by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Obesity

May 15 2024

Ozempic: a food marketing opportunity

I was thrilled to be invited to be on Oprah last week to discuss the influence of the food environment on obesity.  Alas, I was disinvited when the topic switched to fat shaming.

While recovering from the disappointment, I ran across this article in FoodDive: The Ozempic effect is real: Study zeroes in on GLP-1 users’ food needs.

A study found people taking anti-obesity medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Zepbound to be looking for:

  • Foods packed with protein
  • Smaller portions
  • Foods that help quell nausea
  • Foods that help reduce gastrointestinal side effects

The potential size of this market is impressive:

Manufacturers looking to create products that cater to this growing market segment – which according to recent research from Goldman Sachs could be as much as 15 million people, or 13% of the U.S. population, by 2030 – should focus on creating products that meet their new needs.

The research group used “its proprietary AI to generate food concepts that it had panel participants evaluate and several were appealing including:

  • Pre-portioned grilled chicken strips
  • 2-ounce portions of Greek yogurt in pouches
  • Electrolyte-enhanced fruit popsicles
  • Mini meal cups

Hey—this is a win-win.  First the food industry makes products that people can’t resist eating and make them gain weight.  Then the industry creates products that help them take drugs more easily.

A marketing opportunity for all

Mar 27 2024

The federal vision for chronic disease prevention: individual behavior, not the environment

At the insistence of Jerry Mande, I watched the meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to learn about the Federal Vision for Advancing Nutrition Science in the United States.

This Vision derives from last year’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health and its pillar on enhancing nutrition research.

Cathie Woteki, who introduced the report, made a forceful case for the importance of chronic disease prevention.  Her committee was shocked  that the majority of Americans are overweight or obese, and at a cost of $500 billion annually.  She pointed out the lack of focus and coordination of 200 existing programs that ought to be addressing this issue.

The conclusion: not enough research on chronic disease and more funding needed.

No question about that.  Yes, we need more nutrition research and more funding for it.  A lot more.

But the White House request for the Office of Nutrition Research is only $1.3 million (see p. 26).  Surely this  is some kind of joke?  It’s hardly even a rounding error in federal terms.

As for the PCAST report’s efforts needed:  That’s all?

Yes we can use more data and research on personal eating habits and individual behavior, but what about the food environment?

Maybe PCAST is under political constrainsts but this sure does feel like a lost opportunity.

The report —as yet unpublished—appears to say nothing about:

  • The effects of ultra-processed foods on individual food choices and weight. (the word “ultra-processed” was not mentioned)
  • The need to change the food environment to make it easier and less expensive for individuals to make healthier food choices.
  • Policies to requirie food companies to produce healthier foods and reduce serving sizes.
  • Policies to stop the food industry from marketing ultra-processed foods to kids.
  • Programs to achieve the existing 2030 health objectives to prevent obesity and chronic disease (these were not mentioned).

The committee said it consulted widely to produce this report.  Not widely enough, I’d say.

Compare this to what the UK House of Lords is doing in its hearings on  Food, Diet and Obesity.  Take a look at who they are listening to.

If the PCAST committee talked to any of these people, their comments are not showing up.

PCAST has a real opportunity here to push for a strong research and policy agenda to address obesity and its related chronic diseases.

What kind? Here are my suggestions.

Mar 26 2024

The Weight of Ozempic: Today’s panel discussion

Today I’m participating on a panel discussion on Ozempic at 12:30 EDT.  See announcement to the right; register for it here. 

I watched the Oprah special on the obesity drugs.

Its messages:

  • Obesity is a disease, requiring treatment.
  • These drugs offer treatment.
  • The drugs are effective; side effects are minimal.
  • Yes they are expensive and therefore, promote inequality; therefore, the government should pay for them.

The program was a one-hour, prime-time commercial for the drugs.

The physicians who testified on their behalf consult for the drug companies.

The program has already had an effect.  cause the FDA says semaglutide helps prevent heart attacks, strokes, and deaths in overweigth people, the government will now authorize payment through Medicare Part D.

Here’s what was not discussed.

  • The fortunes the drug companies spent on getting doctors, health professionals, and influencers to promote the drugs and minimize their side effects.  See Reuters for US doctors and The Guardian for European influencers.
  • The sharp rise in obesity prevalence between 1980 and 2000 and the environmental and commercial reasons for it.
  • Anything about prevention. and changing that food environment.
  • Anything serious about the down side of taking the drugs (lifetime treatment, cost, side effects, loss of joy in eating).

An editorial in The Lancet says:

A simple pill or injection will undoubtedly help some patients, but it cannot be the sole basis for addressing the complexities of obesity. Obesity is a product of not only an individual’s circumstances and behaviour, but also society at large, shaped by global food markets and trade agreements. Multidimensional approaches are needed to curb the effects of the obesogenic environment, particularly against an international industry that promotes overproduction of cheap food and drinks. Physical activity needs to increase; walking and cycling for journeys to work or school should be normalised and made easier and safer. Sugar taxes and curbs on marketing of high-energy, high-fat, ultra-processed foods need to be implemented. Prevention must be the foundation upon which everything else follows.

Other comments

Much to be said about all this.  Stay tuned.

Dec 7 2023

No, Virginia, correlation does not necessarily signify causation

On Thursdays I like posting things I want everyone to enjoy.

This one, I stole from Tamar Haspel, who writes about food for the Washington Post.

I follow her on X (the site formerly known as Twitter), where she recently posted:

This could be my all-time favorite BMI correlation!

In China and post-Soviet states, BMI correlates with corruption. The fatter, the crookeder.

The correlation she cites is from an article in the Economist, Are Overweight Politicians Less Trustworthy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I agree.  This is a fabulous example of how correlation does NOT mean causation—a basic tenet of epidemiology often forgotten.

But here’s my personal favorite example.  I laugh every time I see it.

Image

No, the Dietary Guidelines did not cause the prevalence of obesity to rise.

This is correlation, NOT causation.

For causes, please consider food overproduction, pressures on food companies to sell food when there is so much of it, and the shareholder value movement, which demands not only profits, but  continual growth in profits.  All of these forced food companies to find new ways to get everyone to eat more food (by creating an “eat more” food environment.  I discuss all this in Food Politics and my other books).

Correlation is lots of fun but causation requires much deeper analyses.

Sorry about that.

Thanks Tamar.

Nov 2 2023

Toward a national campaign to prevent weight-related chronic disease

Jerry Mande, a co-founder of Nourish Science wrote me to urge support for a national action plan to reduce obesity—and the chronic diseases for which it raises risks. (Note: he also has an op-ed in The Hill on NIH research and leadership needs).

Here is what we should do. It’s time for a new federal nutrition goal. For decades it’s been some variation of “access to healthier options and nutrition information.” Jim Jones [the new head of food and nutrition at FDA] used that last week in his vision for the new human foods program. It’s in USDA FNS’s mission too. The WaPo reporting on life expectancy, fatty liver disease, & Lunchables in school meals reveals that goal has failed and needs to be replaced.

The goal should be updated to: ensuring that every child reaches age 18 at a healthy weight and in good metabolic health. Cory Booker proposed making it the U.S. goal in his attached letter to Susan Rice on the WHC [White House Conference]. It’s part of the Nourish Science vision.

It’s doable.  USDA has the necessary power, reach, and resources. Over half of infants are on WIC, 1/3 of children in CACFP [Child and Adult Care Feeding Program], virtually all in school meals, and almost ½ of SNAP recipients are under 18. If we leveraged those programs to achieve the new goal and with FDA’s & CDC’s help, we could make substantial progress. For example, USDA was able to raise school meal HEI [Healthy Eating Index] scores from failing U.S. average of 58 to an acceptable 82 in just three years.

We have a successful blueprint in FDA regulation of tobacco. When we began our FDA investigation in 1993 1/3 of adults and ¼ of kids smoked cigarettes. Today we have a $700M FDA tobacco center and 11% of adults and only 2% of high school students smoke cigarettes.

We should set the new goal in the upcoming Farm Bill. We should change USDA’s name to the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture and state the new goal.

The only needed ingredient to make this happen is an effective federal nutrition champion. That’s how tobacco happened.

I’m optimistic. We can do this.

I like the vision.  I’m glad he’s optimistic.  Plenty of work to do to get this on the agenda.

Some background

Sep 29 2023

Weekend reading: rising prevalence of obesity in developing countries

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), as part of its IFAD Research Series, released a report, Overweight and obesity in LMICs in rural development and food systems, along with a literature review.

The report finds obesity rates across developing countries to be approaching levels found in high-income countries.

The study attributes the rise to:

  • Food Prices: The price gap between healthy foods (expensive) and unhealthy foods (inexpensive) is greater in developing countries than in rich developed countries.
  • Diet: Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is on the rise in developing countries and the global sales of highly processed foods rose from 67.7kg per capita in 2005 to 76.9kg in 2017.
  • Culture: In some developing countries, childhood fatness is associated with health and wealth and consumption of unhealthy foods carries prestige.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to be overweight or obese than men in nearly all developing countries.

One strength of this study is its consideration of the need for interventions across the entire food system:

The study results show that food system-related interventions are not overweight or obesity specific. Instead, they tap into the wider field of making diets more healthy and nutritious, and emerge as necessary strategies to set the scene for creating non-obesogenic food supply chains. The identified intervention strategies cut across different food system domains: there were production strategies for improved dietary diversity, strategies for processing (which involved food package labelling or price mechanisms), strategies for changing the food environment and strategies to address consumer behaviour.

Jun 29 2023

American Medical Association resolves to limit BMI as standard medical measure

I have been asked to comment on the American Medical Association’s resolution to stop using the BMI as the sole criterion for diagnosing obesity [To find this resolution, click on CCSPH Report(s) #07: Support Removal of BMI as a Standard Measure in Medicine and Recognizing Culturally-Diverse and Varied Presentations of Eating Disorders].

The BMI—Body Mass Index—defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared—is a quick way to categorize the relationship of weight to height and does a better job of identifying people with excessive body fat than most other simple and inexpensive measures.

Unfortunately, not everyone demonstrates a close correlation of BMI to body fat and those who don’t may well find themselves discriminated against in the health care system.

The BMI is also an imperfect measure of health risk:

The current BMI classification system is also misleading regarding the effects of body fat mass on mortality rates. Numerous comorbidities, lifestyle issues, gender, ethnicities, medically significant familial-determined mortality effectors, duration of time one spends in certain BMI categories, and the expected accumulation of fat with aging are likely to significantly affect interpretation of BMI data, particularly in regard to morbidity and mortality rates…[This report] outlines the harms and benefits to using BMI and points out that BMI is inaccurate in measuring body fat in multiple groups because it does not account for the heterogeneity across race/ethnic groups, sexes, and age-span.

The resolution recommends:

(1) greater emphasis in physician educational programs on the risk differences among ethnic and age within and between demographic groups at varying
levels of adiposity, BMI, body composition, and waist circumference and the importance  of monitoring these waist circumference in all individuals with BMIs below 35 kg/m2;

(2) additional research on the efficacy of screening for overweight and obesity, using different indicators, in improving various clinical outcomes across populations, including morbidity, mortality, mental health, and prevention of further weight gain; and

(3) more research on the efficacy of screening and interventions by physicians to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors, including healthy diets and regular physical activity, in all of their patients to improve health and minimize disease risks.

My translation: Keep using the BMI as an indicator, but also pay attention to body composition and waist circumference as better measures of body fat.

The AMA is not minimizing the importance of excess body fat as a disease risk factor.  It is saying that only using the BMI to evaluate the risk itself risks stigmatizing patients, especially those of non-majority race, ethnicity, and gender conformation.

This resolution ought to further sensitize physicians to such issues.  If it does, it could not come a better time.

Resources

I am putting the Keys’ paper into this discussion to demonstrate that Keys was quite well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the BMI, which was intended mainly to identify groups and populations at risk of undernutrition.

Guided by the criteria of correlation with height (lowest is best) and to measures of body fatness (highest is best), the ponderal index is the poorest of the relative weight indices studied.  The ratio of weight to height squared, here termed the body mass index, is slightly better in these respects than the simple ratio of weight to height. The body mass index seems preferable over other indices of relative weight on these grounds as well as on the simplicity of the calculation and, in contrast to percentage of average weight, the applicability to all populations at all times.

Mar 10 2023

Weekend reading: stopping the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity

The World Obesity Atlas 2023, published by World Obesity Federation, predicts that unless preventive interventions succeed, by 2035:

  • The global economic impact of overweight and obesity will reach $4.32 trillion annually and constitute nearly 3% of global GDP.
  • The majority—51% or more than 4 billion people—will be living with overweight or obesity.
  • One in four people—nearly 2 billion—will have obesity.
  • The economic impact of overweight and obesity is estimated to be over $370 billion a year in low and lower-middle income countries alone.
  • Childhood obesity could more than double.

Here’s the prediction for the U.S.

In the report, the World Obesity Federation:

  • Notes that member states of WHO committed to halt the increase in obesity rates at 2010 levels by 2025. No country is on track to meet these targets.
  • Calls on governments to develop national action plans.
  • Calls on governments to improve health care.
  • Calls for building on the ROOTS framework for tackling obesity: Recognising the root causes, monitoring Obesity data, investing in Obesity prevention, ensuring access to Treatments, and adopting a Systems-based approach.

The documents:

Comment

This is a global problem requiring global solutions., and actions by every government, including ours.   We need a national obesity prevention plan focused on strategies like to work (reduction of food insecurity, improved health care, better education, restrictions on marketing junk food, etc).

Otherwise,  we are all headed to Wall-E, which will turn out to be prescient, rather than dystopian.

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