Trimming The Fat: U.S. Government Attacks Childhood Obesity

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With little fanfare, the U.S. government has been spending considerable sums – tens of millions of dollars annually – over the past decade to address an obesity problem so severe it affects more than one-third (34.9%, or 78.6 million) of all U.S. adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a single generation, the obesity rate among children has tripled. The rate has doubled within the adult population in 20 years, according to The Campaign To End Obesity.

That organization estimates healthcare costs related to obesity and conditions it contributes to amount to some $210 billion annually – 21% of all national health care spending. Its web site quotes the Congressional Budget Office as noting that when non-health costs related to obesity are factored in, the total per-annum cost is in the neighborhood of $450.

It’s little wonder, then, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and such other federal agencies as the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI) are spending what they are annually to educate various segments of the population about the causes and risks of obesity. The USDA alone spent nearly $70,000,000 in 2010 alone on Childhood Obesity Grants!

One of the programs that resulted from the studies those grants supported is one called Hip Hop To Health. This is that program’s sixth, and possibly final, year, unless further funding is allocated. As it certainly should be.

Hip Hop to Health is described as “an evidence-based healthy eating and exercise curriculum developed for children ages 3-7 years.” It’s clever, it’s catchy, and it works: The project’s web site notes that, “results of a comprehensive randomized evaluation study showed that children who received the Hip Hop to Health (HH2H) Jr. curriculum showed smaller increases in their body mass index at both a 1-year and 2-year follow-ups than children who received a general health curriculum. Thus HH2H was successful in taking these children off the trajectory to overweight and obesity.”

So if it happens, as it’s been reported, that the government “spent $3.5 million on anti-obesity hip hop songs,” you can assume from the results that was money well spent. (Your tax dollars truly at work!)

HH2H was developed by Dr. Melinda Stolley, who has spent much of her career creating health behavior programs for children and adults. Now an associate director at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Cancer Center, she earned a BS in education at Northwestern University, did a stint as a kindergarten teacher, then returned to Northwestern to complete an MA in counseling psychology and a PhD in clinical psychology.

During the development phase, the HH2H program received feedback from early elementary teachers, parents and school administrators. Its effectiveness was evaluated through a study led by Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon, a professor at the University of Illinois.

She also has a PhD in clinical psychology and is an expert in the area of childhood obesity. She served on the Institute of Medicine Committee that developed the strategic plan for addressing childhood obesity in the U.S.  She and Dr. Stolley have been colleagues for many years, the project’s web site says.

The program’s simple-to-execute makeup belies its depth and scope. In addition to hip hop songs, a genre chosen because children readily take to it and have fun with the songs, the program employs a spectrum of teaching exercises and an assortment of physical exercises. HH2H can be ‘worked’ in a classroom setting, childcare centers, parks, at afterschool programs and in homes.

With luck, for children who are potentially obese adults, HH2H will be refunded, and many lives as well as millions of dollars will be saved in decades to come.

Many Hospitals Lack Taste In Food Service Offerings

 

jcblair--PA

The symbol for the Food Services and Nutrition Department at J.C. Blair Hospital, Huntingdon PA, where the mission is to serve “tasty, appealing and nutritious meals.” Sadly, many hospitals’ food service operations don’t share this mission statement.

Who better than the non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to evaluate the healthiness or lack thereof in hospital food service?

The Committee, which has 12,000 physician members, recently obtained and closely analyzed patient menus and the types of foods offered to hospital staff and visitors from 24 hospitals across the U.S. They were a representative sampling of 262 hospitals surveyed by the Committee, including the country’s 50 largest public hospitals and at least one facility in every state.

Some of what they discovered was, in a word, shocking! An incredible number of hospitals not only have contracts with fast feeders such as Wendy’s and Chic-fil-A, many also encourage or acquiesce to demands that they do all they can to boost the sales of ordinarily-seen-as-unhealthy foods to boost either the fast food company’s or the hospital’s profits.

Such contracts fly in the face of Harvard research presented at an American Heart Association meeting last year that found study participants who ate fried foods up to three times a week saw an 18 percent increased risk for heart disease. The risk increased with the frequency of fried food consumption, with about a 25 percent increased risk if eaten four to six times a week and up to 68 percent if eaten seven times or more a week. This information is, of course, readily available to hospital administrators – and actively ignored by many of them.

One of the most surprising and hard-to-believe un-noted findings of the Committee’s study was the apparent unconcern that hospital staff, presumably including a fair number of doctors, exhibit about the food offerings of the facilities where they work. Not only does hospital staff seemingly accept without question the quality of food offered to them, they also seem to be less than acceptably concerned about what’s fed to their patients. The latter, of course, rightfully anticipate their health is the primary concern of those treating them and the institution itself.

These days, one doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of health issues related to the consumption of too much fat, etc., to appreciate that putting profit before nutrition is something hospitals should not be doing. And the PCRM is fighting back, with the likes of a hard-hitting campaign against the 20 U.S. hospitals, including four in Texas, that feature Chick-fil-A outlets and the not-very-healthy foods they offer. This advertising campaign, which started January 25, includes billboards, street kiosks and other sites where Chick-fil-A’s advertising is mocked with a photo of three white-coated doctors holding signs saying “Eat More Chickpeas.” The ads encourage viewers to “Ask your local hospital to go #FastFoodFree!” A website,www.EatMoreChickpeas.org, lists Twitter handles and other contact information for hospitals that host Chick-fil-As. Additionally, large bus shelter ads are positioned near Chick-fil-A headquarters in Atlanta.

“Many of the hospitals that host Chick-fil-As are in states with high rates of diet-related diseases, making hospitals part of the overall toxic food environment,” says Angie Eakin, M.D., M.S., one of the doctors who appears in the advertisements. “Hospitals should be fast-food-free, and patients should eat more chickpeas, vegetables, fruits, and other foods that can promote healing and prevent disease.”

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has a “percentage rent” agreement with McDonald’s, meaning the more artery-clogging burgers and shakes sold to patients, the more money the hospital makes. When Grady’s McDonald’s contract expires in June 2016, it should consider expanding the healthful options in its cafeteria.

Several hospitals named in the Physicians Committee’s previous reports have recently improved their food environments by closing McDonald’s restaurants. These include Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Texas, Memorial Regional Hospital in Florida, Riley Children’s Hospital in Indiana and the Cleveland Clinic. Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minnesota has announced it will soon close its McDonald’s, ending its contract early.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS and others that host fast-food restaurants earned lower scores in the 2016 report.

The Chick-fil-A contract with the University of Mississippi Medical Center asks the medical center to “make every reasonable effort to increase the sales and business and maximize the Gross Receipts.” This means the hospital is promoting fried chicken and other foods tied to serious chronic diseases including heart disease and diabetes.

“Hospitals that are fast-food-free and instead have rooftop gardens earn the highest scores,” says Karen Smith, R.D., senior dietitian for the Physicians Committee. “Hospital gardens provide fresh vegetables for hot soup and other plant-based patient meals that can prevent or reverse diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”
Hospitals earning the highest Patient Food Scores include Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island (NY), which has a rooftop garden, Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, CO., C.S. Mott children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI, and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

Are You SURE You Want To Eat That Chicken/Pork Chop/Sausage? (How About Those Eggs?)

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It’s widely known that many factory farms horribly mistreat some of the animals they take in, raise, kill and process into food for humans (and sometimes for human’s pets). It’s also common knowledge that much of what goes on in facilities that – let’s be honest – are parts of big businesses, businesses in business to provide humans (and their pets) with a form of nourishment. Fortunately, as people seek fresher, healthier food, a lot of what those facilities produce is falling out of favor with a growing segment of the population. People particularly concerned about their cholesterol and/or fat intake – not to mention their concern about the way farmed and even supposedly ‘free-range’ animals are dealt with by food processors are, sometimes at the suggestion of their primary care physician, reducing their red meat intake. Others, because of the widely-reported abuses of chickens in facilities where they are raised and, eventually, killed, steer clear of that branch of the poultry family, too.

Consider these facts: [1] pigs often are grossly mistreated – dragged, alive, across floors with a hook, have their throats cut when they’re still alive (in total violation of Federal law), and all that after being made to live in and be coated with their own waste; [2] chickens are so tightly confined – whether they’re intended for eggs or food – that they can’t even turn around, and they’re fed antibiotics (that humans eventually consume) and other substances to increase their growth rate, to twice the normal amount in a six-week period, after which the meat-oriented ones are killed; The egg-producers carry on for as long as two years, until they can no longer produce eggs; Then they become, more than likely, the prime ingredient of chicken broth or soup; [3] cattle, which used to roam free and eat grass, now are made to grow far faster than nature intended thanks to combinations of antibiotics and other ‘stuff’ (plus a bit of real nutrients) that, slowly but surely, is contributing to humans’ inability to benefit from some antibiotics because of the immunity they acquire from animal-meat consumption.

The fact that all that happens is bad enough: What’s worth is that ‘big ag’, which mass-farms much of the meat and eggs we eat, is increasingly winning state legislatures over – through, of course, their massive lobbying might – to enact what at known as ‘ag-gag’ laws. They are designed to make it illegal for anyone to secretly record or even verbally report to a reporter, or a legislator, that this farm or that one is conducting its business in an inhumane way. The penalties for violating those laws can run to fines of up to $5000 per day a ‘whistle’blower’s’ message has been ‘out there’.

There are people running for president today who are all for reducing the impact of government on American citizens. There’s a congress in place that has, for years, refused to fund the Department of Agriculture or any other agency to a point where it can monitor and deal with abusive issues in the production of the animals we eat.

Meanwhile, the American public is spending, not entirely voluntarily, tens of millions of dollars on a space program – aimed at sending people to unreasonably-far-distant planets and at working, through land- and space-based telescopes, to answer unanswerable – and totally pointless – questions, such as what does it all mean?, where did we come from?, Why are we here?

When all is said and done, who gives a flying frankfurter when there are starving, jobless people in this country (and in others with similarly pointless pursuits).

There are plenty of idealists, and dreamers, and other odd types who things something as abstract as space exploration makes sense. They, each of them, need to do a __/__/____ check  — on their birthday.

If they’re over 50, it’s unlikely that in their lifetime we will be dis-engaged from Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Syria. Or that Israelis will get to grip with reality and allow the Palestinians a ‘state’ of their own.

If you want to do something worthwhile this year, lobby your congressman, senators and state-level representatives to block ag-gag laws. We need more – not less insight – into how our protein food is produced and processed. And we, as people, need to be more concerned, and vocal, about the abuses going on ‘factory farming’.

You might also think about contributing to Farm Forward, the only national organization dedicated to stopping factory farming. Their web site contains a wealth of information both about the issue and what they are doing about it.

 

Chipotle’s Troubles Aren’t Behind It, But Bounce-back Is Hoped For

 

Chipotle Food Safety
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

When a restaurant chain priding itself on fresh, locally-sourced and made-to-order finds itself in trouble because of sickened customers, a hard look at everything in the system is necessary. That’s Chipotle Mexican Grill’s position today, after e-Coli and other toxic outbreaks in stores across the country.

Maybe, company officials seem to have concluded, ‘all fresh’ can be ‘too fresh’, to a point where heavy reliance on young, inexperienced workers, people not used to following strict protocols (if they even understand what ‘protocols’ means!) can be poisonous to not only people but also to stock prices and profits. And, of course, customer counts.

Having suffered norovirus outbreaks in several states and eColi incidents in more, causing harm to more than 500 people, facing a grand jury subpoena in California and indications that both the Justice Department and the FDA may be considering bringing criminal charges against the company, Chipotle officials have good reason to fear life-threatening damage to the company’s reputation among a waning client base.

(A popular food industry blogger who’s reported several times on Chipotle’s troubles says he has repeatedly advised his adult children to not patronize the chain’s outlets until its problems are solved – as he has himself done. That reporter reaches a sizable number of people within the food-selling community, and his words, based on some thirty years of experience as a food trade journalist, are taken seriously – so one may assume his familial advice to choose somewhere else to spend your eating-out dollars will, and probably already has, negatively impact Chipotle’s customer count and its profits.)

What’s gone wrong? How, so quickly, did a company that, as qsrmagazine.com put it, “took 22 years to transform itself from a burrito stand to a $23 billion brand” find that something in its core business plan – to be the freshest of the fresh, the most locally sourced it’s possible to be, and have flexible offerings at reasonable price points – is letting it down?

Amazingly, after close analyses of systems, equipment and food sources, the company has, to date (Jan. 23), been unable to what caused either of the two types of outbreaks (eColi and norovirus) it’s suffered.

Nevertheless, Chipotle has created and implemented an “enhanced food safety program [that] is the product of a comprehensive reassessment of its food safety practices conducted with industry leading experts that included a farm-to-fork assessment of each ingredient Chipotle uses with an eye toward establishing the highest standards for safety,” a Jan. 19 press release stated.

That release said the new program’s many components include:

  • High-resolution DNA-based testing of many ingredients designed to ensure the quality and safety of ingredients before they are shipped to restaurants — a testing program that far exceeds requirements of state and federal regulatory agencies, as well as industry standards.
  • Changes to food prep and food handling practices, including washing and cutting of some produce items (such as tomatoes and romaine lettuce) and shredding cheese in central kitchens, blanching of some produce items (including avocados, onions and limes) in its restaurants, and new protocols for marinating chicken and steak.
  • Enhanced internal training to ensure that all employees thoroughly understand the company’s high standards for food safety and food handling.
  • Paid sick leave helping to ensure that ill employees have no incentive to work while ill.

Beyond that – way beyond that – the company will broadcast a company-wide meeting between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on February 8 “to thank employees for their extraordinary work implementing Chipotle’s comprehensive new food safety program in their restaurants, as well as outlining for all employees the steps that have been taken outside the restaurants to make Chipotle ingredients safer than ever.”

The release added that, at that meeting, “the company will also share information as to what may have  caused some customers to become ill in 2015.”

‘May’ being the operative word there: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still is looking into potential causes, and had, as of last week, come to no conclusions.

While it is fully understandable that Chipotle wants to reassure the public, staff and investors that being-implemented changes will [1] result in the rehiring of staff of 43 Washington and Oregon restaurants closed last year because of the health issues [2] attract aspiring eaters back and [3] boost sales enough to at least partially recover from the 25% share price loss since last October, the company has its work cut out for it.

 

Natural Red, Green Pigments Extracted from Seaweed By North Korea Company

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North Korea’s Tongmyong Joint Venture company has patented a process for extracting red and green natural food pigment from seaweed in a way that produces two to five percent more product than do the popular pulverizing or freezing techniques, the Pyongyang Times has reported.

So far, the differently-mined pigments are being used in the manufacture of hair and body shampoo, liquid laundry soap, carbonated juices and more. More consumable applications are under consideration, the paper reported.

Quoting Kang Sung Hyok, the principal developer of the new process, the Pyongyang Times said an advantage of the system is that, unlike the widely-used bleaching process, it maintains the shape integrity of the pigment, leaving it better able to be adapted to coloring processes for many foods and other products.

The green pigment is said to be largely comprised of chlorophyll, and the red one is pycobilin and carotene.

The developers of the new system say they’ve only begun to explore its potential uses, given that there are more than 100 species of seaweed in the waters around Korea, and some of them are recognized as being of a quality level suitable for pigment extraction.

After Decade+ Away, Dunkin’ Donuts Is Returning to Beijing This Month

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While maintaining a presence in China with stores in Shanghai, Shenyang and Fushun, Dunkin’ Donuts decided around the turn of the century that Beijing wasn’t a viable market, and the company closed its stores there. Now, DD is coming back, with one location scheduled to open before Chinese New Year (Feb. 8), two more opening  shortly thereafter, and “a handful of others” due to come online later, according to The Beijinger.com.

What’s changed in Beijing? A growth in the popularity of coffee, spurred in part my Starbucks’ growing presence – that company has 1,500 locations in a total of 90 Chinese cities, according to The National Geographic – as well a spurt in the count of local coffee shops. The latter tend to offer premier coffee both because of its quality and because it is seen as prestigious, an important factor to Chinese consumers, National Geographic (NG) notes.

A large part of Starbucks success, the magazine says, has evolved from the company’s ability to offer a broad range of the sweetish drinks favored, over plain, black coffee, by the Chinese and, as or more important, Starbucks’ willingness to cater to the local market with such Chinese preferences as green tea frappuccinos, red bean scones and, during the Mid-Autumn and Dragon Boat festivals, such favorites of those events as mooncakes (“round pastries stuffed with red bean or lotus seed paste and whole salted egg yolks, these last representing the fertility-associated full moon, NG says) and zongzi (“a traditional Chinese food made of glutinous rise stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo, reed or other flat leaves,” Wikipedia says). Mooncakes and zongzi are to those festivals, respectively, as funnel cake is to many similar events in the U.S.

Apparently a problem for Dunkin’ Donuts in its earlier Beijing incarnations was the quality of its coffee – too often seen by the locals as worth by-passing – and the scarcity of its donuts, which apparently were prepared so infrequently that on-the-shelf selections and quantities tended to be limited. The upcoming stores are expected to take after Shanghai’s path with offerings keyed to the local diet. One of them, featuring dry pork and seaweed, is not recommended by the author of The Beijinger article!

That article said a DD spokesperson confirmed the openings cited here are “imminent,” and other locations should follow shortly as the company aims to open some 1,400 stores to complement the 17 or so in the country’s east and northeast, a former employee told The Beijinger. That large expansion plan was announced around a year ago, but only now seems to be moving toward fruition.

 

Nestle Addressing Human Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Seafood Industry

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There have been a substantial number of reports in recent years about human rights abuses by some shrimp-harvesting companies in Thailand. Now Nestle, a major globally-active corporation and a significant importer, processor and distributor of seafood, has established an Action Plan “committed to eliminating forced labor in our seafood supply chain in Thailand,” in the words of Magdi Batato, the company’s Executive Vice President of Operations.

In announcing the Action Plan, he said Nestle will be “working alongside other stakeholders to tackle this serious and complex issue.” He noted that the plan “takes into account recommendations from global NGO Verrite’, which works to help companies understand and tackle labor issues,” a Nestle website said.

A related Nestle website, an expansion of the previously-cited one, stressed that the company is “fully committed to ensuring that our products are not associated with forced labor through our mandatory Nestle Supplier Code and Responsible Sourcing Guidelines (RSG).” Those guidelines “require all of our suppliers to respect human rights and to comply with all applicable labor laws; In the case of fish and seafood, we are, for example, engaging with our suppliers in Thailand to identify any potential unlawful labor practices and pursue appropriate actions to eliminate [them] from our supply chain.”

The issues covered in the Action Plan include:

  • The cost of working papers, accommodation, supplies, food deducted from wages;
  • Limited freedom of movement or freedom to quit without penalty;
  • Recruitment-related fees charged to workers, sometimes in the form of salary deductions;
  • Constraining ability to quit or risk being fired for complaining;
  • Verbal and physical abuse for complaining or for slow work;
  • Workplace environment, living conditions Hazardous work that has resulted, for some, in severe individual injuries;
  • Poor living conditions (personal care) with limited respect of privacy;
  • Use of illegal substances;
  • Poor worker health (because of unbalanced diet);
  • Wages, benefits and working time [including’ excessive overtime; (16+ hour work days for fishermen)
  • Wages withheld until end of employment term constraining workers from complaining or quitting;
  • Undocumented overtime;
  • Child Labor Teenage and juvenile labor.

Among the Plan’s objectives are:

  • Define and communicate requirements to boat owners and/or captains, including recruitment practices and living/working conditions for boat workers. Building on the Marine Catch Purchasing Document, or any other industry recognized best practice, create a set of requirements for boat owners and captains. Requirements will:
  • Be communicated to boat owners (e.g. through contract or visuals),
  • Cover traceability, recruitment practices, fish catching system, living and working conditions for boat workers,
  • Be potentially handed over with an implementation toolkit composed of Employment Contract Template and rules, Worker ID cards, template to monitor worker’s names, working time, salary, and associated deductions if any.And implementation “will be verified,” the Plan notes.
    • Implement a training program for boat owners and/or captains.

    Based on requirements, and together with industry partners and stakeholders within the Thailand Seafood Industry, create a training hub to generate awareness and provide education to ensure effective worker protections in priority areas as determined by Verite’. This training hub may take the form of a “demonstration boat” or “university” where a training program will be given to electable boat owners/captains. As reward and enabler for continuous improvement, program will include a mechanism to apply for financial support to speed up the implementation of best practices learned.

  • Based on the application to the mechanism for financial support, award financial support (in the form of sponsoring or micro credit) for e.g. worker personal protective and care equipment, boat lodging and cooking facilities etc.

Effective use of financial support will be verified.

  • Implement an awareness raising campaign on human rights and labor conditions, targeting primarily boat workers.

In cooperation with local authority and industry partners and stakeholders in the Thailand Seafood Industry, create an awareness raising campaign, addressing at first the topics of labor standards & health and safety at the workplace.

  • Campaign to be deployed in locations identified as impactful for migrant workforce & linked with regular boat’s docking, including the introduction of a grievance mechanism & providing some immediate tangible personal benefits to workers (distribution of free personal & safety care Findings, foods, or equipment’s such as cap/gloves/sunglasses).
  • Campaign will incorporate an anonymous reporting system to identify worst form of labor conditions to be addressed by the Emergency Response Team.
  • Enable the work of a Migrant Workforce Emergency Response team. Identify a 3rd party partner experienced in protecting individuals from the worst form of labour conditions. Deploy and empower this partner organization as the Migrant Workforce Emergency Response Team.
  • Team will be in charge to deploy the necessary assessments to identify individuals in need of immediate assistance.
  • Team will be assisted by a network of other 3rd party local NGOs, to be funded by parties, having the authority to immediately remediate and mobilize any sort of short-term actions to protect the human integrity of the identified individuals (up to e.g. buying debt, regularizing working permits, relocating individuals).
  • Create and implement a fishing vessels verification program.
  • By leveraging opportunities to collaborate with industry partners and stakeholders in the Thailand Seafood Industry, implement, at first, an internal audit program verifying working (labor and health and safety at workplace) conditions in fishing vessels for 100% of the fleet used.
  • Secondly, alongside with monitoring of compliance through Key Performance Indicators, randomly select boats on a monthly basis to undergo a 3rd party verification audit by an independent organization, executed every quarter. 3rd party verification audit should include interview of boat workers and establish history of their working career in the region and country.

An integral part of the Action Plan is a mandate that a Nestle leader be appointed to oversee implementation of the Plan. This leader – who may be part- or full-time, whichever proves to be necessary – will coordinate with relevant parties and ensure all parts of the Plan are functioning as they are supposed to.

 

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