Friday, February 11, 2011

Restaurant nutrition under attack from Mrs. Obama

What makes Mrs Obama an authority on nutrition? Does going to bed with the President give an automatic transfusion of wisdom?

After wrapping her arms around the retail giant Wal-Mart and trying to cajole food makers into producing nutrition labels that are easier to understand, Michelle Obama, the first lady and a healthy-eating advocate, has her sights set on a new target: the nation’s restaurants.

A team of advisers to Mrs. Obama has been holding private talks over the past year with the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, in a bid to get restaurants to adopt her goals of smaller portions and children’s meals that include healthy offerings like carrots, apple slices and milk instead of French fries and soda, according to White House and industry officials.

The discussions are preliminary, and participants say they are nowhere near an agreement like the one Mrs. Obama announced recently with Wal-Mart to lower prices on fruits and vegetables and to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in its foods. But they reveal how assertively she is working to prod the industry to sign on to her agenda.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama will begin a three-day publicity blitz to spotlight “Let’s Move!,” her campaign to reduce childhood obesity, which was announced one year ago this week.

She will introduce a public service announcement, appear on the “Today” show and deliver a speech in Atlanta promoting gardening and healthy-eating programs.

But as she uses her public platform to persuade children to eat healthier and exercise more, Mrs. Obama and her team are also quietly pressing the levers of industry and government. Over the past year she has become involved in many aspects of the nation’s dietary habits, exerting her influence over nutrition policy.

Her team has worked with beverage makers to design soda cans with calorie counts and is deeply involved in a major remake of the government’s most recognizable tool for delivering its healthy-eating message: the food pyramid.

Mrs. Obama persuaded Congress to require schools to include more fruits and vegetables in the lunches they offer, and she encouraged lawmakers to require restaurants to print nutrition information on menus, a provision that wound up in President Obama’s landmark health care law.

“They really want a cooperative relationship with the food industry, and they’re looking at industry to come up with ideas,” said Lanette R. Kovachi, corporate dietitian for Subway, the nation’s second-largest restaurant chain in terms of revenue. She said she had taken part in at least four conference calls with Mrs. Obama’s food advisers.

But in seeking partnerships with industry, Mrs. Obama runs a risk. While nutritionists and public health advocates give her high marks for putting healthy eating on the national agenda, many worry that she will be co-opted by companies rushing to embrace her without offering meaningful change.

“Can the food industry play a responsible role in the obesity epidemic? The answer isn’t no,” said Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “The point is that the best initiatives can be subverted for special interest, and it’s important to be vigilant when we form partnerships with industry.”

White House officials say Mrs. Obama has believed from the start that bringing industry to the negotiating table is critical to achieving her long-range goal of eliminating childhood obesity within a generation.


Why it's known as reefer madness

I haven't had time enough to track down the research reports underlying the summary below but I note an apparent admission (in red) that pot use is highest at the bottom end of the social class scale. That leaves open the possibility that all the associations with pot use are in fact associations with social class only

CANNABIS is widely used for its perceived positive effects, yet there is a growing scientific consensus that a range of health and social harms are associated with its use, including educational underachievement, higher school dropout rates, impaired driving ability, the abuse of other illicit drugs and the early onset of some mental illnesses. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable.

Now an international study, released this morning, has given us some of the strongest evidence to date of the risks of cannabis on long-term mental health.

Cannabis polarises public opinion like few other substances; some see it as a benign, chilled out alternative to alcohol while others fear it as an illegal gateway drug to heroin addiction.

It is by far the most commonly used illicit drug, with one third of the population reporting that they used cannabis at some time during their lives, including 14 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds. Almost 10 per cent of Australians used the drug in the past year. But despite varying policies of decriminalisation in many states and territories, it is still illegal to use, possess, grow or sell cannabis in Australia.

No approach to preventing cannabis harm will ever be without controversy, but the best place to start is with public awareness of the facts; those facts drawn from thorough, evidence-based research.

The research, by Matthew Large and colleagues, used improved statistical techniques to find that cannabis use hastens the onset of psychosis among young people by up to 2.7 years, often bringing mental illness forward to coincide with the critical years of adolescent brain development. Interestingly, alcohol use did not have any effect on age of onset.

The study was also able to show that known influences such as gender or age differences between the samples of cannabis and non-cannabis users with psychosis were not responsible for this difference.

The importance of adolescence and early adulthood for brain development has only recently been recognised. This period is characterised by rapid changes in brain growth and connectivity, especially in those parts of the brain responsible for cognitive and social processes. There is evidence that cannabis can disrupt this brain development, which may explain the mechanism responsible for the earlier age at onset of psychosis among adolescent cannabis users. Studies of a particular gene and environmental interaction, that has a critical window in adolescence, are also helping to explain the mechanism behind this finding.

A number of studies have now followed individuals from birth or very early adolescence into adulthood. Any cannabis use increases the risk of experiencing psychosis by about 40 per cent and regular use doubles this risk. Using cannabis in early adolescence increases the risk even further. The earlier onset of psychosis is also associated with a poorer lifelong prognosis, as is continued cannabis use.

A lesser recognised consequence is the effect of cannabis on educational attainment. A recent study combining three large Australian and New Zealand studies found high school dropout rates would fall by 17 per cent with no cannabis use. Possible reasons for this robust association may be that the early use of cannabis sets in train biological, individual or social processes which undermine motivation, learning or commitment to school, independent of other influences on attitudes to education.

These findings combine to produce further evidence that avoiding cannabis use, particularly in adolescence, can both significantly delay the onset of psychosis and improve educational outcomes.

Public awareness of the significant risks associated with adolescent cannabis use is critical in reducing the burdens of psychotic disorders and underachievement, and their costs to individuals, families and communities.

Happily, Australia has experienced a decline in overall cannabis use since a peak in 1998. The rates of regular and heavy cannabis use among marginalised members of the community, however, are unchanged or increasing.

This means public awareness campaigns and support services should urgently prioritise young people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage
or within the criminal justice system, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people with a family history of mental illness; groups that are already vulnerable.

To even begin to answer the most fundamental questions about how to best to communicate this information and, more importantly, how to influence behaviour, the real risks of use need to be widely understood. This latest research sends us a clear message about avoiding use, particularly for teens.

Like alcohol, which is also widely used at considerable personal and public cost, cannabis, too, is an urgent, public health priority.


1 comment:

Peter Reynolds said...

This study is a sham. It's propaganda and misinformation.