by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Obesity

Aug 9 2022

My latest publication: Preventing Obesity

JAMA Internal Medicine has just published an editorial I wrote: Preventing Obesity—It Is Time for Multiple Policy Strategies

As it explains, it is a commentary on a research article by Joshua Petimar, et al, Assessment of Calories Purchased After Calorie Labeling of Prepared Foods in a Large Supermarket Chain  

Both papers are behind paywalls, but here are the key points of the supermarket article:

Question  Was calorie labeling of prepared foods in supermarkets associated with changes in calories purchased from prepared foods and potential packaged substitutes?

Findings  In this longitudinal study of 173 supermarkets followed from 2015 to 2017, calories purchased from prepared bakery items declined by 5.1% after labeling, and calories purchased from prepared deli items declined by 11.0% after labeling, adjusted for prelabeling trends and changes in control foods; no changes were observed among prepared entrées and sides. Calories purchased from similar packaged items did not increase after labeling.

Meaning  Calorie labeling of prepared supermarket foods was associated with overall small declines in calorie content of prepared foods without substitution to similar packaged foods.

I was really interested in this study because the “large supermarket chain” that supplied reams of data was so obviously Hannaford, which has long been ahead of the curve in trying to encourage customers to make healthier food choices.

In 2005, Hannaford initiated a Guiding Stars program that ranked–and still ranks–products by giving them zero to three stars depending on what they contain.

I wrote about the first-year evaluation of this program way back in 2006.  It did help customers to make better choices.

Now, all these years later, the FDA is contemplating doing some kind of front-of-package label.  As I said, Hannaford is way ahead.

But the point of my editorial is that single interventions rarely do better than what this study found.

I argue here for trying multiple strategies at once:

My interpretation of the current status of obesity prevention research is that any single policy intervention is unlikely to show anything but small improvements.

Pessimists will say such interventions are futile and should no longer be attempted.

Optimist that I am, I disagree.  We cannot expect single interventions to prevent population-basedweight gain ontheirown,but they might help some people—and might help even more people if combined simultaneously with other interventions.

….Widespread policy efforts to reduce intake of ultraprocessed foods through a combination of taxes, warning labels, marketing and portion-size restrictions, dietary guidelines, and media education campaigns, along with policies for subsidizing healthier foods and promoting greater physical activity, should be tried; they may produce meaningful effects.

Politically difficult? Of course. Politically impossible? I do not think so.

Unless we keep trying to intervene—and continue to examine the results of our attempts—we will be settling for the normalization of overweight and the personal and societal costs of its health consequences.

Here’s Ted Kyle’s commentary on my commentary on ConscienHealth.

Apr 21 2022

The FDA needs to take on obesity (and so do other government health agencies)

In response to my post last week about problems at the FDA, I received an emailed note from Jerry Mande, whom I met years ago when he was at USDA, and is now a visiting fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Terrific piece today, but you should have called for the need for FDA to focus much more on the chronic disease risks of food. It’s catastrophic that they have taken only one truly regulatory action (banning trans fat) to improve diet and health…Commissioner Califf needs to put the F back in FDA only 7% of CFSAN’s budget is used for improving diet quality and nutrition, which accounts for 99%+ of food related poor health…The bottom line, as you know better than anyone, is there are more deaths every day due to poor quality diets than in a year due to acute illnesses…I urge you to consider that when you write more on this topic. You could start by featuring our op-ed in your blog. Thx!

The op-ed is indeed worth a read.

But, in fact, this topic has been on my mind since Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich wrote Diet-related diseases pose a major risk for Covid-19.  But the U.S. overlooks them, back in October.

Her article, which focused on the lack of government attention to the risks posed by obesity for chronic disease and COVID-19, inspired me to write an editorial for the American Journal of Public Health.  I’m told it’s going online tonight (if it does, I will post it tomorrow).

Jul 12 2021

Conflicted interests? Drugs vs supplements for obesity

Lots of people take supplements in the hope that they will help with body weight.  This is a big market.  Drug companies want in on it.  Most drugs don’t work, or have deal-breaking side effects.  In June,  The FDA approved Novo Nordisk’s Semaglutide for obesity management.

I subscribe to the Obesity and Energetics newsletter, which sends out weekly lists of research, articles, and commentary on those topics—a great way to stay up on current literature.

On July 2, it featured:

This referred to: Perspective: Dietary supplements and alternative therapies for obesity: A Perspective from The Obesity Society’s Clinical Committee.  Srividya Kidambi, John A. Batsis, William T. Donahoo, Ania M. Jastreboff, Scott Kahan, Katherine H. Saunders, Steven B. Heymsfield.  Obesity 23 June 2021.

Our recommendation to clinicians is to consider the lack of evidence for non-FDA-approved dietary supplements and therapies and guide their patients toward tested weight management approaches…we call on regulatory authorities to critically examine the dietary supplement industry, including their role in promoting misleading claims and marketing products that have the potential to harm patients.

I am with the Obesity Society on this one, but what caught my interest was that several of the authors report financial tied to drug companies with interests in pharmacologic approaches to obesity treatment.

Conflicts of interest: SK serves as Medical Editor for TOPS Magazine (TOPS Inc. nonprofit weight loss club) and as Director for the TOPS Center for Metabolic Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin supported by TOPS Inc. JAB’s research reported in this publication was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under Award Number K23AG051681. JAB reports equity in SynchroHealth LLC. AMJ’s research is supported by the NIH/NIDDK, the American Diabetes Association, Novo Nordisk, and Eli Lilly; she serves as a consultant for Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, and Boehringer Ingelheim. SKa has served as a consultant for Novo Nordisk, Vivus, Gelesis, and Pfizer. KHS reports an ownership interest in Intellihealth. SBH reports his position on the Medical Advisory Board of Medifast Corp.

The newsletter also featured the article referred to in the Perspective.

When I clicked on this link, it took me to the page where I could download the pdf.  I got the paper at this site.   But before I could read it, I had to see an ad for Novo Nordisk’s drug, Semaglutide.  Then I scrolled down to get the study:  A Systematic Review of Dietary Supplements and Alternative Therapies for Weight Loss.  John A. Batsis, John W. Apolzan, Pamela J. Bagley, Heather B. Blunt, Vidita Divan, Sonia Gill, Angela Golden, Shalini Gundumraj, Steven B. Heymsfield, Scott Kahan, Katherine Kopatsis … Obesity (2021) 29, 1102-1113

Study conclusion: “There is weak evidence for the efficacy of dietary supplements and alternative therapies.”

Authors’ disclosure: JAB reports equity in SynchroHealth LLC. AG reports consulting with Novo Nordisk and Unjury. SH reports personal fees from Medifast. SKa reports personal fees from Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Vivus, and Gelesis. DR reports consulting and speaking fees for Novo Nordisk and Astra Zeneca. KHS has a relationship with Intellihealth Inc. SK is the medical director for TOPS Center for Metabolic Health at the Medical College of Wisconsin, which is supported by TOPS Inc. SBH reports his position on the Medical Advisory Board of Medifast Corp.

I much prefer dietary approaches to weight management and policy strategies to make healthy diets the easy choice.

I am almost never in favor of supplements.  The evidence that they do much beyond placebo effects is usually pretty weak.

The ad gives the side effects for Semiglutide; it has to.

My point: all of this seems to be about marketing Semiglutide.

Mar 30 2021

One picture….

Mar 17 2021

Overweight is a major risk factor for Covid-19 hospitalization and death

I was struck by headlines last week stating that a CDC study found that 78% of people hospitalized with Covid-19 were overweight or obese.

78%?  That is an enormous percentage.

I looked up the study: Body “Mass Index and Risk for COVID-19–Related Hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit Admission, Invasive Mechanical Ventilation, and Death — United States, March–December 2020.”

Summary

What is already known about this topic?

Obesity increases the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness.

What is added by this report?

Among 148,494 U.S. adults with COVID-19, a nonlinear relationship was found between body mass index (BMI) and COVID-19 severity, with lowest risks at BMIs near the threshold between healthy weight and overweight in most instances, then increasing with higher BMI. Overweight and obesity were risk factors for invasive mechanical ventilation. Obesity was a risk factor for hospitalization and death, particularly among adults aged <65 years.

What are the implications for public health practice?

These findings highlight clinical and public health implications of higher BMIs, including the need for intensive management of COVID-19–associated illness, continued vaccine prioritization and masking, and policies to support healthy behaviors.

The data supporting the headline are found in Table 1 in the paper.  This shows that overweight and obesity do indeed account for 78% of hospitalizations, but also close to that percentage for ICU visits and mechanical ventilation, but “only” 73% of deaths.

Overweight and obesity were especially risky for people under age 65, although they caused plenty of problems for people over age 65 too.

Why do they make Covid-19 worse?  The best guesses have to do with inflammation and mechanical pressure on lungs.

I found these figures shockingly high.

Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to reduce the risks for overweight and obesity?  Yes we should.

And what are those risks?

  • Poverty
  • Racial discrimination
  • Inadequate schools
  • Unemployment
  • Lack of adequate health care
  • Air pollution
  • And, of course, poor diets

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that to prevent its bad effects, we need vaccinations and masking for sure, but we also need to change society.

 

Feb 19 2021

Weekend reading: Fat Justice

Aubrey Gordon.  What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.  Beacon Press. 2020.

I didn’t think I’d want to read or write about this book but I couldn’t put it down and ended up doing a blurb for it:

In What We Talk About, Audrey Gordon gives us an authoritative, forceful, splendidly written, and deeply moving account of the shockingly personal hostility she and other fat people must endure on a daily basis.  You don’t have to agree with her interpretation of the research on fatness and its consequences to sign on to her thoroughly convincing demand for respect as a human being and for what she calls “fat justice.”  This book changed my thinking, and in the best possible way.

Here are two short excerpts:

While these [other fat activist] approaches work for many, I describe mine as work for fat justice.  Body positivity has shown me that our work for liberations must explicitly name fatness as its battlground—because when we don’t, each of us are likely to fall back on our deep-seated, faulty cultural beliefs about fatness and fat people, claiming to stand for “all bodies” while we implicitly and explicitly exclude the fattest among us.  I yearn for more than neutrality, acceptance, and tolerance—all of which strike me as a meek plea to simply stop harming us, rather than asking for help in healing that harm or requesting that each of us unearth and examine our existing biases against fat people (p. 6)

But the first step for all of us will be to let go of the magical thinking of thinness.  Stop believing that a thinner body will bring us better relationships, dream jobs, obedient children, beautiful homes.  Stop waiting to do the things we love until we’ve lost ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred pounds.  Come to truly believe what we already know, and what so much data tells us: the vast majority of us don’t lose significant amounts of weight and the few who do don’t maintain weight loss in the long term.  Nearly twenty years of dieting has shown me that I will never be thin….I also believe that my life is worth living, worth embracing, worth loving, and celebrating.  And it’s worth all of that now—not two hundred pounds from now (p. 161).

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Jan 14 2021

Pet Parents: Go easy on “Treat Love.”

I subscribe to Obesity and Energetics Offerings because it’s a great way to keep up with current research and commentary on just about anything related to diet and activity.

One of the things I particularly like about it is its section called “Headline vs Study.”

Here is its most recent example:

The headline, from Pet Food Industry magazine (an  unusually well written and edited source of information about this industry), refers to a survey of veterinarians done by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a maker of pet foods.

According to veterinarians, more than 71% of pet professionals say the pandemic has impacted the way pets eat…Since the start of Covid-19, one third (33%) of pet parents with an overweight pet say their pet became overweight during the pandemic…veterinarians state that only 12% of pet parents proactively flag concerns with their pet’s weight. Moreover, nearly two in three veterinarians say pet parents act surprised (64%) or defensive (64%) upon learning about their pet’s weight issues.

Pet parents?  You know who you are.

What is this about?

IRONICALLY, TOO MUCH “TREAT LOVE” DURING THESE DIFFICULT TIMES IS THE MAIN CULPRIT.

Treats, as Mal Nesheim and I explain in our book about the pet food industry, Feed Your Pet Righthave calories, and those calories—just like the ones from any snack—add up.

Obesity in pets does just what it does in humans; it raises the risk of chronic disease, especially type-2 diabetes

A new study just out in the BMJ, which compared obesity in dogs to that of their owners, says:

Data indicated that owners of a dog with diabetes were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes during follow-up than owners of a dog without diabetes. It is possible that dogs with diabetes could serve as a sentinel for shared diabetogenic health behaviours and environmental exposures.

Pet parents: Walk those dogs!  Love them some other way!

 

Nov 25 2020

The State of Obesity, 2020: no downturn in prevalence

Trust for America’s Health has just issued its annual report on obesity in America.

The full report is here.

The results are truly alarming, especially because obesity—and the conditions for which it increases risk—also increase the risk of poor Covid-19 outcome.

The U.S. adult obesity rate stands at 42.4 percent, the first time the national rate has passed the 40 percent mark, and further evidence of the country’s obesity crisis. The national adult obesity rate has increased by 26 percent since 2008…Rates of childhood obesity are also increasing with the latest data showing that 19.3 percent of U.S. young people, ages 2 to 19, have obesity. In the mid-1970s, 5.5 percent of young people had obesity.

The report has a special section on the link between food insecurity and obesity.

Food insecurity and obesity have many of the same risk factors (e.g., income or race/ethnicity) and often coexist in populations. Researchers have hypothesized several mechanisms for how food insecurity might lead to obesity. These include the direct limitations to a healthy diet that come from inadequate food affordability and/or availability; stress and anxiety about food insecurity
that generate higher levels of stress hormones, which heighten appetite; and a physiological response in which the body stores higher fat amounts in response to reduced food availability.

As always, this is a terrific source of current information about America’s increasingly prevalent health problem and what’s being done—and needs to be done—to solve it.