FDA Moves Against Trans Fats

This move should complete the elimination of artificial trans fats from the American diet. Previous advice from the government had already lowered the amount of trans fats in packaged foods substantially.

On the basis of a review of scientific evidence and findings from expert panels, the agency made a preliminary determination that the oils “are not generally recognized as safe for use in food” and should be eliminated, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said on a conference call with reporters.

The decision “is very welcome and strongly supported by massive scientific evidence that trans fat has many adverse effects on health,” Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an email to MedPage Today. “Trans fat has no place on the table, and this step will help make the diets of Americans safer.”

Harvard School of Public Health’s Walter Willett, PhD, puts the change into context:

Willett added, “Further removal of trans fats will also likely nudge down rates of diabetes, obesity, and other conditions as well.”

“Importantly, by getting trans fat off the table entirely, we will be able to focus attention on other aspects of diet that also need to be improved,” he said. “This will likely have a ripple effect worldwide because other countries are considering similar actions.”

Causing Our Children’s Illnesses by Starting Solid Foods Too Soon

When we forget the basics of natural healthcare, we and our children suffer the consequences. Feeding solids too early in a child’s life appears to lead to allergies and other problems as well.

Disturbingly, this is often done on the advice of ill-informed doctors:

Many mothers in the U.S. start infants on solid foods — including peanut butter, meat, and french fries — earlier than experts recommend, and half of them do so with their doctor’s support, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that 40.4 percent of U.S. mothers interviewed from 2005 to 2007 said they introduced solid foods to infants before they were 4 months old — that represents an increase of about 29 percent from earlier studies, the researchers reported today in the journal Pediatrics.

Introducing solids early may increase the risk of some chronic diseases, the authors noted, including diabetes, obesity, eczema, and celiac disease.

 

 

Worldwide, Obesity Now a Greater Problem Than Hunger

The only exception is sub-Saharan Africa. A world in which people have struggled for milliennia against having too little has now become one in which most now face a different problem — having too much, or at least too much of the wrong things.

From a CNN report on a new study published in The Lancet:

The report revealed that every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82% globally in the past two decades. Middle Eastern countries are more obese than ever, seeing a 100% increase since 1990.

“The so-called ‘Western lifestyle’ is being adapted all around the world, and the impacts are all the same,” Mokdad said.

The health burden from high body mass indexes now exceeds that due to hunger, according to the report.

And for the first time, noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease top the list of leading causes of years spent sick or injured.

“All these problems are tied to obesity,” Mokdad said. “We’re even seeing a large percentage of people suffering back pain now. If we could lower the obesity rates, we’d see the numbers of noncommunicable diseases and pain decrease as well.”

People are living longer than projected in 1990 — on average, 10.7 more years for men, and 12.6 more years for women. But for many of them, the quality of life during those years is not good. On average, people are plagued by illness or pain during the last 14 years of life, according to the study.

Researchers credit advances in medical technology for longer lives.

“We’ve figured out how to keep the person who suffered a stroke alive, but then they’re living disabled for years afterward. That’s not the quality of life that person expected, ” Mokdad said.

In Western countries, deaths from heart disease are down 70%. However, the number of people diagnosed with heart disease is increasing at alarming rates.

Noncommunicable diseases are a global challenge of “epidemic proportions,” according to Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly last year, she said NCDs are a “slow-motion disaster” that eventually could break the bank.

Food Lobby Dominates Policy Making, Follows Trail Blazed By Tobacco Industry

Since joining the Association for Healthcare Journalists recently, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of investigative reporting and analysis more than ever.

Here’s a recent post on the AHCJ website highlighting the scope of Big Food’s toxic influence on health policy.

 

After aggressive lobbying, Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children. 

And during the past two years, each of the 24 states and five cities that considered “soda taxes” to discourage consumption of sugary drinks has seen the efforts dropped or defeated.

At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity

That success has come through what the authors imply is a sort of big-tobacco model, in which the industry combines promises of self-regulation with huge amounts of money, and thus creates an irresistible package for lawmakers. For a blow-by-blow on how the lobbying muscle swayed the decision-makers in recent battles, I strongly recommend you read the full piece, which draws heavily from both data and extensive interviews. Particularly interesting? The examples of how the Citizens United decision has impacted far more than just election politics.

Medical Doctors Teaching Nutrition

Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

David Eisenberg, MD, is director of the complementary and alternative medicine program at Harvard Medical School and a long-time leader in the field.

From the Well Blog at the New York Times:

This isn’t neurosurgery,” Dr. Eisenberg said as he whacked a garlic clove with the cleaver. “This is hearty, affordable, cravenly delicious food.”

The son of a Brooklyn baker, Dr. Eisenberg is the founder and chief officiant of “Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives,” an “‘interfaith marriage,” as he calls it, among physicians, public health researchers and distinguished chefs that seeks to tear down the firewall between “healthy” and “ crave-able” cuisine. Although physicians are on the front lines of the nation’s diabetes and obesity crises, many graduate from medical school with little knowledge of nutrition, let alone cooking….

To Dr. Eisenberg, flavor is a health issue. Now in its eighth year, the sold-out event is in the vanguard of a major shift in attitude among a young generation of medical professionals who grew up with farmers’ markets. Their ranks include students at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who have hired a chef to teach cooking skills, and a doctor in suburban Chicago who was so inspired by “Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives” that he went home and installed a demonstration kitchen in his medical office.

 

 

 

Pink Slime Update Plus USDA Proposal to Remove Federal Inspectors from Industrial Chicken Operations

An excellent discussion from the Up with Chris Hayes show, featuring Mark Bittman of the New York Times, whose excellent food columns I read regularly. 

This 20-minute video offers a perspective rarely seen on television.

h/t Erik Marcus

Sugar Babies

A story that illustrates well the ways diet can influence children’s behavior. The author’s honesty and her willingness to rethink her own actions are what makes this blog post a standout.

The transformation happened in mere minutes. My 3-year-old nephew listed against me as we stood in a chilly, wet schoolyard, waiting for his 8-year-old sister. He popped the hood on his raincoat, rubbed his eyes, and lethargically complained about the cold.

When my niece emerged from her classroom, she handed her brother a sweet treat. One dark chocolate granola bar later, my nephew practically flew on the walk home, a textbook example of a “sugar rush” in action.

Study Confirms Weight Loss Surgery Benefit for Diabetics

This new research confirms what was strongly suggested by earlier studies — that bariatric surgery leads to major weight loss, and either directly or indirectly leads to major improvements in the diabetic status of these formerly obese individuals.

I’ve lectured on this topic in my clinical nutrition class and it generally stimulates fruitful class dicsussion. Essentially, we’re looking at a dangerous condition that is almost entirely preventable through diet and exercise. We then see tens of millions of people failing at prevention and then finding themselves in a terrible situation. Once they’ve reached that point, this surgery clearly leads to much improved outcomes. It’s a classic example of radical measures being offered at a late stage for something that should never have reached that point.

It concerns me that we are now seeing, for what to my knowledge is the first time, a serious suggestion that bariatric surgery be provided to diabetics who are even slightly overweight. Again, where is the prevention?

The following quotes are from the National Public Radio coverage of the story, which I’m citing because unlike the MedPage story cited above, this one mentions recommending this surgery for diabetics with a Body Mass Index as low as 26, which is just barely overweight. (Obesity starts at a BMI of 30, and morbid obesity, which is usually when bariatric surgery is provided, starts at a BMI of 40).

This research raises an important question: Should diabetics start getting this operation more often? Paul Zimmet of the International Diabetes Federation, who co-authored an editorial accompanying the studies, thinks they should.

“Diabetes coupled with obesity is probably the largest epidemic in human history. At the moment, bariatric surgery is seen as a last resort. And it should be offered earlier in management,” Zimmet said in a telephone interview.

But others aren’t so sure. The new studies followed only about 200 patients. And while the operations appear to be pretty safe, there can be complications. And the complications can be serious.

“I think we need longer-term follow-up than what was done in these studies to make sure you’re not trading one problem for another,” said Vivian Fonseca of the American Diabetes Association.

Researchers are now testing whether the surgery works on diabetics who aren’t even obese — people with BMIs as low as 26. And doctors and patients are waiting to see if insurance companies will pay for the operations just to treat diabetes.

Earlier this year, I attended (and spoke) at a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listening session here in Kansas City that focused on what services should be included in an essential benefits package under health reform. For me, the most unexpected part of the event was that of perhaps 30 presenters, four were bariatric surgeons. I was surprised, in part, because I was aware of the research supporting bariatric surgery and had assumed they were in no danger of being excluded.

Now, in light of this new research that was certainly in the pipeline at the time of the hearing, it occurs to me that their presence (which I assume will be duplicated in many other venues), may have been part of a concerted push for a major expansion of their services into the non-obese market.

Pink Slime Surprisingly Unpopular for School Lunch Menus

Who could have guessed?

Today’s New York Times has an up-to-the-minute pink slime report. Apparently, this is a fast-moving story.

The Miami-Dade school district, one of the nation’s largest, has already said it would opt for pink-slime-free beef, even though it expected it to cost more (exactly how much remained uncertain). State officials in South Carolina said they would procure only the pink-slime-free ground beef once it became available.

But for some school districts — with administrators fielding phone calls from concerned parents and fretting about past food scares — next fall is not soon enough. The Boston school district, among others, has taken the step of purging all ground beef from its menus. Other districts, like the New York City schools, have begun phasing out ground beef containing the additive from their lunchrooms.

Michael Peck, the director of food and nutrition services for the Boston schools, said the district had decided to hold and isolate its entire inventory of ground beef, leaving over 70,000 pounds of beef — worth about $500,000, Mr. Peck estimated — confined to a warehouse until the district knows more about what is in it.

“It’s another example of the alteration of our food supply,” said Mr. Peck, who is concerned about the use of ammonia hydroxide gas to kill bacteria in the product. “Have we created another unknown safety risk?”

The district will put the meat back into circulation if it finds that it is free of the filler, but like many districts, it is frustrated by the difficulty of determining what does and does not contain lean finely textured beef, which does not have to be listed as an ingredient.

“It does speak to the U.S.D.A.’s ability to trace,” Mr. Peck said. He added that the ground beef would be donated or thrown out if the district found that it contained pink slime.