Big Sugar, in the Form of Cereal Makers, Get Sued

 

Several major processed food manufacturers in the U.S. have been hit recently with lawsuits charging their products– primarily breakfast cereals – are not anything like as ‘healthy’ as the manufacturers claim because too high a percentage of the calories in their products are from sugar.

The website foodnavigator-usa.com has reported that “a flurry of lawsuits recently [were] filed against Kellogg, General Foods and Post Foods”, but the site suggests the plaintiffs with “face an uphill battle” trying to win against companies that have powerful holds on their markets and exceptionally deep pockets.

The recently revealed news that half a century ago the sugar industry paid university researchers to produce ‘study findings’ favorable to their mainstay product has added pressure on producers of sugar-heavy foods.

FoodNavigator said that, “with the heat temporarily off fat, sugar now is Public Enemy #1,” quoting defense attorneys “after the three CPG [consumer packaged goods] giants were hit with class action lawsuits over the sugar content in leading cereal brands from Raisin Bran Crunch to Cheerios.”

Filed in the Northern District of California, the suits accuse the defendants “of falsely advertising their cereals as healthy, wholesome and nutritious when they are in fact high in sugar – excessive amounts of which,” they claim, “are linked to everything from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to cancers, cognitive decline and liver disease.”

The website notes that, while there are no specific regulations that disqualify companies from describing a product as ‘healthy’ or ‘nutritious’ based on its sugar content, the plaintiffs argue that “federal regulations enshrined in California state law require that labels are ‘not false or misleading’. They further allege violations of California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws, and seek redress under the state’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Big Sugar, like such other ‘bigs’ as Big Pharma, Big Oil and, once upon a time, Big Coal, have a history of addressing such lawsuits as if they were pesky flies: Swat at them long and hard enough – wearing down their resistance and consuming their ability to fight back – and ‘big’ will prevail.

But the biggest of the bigs – Big Government – has brought down Big Coal, and is working on putting a leash on Big Pharma.

With the public becoming increasingly aware of the damage excess sugar can to do consumers of it, Big Sugar could be in for a comeuppance, too. Maybe not immediately, but soon.

Dr. Cristin E. Kearns
Documents that Dr. Cristin E. Kearns calls the “sugar papers” in her office in the Library at the Center for Tobacco Control and Research on the U. of California  Parnassus Campus. 


 Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for STAT News

 

 

Starbucker ‘Exploded With Kindness’ At NYC Bomb Scene

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A former colleague, Kevin Coupe, publishes a blog for executives involved primarily in food retailing. He posted the following item this morning:

It has gotten a lot of attention in the media, but one almost cannot focus on such acts of kindness too much.

It was Sunday night in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York, where an apparent terrorist attack resulted in an explosion rocked several blocks and resulted in the wounding of 29 people. As first responders came to the scene, an employee from a nearby Starbucks who identified himself only as Jermaine also showed up, and he passed out bags of pastries and cups of coffee to the police and fire department personnel at the scene.

“I wish I could give a little more,” Jermaine told the officers.

But Jermaine’s act was more than just an act of kindness. It was proof that even in moments that can reflect the worst of what humanity can do, there is the opportunity for people to show the best of themselves.

Sort of like the Standard High Line, a local hotel, which CNN reports “opened up its rooms to residents living within the attack area. In a Facebook post, the hotel said residents would proof of address could also eat for free.”

This story has, in fact, received a lot of publicity — undoubtedly providing a huge amount of goodwill for Starbucks. And well it should!

One of the things that has helped Starbucks grow and prosper over the the years is the company dedication to employee training, with an emphasis on serving two clients: The person in front of the counter, and the ‘bean counters and co.’ who own the business.

Kevin’s blog hammers hard on the importance of that kind of management mind set. Germaine in New York City clearly takes it as much to heart as his employer does.

 

Food Allergies Can Lead To Asthma: Study (And Again on the Anti-Gluten-Free Movement!)

 

This item is a bit outside the course of what this blog normally covers, but it is food-related, and it does provide information about a subject people in the food trade and/or with an interest in children’s health should pay attention to.

A recent study, reported on last month in BMC Pediatrics, noted that, “Childhood food allergy is associated with impaired quality of life, limited social interactions, comorbid allergic conditions, and significant economic cost; Importantly, a severe allergic reaction resulting in anaphylaxis can be life threatening, and food allergens are the most common cause of anaphylaxis and anaphylaxis-related mortality in children and adolescents; Recent estimates have reported food allergy prevalence figures between 4 and 8 %, however, these studies are limited in size and scope or rely on participant reporting rather than healthcare provider-based diagnosis.”

Put another, simpler way, the researchers found evidence that food allergies can contribute significantly to the development of asthma. (Yeah, I know, why didn’t they just say that??)

This may be putting the solution in front of the cure, but it would seem to me – no expert in such things! – that studies such as this one, which represent significant advances in medical science and knowledge, point to a need for [1] greater testing tools to ascertain what, if any, foods very young kids may be allergic to, and [2] approaches to dealing with, and curing, childhood allergies to prevent both life quality and budget busting costs down the road.

And, at the risk of sounding like I’m on an anti-gluten-free bandwagon (which I sort of am!), the food industry needs to stop fostering trends that, truth be told, truly are against the interests of a majority of the audience(s) they serve.

The cut-out-gluten case is a, um, case in point: As we reported recently, only a fairly miniscule portion of the U.S. population (with similar percentages likely elsewhere) has celiac disease – “About 1 in 100 people — about 1 percent — have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested,” according to The Celiac Disease Foundation; and, from the same source, “About .4 percent of people have a doctor-diagnosed wheat allergy, according to a 2006 study; In those people, a true allergic response to wheat (which contains gluten) can include skin, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.”

But as this blog pointed out recently, people without or with little risk of celiac disease could be doing themselves a disservice by going ‘gluten-free’. And, by implication, the ever-increasing number of companies declaring their processed food products to be ‘gluten-free’ are both deceiving and even putting at risk some of their consumer clients.

I find it both disturbing and disheartening that companies either fail to explore or disregard scientific

studies that strongly suggest they should stop wasting money on removing gluten from products and focus, instead, on making their products truly healthier for those who’ll consume them.

They should ignore what the latest ‘pair of dimes’ says, and go with the truth: Gluten-free is not, for most consumers, a solution to anything. And it’s truly detrimental for many of them!

Sugar Group’s Payment For Favorable ‘Research’ Shifted Views in the ‘60’s

Dr. Cristin E. Kearns
Researcher Dr. Cristin E. Kearns in her office at the University of California San Francisco. She recently revealed that prominent nutritionists were paid by the sugar industry for favorable ‘research’ reports in the 1960’s.Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman for STAT News

One of the individuals who helped draft the 1977 U.S. Senate committee report that paved the way for the nation’s first dietary guidelines was paid in the 1960’s by the sugar industry to produce a report playing down the importance of sugar in coronary heart disease.

As nutrition debates raged in the 1960s, prominent Harvard nutritionists published two reviews in a top medical journal downplaying the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. Newly unearthed documents reveal what they didn’t say: A sugar industry trade group initiated and paid for the studies, examined drafts, and laid out a clear objective to protect sugar’s reputation in the public eye.

That revelation, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, comes from Dr. Cristin Kearns at the University of California, San Francisco, a dentist-turned-researcher who found the sugar industry’s fingerprints while digging through boxes of letters in the basement of a Harvard library.

Dr. Cristin E. Kearns


Documents that Dr. Cristin E. Kearns calls the “sugar papers” are kept  in her office at the University of California San Francisco. Photo:Elizabeth D. Herman for STAT News

Her paper recounts how two famous Harvard nutritionists, Dr. Fredrick Stare and Mark Hegsted, both now deceased, worked closely with a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, which was trying to influence public understanding of sugar’s role in disease.

The trade group solicited Hegsted, a professor of nutrition at Harvard’s public health school, to write a literature review aimed at countering early research linking sucrose to coronary heart disease. The group paid the equivalent of $48,000 in 2016 dollars ($6,5000 in then-current dollars) to Hegsted and colleague Dr. Robert McGandy, though the researchers never publicly disclosed that funding source, Kearns found.

Hegsted and Stare tore apart studies that implicated sugar and concluded that there was only one dietary modification — changing fat and cholesterol intake — that could prevent coronary heart disease. Their reviews were published in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which back then did not require researchers to disclose conflicts of interest.

That was an era when researchers were battling over which dietary culprit — sugar or fat — was contributing to the deaths of many Americans, especially men, from coronary heart disease, the buildup of plaque in arteries of the heart. Kearns said the papers, which the trade group later cited in pamphlets provided to policymakers, aided the industry’s plan to increase sugar’s market share by convincing Americans to eat a low-fat diet.

Nearly 50 years later, some nutritionists consider sugar a risk factor for coronary heart disease, though there’s no consensus. Having two major reviews published in an influential journal “helped shift the emphasis of the discussion away from sugar onto fat,” said Stanton Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor and her advisor at UCSF. “By doing that, it delayed the development of a scientific consensus on sugar-heart disease for decades.”

Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University who was not involved in the paper, said she’s still not convinced by those who argue that “sugar is poison” — a person’s total calorie consumption could matter more. But she called the UCSF findings a “smoking gun” — rare, hard evidence of the food industry meddling in science.

“Science is not supposed to work this way,” she wrote in an accompanying commentary. “Is it really true that food companies deliberately set out to manipulate research in their favor? Yes, it is, and the practice continues,” Nestle added, noting that Coca-Cola and candy makers have both tried recently to influence nutrition research.

In a statement, the sugar trade group said industry-funded research has been unfairly criticized.

“We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities,” said the trade group that now calls itself the Sugar Association. Beyond that, “it is challenging for us to comment on events that allegedly occurred 60 years ago, and on documents we have never seen.”

“Sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease,” the group maintained. “We’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature” using “headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research.”

A thin-framed, soft-spoken woman who blushes often when she speaks, Kearns is an unlikely crusader against the sugar industry. Trained as a dentist, Kearns said she was shocked to hear a keynote speaker at a 2007 dentistry conference — on diabetes, no less — tell her there is no evidence linking sugar to chronic disease. She quit her job and devoted herself full-time to uncovering documents that show the sugar industry’s influence over public policy and science.

She has now amassed 2,000 pages of internal documents. She keeps them in two banker’s boxes in her cubicle at UCSF, along with photos of decaying teeth, and show-and-tell boxes of sugary Cocoa Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Her previous work has shown how the sugar industry influenced a federal dental research program to shift attention to other efforts — such as finding a vaccine for tooth decay — instead of exploring the benefits of eating less sugar.

For her latest paper, Kearns flew to Boston in 2011 and spent several days in Harvard Medical School’s Countway library, thumbing through boxes of letters that Hegsted left behind.

Hegsted was, in Nestle’s words, “a hero of nutritionists”: After helping draft “Dietary Goals for the United States,” the 1977 Senate committee report that paved the way for the nation’s first dietary guidelines, he went on to oversee the human nutrition unit at the Department of Agriculture.

Paging through the letters, Kearns was “shocked” by his level of cooperation with the sugar industry, she said.

Here’s what she found: In the 1950s, the Sugar Research Foundation identified a strategic opening to increase sugar’s market share by getting Americans to eat a low-fat diet, based on research that blamed fat and cholesterol for causing high blood pressure and heart problems, according to a 1954 speech by the trade group’s president.

John Hickson, the Sugar Research Foundation’s vice president and director of research, was closely monitoring nutrition research. In an internal memo Kearns uncovered from 1964, he proposed that the trade group “embark on a major program” to counteract “negative attitudes towards sugar,” in part by funding its own research to “refute our detractors.”

Hickson first recruited Stare, chair of the Harvard public health school’s nutrition department, to join the foundation’s scientific advisory board. In July of 1965, just after articles linking sucrose — ordinary table sugar — to coronary heart disease appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine, he approached Hegsted for help. Hickson struck a deal to pay Hegsted and McGandy, both overseen by Stare, $6,500 ($48,000 in 2016 dollars) for “a review article of the several papers which find some special metabolic peril in sucrose …” Kearns found.

Hegsted asked Hickson to provide the articles for the review. Hickson sent at least five articles that threatened the sugar industry — which suggest he aimed for the researchers to critique them, Kearns and her coauthors argue.

Hickson set the objective for the review: “Our particular interest had to do with that part of nutrition in which there are claims that carbohydrates in the form of sucrose make an inordinate contribution to the metabolic condition, hitherto ascribed to aberrations called fat metabolism,” he wrote to Hegsted.

“I will be disappointed if this aspect is drowned out in a cascade of review and general interpretation,” Hickson wrote.

“We are well aware of your particular interest in carbohydrate and will cover this as well as we can,” Hegsted replied, according to Kearns.

Letters show the scientist communicating with his funder not just at the outset, but while writing the review, Kearns found. In April 1966, Hegsted wrote to the sugar trade group to report that his review had been delayed because researchers in Iowa had produced new evidence linking sugar to coronary heart disease. “Every time the Iowa group publishes a paper we have to rework a section in rebuttal,” Hegsted wrote.

Letters indicate Hickson reviewed drafts of the paper, though it’s not clear whether his trade group made any edits or comments.

“Am I going to get another copy of the draft shortly?” Hickson asked Hegsted, according to Kearns.

“I expect to get it down to you within a week or two,” Hegsted replied.

Hickson got a final draft a few days before Hegsted intended to submit it for publication. The funder was happy: “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” Hickson wrote.

When the papers were published the following year, authors disclosed other industry funding, but made no mention of the Sugar Research Foundation.

Hegsted’s reviews examined a wide range of research. He downplayed and dismissed papers that argued that sugar was a cause of coronary artery disease. He found merit only in those that saw fat and cholesterol as a culprit.

Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor, said the major problem with the review is that it was not even-handed: In the cases where sugar was implicated, Hegsted and colleagues dismissed entire classes of epidemiological evidence. But they didn’t hold studies that implicate fat to the same standard, Glantz said.

He said the level of the Harvard researchers’ cooperation is clear: “The industry says, ‘Here are some papers we’re really unhappy with. Deal with them,’” Glantz said. “They then did. That, to me, was the thing that I found the most amazing.”

Glantz said the sugar industry used a similar playbook to the tobacco industry, whose internal documents he has written about extensively. The letters reveal how sophisticated the sugar executives were in swaying public opinion, he said. They closely tracked the research and were careful about which influential scientists to approach.

“By dealing with them with a light touch, they got what they wanted,” Glantz said.

Glantz, Kearns, and their coauthor, Laura Schmidt, acknowledged that their research was limited by the fact that they could not interview the protagonists because they are dead.

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Dr. Walter Willett, who knew Hegsted and now runs the nutrition department at Harvard’s public health school, defended him as a principled scientist.

“He was a very hard-nosed, data-driven person, who had a record for standing up to industry interests,” including losing a job at the USDA for standing up to the beef industry, Willett wrote in an email. “I very much doubt that he changed what he believed or would conclude based on industry funding.”

Willett said today, research has become more clear, showing that refined carbohydrates and especially sugar-sweetened beverages “are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” while “the type of dietary fat is also very important.” But he said that at the time Hegsted and colleagues were writing, evidence for fat as a risk factor for coronary heart disease was “considerably stronger” than for sugar, and he would agree with “most of the interpretations” the researchers made.

“However, by taking industry funding for the review, and having regular communications during the review with the sugar industry,” Willett acknowledged, it “put him [Hegsted] in a position where his conclusions could be questioned.”

“It is also possible that these relationships could induce some subtle bias, even if unconscious,” he added.

Willett called the historical account a “useful warning that industry funding is a concern in research as it may bias what is published.” He said it is “doubly a concern in reviews because this inevitably involves some judgment about the interpretation of data.”

But Willett, whose professorship is named after Fredrick Stare, said Stare and his fellow researchers broke no rules. Conflict-of-interest standards have changed dramatically since the 1960s, he noted.

Since 1984, the New England Journal of Medicine has requested authors to disclose conflicts. And the journal now requires authors of reviews not to have “major research support” from relevant companies.

NEJM spokeswoman Jennifer Zeis said the journal now asks authors to report all financial conflicts during the 36 months prior to publication, and also conducts a rigorous peer review that “aids us in guarding against potential conflicts of interest.”

Glantz said the journal should attach an editorial note “describing what actually happened” with the review. “The provenance of the paper is very misleading,” he said.

Zeis said the journal plans to take no action.

Meanwhile, Kearns is continuing her campaign to reveal more internal documents from the sugar industry.

In a recent interview at a UCSF food court, she steered clear of the “gigante” chocolate chip cookies and chose a chicken sandwich and a fruit cup. She said she’s driven in part by her experience as a dentist, when she saw patients whose mouths were wrecked by tooth decay — one of whom needed dentures at age 30.

The federal government is getting on board with researchers like Kearns who have been warning of the perils of sugar — new dietary guidelines recommend less than 10 percent of a person’s daily calories come from added sugars.

Indian School Kids’ Milk Is Awash with Water

droplets-of-milk-mixed-in-water-in-ups-midday-meal-milk-scheme

Indian school kinds awaiting midday meal — and watery milk.

A surprise, sunrise inspection of a food preparation facility servicing 11,000 school children in India’s Uttar Pradesh province found 292 liters (308.5 quarts) of water in just 192 liters (202.8 quarts) of milk.

Radha Krishan Tivari, assistant director in the basic education department who held the surprise inspection, told The Times of India that schoolchildren were drinking milk that was more than 150 per cent water.

“We were simply stunned,” he told the paper last Thursday. “The visit to the kitchen of Nav Prayas, an NGO [non-government organization] we hired to supply milk and midday meals, left one dismayed.” He said the NGO supplies food to 131 schools, including 107 primary and 27 higher primary government schools.

He said that one student, speaking anonymously, said that many kids are unable to eat the food “as the quality is so bad.”

A report on the surprise inspection will be forwarded up the government chain, and the NGO will not be receiving payments for at least two recent months.

Taco Bell’s Menu ‘Among Healthiest’ Of Fast Food Chains

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Taco Bell has subtly become one of the healthiest fast-food chains, Business Insider has reported.

The shift, from a chain traditionally known for fried, cheesy specialties to which the term “healthy” was never attached, has been accomplished over the past four years since the arrival there of dietician and product developer Missy Nelson. Since then, Taco Bell has pledged to cut artificial ingredientsand switch to cage-free eggs. The brand has introduced the lower-calorie Fresco menu, the high-protein Cantina menu, and a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association. Across all offerings, there has been a 15% reduction in sodium.

In the same time frame, the taco chain has also premiered the Doritos Locos taco, the waffle taco, and, most recently, the uber-cheesy Quesalupa.

Clearly, nutrition-savvy advances can coexist with products that few would put on their diet plans.

Taco Bell’s game plan for adding healthy options while releasing craveable hits is simple.

“We just really encourage people to customize to however it fits their lifestyle,” Nelson says.

From top to bottom, Taco Bell, especially in its online and mobile ordering platforms, has been subtly organized to promote this sense of choice — whether to pig out or to eat healthy.

Not eating meat? Click “Vegetarian” to see all the veggie and vegan options. Want to cut calories? Simply hit the “make it Fresco” button to cut cheese, rice, and sour cream and add pico de gallo.

“It’s one click and it automatically does it for you,” Nelson says of the Fresco option. “Now we’re seeing a huge increase in Fresco-style orders through our mobile ordering.”

Then comes the endless options to customize.

It’s a system that can be used to create a monster burrito, filled with bacon, potatoes, and spicy ranch. But it can also be used to shave some calories and fat off your meal. And no matter what you order, it’s equally easy to figure out the nutritional information with the customizable nutrition calculator.

Nelson also says tiny details, such as the font style and the phrasing on the online list of ingredients, have been tweaked to make it easier for customers to read and understand the menu.

By positioning its nutrition strategy around choice, Taco Bell gets to keep less-than-healthy options on the menu. It also frees the chain of the need to directly compete with health-obsessed fast-casual chains like Chipotle when it comes to nutrition.

“Us touting ourselves as a health halo — it’s not authentic and it’s not real,” Taco Bell spokesman Alec Boyle says.

Instead of running ad campaigns focused on health and freshness, the company prefers to make nutritional information available to those who want to make healthier choices. That ranges from providing online FAQs for customers searching for the best way to eat healthy at Taco Bell to having more in-depth conversations with “influencers” who are interested in the topic.

Nelson has led the chain in making some changes that affect the entire menu, such as the move toward cutting sodium and simplifying ingredients.

Overall, however, the onus at Taco Bell is on customers to be healthy. The fast-food chain has provided taco lovers with surprisingly useful nutrition tools — now, they just have to use them.

Irish Hospitals Get Rave Reviews on Food Service

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A patient’s meal in an Irish hospital. (Photo: Alan Betson, The Irish Times)

While hospitals in the U.S. complain about how difficult it is to produce healthier diets for patients, at least two Irish hospitals have patients proclaiming their food to be “amazing”, “best I ever had”, “tasty” and “favorable”. And officials from the country’s Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) have noted, in observing presentations of meals such as boiled bacon, cabbage and vegetables being served up, that they were served “in an appetizing way,” according to a recent article in The Irish Times.

The HIQA officials told The Times that all the patients they interviewed spoke positively about their food – at Dublin’s Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, the same city’s St Columcille Hospital, and at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny, where patients described their food as “excellent”, “beautiful” and told inspectors it “tasted well”.

The quality of hospital food has long been a bugbear of patients and successive ministers for health have promised to make improvements, the paper said.

HIQA was asked to carry out unannounced inspections of nutrition and hydration in public hospitals and has just published its first three reports – with surprising results.

At St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, Dublin, all patients who spoke with inspectors were complimentary and satisfied with the taste of the food and drinks provided. They were also satisfied with the choice offered, though the HIQA report describes the variety of choice on the hospital menus as limited.

The main meal was fish or meat, but staff said scrambled eggs or shepherd’s pie were available as alternatives.

Patients in St Columcille’s were more muted in their enthusiasm, describing their food as “tasty” and providing a “good choice”. All were satisfied with the temperature of the food and said their hot meals were hot on arrival.

HIQA says the hospital must ensure quality improvement efforts are in place to meet patients’ nutritional and hydration needs. Patients must be screened for the risk of malnutrition and training in the area should be further improved, taking account of patients’ own experiences.

HIQA says all patients have a right to safe, nutritious food and the provision of meals should be individualized and flexible.

Developments concerning food — from research to farm to factory to restaurants and home.