The U.S. Agriculture Department proposed the first broad standards for healthier school snacks on Friday. Under the rule, required by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, most candy, sugar-filled sports drinks, and greasy foods would not be sold in school vending machines. Instead, they can offer snacks under 200 calories and low-calorie drinks.
Data supports a ban on unhealthy snacks in vending machines, showing that state regulations may have helped slow childhood obesity rates. However, the ban will not apply to food sold at after-school events or affect what kids bring in for lunch.
If passed, the proposal could go into effect as soon as 2014. First, it faces a 60 day comment period from proponents and critics. Taking backlash from Republican critics over its healthy school lunch rule, USDA modified standards in December to allow unlimited calories from meats and grains.
High fructose corn syrup, the central ingredient in most sweetened drinks and processed foods, is on the decline. According to a new 2013 projection by the US Department of Agriculture, the amount of corn used to produce the sweetener will drop to its lowest level in 15 years.
This latest data is part of a steady decline in the sweetener’s popularity. Americans consumed an average of 131 calories of high fructose corn syrup every day in 2011, a 16 percent drop since 2007. At the same time, consumption of soft drinks, the main vehicle for the corn syrup, dropped 21 percent from 1998 to 2011.
High fructose corn syrup is linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Several cities have launched anti-obesity campaigns that may be partially responsible for public opinion turning against the sweetener. Another factor may be the rising cost of corn in recent years; high fructose corn syrup has been heavily subsidized by American taxpayers, keeping production costs artificially low:
For decades, corn syrup benefited from the relatively low cost of corn compared with sugar. A tripling of corn costs since 2004 has lessened that advantage, while consumer obesity concerns and negative publicity have also eaten into demand, said Lauren Bandy, an ingredients analyst with Euromonitor International in London. [...]
The sweetener industry often contests that high fructose corn syrup is being unfairly demonized while traditional cane sugar is overlooked. But according to USDA statistics, Americans aren’t replacing high fructose corn syrup with sugar to satisfy their sweet tooth. Though sugar intake has risen 8.8 percent since 2007, total sweetener production is still down 14 percent since 1999.
High fructose corn syrup producers have worked hard to alter their image, even requesting the USDA change the product’s name to “corn sugar.” As the diabetes and obesity epidemics are particularly prevalent among minority and low-income communities, the sugary drink industry has aggressively targeted their marketing to black and Latino children. But as this latest USDA data indicates, the industry may be losing ground against minority-heavy cities that are gradually lowering their obesity rates via robust anti-obesity policies and campaigns.
Black youth are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to take in large quantities of their daily calories from sugary drinks, according to a new study examining American beverage consumption. Low-income children of all racial backgrounds also tend to drink almost twice as many sugary beverages as wealthier Americans do.
Considering the fact that sugar-filled drinks have been conclusively linked to an increased risk for obesity, the study’s results reveal some of the racial and economic disparities within the nation’s obesity epidemic. “Some groups may be more at risk for soda, others may be more at risk for fruit drinks, all of which … have the same sugar base that contributes to obesity and disease,” one of the study’s co-authors, health policy researcher Lisa Powell, explained.
This particular study didn’t try to figure out why that’s the case, although Powell did suggest to Reuters that “cultural norms” and cost could both be factors. But other studies have examined the links between race, class, and nutrition — and research has confirmed that access to healthy food is divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. Even aside from cost barriers, lower-income Americans tend to live in neighborhoods that lack healthy, high-quality food in nearby grocery stores, and they often struggle to access the transportation they need to go grocery shopping. The fast food industry also contributes to nutrition disparities by targeting its marketing to low-income communities.
It’s not clear whether the soda industry is also disproportionately targeting low-income or minority groups, but it wouldn’t be the first beverage sector to try. Alcohol advertising has been proven to particularly target black youth, even despite the fact that African-American teens tend to drink less alcohol than youths from other racial groups.
Coca-Cola is pursuing a new PR strategy with the company’s first advertising foray into the national obesity debate. The ads, launched on Monday, come as the soda industry faces increasing scrutiny over the role that soft drinks play in the obesity epidemic, while it faces a declining share of the U.S. beverage market.
The Atlanta-based company on Monday will begin airing a two-minute spot during the highest-rated shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in hopes of becoming a more influential voice in the intensifying debate over sodas and their impact on public health. The ad lays out Coca-Cola’s record of providing drinks with fewer calories over the years and notes that weight gain is the result of consuming too many calories of any kind — not just soda.
In the ad, a narrator notes that obesity is an issue that “concerns all of us” but that people can make a difference when they “come together.”
A second ad “features a montage of activities that add up to burning off the ’140 happy calories’ in a can of Coke.”
But soda’s impact on health is a little more complicated than that. One-third of the sugar in Americans’ diets come from soda and sweetened beverages, and ample research links soft drinks to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. One study found children’s odds of becoming obese increased 60 percent for each additional 12-ounce soda. American children consume an estimated 7 trillion calories each year from soda.
In fact, research suggests that even when Coca-Cola touts diet soda as a healthy option, the company is still advertising a product that is linked to weight gain, heart attack, and stroke risks.
While Coca-Cola runs these ads, it will likely continue to wage well-fundedbattles against efforts to implement a soda tax, through the trade group American Beverage Association.
Our guest blogger is Danielle Moodie-Mills, an Advisor for LGBT Policy and Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress and the Director of Environmental Education at the National Wildlife Federation.
Obesity has long been framed as an issue of personal responsibility. The prevailing notion has been that if people simply stop eating junk food and start eating healthy fruits and vegetables, they will maintain a healthy weight.
And even though most Americans agree that obesity is a critical public health issue facing the nation — 83 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans rank it as a “serious issue” — opinions about how personal responsibility factors into the epidemic are somewhat divided along party lines. Democrats tend to believe that both the individual and government are responsible for combating the obesity epidemic, while Republicans believe the onus falls largely on the individual.
The “personal responsibility” argument assumes that people can simply avoid sugar and other unhealthy additives by staying away from fast foods. But Dr. Robert Lustig, the author of the new book Fat Chance, explained this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that avoiding sugar — which he believes to be a major cause of America’s weight issue — may not be as easy as it seems:
One-third of the sugar in our diets comes from soda and sweetened beverages, you can taste it. One-sixth is in desserts, you know about those as well, but half of all the sugar consumed in this country comes from food you didn’t know had sugar in it — like hamburger buns, hamburger meat, and salad dressing, for instance.
So even when people make a concerted effort to make healthy choices, there is still a great possibility that they are consuming the very product that is causing their weight gain. And the government isn’t doing enough about it.
A few years ago, a group of doctors at Mount Sinai took out an advertisement in the New York Times pressuring the government to stop subsidizing food that was making Americans sick. “High-fructose corn syrup [HFCS] now represents 40 percent of the non-calorie-free sweeteners added to U.S. foods. It is virtually the only sweetener used in soft drinks,” the research physicians wrote in their advertisement. “Because of the subsidies, the cost of soft drinks containing HFCS has decreased by 24 percent since 1985, while the price of fruits and vegetables has gone up by 39 percent.”
But after the negative comments regarding HFCS went viral, corn refiners simply released a commercial rebranding HFCS as “corn sugar,” and purporting the safety of the re-named additive saying “corn sugar or cane sugar, sugar is sugar and your body doesn’t know the difference.” Watch it:
Nearly one-third of American children and adolescents are labeled as overweight or obese, and they are expected to be the first generation who won’t live as long as their parents due to high cholesterol, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. So will the government finally see fit to engage in the sugar debate and take a hard look at the crops they are subsidizing — or will Americans have to wait for this epidemic to reach its precipice, much like the battle against cigarettes? Let’s hope not, because the current health care system may just break under the extra weight.
Americans believe obesity is a more pressing public health issue than smoking — but, according to a new poll, that doesn’t mean Americans can correctly identify the host of public health risks associated with the nation’s obesity epidemic.
According to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Americans can correctly identify that heart disease and diabetes are related to obesity. But, despite the extensive public health campaigns attempting to address the United States’ soaring rates of obesity, Americans are largely unaware of the other consequences:
Only 7 percent of people surveyed mentioned cancer, although doctors long have known that fat increases the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus and certain other sites. Plus, being overweight can make it harder to spot tumors early and to treat them.
Then there’s the toll on your joints, especially the knees. About 15 percent of people knew obesity can contribute to arthritis, a vicious cycle as the joint pain then makes it harder to exercise and shed pounds.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and strokes were fairly low on the list. Infertility didn’t get a mention.
“People are often shocked to hear how far-reaching the effects of obesity are,” Jennifer Dimitriou, a dietitian who specializes in obesity issues, told ABC News. Dimitriou pointed out that knowing more about the risk factors could encourage Americans to take steps to address their health before they’re faced with a bigger issue, such as developing Type 2 diabetes or having a heart attack.
Addressing health issues related to obesity currently accounts for 21 percent of the country’s health care spending, and that figure could rise rapidly over the next several decades. A majority of the adult population in all 50 states is now overweight or obese — and in some states like West Virginia and Mississippi, that rate is approaching 70 percent of all adults — and roughly 42 percent of all Americans are projected to be obese by 2030.
New York City and Los Angeles, along with a string of smaller cities, are finally seeing their childhood obesity rates drop for the first time. The decline, though modest, has shocked researchers who have watched the obesity rate in children steadily climb for 30 years. Los Angeles’ rate has dropped 3 percent, while New York and Philadelphia both reported declines around 5 percent.
About 12.5 million children under 20 are obese, and the rate has tripled since 1980. Childhood obesity problems are usually concentrated in metropolitan areas, prompting several cities to launch anti-obesity advertising campaigns. Others have gone farther; Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY) recently banned the sale of sugary drinks above 16 ounces. First Lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her personal cause, coming under fire from Republicans and conservative commentators for her efforts to reform school lunch programs and promote healthy eating habits. Along with city policies, nonprofit groups have been working to get more fresh produce in urban corner stores and promote urban agriculture initiatives.
It is not clear why the rate is dropping or which, if any, of these measures have had an impact. However, all of the cities that are now seeing declines enacted anti-obesity policies several years ago. The most promising data comes from Philadelphia, which has introduced snack guidelines as well as removed sugary drinks and deep fryers from school cafeterias over the past decade:
Individual efforts like one-time exercise programs have rarely produced results. Researchers say that it will take a broad set of policies applied systematically to effectively reverse the trend, a conclusion underscored by an Institute of Medicine report released in May.[...]
Some experts note that the current declines, concentrated among higher income, mostly white populations, are still not benefiting many minority children. For example, when New York City measured children in kindergarten through eighth grade from 2007 to 2011, the number of white children who were obese dropped by 12.5 percent, while the number of obese black children dropped by 1.9 percent.
But Philadelphia, which has the biggest share of residents living in poverty of the nation’s 10 largest cities, stands out because its decline was most pronounced among minorities. Obesity among 120,000 public school students measured between 2006 and 2010 declined by 8 percent among black boys and by 7 percent among Hispanic girls, compared with a 0.8 percent decline for white girls and a 6.8 percent decline for white boys.
Philadelphia’s measured success could inspire other cities to start experimenting with obesity reduction policies. These policies could help shift the currently untenable status quo. If the state of American health remains the same, the number of children with type 2 diabetes is projected to rise 50 percent by 2050, while children who are already struggling with weight problems are far more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke as adults.
Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack conceded on Friday that revamped school lunches will allow unlimited grains and meats, in a move to appease critics of healthier school lunch standards. Conservative critics of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act have claimed USDA standards are too stringent, pointing to some school officials’ and students’ complaints over the lunches calorie caps.
In his letter addressed to a number of senators from agricultural states, Vilsack said more “felixibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products [...] while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options.” But he also responded to a chief criticism of the calorie caps, noting that school lunches meet only a portion of the child’s nutrition:
It is important to point out that the new school meals are designed to meet only a portion of a child’s nutritional needs over the course of the school day. This should come as no surprise — students never have and never will get all of their daily dietary needs from a single meal. School breakfasts and lunches are designed to meet roughly one-fourth and one-third, respectively, of the daily calorie needs of school children.
Since schools still must meet overall calorie caps if they serve more meat and grains, the concession might not do much to appease conservatives like Steve King (R-IA), who called Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch initiative a “misguided nanny state.” A nutritionist who fought for the healthy lunch standards said the change is minor and serves to show Congress it doesn’t need to interfere.
The school lunch standards follow the recommendations of experts at the Institute of Medicine to ensure kids have enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. But until the USDA releases its rules for vending machines and school stores, school kids can still access more than their fill of junk food.
According to Gallup’s annual Health and Healthcare Survey, four in ten Americans cite either healthcare access or cost as the most urgent health problem currently facing the country. And the Americans who responded to Gallup with some critique of the health care system surpasses the number of Americans who named a specific illness, like cancer or diabetes, as their top medical concern. Americans have ranked their worries about being able to get coverage under a health insurance plan at the top of their list of concerns since 2007:
Since the Affordable Care Act won’t be fully in effect until 2014, it may take another few years before the health law helps ease American’s concerns about losing their health insurance. If Obamacare isn’t blocked from taking effect in Republican-controlled states, it will extend coverage to 30 million previously uninsured Americans by expanding the Medicaid program for additional low-income beneficiaries and creating state-run health exchange markets.
But Gallup notes there’s one other health concern that may soon surpass Americans’ worries about insurance access and cost: the national obesity epidemic. Gallup first started including obesity in their annual health survey in 1999, when only about one percent of Americans rated it as a health concern — but as obesity and diabetes rates have soared across the country, that number has steadily risen to its current peak of 16 percent. Most residents in all 50 states are now considered either overweight or obese, and the number of kids with type 2 diabetes is projected to increase by 50 percent by 2050.
By Amanda Peterson Beadle on Nov 26, 2012 at 4:20 pm
The number of Americans with diabetes skyrocketed over the last 15 years, as diabetes cases rose by 50 percent or more in 42 different states — and by 100 percent or more in 18 states — during that time period, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, another CDC report highlights the rapidly increasing number of U.S. children who have diabetes, warning that the country needs to prepare for their future care.
If the current increase in diabetes cases stays constant, the number of children with type 2 diabetes will likely increase by 49 percent by 2050. The number of cases of type 1 diabetes, which is less common and diagnosed earlier in life, could increase by 23 percent:
“These numbers are very important,” said study lead author Dr. Giuseppina Imperatore, of the CDC’s division of diabetes translation. “As a society, we will need to plan and prepare for the high-quality care of these children.” [...]
If the incidence rates of diabetes remain steady, the incidence of type 1 diabetes will rise from about 166,000 American children with the disease today to more than 203,000 in 2050. The number of children with type 2 diabetes will jump from about 20,000 today to 30,000 in 2050, according to the study.
If the rates of diabetes increase just slightly, however, the picture quickly becomes far more grim. The number of children with type 1 diabetes will almost triple to about 587,000, and the rate of type 2 diabetes will quadruple, with about 84,000 U.S. children affected, according to the study.
Imperatore said these estimates should be considered boundaries for where diabetes might go. She said it’s possible that the rates could decline, particularly if researchers make inroads into preventing type 1 diabetes.
Researchers do not know how to stop type 1 diabetes, Imperatore said, but it is clear that obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and exercise and losing weight can help prevent it. There’s more to understand about both types of diabetes, according to Dr. Robert Ratner, the American Diabetes Association’s chief scientific and medical officer, especially about the genetic risks. “The obesity epidemic isn’t due to sloth and gluttony. It’s an interaction between biology and the environment,” he said.