Archive for the ‘Policy’ Category


Current label on left, proposed label on right

I think the proposed changes to food labels and portion sizes are generally pretty good. Certainly from an info design perspective it makes sense to create at least a little contrast (e.g., by emphasizing the calories) as well as some proximity (putting the percent daily values closer to their respective nutrients. From a public health perspective, it should be much better for portions to be more realistic, as well as to have added sugars called out on the labels (though not sure why they didn’t go ahead and create an “Added Fat” call-out too).

All of this said, it’s not clear that kids are going to care that their sugar-sweetened beverage now explicitly says how much of both (calories & sugar) they are getting. And of course, the more food you eat without labels, the better. But perhaps it will cause business to respond with healthier options … either in the foods that would be re-labeled or as additional offerings.

NPR has a good write-up here. Not surprisingly, Marion Nestle approves.

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Food Politics’ Marion Nestle has written today about new food-based dietary guidelines Brazil has issued for public comment. [If you can read Portuguese, here’s the original.] The guidelines are:

  1. Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods.
  2. Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.
  3. Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products.
  4. Eat regular meals, paying attention, and in appropriate environments.
  5. Eat in company whenever possible.
  6. Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.
  7. Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
  8. Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space.
  9. When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains.
  10. Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.

What I find fascinating is how many of the guidelines have to do with something aside from what foods to eat, such as the guidelines about eating meals with others (4 & 5) and the guidelines about cooking & planning (7 & 8).

Nestle is a fan:

The guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices.

It will be interesting to see if/how the guidelines change as a result of the open comment period, as well as the reaction to them from the US dietary establishment.

Side note: Nestle got a translation of the guidelines from University of Sao Paulo’s Carlos A. Monteiro, author of a study defining the concept of “ultra-processing” and contributor to these draft guidelines.

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pyramidOver at Eathropology, Adele Hite has published part 1 of As the Calories Churn. In it, she gets “down and geeky … with some Dietary Guidelines backstory” since 2000 noting that some involved may have thought that “the advice to Americans to eat more carbohydrate and less fat wasn’t such a good idea.”

Interestingly, an Eathropology commenter notes that earlier efforts on our dietary guidelines had their own back stories too, linking to the story of the 1992 food pyramid. Luise Light, former USDA Director of Dietary Guidance and Nutrition Education Research and responsible for the 1992 food pyramid writes that the actual published guide was “vastly different” from what was drafted (emphasis mine):

When our version of the Food Guide came back to us revised, we were shocked to find that it was vastly different from the one we had developed. As I later discovered, the wholesale changes made to the guide by the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture were calculated to win the acceptance of the food industry. For instance, the Ag Secretary’s office altered wording to emphasize processed foods over fresh and whole foods, to downplay lean meats and low-fat dairy choices because the meat and milk lobbies believed it’d hurt sales of full-fat products; it also hugely increased the servings of wheat and other grains to make the wheat growers happy. The meat lobby got the final word on the color of the saturated fat/cholesterol guideline which was changed from red to purple because meat producers worried that using red to signify “bad” fat would be linked to red meat in consumers’ minds.

Adele would like to see a return of the Dietary Guidelines to being based on science, rather than policy, but Light seems skeptical. Writing about the development of the 2005 guidelines, she finds that:

nutrition for the government is primarily a marketing tool to fuel growth in consumer food expenditures and demand for major food commodities: meat, dairy, eggs, wheat. It’s an economics lesson that has very little to do with our health and nutrition and everything to do with making sure that food expenditures continue to rise for all interests involved in the food industry.

I remain concerned that things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better. Remember, corporations are people.

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Quote of the day

Journalist Kristin Wartman has an idea what to do with processed food taxes — pay people to cook at home:

Those who argue that our salvation lies in meals cooked at home seem unable to answer two key questions: where can people find the money to buy fresh foods, and how can they find the time to cook them? The failure to answer these questions plays into the hands of the food industry, which exploits the healthy-food movement’s lack of connection to average Americans. It makes it easier for the industry to sell its products as real American food, with real American sensibilities — namely, affordability and convenience. …

To get Americans cooking, we need to make it possible. Stay-at-home parents should qualify for a new government program while they are raising young children — one that provides money for good food, as well as education on cooking, meal planning and shopping — so that one parent in a two-parent household, or a single parent, can afford to be home with the children and provide wholesome, healthy meals. These payments could be financed by taxing harmful foods, like sugary beverages, highly caloric, processed snack foods and nutritionally poor options at fast food and other restaurants. Directly linking a tax on harmful food products to a program that benefits health would provide a clear rebuttal to critics of these taxes. Business owners who argue that such taxes will hurt their bottom lines would, in fact, benefit from new demand for healthy food options and from customers with money to spend on such foods.

HT Melissa.

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Quote of the day

Adele Hite has an interesting take on Michele Simon’s recent report Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food?. While she applauds Simon’s efforts to hold the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics more accountable for its relationships with industry, she also points a pretty big spotlight at what she calls Simon’s “hidden agenda:”

Simon is happy to slam the health-washing, cultural insensitivity, and hidden agendas of food manufacturers and the Academy, but if the propaganda, insensitivity, and agendas are vegatarian*—well, then she’s just fine with it, thank you very much.

Note: “vegatarian” is Adele’s term for veganism disguised as vegetarianism.

I’m not so convinced it’s quite a “hidden” agenda (but I follow Michele on Twitter and read her blog), but I do think Adele is correct to highlight it. While I think one can do a LOT worse than a diet focusing “mostly” on whole plant foods, we’re no more likely to convince the larger populace to go vegan or even vegetarian than we are to convince them to go low-carb or low-fat … at least for long enough to make a difference in terms of public health.

Adele concludes:

It’s time we stop trying to change the eating habits of our fellow Americans—which is the underlying intention behind taxing soda and believing that a diet that resembles your own is best for everyone else—and start trying to change the regulatory, economic, and political framework that restricts access to both the food and the knowledge that individuals need to make their own decisions about their own health.

A quick look at Shift’s obesity influences map is all it really takes to show why this is going to be such a hard nut to crack. Coupling the multi-factorial nature of obesity (which is essentially the same as that for the lifestyle diseases) with our current political environment suggests that there is no easy answer.

That said, if I were to start working more in this space, my own inclination would be to focus on “the knowledge that individuals need to make” (I’ve written before that I’m intrigued by Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory might apply).

Call me Polyanna, but I’m hoping that those of us with different agendas may be able to unite to fight the fights we have in common. Time will tell.

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Quote of the day

I *love* this post — “The Big Oversight In Our Obesity Conversation” — by Andy Bellati over on Civil Eats regarding the recent JAMA study about obesity and mortality. Here’s the oversight according to Andy:

When our discussions on health center around weight (whether by stressing or minimizing the dangers of gaining it), it is too easy to leave other important factors out of the conversation. …

My biggest concern is that solely focusing on weight (regardless of how positive or negative that focus is) impedes the health movement’s progress. Such a clinical and quantitative frame gives very little thought to – and leaves no room for a conversation about – socio-political and environmental factors that pose a threat to our health (including, but not limited to industry lobbying, Big Food predatory marketing, and misguided agricultural subsidies). Even if the message is “being overweight isn’t bad for your health,” we do know that a highly processed diet (let’s face it, the Standard American Diet) is. There is no doubt that, above all else, the way we eat has tremendous effects on our health.

My diet isn’t as “plant-centric” (aka vegan) as Andy’s, but I am completely with him on the problems with solely focusing on weight as a barometer for health. Please read the whole post … it’s a goodie!

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Quote of the day

Travis Saunders points to an interesting paper that provides “an argument for reframing obesity as caloric overconsumption.” From the provisional PDF:

In order to make sense of the obesity policy cacophony, this paper argues that the problem of obesity should be reframed as caloric overconsumption. There are two broad rationales for this reframing. The first rationale deals with the problems accompanying the current frame obesity. In addition to having become politicized, obesity is an outcome and not a cause. As a frame, “obesity” does not identify any specific causes – and obesity certainly is not the cause of itself! Thus the frame obesity remains open to be interpreted and influenced by competing theories about what does cause obesity. This makes it difficult to identify or assess potential policies or interventions. The second rationale stems from the potential benefits of using the proposed frame, caloric overconsumption. The frame caloric overconsumption minimizes some of the framing competition by identifying a specific cause of obesity, energy input. Moreover, the frame caloric overconsumption will permit a more critical analysis of the various policies and interventions that can be used in obesity prevention.

As Travis says, it’s worth checking the paper. As I’ve discussed before, obesity is a wicked problem, and caloric overconsumption is just one factor (as the paper’s authors acknowledge). And also as Travis says, it’s not clear that any resulting policy implications would be any more likely. But I applaud the effort to move the conversation in the direction of actual cause rather than effect.

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