn’t government supposed to promote public health and rein in industry excesses when necessary?

Additional point: You still have time to submit comments.  Send them to the FTC by July 14 through this link.  Organizations that wish to sign on to the Food Marketing Workgroup’s letter should email Bethany Hanna Pokress bpokress@cspinet.org by Monday, July 11.