Fatty Foods : All the Skinny

‘Obesity, though some would prefer to call it eating disorders, is a big growth area, not just for the unwitting sufferers, but also for some food companies which contribute so greatly to the problem.’
By Asinus Asinum Fricat / November 18, 2008

A couple of days ago I wrote this diary and copped quite a few unkind comments, mostly from misinformed posters and a handful of hardcore denialists. Yet the problems persist, and shooting the messenger rarely helps. But I’m a tough cookie, comfortable in the knowledge of what I know and write about and in this diary I’m basically tackling the same issues albeit from a different angle: “Big Pharma” and the multinational junk & processed foods companies (“Big Food”) which, worldwide, make gigantic profits on the back of unsuspecting consumers, specifically marketing non-nutritious food appealing to children and adults alike via disingenuous advertising.

Obesity, though some would prefer to call it eating disorders, is a big growth area, not just for the unwitting sufferers, but also for some food companies which contribute so greatly to the problem. “Big Pharma” which works in tandem with “Big Food” would love to “terminate” its main source of competition: the natural products industry and the organic movement.

First let me remind you that Barack Obama’s election means that it is Big Pharma that stands to take a hit, according to The Boston Consulting Group. Its analysis concludes that Obama’s plan to let the federal government negotiate Medicare drug prices could cut industry revenues by a whopping $10 billion to $30 billion. That’s good news for those suffering from a plethora of illnesses. I’m not sure how his administration will handle Big Food but one thing is certain: like the banks it badly needs to get regulated particularly in the area of food additives, supersaturated produce with empty calories in the form of white flour, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, transgenic (synthetic) fats, labeling and unscrupulously aggressive marketing.

There are over 320,000 food items on the market, and many food companies produce both “good” and “bad” food. If you thought that the following “modern” foods were harmless, think again: juices, yogurts, cheese sticks, corn flakes, pastries, chocolate & energy bars are all loaded with sweeteners and additives.

Soft drinks: (get rid of them) research indicates that if you drink as little as 2 sodas or colas a day, it promotes diabetes and weight gain. Informed nutritionists have known this for years, which is that taking in empty calories from sugar and high fructose corn syrup is not only wasteful, but can be harmful to the digestive system. HFCS is also found in condiments like ketchup, fruit juices and chocolate bars.

The dangers of hydrogenated oils and partially hydrogenated oils are also developed from otherwise harmless, natural elements. To make them hydrogenated, oils are heated in the presence of hydrogen and metal catalysts. This process helps prolong shelf life but simultaneously creates transfats, which only have to be disclosed on the label if the food contains more than 0.5 grams per serving. To avoid listing transfats, or to claim “transfat free” on their label, sneaky food manufacturers simply adjust the serving size until the transfat content falls under 0.5 grams per serving. Voila! The Harvard School of Public Health has estimated that at least 30,000 people, and more probably 100,000 people die every year in the US from cardiovascular disease caused by consuming hydrogenated oils, as opposed to natural vegetable oil.

Remember when some physicians told you about this new wonder drugs that can take off weight without even thinking? One such drug is Sanofi-Aventis’ (SNY) rimonabant, which is marketed as Acomplia in the EU. No such “luck” in the US though, it was rightly rejected for its suicidal tendencies. The medicine supposedly suppresses the receptors in the brain that cause people to crave fatty foods. The other drug is GlaxoSmithkline’s (GSK) Alli, which is now available over the counter.

Alli is essentially the over-the-counter version of Xenical, (generic name is orlistat) a prescription medicine already available. Xenical works by blocking the amount of fat absorbed through the digestive system.

At the time of the Alli’s launch last year, GSK estimated it would eventually sell between five million and six million kits annually, translating to at least $1.5 billion in annual retail. A 60-capsule kit costs about $50 while a 90-capsule pack costs about $60. Does it work? Not enough to spark a run on Brazilian bikini but if you agree to a commitment to living your life in a new way as you must learn to change your eating and activity habits, then it’s for you. But why spend that kind of money when you have to completely change your lifestyle and do all the proverbial heavy lifting? Those taking Alli, btw, have to put up with some diarrhea and flatulence.

And now on the legal front: on 17 April 2008, GSK, along with the American Dietetic Association and the Obesity Society (both regarded by many as fronts for the Big Pharma) petitioned the FDA to try to prevent any dietary supplement product making weight loss claims. The company wants weight loss claims to be re-classified as disease claims, therefore making them the sole domain of treatments with licensed pharmaceuticals. And since GSK’s Alli product is the only weight loss drug that is on the over-the-counter market it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see their reasoning.

A lawsuit aimed at getting soft drinks firms out of US schools on obesity grounds is now ready to go, says one of the leading lawyers involved to BeverageDaily.com, as new research suggests obesity litigation will become the next “tobacco”.

When it comes to using litigation as a strategy to combat obesity, food manufacturers should be most wary of lawsuits based on consumer protection acts, according to a new report that examines the application of tobacco litigation methods to obesity lawsuits.

The report uses the history of tobacco litigation as a model to evaluate potential legislation against the food industry, which the authors claim is another industry that poses a threat to public health.

Published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the study says

that although national legislation against the food industry would be a “preferable” strategy to protect public health, lessons from the tobacco wars suggest that effective national legislation is currently unlikely.

One of the reasons for this is that the industry has a strong influence on the process, say authors Jess Alderman and Richard Daynard. Like tobacco, the food industry routinely- and often invisibly- seeks to influence both legislators and health professionals to support its agenda while ignoring its potential impact on public health”.

And when it comes to individual personal injury lawsuits against food companies, these also could carry a slim chance of success, although the companies involved are likely to fight litigation at every step.

“Losing such a lawsuit could open the floodgates of litigation by encouraging millions of obese Americans to file similar cases, so it would be advantageous for the food industry to delay or defend every such lawsuit to the fullest extent.”

However, as was demonstrated in the EU recently, lawsuits based on consumer protection acts are likely to be much more effective, as these avoid complicated causation issues and focus instead on deceptive marketing tactics and could fall under consumer protection statutes, together with false advertising, misleading claims and unfairly taking advantage of vulnerable consumers.

Indeed, back in 2005 an American consumer launched a lawsuit aimed at food companies including Kraft Foods, General Mills and Kellogg, alleging that “low sugar” labels on cereals were deceptive as the companies replace the sugar with other carbohydrates, thus offering no significant nutritional advantage. The suit claims that these cereals are misleading because they aren’t any healthier than cereals with regular levels of sugar, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The food industry in general is coming under increasing pressure from food lobby groups and some parents, to “clean up its act” and offer healthier alternatives to help combat the obesity epidemic facing the world. Sugary cereals are frequently cited by these groups as guilty culprits, encouraging children to eat empty calories instead of nutritional whole foods. Will Obama appoint a food “czar”, someone who can and will take on Big Food?

High fruit and vegetable prices may be linked to childhood obesity, says the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), although it suggests that further research is needed in order to confirm the “casual relationship” identified by its recent study.

The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) findings are based on an examination of the diets and weight of around 7,000 children between kindergarten and third grade.

“Children who lived in metropolitan areas where fruits and vegetables were relatively expensive gained significantly more weight than children who lived where fruit and vegetables were cheaper,” said the USDA, adding that the children who participated in the study had a similar way and standard of living

Data from the Bureau of Labor cites that both American children and parents are spending increased time commuting from work, school and activities. Eating takes place en route from one venue or another, making sitting down to a home-cooked, carefully balanced meal even less of a reality for families. The absence of regulated family eating schedules was cited as one of the main causes of poor dietary habits. But other major concerns cited by respondents should serve as a warning to food makers that they are not about to be let off the hook just yet.

“Children’s eating habits are suffering due to the lack of structured meal time, and this is as big a challenge as the lack of balanced meals,” said Amanda Archibald, analyst and registered dietitian for Mintel. “Compressed schedules and cramped time availability for both children and parents may play a more important role than previously thought in making healthy food choices.”

According to Mintel’s Menu Insights, a menu-tracking system, more than 47 percent of children’s menu items were fried. Chicken fingers led the way on the top 5 children’s menu dishes list, followed by grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.

Mintel’s report also cites that overall restaurant portions have also steadily increased over time.

And recently, a number of academic studies presented at the AACR International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research reveal growing evidence that overall cancer incidence and mortality resulting from overweight and obesity is also increasing, something which places more pressure on the food industry, and presents regulators with another headache.

If you’d like to read about Big Pharma cloak & dagger scare tactics, look no further than here.

Source / La Vida Locavore

Thanks to Diane Stirling-Stevens / The Rag Blog

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2 Responses to Fatty Foods : All the Skinny

  1. Boy, you’re fast! I can’t believe how quickly you post an e-mail/referral to an article, and have it ‘on the blog’ in such a short time!!!!!

    You and Richard are amazing!!!!

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