Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The latest front in this PR war is mothers. In an attempt to convince moms it's OK to bring their kids to eat at McDonald's, the corporation has hand-picked a group of seemingly-wholesome, photogenic mothers. (From the profile of one McMom on McDonald's corporate website, "I enjoy spending time with friends and family and cherish every moment spent with both. I find that some of my closest friends are from my church or are Mom's of my children's friends. I enjoy home decorating and have many projects in mind that will hopefully come to fruition some day.") Funny how there are no overweight McMoms.
These women travel the country talking to customers how they trust the creator of the Big Mac and McNugget to serve their kids healthy food. They were in Manhattan last week, giving "helpful hints" to parents like "order the bottled water with your Happy Meal," or "Order the fries with no salt." If that's healthier, why aren't all the meals just served that way to begin with? And what makes these women so eager to defend this corporation, despite the clear connection between the food it pushes and our current health crisis?
Monday, September 28, 2009
It doesn’t seem like you can take two steps down a grocery aisle without tripping over some new health claim pasted over packaged food products espousing the nutritional benefits of what most would consider junk food. The latest industry-backed scheme to come under fire is the “Smart Choices” labeling campaign, which promotes the nutritional goodness of such brands as Froot Loops, Cocoa Krispies, Fudgsicles and Hellman’s Mayonaisse.
How does a product such as Froot Loops (which is 41% sugar) pass the laugh test as nutritious? It’s simple. The very companies that produce and market these junk foods sat around a table, co-opted some scientists/nutritionists and developed their own labeling campaign. And, voila, now Froot Loops can be marketed as full of fiber and vitamin fortified (just ignore the fact that it has more sugar than many leading cookie brands).
The Smart Choices labeling campaign is an attempt by the food industry (including Kraft, Pepsi, Kellog’s, General Mills, ConAgra, Unilever and Tyson Foods) to capture an expanding market potential for “functional foods” (foods that offer additional health or nutrition benefits). In fact, this market is expected to reach $128 billion in 2013 and the transnational food giants have no intention of being left behind.
The problem is, however, is that the labeling schemes do virtually nothing to reformulate unhealthy products or advise consumers on what is truly healthy (i.e. not the processed foods that these companies push on its patrons). Companies can join the Smart Choices scheme by paying up to $100,000 annually, which generally gives them control over which items get the “Smart Choices” seal of approval.
It’s no surprise that serious conflicts of interests have been raised with the supposed independent nature of the labeling scheme. Michael Jacobson, the Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, walked off the board in September due to industry interference. Since then, Change.org has launched a campaign against Smart Choices which has resulted in the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association and the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition to clarify that they are not in any way associated with the corporate labeling scheme.
Smart Choices suddenly doesn’t seem that smart after all. Marion Nestle, who has written extensively on the food industry’s interference in public health policies, sums it up best: “Social responsibility? I don’t think so. Companies usually get what they pay for. Hence: Froot Loops.”
The food industry will continue to find irresponsible, yet creative, ways to market unhealthy foods to consumers seeking better health. Maybe we should expect the next incarnation of this trend: “McDonald’s: offering immunity-boosting burgers, heart-healthy french fries and slimming sodas”? We can only hope.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Ray Kroc, the brains behind the Golden Arches, was no fry guy and McDonald’s has never really been a burger business. Ask him and he’d tell you, his art – his craft – was real estate. From the very beginning McDonald’s knew that the secret to selling fast food was location, location, location!
In the early days, Ray Kroc flew around in a single-engine airplane looking for schools and spaces to build new McDonald’s next to them. Later the corporation got more sophisticated and developed GIS software to strategically site new locations.
So how close did Ray come to realizing his dream of a McDonald’s on every corner?
Closer than you may like. The map and data above, compiled by fellow blogger Stephen Von Worley, illuminates (literally) just how successful the McDonald’s corporation has been plastering the countryside with the golden glow of golden arches. Today, the farthest away you can get from a McDonald’s is 107 miles, smack dab in between Meadow and Glad Valley, South Dakota. (anyone else note the irony that it’s called “Glad Valley”).
But ubiquity is not enough for McDonald’s. Strategic ubiquity is better. Earlier this year, Corporate Accountability mapped out all fast food locations and their proximity to schools in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco Bay area, demonstrating the extent to which our children grow up literally surrounded by fast food.
Ray’s dream has come true, but with studies increasing linking obesity rates to the proximity of fast food, Ray’s dream is playing out more like a nightmare!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Value [the] Meal advisor, Raj Patel, has a fantastic piece in this week's The Nation about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and rising hunger in Africa. As hunger rates rise in Africa, there is an increasing assertion from some in the West that GMOs will be necessary if we are to feed the continent.
Patel and his colleagues' analysis focuses on the Gates Foundaton, and its massive funding of biotech research. Much of their $1.3 billion so far has gone to groups associated with Monsanto, the granddaddy of patenting seeds and driving farmers into cycles of corporate dependence, debt, and ultimately - for some - suicide when things become unbearable. And then there are the horrific environmental costs, and the destruction of rural economies. So why are they doing this? Patel and colleagues wonder if the goal is not truly to feed Africa but - like so many western corporations before - to make a killing.
At the same time, Africans are beginning to experience the obesity epidemic. As American fast food moves in, and international financial policy discourages local, traditional agriculture through funding schemes like the Gates Foundation's and World Bank austerity measures, we are beginning to see the American diet wreaking havoc. For example, a stunning 75% of Black South African women are overweight or obese, in a country most Americans probably still associate primarily with hunger. I do not have economic figures handy, but I don't believe most African nations are in a position to deal with the economic, productivity and human costs of diabetes, hypertension, cancers, and the other diet-related diseases associated with the new Western diet.
As both hunger and chronic, diet-related diseases take their toll on Africa, we have a choice; we can empower people to feed themselves and protect our planet, or we can hand control of our food system completely over to the world's largest corporations. Which do you think is the better bet?
Image by Denis Farrell / AP
Monday, September 21, 2009
Following Obama's recent statement of potential support for soda taxes, a recent report published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that levying such taxes could not only help curb obesity rates, but will also help states generate much needed revenue to pay the high helath costs related to diet-related diseases.
The report, whose authors include the Yale Rudd Center's Kelly Brownell and Children's Hospital Boston physician David Ludwig, that a penny per ounce tax on sodas and other sugary beverages could raise an estimated $14.9 billion in tax revenue in its first year and approximately $150 billion within 10 years (the tax would be levied on soda producers and wholesalers instead of retailers to facilitate enforcement).
And, more importantly, the taxes would lower consumption of soda and other sweet drinks enough to lead to a small weight loss and reduced health risks among many Americans. The study cited research on price elasticity for soft drinks that has shown that for every 10 percent rise in price, consumption declines 8 to 10 percent. The proposed tax would raise the price of a 20-ounce drink by approximately 15 to 20 percent. If consumers were to drink one fewer 20-ounce drink daily in response to the tax, each would consume about 174 fewer calories a day, the authors wrote. This all makes perfect sense, right?
The food and beverage industry, however, is on the attack and determined that this proposal does not see the light of day. Earlier in the summer, the industry created a front group, Americans Against Food Taxes - whose members include a "Who's Who" list of junk food purveyors, to launch a coordinated public awareness and lobbying effort that will attempt to divert any responsibility for the obesity epidemic away from the industry. It's clear that the food industry believes the soda tax proposal is misguided and puts unfair focus on a single product.
“If you take diseases related to diet, with obesity as the most visible, where do you start?” said Kelly Brownell, the report’s lead author. “We thought we’d start where the science is strongest. Liquid calories are a target because the body has trouble understanding those calories in a way that allows you to regulate body weight.” Soda and other sugary drinks have been linked to more calories eaten, leading to more pounds, according to background information in the report.
When you consider the spiraling costs of obesity (recently estimated at $147 billion in the US for 2008) and the food industry's irresponsible and ubiquitous marketing of sodas and junk food, it seems like this may be a policy proposal that is well overdue. Let's not forget that states have been paying for the high health costs of tobacco related illnesses by taxing tobacco products, which has also been useful in lowering smoking rates.
If it worked for tobacco, wouldn't soda taxes help reduce obesity and raise much needed funds for health care associated with diet-related illnesses?
(Photo illustration by Katye Martens and Ramon Padilla, USA TODAY)
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
- A Happy Meal with one little 4-piece of Chicken McNuggets with sweet-and-sour dipping sauce, a small fries and just 3 packets of ketchup, has more sodium than your child should have for an entire day.
- One packet of the spicy buffalo sauce for the McNuggets all by itself has about 1,000 mg of sodium - 2/3 of what an adult should get each day.
- The double quarter pounder with cheese has almost 1,400 mg, but the new Angus Bacon & Cheese? A shocking 2,070 mg, with the recommended limit for an adult 1,500 mg.
- Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken has "only" 1,010 mg - but wait! Add the actual ranch dressing, with 530 mg, and you have your entire daily allowance! (Do you notice a bacon = too much sodium theme? Have you noticed how many things have bacon in them lately?)
- A Large Deluxe Breakfast will give you over 2,000 mg of sodium, but even your pedestrian Egg McMuffin has 820 mg - and how many times have you seen someone order two of those to go?
Image from wikimedia commons
Friday, September 11, 2009
For now, New York has shelved a proposal to tax soda and other sugary drinks. But President Obama seems interested in keeping that idea on the table as he and Congress continue to work towards comprehensive health care reform. In an interview with Men’s Health Magazine, Obama shared the following thoughts:
"There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else."
"Look, people's attitude is that they don't necessarily want Big Brother telling them what to eat or drink, and I understand that," Obama said. "It is true, though, that if you wanted to make a big impact on people's health in this country, reducing things like soda consumption would be helpful."
But why stop with soda when there’s a whole host of food and drinks out there making people unhealthy? As the Los Angeles Times reports, leading thinking from the Yale Rudd Center and the Urban Institute support the idea of taxing unhealthy foods much in the same way that tobacco products are taxed.
But what do you think? Is this a case of legislating eating habits through tax code, or accounting for the real price - the full price - of unhealthy foods?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
"...so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health carereform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.
"...There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry... As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise."
Michael thinks there's hope around the corner, once insurance companies can't discriminate, price-wise, against the obese or those with diabetes, for instance; with the costs of obesity cutting into profits, health insurance companies themselves may help change this equation. What do you think?
Image from MichaelPollan.com
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Here’s where it gets weird. Gov. Tim Kaine, (D-VA) supports the commercialization of rest stops. But the Partnership to Save Highway Communities, whose members include McDonald’s, Burger King, the franchises of Taco Bell and KFC and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers has opposed Virginia's efforts calling it a “dangerous precedent” whereby "any state experiencing budget shortfalls seeing commercialization as a potential solution."
PSHC claims that opening stores along the highway would detract from business in the communities whose economies depend on motor-tourism. However, it seems more likely that their real concern is probably felt by the individual franchise owners who opened stores when commercialized rest stops were illegal, and feel this unfairly shifts the value of their off-highway locations. I certainly don't see any concern for local business here in Massachusetts, where McDonald's already litter the Mass Pike (I-90). A little self-serving? I wonder what truly locally owned and operated businesses might have to say about all this.