by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Obesity

Sep 24 2012

Do sugar-sweetened beverages promote obesity? Yes, say papers in the New England Journal.

 The New England Journal of Medicine has just published a series of articles on sugar-sweetened beverages to  coincide with presentations at The Obesity Society’s annual meeting.  Here are links to the articles.  I’ve extracted brief quotes from some of them.  And here’s a summary in the New York Times.

Perspective: J.L. Pomeranz and K.D. Brownell, Portion Sizes and Beyond — Government’s Legal Authority to Regulate Food-Industry Practices.

Regulations that affect “ordinary commercial transactions” (such as the sale of a product) are presumed to be constitutional if they have a rational basis and if the government body enacting them has the appropriate knowledge and experience to do so.

In the case of New York City’s portion-size restrictions, for example, the health department is an expert public health body that reviewed relevant scientific evidence on the health hazards associated with consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and the effect of portion sizes on consumption patterns. The proposed policy thus has a rational basis….

Original Article: Q. Qi and Others, Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Genetic Risk of Obesity

The study concludes: “the genetic association with adiposity appeared to be more pronounced with greater intake of sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Original Article: J.C. de Ruyter and Others,  A Trial of Sugar-free or Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Body Weight in Children

We conducted an 18-month trial involving 641 primarily normal-weight children from 4 years 10 months to 11 years 11 months of age. Participants were randomly assigned to receive 250 ml (8 oz) per day of a sugar-free, artificially sweetened beverage (sugar-free group) or a similar sugar-containing beverage that provided 104 kcal (sugar group). Beverages were distributed through schools….Masked replacement of sugar-containing beverages with noncaloric beverages reduced weight gain and fat accumulation in normal-weight children.

Original Article: C.B. Ebbeling and Others, A Randomized Trial of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Adolescent Body Weight

We randomly assigned 224 overweight and obese adolescents who regularly consumed sugar-sweetened beverages to experimental and control groups. The experimental group received a 1-year intervention designed to decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, with follow-up for an additional year without intervention….Among overweight and obese adolescents, the increase in BMI was smaller in the experimental group than in the control group after a 1-year intervention designed to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, but not at the 2-year follow-up

Editorial: S. Caprio, Calories from Soft Drinks — Do They Matter?

These randomized, controlled studies — in particular, the study by de Ruyter et al. — provide a strong impetus to develop recommendations and policy decisions to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, especially those served at low cost and in excessive portions, to attempt to reverse the increase in childhood obesity.

Clinical Decisions: T. Farley, D.R. Just, and B. Wansink, Regulation of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

This one is a point/counterpoint.  On the basis of the evidence just presented, should government regulate sugary drinks?

New York City Health Commissioner Tom Farley says yes:

If a harmful chemical in schools were causing our children to get sick, people would demand government regulation to protect them. It is therefore difficult to argue against a government response to an epidemic of obesity that kills more than 100,000 persons a year in the United States and has an environmental origin.7

Federal, state, and local governments already regulate the food system, from farm to retail, in many ways and for many purposes, ranging from support of agriculture to prevention of foodborne illness. The question is not whether we should regulate food, but rather whether we should update food regulations to address this new epidemic.

David Just and Brian Wansink say no:

We must also recognize that the universe of foods that contribute to childhood obesity is much larger than sugar-sweetened beverages. Such a narrowly defined approach would have minimal chance for overall success. Rather, we must consider approaches that will involve parents, schools, and pediatricians in leading children toward more healthful eating habits and increased physical activity. In truth, we cannot hope to create regulations that restrict behavior holistically.

I’d say we now have plenty of evidence that habitual use of soft drinks raises risks for obesity, and plenty of evidence for the need for regulation.

Yes, it would be nice if “leading children to eat better” worked, but parents, teachers, and everyone else needs lots of help in coping with today’s food environment.

The New England Journal has done a great public service in publishing these papers as a series, and the authors all deserve much praise for taking on these difficult research projects.

OK city agencies: get to work!

Sep 19 2012

JAMA publishes theme issue on obesity

Yesterday, JAMA released a theme issue on obesity with several articles of particular interest, starting with New York City Health Commissioner Tom Farley’s Viewpoint.  About portion sizes, Dr. Farley notes:

As publicly traded companies responsive to the interests of their shareholders, food companies cannot make decisions that will lower profits, and larger portion sizes are more profitable because most costs of delivering food items to consumers are fixed….The sale of huge portions is driven by the food industry, not by consumer demand….The portion-size studies strongly suggest that, with a smaller default portion size, most consumers will consume fewer calories.  This change will not reverse the obesity epidemic, but it can have a substantial effect on it.

Lots of interesting food for thought here.  Take a look:


Viewpoint

The Role of Government in Preventing Excess Calorie Consumption:  The Example of New York City
Thomas A. Farley, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1093 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11623

The Next Generation of Obesity Research:  No Time to Waste
Griffin P. Rodgers, MD; Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1095 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11853

FDA Approval of Obesity Drugs:  A Difference in Risk-Benefit Perceptions
Elaine H. Morrato, DrPH, MPH; David B. Allison, PhD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1097 doi:10.1001/jama.2012.10007

Cardiovascular Risk Assessment in the Development of New Drugs for Obesity
William R. Hiatt, MD; Allison B. Goldfine, MD; Sanjay Kaul, MD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1099 doi:10.1001/jama.2012.9931

Original Contribution

Exercise Dose and Diabetes Risk in Overweight and Obese Children:  A Randomized Controlled Trial
Catherine L. Davis, PhD; Norman K. Pollock, PhD; Jennifer L. Waller, PhD; Jerry D. Allison, PhD; B. Adam Dennis, MD; Reda Bassali, MD; Agustín Meléndez, PhD; Colleen A. Boyle, PhD; Barbara A. Gower, PhD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1103 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.10762

Association Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration and Obesity Prevalence in Children and Adolescents
Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP; Teresa M. Attina, MD, PhD, MPH; Jan Blustein, MD, PhD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1113 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11461

Health Benefits of Gastric Bypass Surgery After 6 Years
Ted D. Adams, PhD, MPH; Lance E. Davidson, PhD; Sheldon E. Litwin, MD; Ronette L. Kolotkin, PhD; Michael J. LaMonte, PhD; Robert C. Pendleton, MD; Michael B. Strong, MD; Russell Vinik, MD; Nathan A. Wanner, MD; Paul N. Hopkins, MD, MSPH; Richard E. Gress, MA; James M. Walker, MD; Tom V. Cloward, MD; R. Tom Nuttall, RRT; Ahmad Hammoud, MD; Jessica L. J. Greenwood, MD, MSPH; Ross D. Crosby, PhD; Rodrick McKinlay, MD; Steven C. Simper, MD; Sherman C. Smith, MD; Steven C. Hunt, PhD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1122 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11164

Health Care Use During 20 Years Following Bariatric Surgery
Martin Neovius, PhD; Kristina Narbro, PhD; Catherine Keating, MPH; Markku Peltonen, PhD; Kajsa Sjöholm, PhD; Göran Ågren, MD; Lars Sjöström, MD, PhD; Lena Carlsson, MD, PhD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1132 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11792

Surgical vs Conventional Therapy for Weight Loss Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea:  A Randomized Controlled Trial
John B. Dixon, MBBS, PhD, FRACGP; Linda M. Schachter, MBBS, PhD; Paul E. O’Brien, MD, FRACS; Kay Jones, MT&D, PhD; Mariee Grima, BSc, MDiet; Gavin Lambert, PhD; Wendy Brown, MBBS, PhD, FRACS; Michael Bailey, PhD, MSc; Matthew T. Naughton, MD, FRACP
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1142 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11580

Dysfunctional Adiposity and the Risk of Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes in Obese Adults
Ian J. Neeland, MD; Aslan T. Turer, MD, MHS; Colby R. Ayers, MS; Tiffany M. Powell-Wiley, MD, MPH; Gloria L. Vega, PhD; Ramin Farzaneh-Far, MD, MAS; Scott M. Grundy, MD, PhD; Amit Khera, MD, MS; Darren K. McGuire, MD, MHSc; James A. de Lemos, MD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1150 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11132

Editorial

Progress in Filling the Gaps in Bariatric Surgery
Anita P. Courcoulas, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1160 doi:10.1001/jama.2012.12337

Progress in Obesity Research:  Reasons for Optimism
Edward H. Livingston, MD; Jody W. Zylke, MD
JAMA. 2012;308(11):1162 doi:10.1001/2012.jama.12203

Sep 18 2012

Today’s debate: The Wall Street Journal asks who’s responsible for preventing obesity?

Betsy McKay of The Wall Street Journal organized and moderated a debate on this question.  I was a participant along with Brian Wansink , the John S. Dyson professor of marketing at Cornell University and Michael D. Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

The debate is lengthy—you can read all of it online—but here are my initial responses to the two questions asked of me.

WSJ: What role should government play in addressing the obesity epidemic?  

DR. NESTLE: The government is up to its ears in policies that promote obesity. To name only a handful: supporting production of food commodities, but not of fruits and vegetables; permitting food and beverage companies to deduct marketing expenses from taxes; permitting SNAP benefits [food stamps] to be used on any food, thereby encouraging food companies to market directly to low-income groups.

Research on the prevalence of obesity shows that after decades of remaining at the same level, it began to increase sharply in the early 1980s. Our sense of personal responsibility did not change then. What did change was the food environment, transformed by food industry imperatives to increase sales, to one that increasingly urged people to “eat more” by making it socially acceptable to eat anywhere, anytime, and in very large amounts. In this kind of food environment, all but the most mindful eaters overeat. Few of us are in that category.

The food, beverage and restaurant industries collectively spend roughly $16 billion a year to promote sales through advertising agencies, perhaps $2 billion of that targeted at children. Marketing to children is well established to encourage kids to want advertised products, pester their parents for them, and believe that those products are what they are supposed to be eating. The “I am responsible” argument does not work for children (I’m not aware of evidence that it works well for adults either). Because regular consumption of junk foods and sugary drinks is linked to obesity in children, marketing these products to them is overtly unethical.

To expect food and beverage companies, whose sole purpose is to increase sales and report growth in sales every quarter, to voluntarily stop marketing to children makes no sense. On ethical grounds alone, government intervention is essential.

Given the personal and economic costs of obesity—currently estimated at $190 billion a year—governments have many reasons to promote the health of their populations. Just ask the military.

WSJ: Let’s talk about some specific initiatives. Will Mayor Bloomberg’s cap on soda sizes reduce soda consumption? What about the proposed municipal tax of a penny an ounce on sugary drinks in Richmond, Calif.?

DR. NESTLE: If only education and personal responsibility worked to improve eating behavior. Brian Wansink’s research clearly shows that his own students, diligently educated to understand the effect of large food portions on eating behavior, will still eat more when given more food—and, more seriously, they will underestimate the amount they have eaten.

Education must be backed up by a supportive environment. So why not create a food environment that makes it easier for people to eat less? Mayor Bloomberg’s idea of capping soda sizes at 16 ounces is an interesting approach to doing just that. A 16-ounce soda is not exactly abstemious. It is two standard servings, 50 grams of sugar and 200 calories.

To suggest that food laws will not change behavior makes little sense. For one thing, anti-obesity initiatives have scarcely been tried. For another, the history of anti-smoking interventions suggests quite the opposite. Attempts to get smokers to quit by invoking personal responsibility made little headway. Smokers quit when the government made smoking so inconvenient and expensive that it became easier to stop than to continue.

The intense response of soda companies to Mayor Bloomberg’s cap on soda size is testimony to the effectiveness of regulatory approaches. The companies would not be putting this kind of effort or spending millions to oppose an action they expected to fail.

Aug 28 2012

PepsiCo donates $100,000 to National Association of Hispanic Journalists

A blog post from Fernando Quintero on the Berkeley Media Studies Group’s site alerted me to PepsiCo’s latest example of corporate social responsibility: an additional $50,000 donation for scholarships and internships to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists bringing the total to $100,000.

Hispanic populations in the United States have higher than average rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions associated with overconsumption of sodas and snacks.

Such generosity raises questions about what Pepsi is buying from this group.

The NAHJ says:

We are thrilled to have PepsiCo as a new partner committed to building a stronger Latino community,” said Ivan Roman, Executive Director for NAHJ. “The company’s support as we get more Hispanics into journalism to tell our stories is key to making sure our communities are represented fairly in the news media, while giving them a louder voice in the civic dialogue.

Why do I think that journalists in this Association are unlikely to be telling stories like these:

  • The relationship of soda and snack consumption to obesity and type 2 diabetes in Hispanic communities
  • The relationship of soda and snack consumption to Hispanic childhood obesity
  • How soda intake among Hispanic children leads to dental decay
  • Soda company marketing practices in Hispanic communities
  • The effects of soda and snack marketing on dietary practices and health in countries in Latin America

Pepsi says:

As part of La Promesa de PepsiCo, the company is building relationships with the community, strengthening its strategic partnerships, and sponsoring national Hispanic organizations like: CHCI (Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute), HACR (Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility), LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists), and NCLR (National Council of La Raza) among others.

A page from the tobacco-industry playbook, no?

Aug 27 2012

How much does obesity cost American society?

The costs of obesity are personal, but also societal.

Economists love trying to figure out how to quantify such things.

The most widely used estimate for the United States is from Cawley and Meyerhoefer’s 2012 article in the Journal of Health Economics: $190 billion annually for health care and lost productivity (their 2010 working paper may be easier to access at the National Bureau of Economic Research site).

Now the Campaign to End Obesity has published its own analysis of these costs.

  • $44.7 billion, for inpatient services.
  • $45.2 billion, for non-inpatient services.
  • $69.3 billion, for pharmaceutical services.
  • $146.6 billion, across all services.

As the Campaign puts it:

the total economic cost of overweight and obesity in the United States and Canada caused by medical costs, excess mortality and disability is approximately $300 billion per year. The portion of this total due to overweight is approximately $80 billion, and approximately $220 billion is due to obesity. The portion of the total in the United States is approximately 90 percent of the total for the United States and Canada.

I don’t know what to make of such estimates.  They are always based on assumptions that may or may not be valid. 

One thing is clear: obesity is expensive, personally, economically, and politically.

That’s why it’s a good idea to support public health initiatives to make it easier for people to maintain a healthy weight.

Providing healthier food in schools, getting junk food out of schools, soda taxes, soda caps, and restrictions on marketing to kids are the kinds of ideas that are worth supporting.  

Now. 

Aug 5 2012

Low carb or low fat: Do calories count?

Here’s my once a month on the first Sunday Food Matters column for the San Francisco Chronicle, out today:

Nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle answers readers’ questions in this column written exclusively for The Chronicle. E-mail your questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with “Marion Nestle” in the subject line.

Q: I’m confused about calories. If I cut calories to lose weight, does it matter what foods I eat? Or are all calories the same?

A: As the co-author of “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics,” I hear this question all the time.

The short answer: Calories matter for weight. The choice of foods that provide the calories matters a lot for health and may make it easier for you to diet successfully.

To lose weight, reducing calorie intake below expenditure works every time.

To prove this point, a professor at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks on the Twinkies diet – one Twinkies every three hours with occasional snacks of chips, sugary cereals and cookies. Even so, he cut his usual calorie intake by 800 a day. Anyone would lose weight doing that.

Only four dietary components provide calories: fat (9 per gram), carbohydrate and protein (4 per gram each) – and alcohol (7 per gram).

Does the particular mix of these components make any difference to weight loss? Yes, say proponents of diets low in carbohydrate, especially rapidly absorbable sugars and refined starches.

Low-carbohydrate diets are necessarily high in fat, and somewhat higher in protein. Do people lose weight on them because of the effects of carbohydrates on insulin levels or because low-carbohydrate diets help reduce calories?

This question does not have an easy answer, but not for lack of trying. Weight-loss studies are hard to do. Estimating calorie intake is notoriously inaccurate, and measuring calories is difficult and expensive.

The first measurement study I know of took place in 1964. Investigators from the Oakland Institute for Medical Research studied weight loss in five obese patients in a hospital metabolic ward. They calculated the number of calories needed to induce rapid weight loss in each patient, and fed each of them a liquid formula diet containing that number every day. Every few weeks, they changed the formula to vary the proportions of protein (ranging from 14 percent to 36 percent of calories), fat (12 percent to 83 percent), and carbohydrate (3 percent to 64 percent).

Regardless of the proportions, all patients lost weight at a constant rate. The investigators titled their study “Calories Do Count.”

This study was conducted under rigidly controlled conditions of hospitalization and involved actual measurements – not estimations – of calorie intake and body weight.

But what about weight-loss studies involving people who are not incarcerated? Since the early 2000s, numerous clinical trials have shown low-carbohydrate diets to produce greater weight loss than low-fat diets. Some also have observed improvements in blood pressure, blood glucose levels and blood lipids.

But it is so inaccurate to estimate calorie intake in such studies that most didn’t bother to try. This means they can’t say whether the weight loss was due to composition of the diet or to calorie reduction.

It’s possible that low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets make people less hungry, but the evidence for this is mixed. Most studies of extreme diets of any type report high dropout rates or failure to stick to the diet for more than six months or so. And even though initial weight loss is rapid on low-carbohydrate diets because of water loss, these diets are low in fiber and some vitamins.

One problem with losing weight is that it takes fewer calories to maintain smaller bodies. Dieting also reduces energy expenditure.

One recent study of that problem involved taking detailed measurements for several years, and illustrates the difficulties of obtaining definitive answers to questions about diet composition and energy balance.

The researchers wanted to know whether diet composition affected energy expenditure in very obese people who had just dieted off up to 15 percent of their weight. They found that a low-carbohydrate diet did not slow down energy expenditure nearly as much as a low-fat diet, meaning that low-carbohydrate diets might make it easier for people to maintain weight loss.

On this basis, the investigators said, “The results of our study challenge the notion that a calorie is a calorie from a metabolic perspective.”

Perhaps, but study subjects were fed prepared calorie-controlled diets for only four weeks, and lost and maintained weight under highly controlled conditions. Does diet composition matter for weight maintenance in the real world? Longer-term studies by other investigators show that diet composition makes little difference in the ability to maintain weight loss.

Most reviews of the subject conclude that any diet will lead to weight loss if it cuts calories sufficiently.

Obviously, some diets are better for health than others.

Face it. The greatest challenge in dieting is to figure out how to eat less – and to eat healthfully on a regular basis – in the midst of today’s “eat more” food environment. And that’s a much more important research problem than whether low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets work better for weight loss.

Marion Nestle is an author and a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. She blogs at foodpolitics.com. E-mail: food@sfchronicle.com

 

 

Jul 31 2012

Obesity: global public health challenge or investment opportunity?

Worried about the potential personal and economic costs of obesity?  Never mind.  It’s time to view obesity as a business opportunity.

As the press release for a new research report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Globesity—The Global Fight Against Obesity, points out:

Increasing efforts to tackle obesity over the coming decades will form an important new investment theme for fund managers…Global obesity is a mega-investment theme for the next 25 years and beyond…The report…identifies that efforts to reduce obesity is a “megatrend” with a shelf-life of 25 to 50 years…BofA Merrill Lynch analysts across several sectors have collaborated to identify the sectors and companies developing long-term solutions.

Given the worldwide increase in obesity, its high prospective costs, and the ever-present threat of government regulation, the report identifies more than 50 global stocks that provide investment opportunities for fighting “globesity.”  These fall into four categories:

  • Pharmaceuticals and Health Care: companies taking advantage of the FDA’s increased support for obesity drug development; tackling related medical conditions and needs including diabetes, kidney failure, hip and knee implants; making equipment such as patient lifts, bigger beds and wider ambulance doors.
  • Food: companies accessing the $663 billion “health and wellness” market and reformulating portfolios to respond to increasing pressure such as “fat taxes” to reduce sugar and fat levels.
  • Commercial Weight Loss, Diet Management and Nutrition: companies pursuing dieting, nutrition and behavioral change—a $4 billion market in the U.S. and growing globally.
  • Sports Apparel and Equipment: “This is the longer-term play, but we believe that promoting physical activity will become a key priority for more government health policies.”

Well, that’s one way to look at it.  Public health, anyone?  

Jul 20 2012

SNAP to Health: A Fresh Approach to Strengthening SNAP

I’m on the advisory committee for SNAP to Health, a project of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, chaired by Dr. Susan Blumenthal.

The Commission released its report on Wednesday in Washington DC at a congressional briefing at which I (and several others) spoke.

The report, Snap to Health, is online at this link.  Its recommendations are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The major points made at the briefing:

  • SNAP funding must be preserved; the program is a lifeline for 46 million Americans, half of them children.
  • SNAP, as Rep. Ron Wyden (Dem-OR) put it, “is a conveyor belt for calories.”  It would be better if the calories came from healthier foods.
  • The prevalence of obesity is high among low-income Americans and some evidence suggests that rates may be higher among SNAP participants.
  • Buying healthier foods with SNAP benefits is not easy.  There are problems with access, cost, and relentless marketing of junk foods to low-income groups in general and to EBT users in particular.

As I discussed in my remarks (which are also supposed to be posted on SnapToHealth.org soon), food companies and retailers specifically target marketing efforts to low-income groups and to SNAP participants.  No such efforts market healthier foods to EBT users.

Michele Simon’s recent report documents the extensive lobbying efforts of food companies to make sure that SNAP recipients can use EBT cards to buy their products.

The Snap to Health report is meant to start a national conversation about helping this program to address twenty-first century health challenges.

Let the conversation begin!