Thursday, November 09, 2006


So much easier than tacking the real causes of being overweight -- such as school bans on kids running around in the name or saferty -- or feminist propaganda that has convinced many slim middle-class women that a "career" is more rewarding than children

Marketing strategies that feature SpongeBob SquarePants or use the latest adventure game for PlayStation to sell junk food to children will face increased scrutiny from the federal government next year. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is preparing to collect information from the parent companies of fast-food restaurants and beverage manufacturers for detailed information on their marketing activities and spending targeted at children. The informational requests will go out to about 50 companies, which are required by law to respond. The companies are not identified, but those likely to receive the requests sell or make children's food products such as breakfast cereals, snack foods and sodas.

The information the FTC receives will be used for a report that will examine the different types of advertising tactics, such as the use of popular children's characters or video games, for children's food products. The report is the latest effort in a broad push to limit the food industry's marketing and labeling of its products. Last month, former President Bill Clinton struck a deal with major snack-food manufacturers to sell healthier snack foods to students.

Some companies, such as Kraft Foods, already have scaled back their advertising to children, potentially to avoid the growing number of lawsuits against companies for selling unhealthy foods. Kraft has set national standards for products it will market to children ages 6 to 11 and will not advertise to those younger than 6. The Walt Disney Co. has recently established standards for the type of food products its characters may be used to advertise.

In addition to the FTC report, the Federal Communication Commission and Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, are creating a task force of government officials, television programmers and marketers to study the media's impact on childhood obesity next year. Many observers are comparing the movement toward healthier snacks and oversight of marketing practices to the lawsuit against tobacco companies in the mid-1990s. "Like the tobacco [issue], there is a steady increase of attention being given to healthy food products. As a result, there will be more self-regulation, but to what extent the government gets involved will depend on the public's attitude toward these companies and medical studies that show the effects of childhood obesity," said Ron Urbach, a lawyer with Davis & Gilbert and co-chairman of the advertising, marketing and promotions department at the law firm.

The rate of obesity in children and adolescents has more than tripled from less than 5 percent in the 1980s to about 16 percent today, according to federal data. Critics of the food industry's marketing practices say commercials and Internet ads, on which the industry spent an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion last year, aggressively target children. "Our nation is confronted with a childhood-obesity epidemic that is getting worse," said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who ordered the FTC to look into the issue. "We must take steps to protect our children's health. Parents are being undermined by the junk-food culture that is increasingly promoted to our kids on TV."

Lawyers monitoring the issue are concerned the FTC's increased vigilance on marketing toward children could lead to enforcement. "When the federal government starts looking for and getting marketing information, they begin to learn about different forms of advertising and might want to make a statement," said Tony DiResta, an FTC regulatory specialist at the Washington law firm Reed Smith. "Enforcement action for deceptive advertising is a possibility."

But if history is a guide, the FTC may urge companies to "self-regulate" themselves rather than take up the lengthy process of issuing new regulations restricting the type of advertising companies can direct toward children. "In the middle 1990s when the FTC was going after violence of TV, they decided it would be more effective for companies to self-regulate," Mr. Urbach said. "Taking a self-regulating path is more effective because government regulations take so long, by the time they are in place, the issues are different."

New guidelines for marketers of children's food products from the Children's Advertising Review Unit, a unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, are being revised after the group announced in February that it would conduct a complete review of the existing guidelines. The new guidelines may go beyond their current focus of protecting children's privacy and preventing youths from seeing messages intended for adults to adding minimum nutrition standards or restrictions on targeting children with promotions for unhealthy food.


A bit of rare good sense from a medical writer:

Health times are changing. Eggs are again a healthy food. Avoiding cholesterolladen eggs won't solve elevated-cholesterol problems for most people. Salt intake, however, can lead to high blood pressure, and thereby perhaps threaten cardiovascular health. Except, maybe eggs are not so healthy, possibly because of their high levels of saturated fat. And the threat from salt intake seems only true for certain people who are sodium sensitive. Butter is full of saturated fat, so you should switch to margarine. Wait. Margarine, containing hydrogenated oils, is loaded with trans fatty acids, which makes it a poor alternative to butter. Try the new and expensive kind of cholesterol-lowering margarine.

Where does all of this conflicting health advice come from? Some of this changing advice results from new scientific discoveries. New studies constantly address a piece of the puzzle of the development of chronic illness. Since cardiovascular disease is by far the greatest killer in the Western world, it and its risk factors (serum cholesterol, blood pressure, diet, stress) receive lots of research attention, usually fragmentary. Another part of this contradictory advice results from clinicians and reporters who overstate their findings. Individual studies are rarely multi-faceted, long-term, and definitive. So as each finding emerges, it receives more attention than justified; then later, another, different piece of the picture is revealed. But part of the confusion results from scientists who misunderstand their findings. It is this scientific mis-step that is the subject of this chapter.

In 1989 I wrote a book entitled The Self-Healing Personality. I wrote: "Since eggs are high in cholesterol, some scientists have urged people to make drastic changes in their diets -- avoid all eggs. However, cholesterol does not go directly from our stomachs into our blood. The human body processes the cholesterol in food and makes its own cholesterol. The level of cholesterol in our blood is affected by hereditary factors, by the amount of fat (especially saturated fat) in the diet, by exercise, and by stress. It is also affected by other, as yet unknown, factors. Avoiding eggs will by itself have little or no effect on blood cholesterol in most people.

Many products on the supermarket shelves are now advertised with the ridiculous slogan, `No cholesterol!' Believe it or not, I recently purchased a bunch of bananas that had a `No cholesterol' sticker attached to them. This labelling indicates a grave public misconception of the best ways to promote health.

For a whole host of reasons, it is healthy to eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Bananas do fall into this category, but no scientist really knows all the exact details of why fruits and vegetables are good to eat. Certainly a lot more than cholesterol content is involved . . .

How many people are now feeling guilty when they eat a steak? The guilt is likely a greater problem than the steak. It is true that there is substantial evidence that high animal fat intake is unhealthy. At a restaurant near my home, I observed a fat man devour a huge fatty chunk of prime rib. He concluded the meal with a large piece of chocolate cake a la mode. If he does this often (as he evidently did), his arteries may pay the consequences. But people who occasionally enjoy eating a trimmed piece of broiled steak as part of a varied diet are giving themselves an excellent source of protein and minerals".

Now, more than a decade later, both the popular and scientific literatures are filled with articles questioning the "ban" on eggs and steak. They claim there is "new research" (e.g., "Eat your heart out: Forget what you know about eggs, margarine and salt", Time magazine, 1999). So how could I presciently write those words so long ago? All I had to do was read the scientific literature and think about its full context. There was never any convincing study even remotely indicating that eliminating high-cholesterol eggs from breakfast would improve the health of the population. Similarly, eating an occasional steak (full of essential proteins and minerals) was never shown to be worse for one's arteries than many other common foods, including drinking milk. But scientists misunderstood their own findings.

As we shall see, our health promotion efforts and our public health systems are too often built around a pathology model, derived from traditional conceptions of "treating" disease. These approaches often ignore the social context of people's lives, and the psychosocial influences that push and pull them in healthy or unhealthy directions across time. In the scientific arena, this orientation often means that each result from a particular scientific study is seen as an important and direct causal step on the road to disease. Anything that seems to be associated with an increase in a risk factor is a threat! Thus we encounter a litany of health advice -- do's and don't's -- sometimes relevant to the proximal causes of ill health but ignorant of the long-term causal patterns. Furthermore, such advice appears in isolation, disease by disease. All together, in the popular arena, this faddish approach produces people who have had it up to their noses with conflicting medical advice. They have had their fill of half-baked baloney casseroles. So they junk all the advice and return to eating junk food. They say, "The heck with the Surgeon General!" The truth be told, this exclamatory subtitle is not original. Rather, it was stolen from a huge billboard on the highway between San Diego and Riverside. The huge letters proclaim, "The heck with the Surgeon General." This is followed by the phrase "Inhale a big juicy star." It is an advertisement for Carl's Junior star hamburgers. Forget about warnings, and inhale loads of fatty hamburgers! Millions do. The burgers are accompanied by fries and shakes.

A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association documented this backlash against promulgated nutritional advice (Patterson et al., 2001). This research used a random digit telephone survey of residents of Washington state, weighted to be representative of the population. More than two-thirds of the respondents asserted that the government should not tell people what to eat, and many complained about low-fat diets. More importantly, people evidencing high "nutrition backlash" ate more fat and fewer servings of fruits and vegetables. The causal direction of these associations with nutrition backlash is not established. Patterson et al. (2001) concluded that it is likely that people who are annoyed with constant government and media harping on low-fat diets are more likely to disregard the advice altogether, and eat a fat-laden and low-fruit diet. The government advice backfires. This is also the prediction of psychological reactance models, which forecast that threats to one's personal freedom produce negative reactions that increase one's resistance to persuasion. This reactance against health advice may be especially true among people concerned with control issues (Rhodewalt and Davison, 1983). It is also the case that people may generally see themselves as less susceptible to such influence when the persuading entity is an irrelevant "outgroup" such as the government (Terry et al., 1999).

On the other hand, social psychological theory and research on cognitive consistency predicts that people who know they are eating high-fat, low-fruit diets will be more likely to evidence this "nutrition backlash" when asked about their diet. That is, if one is eating French fries, pork chops, and ice cream on a regular basis, then one is unlikely to assert that the government is doing a fine job in warning people about the health risks of such diets. Such thoughts and behaviors would be inconsistent, dissonant, and unperceptive. In this case, it is not annoyed people who ignore health advice, but rather misbehaving people who become annoyed with the advice (Abelson et al., 1968).

It is likely, however, that both sorts of causal directions account for the association between poor dietary habits and dissatisfaction with government preaching and scientific reversals. Some people will not attend to health messages, will not believe them if they hear them, and will not change their behaviors even if they hear and believe the message. Various cognitive, emotional, and informational processes are at work. On the other hand, other people will form unhealthy habits and behave in unhealthy ways for a variety of interpersonal and situational reasons, and they then will form negative attitudes about health promotion as a function of these behaviors (Rodin et al., 1990).

The Skinny on Fat

Human beings have evolved to enjoy eating fat. In fact, people cannot live without fat in their diets. There are many different types of fats. There are fats from dairy products and fats from meats, there are artificial fats from food processors, and there are fats from produce ranging from soy and nuts to olives and avocados. There are fat people who do not eat much fat, and there are skinny people who eat a lot of fat. Many people gain weight as they age, but many do not. Although it is known that some people who eat a lot of saturated fat will raise their cholesterol levels, a subsequent long-term causal link to all-cause premature mortality from this single behavior has not been directly documented as a major risk to the population.

Medical advisors who recommend addressing high serum (blood) cholesterol in people at high risk for cardiovascular disease through dietary changes in fat intake are piecing together different sorts of findings. But it has always been controversial whether simple diet-based attempts (such as avoiding eggs) at serum cholesterol reductions are needed for healthy young or middle-aged adults, especially given the often minimal or unexpected effects on serum cholesterol and health of moderate dietary changes (Kaplan et al., 1992; Taubes, 2001; Taylor et al., 1987). Further, any beneficial effects preventing deaths from cardiovascular disease might be offset by increased risk from other diseases. Fat and carbohydrate metabolism in the body is complicated, and it is not clear that a high carbohydrate diet is especially healthy as a replacement. Add in considerations of physical activity, stress, alcohol, and culture, and the complexity multiplies dramatically (Epel et al., 2001). Note that during the years since the government and some health advisors have begun preaching fat intake reduction, the incidence of obesity among Americans has increased dramatically.

More here


Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). For a summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and no lasting harm from them has ever been shown.


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