Food Politics

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Updated: 11 min 35 sec ago

WHO versus noncommunicable (chronic) disease: where’s the sugar target?

4 hours 45 min ago

The World Health Organization (WHO) released two reports within the last week aimed at preventing noncommunicable diseases.  Although the second is all about reducing sugar intake, the first report is about everything but.

1.  The Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases, 2014.* 

The WHO press release points out that the report calls for:

more action to be taken to curb the epidemic, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where deaths due to NCDs are overtaking those from infectious diseases. Almost three quarters of all NCD deaths (28 million), and 82% of the 16 million premature deaths, occur in low- and middle-income countries.

How?  By working to achieve 9 targets:

  • Target 1: A 25% relative reduction in risk of premature mortality from CVDs, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases.
  • Target 2: At least 10% relative reduction in the harmful use of alcohol, as appropriate, within the national context.
  • Target 3: A 10% relative reduction in prevalence of insufficient physical activity.
  • Target 4: A 30% relative reduction in mean population intake of salt/sodium.
  • Target 5: A 30% relative reduction in prevalence of current tobacco use in persons aged 15+ years.
  • Target 6: A 25% relative reduction in the prevalence of raised blood pressure or contain the prevalence of raised blood pressure, according to national circumstances.
  • Target 7: Halt the rise in diabetes and obesity.
  • Target 8: At least 50% of eligible people receive drug therapy and counselling (including glycaemic control) to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
  • Target 9: An 80% availability of the affordable basic technologies and essential medicines, including generics, required to treat major NCDs in both public and private facilities.

Don’t dietary sugars have something to do with diabetes and obesity?  How come no specific target?  This is especially odd in light of the second report.

2. Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children

The WHO makes three recommendations about intake of added (“free”) sugars:

  • A reduced intake of free sugars throughout the lifecourse (strong recommendation).
  • Reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake (strong recommendation).
  • A further reduction of the intake of free sugars to below 5% of total energy intake (conditional recommendation)

Why no target for sugar reduction to 10% of energy  in the first report?

The omission is glaring.  Could politics be involved?  It’s hard to think of any other explanation.

WHO needs to speak with one voice on NCD targets, guidelines, and recommendations.

* Along with the NCD target report, WHO also released:

**Thanks to Dr. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez for alerting me to the lack of a sugar target.

Reading for a snowbound day: Noodle Narratives

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 8:31am

Frederick Errington, Tatsuro Fujikura, and Deborah Gewertz.  The Noodle Narratives: The Global Rise of an Industrial Food into the Twenty-First Century.  University of California Press, 2013.

 

How did it happen that lots of people subsist on instant noodles?  As the anthropologist authors explain, Ramen noodles are ubiquitous, quotidian, tasty, convenient, cheap, and shelf stable.  The industrial (cheap) versions are loaded with MSG and palm oil.   But then, there’s the David Chang Momofuko version, “cosmopolitan and classy,” requiring pounds of meat and taking hours to prepare (not cheap).  This book is about the commodification of instant noodles, starting from small Japanese markets and ending up as the world’s most widespread industrial food: “a capitalist provision that provisions capitalism.”  But will they feed the world?  “Our hope is that the future will provide at least a modest mosaic of choices—a mosaic in which competing orientations toward food, with an emphasis either on security or sovereighty, will continue to challenge one another in a socially and environmentally productive way.

Some thoughts about the Revolving Door

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 8:59am

Joel Leftwich has left his job as senior director for PepsiCo’s public policy and government affairs team (since March 2013) to become staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee now led by Pat Roberts (R-Kansas).

In some ways, it’s a perfectly logical appointment.  Before joining PepsiCo, Leftwich worked for Roberts as a legislative aide from 2005 to 2010 and as deputy staff director for the Ag Committee from 2011 to 2013.

But his connection to PepsiCo raises concerns.  The Ag committee will be dealing with several issues involving sodas and snack foods opposed by some members of Congress:

  • Reauthorization of WIC, the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (its requirements for healthy foods are always under pressure).
  • Preservation of the school nutrition standards authorized by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (under attack by the food industry and its friends in Congress).
  • SNAP nutrition standards (there is a movement to make sodas ineligible for SNAP-EBT purchases).
  • Issuance of the 2015 dietary guidelines, always under pressure not to say anything direct about not drinking sodas.
  • Issuance of the new food labels.  The soda industry opposes putting in “added sugars.”   While this is FDA’s purview, not USDA’s, the Ag Appropriations Committee governs FDA’s appropriations.

And on the state level, it’s worth taking a look at what the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is up to, courtesy of Bettina Siegel’s The Lunch Tray: “cupcake amnesty.”

Clearly, agricultural policies affect public health in highly prominent ways.

That’s why we need to do a much better job of connecting food policy to health policy.

And that’s why having a leading PepsiCo lobbyist in charge of agricultural committee staff raises serious concerns about conflict of interest.

Weekend reading: Liz Carlilisle’s Lentil Underground

Fri, 01/23/2015 - 9:18am
Liz Carlisle.  Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America.  Gotham Books, 2015.

 

I did a blurb for this one:

What does it take to farm sustainably—and make a living?  Liz Carlisle tells the engrossing story of the “audacity rich, but capital poor” Montana farmers who thought lentils were the answer and stuck with them until proved right.  Anyone who dreams of starting a farm or wants to know how organic farmers can overcome the obstacles they face will be inspired by this book.

Seattle menu labeling improves calorie awareness and use

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 10:00am

A study just published in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrates some benefits from menu labeling.

In 2009, a year after New York City, Seattle required calorie labeling on the menus of restaurants.  Its evaluation found:

Calorie information awareness and use increased significantly from 2008 to 2010…the proportion who saw and used calorie information tripled, from 8.1% to 24.8%…White, higher income, and obese respondents had greater odds of seeing calorie information….Significant increases in calorie information awareness and use following regulation support the population-wide value of this policy.

As Helena Bottemiller Evich reports in Politico, this is

a finding that gives some hope to the advocates of FDA’s menu labeling final rule, released in November 2014 with a Dec. 1, 2015 implementation date, especially as some industry groups continue to push Congress to narrow the impact of the Affordable Care Act mandate so it doesn’t apply to grocery stores and movie theaters along with restaurant chains.

Menu labeling went national when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010.  It’s taken the FDA this long to get the rules out.

In the meantime, evaluations of New York City’s policies and now Seattle’s continue to show some benefits—at least among people who look at the labeling.

As I keep saying, calorie labeling most definitely affects my menu choices, but I tend to look at such things.

Why voluntary guidelines for marketing to kids can’t work

Wed, 01/21/2015 - 11:00am

Some of the reaction to yesterday’s post commenting on guidelines for voluntary restrictions on marketing to kids focused on political realities.  Given that our current Congress is highly unlikely to enact mandatory guidelines, improving voluntary guidelines is the best we can do.

Maybe, but some members of Congress are willing to take action.

Take a look at Buzz Kill, a report on the marketing of highly caffeinated energy drinks by the staff of Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) in coordination with the staff of Senators Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

Concerned about the effects of these drinks on the health of America’s youth, the Senators held hearings and sent a questionnaire to the 16 major companies that make these drinks “to assess the extent to which the energy drink industry as a whole will commit to voluntary measures that will better protect young consumers and prevent misuse.”

Buzz Kill summarizes what they learned from the 12 companies that responded.

  • Only 4 of the 12 companies said they would not market to youth under age 18 (these companies constitute 90% of the market).
  • Only one company committed to all specific measures: labeling products as not intended for youth under age 18, restricting advertising buys to media where no more than 35 percent of the audience is under age 18, restricting social media access for youth under age 18, and avoiding featuring youth under age 18 in energy drink marketing campaigns.
  • All but one of the responding companies said they would not market, sample, or sell their products in K-12 school settings, but 2 companies used equivocal language.
  • 6 of 10 companies said they were willing to report adverse advents; 3 of 10 said they would do so under specified conditions, and 1 refused to report.
  • 3 companies that belong to the American Beverage Association, which says its members are committed not to market caffeinated energy drinks as sports drinks, do so.
  • Most of the 12 companies label caffeine content on their products, and say they will not promote rapid or excessive consumption or the mixing of energy drinks with drugs or alcohol.
  • 4 of the 12 companies (representing 90% of the market) refuse to commit to protecting adolescents from targeted marketing campaigns.

Summary: the companies that own 90% of the energy drink market are largely unwilling to do much to stop marketing their products to kids under age 18.

Buzz Kill comes with recommendations.  Here’s the first:

To protect youth, all energy drink manufacturers should cease marketing of energy drink products to children and teens under the age of 18 and sales of these products in K-12 school settings. Companies should engage with distributers and other third-party entities to ensure all contractual partners are bound by this commitment. Additionally, companies should put in place social media and online restrictions, and cease online appeals and marketing to children and teens.

It also comes with an ask: write a letter to the companies asking for stronger voluntary commitments.

It says nothing about regulation.  But Buzz Kill provides plenty of evidence that nothing short of regulation will get these companies to stop such practices.

The Europeans are regulating energy drinks.  We can too.

The latest report on food marketing to kids: Healthy Eating Research

Tue, 01/20/2015 - 8:58am

Healthy Eating Research (HER), a group sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has just released a report on food marketing to kids, an issue brief with recommendations, and an Infographic summarizing the report’s major points.

The recommendations are aimed at the food industry’s voluntary guidelines for what and how junk foods can be marketed to kids.  These are famously weak and HER set out to tweak them to make the recommendations stronger.

This report provides an excellent summary of what’s wrong with marketing to kids.

But its recommendations are disappointing.  Here they are from the Infographic:

These are undoubtedly too small for you to read and, in any case, are written so tentatively—they do not use the word “should”—that they require translation.  Here’s mine:

Guidelines for food marketing should apply to:

  • Kids age 14 or younger (not 11)
  • Audiences containing 25% or more of kids under age 14 (not 35%)
  • Both food products and brands (not just products).
  • All marketing aimed at kids, everywhere kids are (not just TV or Internet)

These are tweakings of voluntary guidelines.

I don’t see the point.  If we really want the food industry to stop marketing unhealthy foods and drinks to kids, the guidelines can’t be voluntary and tweakings are unlikely to help.

Food marketing to kids is flat-out unethical and should stop.

The industry will never do this voluntarily.

That’s the issue such reports need to address.

Reading for the holiday weekend: agricultural controversies

Fri, 01/16/2015 - 7:47am

Two new books deal with a range of issues under current debate: GMOs, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, farm subsidies, local food, livestock raising methods, organics, and what have you.

The first calls on good government to take action to resolve the controversies.   The second takes a cost/benefit approach and argues for technological change to settle the issues.

Singly or together, both should stimulate debate—in and out of the classroom.

F. Bailey Norwood, Pascal A. Oltenacu, Michelle S. Calvo-Lorenzo, and Sarach Lancaster.  Agricultural & Food Controversies: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Oxford University Press, 2015.

 

Andrew Barkley and Paul W. Barkley.  Depolarizing Food and Agriculture: An Economic Approach.  Routledge, 2015.

The issues discussed in these books are not easy to resolve.  Research on them is limited and incomplete.  Viewpoints differ widely.  Depolarization—or detente, as USDA Secretary Vilsack called it last year—will not be easy.  It’s worth taking the trouble to understand the basis of the debates and these books are a good place to start.

Happy holiday.