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Nutrition & Health News, week of May 25

  • Ending a long-running trial, a federal judge ruled that POM Wonderful’s advertising that likens pomegranate juice to an anti-cancer drug is misleading. POM’s ads grossly over-exaggerated the effect of their product to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and erectile dysfunction, without substantial scientific evidence. Some ads went as far as portraying POM as a superhero or life support (see above). POM managed to put a positive spin on the ruling by reciting the FDA and FTC’s standard rules, which they should have been following in the first place, and noting that their ads are not subject to pre-approval by the FDA. In practice, this means that POM can put out new misleading ads until the FDA and FTC take them back to court. [New York Times] Update: Marion Nestle shares her thoughts on POM’s advertising.
  • A USDA study reported that healthier foods are not necessarily more expensive than junk food. Calorie for calorie, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than processed foods because they are low in calories. But, when measured in terms of serving size, “grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium.” The measurement issue is the key to determining affordability, and the study has important implications for food policies that attempt to increase affordability of healthy foods. [Economic Research Service]
  • Results of a survey by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation show that Americans are supportive of local farmers. The random survey of 800 Americans asked questions about their attitudes towards fresh produce as well as support for local farmers, SNAP programs, and fair wages for farmers. Check out the infographic or the full survey. [Washington Post]
  • Research by Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell and author of Mindless Eating, demonstrated that visual cues could stop people from overeating junk food. In the study, college students were given either regular Pringles or Pringles that contained red cue chips to delineate serving size. Students who received the cue chips ate less chips overall and could more accurately estimate the number of chips they’d eaten compared to their peers who received regular Pringles. [The Atlantic]
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Nutrition & Health News, week of March 30

Catching up on news this week after a relaxing Spring Break!
  • A recent survey by the Just Label It! campaign shows 91% of Americans support the labeling of genetically modified foods. Although consumers support a labeling effort, the food industry believes labeling will hurt sales by claiming labels imply GMOs are bad. Public pressure to label GMOs is mounting, but will the FDA respond? [NPR The Salt]
  • The FDA is taking steps to remove several common antibiotics from use in factory farms after a court order. Antibiotic use in livestock is rampant, but rarely used to treat active disease – the overuse of antibiotics as a preventive measure is likely to increase bacteria strains that are antibiotic-resistant in both animals and humans. [The Atlantic]
  • After the controversy over the use of so-called “pink slime” in school lunches last week, New York City public schools has banned the meat product from school cafeterias. Citing health and safety concerns, NYC is choosing to find an alternative to the cheap beef. [NY Daily News]
  • Organic purveyor Whole Foods Market announced that they will stop selling fish that are not caught in sustainable ways beginning on April 15. Whole Foods currently employs a rating system for seafood that tells customers how sustainable their purchases are, but this effort furthers the company’s goal to have “fully sustainable seafood departments” by preventing overfishing and ecological damage. [USA Today]
  • You probably saw a number of news reports this week making the claim that “eating chocolate makes you thinner” based on recent research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Although the study linked frequent chocolate consumption to lower BMI, the implications are not as simple as “eat more chocolate, stay thin.” According to an obesity specialist from Canada,the study lacked scientific rigor, was not a randomized trial (meaning causation cannot be attributed), and there were a lot of unknowns. [Commonhealth]

*image via Just Label It!

Hot Issues: Health Care Reform Debate in the Supreme Court

Over the next three days, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments for and against the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as ACA, also called “Obamacare”). The most controversial part of ACA is the individual mandate, which would require all Americans to have health insurance starting in 2014 (with some exemptions for financial or religious reasons). Many believe the mandate is unconstitutional, but ACA could theoretically remain intact without it (although many health policy experts believe the mandate is the key to the functionality of many other pieces of the legislation). The Supreme Court will also hear arguments regarding the hundreds of other provisions included in ACA, including expansions of state Medicaid programs and tax credits for small employers.

Confused? Check out the following links to track the case.

Update: A few more resources regarding this case are listed below

*image via the Los Angeles Times

Nutrition & Health News, week of March 16th

  • The USDA had planned to purchase tons of “pink slime” to put into school lunches but, after a storm of criticism in the media, has reversed their decision. “Pink slime” is a term for fatty beef trimmings that are used as a filler in ground beef – it looks as gross as it sounds and is not required to be labeled on beef products. This is the same pink slime that McDonald’s and other fast food chains recently decided to stop using – leaving the USDA to pick up the extra for the federal school lunch program. However, after several senators called for a ban of the product in schools entirely, the USDA decided to allow schools a choice of whether or not to use the goop in meals. [Obama Foodorama, The Salt]
  • A new website, the Leanwashing Index, alerts consumers to advertising and marketing ploys that mislead parents and kids into believing junk foods are healthy. The site calls out ads guilty of “leanwashing” by giving them a score based on the degree to which their claims of health benefits are truthful or not. Not surprisingly, some of the worst offenders are sugary cereals and other foods marketed at kids. Check out the site to learn more. [via Marion Nestle]
  • New research* from Harvard links red meat consumption to higher risk of death and cardiovascular disease. The prospective research study, in which participants were followed over a 25 year period, assessed intake of processed and unprocessed red meat and its effects on health. Fear not, meat eaters – the participants at increased risk of death were those eating at least one serving of red meat every single day. Not surprisingly, these same participants were more likely to have unhealthy diets overall.
  • The CDC recently began a national media campaign warning against the dangers of smoking. The ads, in an effort to  get away from spewing statistics on smoking-related deaths, show real people who are living with the devastating health effects of smoking. Preview one of the ads here, and watch out for the campaign starting on March 19th. [Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Blog]

*email me if you would like a copy of this article

Nutrition & Health News, week of Feb. 2

  • The Susan G. Komen Foundation, a private breast cancer advocacy group, caved to political pressure from anti-choice groups and pulled grant funding from Planned Parenthood that went toward providing breast cancer screenings, education, and referrals for low-income women. Despite the fact that the type of grant funding was restricted (meaning it could only be used for its intended purposes, e.g. screenings), the Komen Foundation pulled nearly $700,000 in funding in response to “the fear that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors.” In the past 48 hours, outraged citizens have since made up the amount in donations, including a dollar-for-dollar match up to $250,000 from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. [New York Times]
Update: The Susan G. Komen Foundation has reversed its decision and will continue to allow Planned Parenthood to receive grant funding! Of the reversal, they stated, “amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process…We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.” Read the Komen statement here.
  • An op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by two professors at Cornell University calls for schools to promote nutritious choices for kids, rather than force them on students. In response to the USDA’s recent revisions to the federal school lunch program, which will require fruits and vegetables to be offered at every meal and restricts some of the unhealthy menu options, they argue that forced adoption of healthy options will produce food waste: “trying to teach students to eat more healthful foods by removing other choices can backfire.” The professors instead encourage schools to “make the more healthful choice the more attractive choice, not the only choice” through simple environmental changes, like more aesthetically pleasing fruit displays, that have proven a effect on kids’ behaviors. They are responsible for the Smarter Lunchrooms Initiative. [LA Times]
  • A survey conducted by Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program, an anti-hunger organization, indicates the low- and middle-income families are cooking more meals and eating healthier than previously thought. The belief that lower income families lack access to healthy foods and tend to rely on fast food meals rather than home cooking  is apparently a misconception. This study showed that “the lower a family’s income, the more they cooked from scratch” with 78% of families regularly (4-5 times per week) cooking meals at home, and 50% reporting that they ate healthily. Access to and cost of healthy foods posed barriers to eating healthily, but for only a small portion of the sample. [Mark Bittman, NYT]
  • A position paper published in Nature argues that consumption of sugar, not obesity, is to blame for rising rates of non-communicable chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. Arguing that excessive sugar consumption is the root cause of many of our health problems, the authors call for government regulation of sugar through taxation, sales bans, and “removing sugar from the FDA’s ‘generally regarded as safe’ (GRAS) list of ingredients.” Although these measures are extreme, given that Americans consume an average of more than 600 calories per day from sugar, they may have some merit. [Nature via Fooducate] [see picture above from Nature]

Nutrition & Health News, week of January 27

  • Michelle Obama revealed the USDA’s new and improved standards for the federal school lunch program. You may recall controversy over the proposed rule’s limitati0ns on potato servings and the “pizza is a vegetable” issue – the USDA made some compromises to these areas, but the final rule is largely the same. The changes, which largely adhere to recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, include adding significantly more fruit and vegetable servings, reducing saturated fat and sodium, switching to whole grains over time, allowing only low-fat milks, and decreasing the overall calories per meal. Although the new standards don’t go far enough on some issues (e.g. flavored milk is still allowed as long as it’s non-fat, despite its high sugar content), these are the first major changes in over 15 years by the USDA and, according to Marion Nestle, “worth celebrating.” [Obama Foodorama]
  • Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick wants to tax candy and soda to raise revenue under an expansion of the state’s bottle bill. He believes the public would support such a tax, based on recent poll results. Although this may encourage residents to buy less of these unhealthy products, the tax revenue would be a very small percentage of the state’s budget if passed. [Boston Herald]

And in weird news…

  • A teen in the United Kingdom has been living off of McDonald’s chicken nuggets for 15 years. She was rushed to the hospital after experiencing strange health problems like troubled breathing and , causing her to “realize this is really bad for me.” Um, ya think? This is even more disgusting than Morgan Spurlock’s experiment. [Huffington Post]
  • Sticking raw bacon up your nose can help stop chronic nosebleeds, according to a recently published study. Apparently, creating such a “nasal tampon” from cured, salted pork is an old remedy, but was stopped due to potential for bacterial infection. I wish I had never heard the phrase “nasal tampon.” [The Guardian]

Nutrition & Health News, week of January 20

  • Amongst flying rumors on the interwebs, Food Network queen Paula Deen announced that she has been living with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes for the last couple of years. Her announcement was no surprise to anyone who knows her fondness of everything buttery and deep-fried, and conveniently timed with the launch of her partnership with diabetes drug manufacturer, Novo Nordisk. She’s struck a lucrative deal with Novo Nordisk to peddle Victoza in their new diabetes management campaign, Diabetes in A New Light, causing many people to question her motives and her lifelong promotion of high-calorie foods. Of the criticism, Deen has said, “Honey I’m your cook, not your doctor…I’ve always encouraged moderation.” Really? Her “princess bites” don’t seem very moderate. [The Atlantic, Serious Eats]
  • Research by the CDC indicates that obesity rates in the U.S. have plateaued, with 35.7% of adults and 16.9% of children qualifying as obese. Although this stall is positive and may be due in part to increased efforts to control obesity, the fact remains that the rates are not declining. We will be seeing the impact of obesity for years to come. [New York Times]
  • At a meeting of the nation’s mayors in Washington, D.C. this week, the mayors formed a Food Policy Task Force led by Boston’s own Mayor Menino. According to the agenda, the task force will “focus on issues including reducing obesity, increasing access to healthy affordable food in low-income communities, and increasing local food procurement and entrepreneurship in cities. The task force will review issues and policy barriers to addressing food access, food security issues in urban areas including recommendations on increasing SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program) participation via recommendations on best policies and practices, 2012 Farm Bill, support for farmer’s markets, food desert mapping and healthy food retail.” In Boston, Mayor Menino has been instrumental in beginning a number of food policy initiatives for the city. [NPR]
  • Mayor Menino pledged to lose 2lbs per month over the next year during his State of the City speech on Tuesday. He made this promise when talking about efforts to reduce obesity in Boston, where over half of residents are overweight. Will the mayor’s promise encourage citizens to follow suit? [Commonhealth]

Nutrition & Health News, week of January 13

Happy New Year! I took a little break from blogging since the start of 2012, but I’m back.

  • New York City’s Department of Health, known for their creative ways of addressing obesity, released a somewhat controversial string of public service announcements meant to warn the city’s residents about the dangers of soda and fast food consumption and increasing portion sizes. Naturally, the American Beverage Association is upset at the city’s use of  “scare tactics” – but really, isn’t that what we need? [New York Times] [picture above]
  • The USDA announced its Blueprint for Stronger Service yesterday. As Tom Vilsack described, the plan “takes a realistic view of the needs of American agriculture in a challenging budget climate, and lays out USDA’s plans to modernize and accelerate service delivery while improving the customer experience through use of innovative technologies and business solutions.” The plan is largely a response to budget cuts anticipated in the 2012 Farm Bill, and the first step is closing 259 domestic offices, labs, and facilities. [Obama Foodorama]
  • The FDA has banned the use of a class of antibiotics (cephalosporins)  in lifestock in an effort to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the human population. This particular class of antibiotics is frequently used to treat strep throat, pneumonia, and other relatively common ailments. This represents a small step in curbing the spread of such bacteria, coming after the FDA recently withdrew a larger proposal to ban antibiotic on a broader basis. [New York Times] Food policy expert Marion Nestle also weighed in on the issue in The Atlantic.
  • Marion Nestle gives her predictions on how food politics will shape up in 2012. Her outlook is not optimistic, with good reason. [The Atlantic]
  • Americans are eating less meat of all kinds – beef, chicken, and pork. In Mark Bittman’s column this week, he explains why meat consumption has decreased by 12% in the last five years – a combination of rising food prices and conscious consumer choice. [New York Times]

Nutrition & Health News, week of December 30th

  • Scientists  in Rotterdam funded by the U.S. have discovered a genetic process that makes the H5N1 (avian flu) virus airborne. Because the potent virus has over a 50% death rate in humans in its non-airborne form, government officials are hesitant to let the scientists publish their findings in order to “prevent the work from being replicated by terrorists, hostile governments or rogue scientists.” If released, the airborne virus could cause the most deadly flu pandemic yet. [New York Times]
  • Influential voices in health policy made their predictions on the fate of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and health care in 2012. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in early 2012 on whether or not the individual mandate (requiring everyone to have health insurance) is constitutional. The individual mandate is believed to be the linchpin of Obamacare. [Commonhealth]
  • Last week, the FDA withdrew a proposal that would prevent antibiotics from being put in animal feed. The proposal had been sitting in Congress since 1977, waiting indefinitely for more research to be conducted. Antibiotics given to farm animals are a well-known health risk to humans because, as Mark Bittman explains, “the animals become perfect breeding grounds for bacteria to gain resistance to the drugs, and our inadequate testing procedures allow them to make their way into stores and our guts.” Apparently the FDA doesn’t think this is a problem. [New York Times]
  • The USDA released the MyPlate SuperTracker, an online tool meant to help Americans maintain healthy weight by keeping track of their diets and physical activity. The tool allows for personalized recommendations and goal-setting based on meeting the 2011 Dietary Guidelines and the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines. It sounds cool – but will people actually use it? Check it out at ChooseMyPlate.gov. [Obama Foodorama]

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