Vocapedia > Health >
Food, Food safety, Fast food, Junk food,
Healthy food, Wise eating, Diet, Sleep
The Ventura County Star
26 August 2005
healthy food USA
unhealthy > The 9 unhealthiest meals in America
WP 1 August 2014
fresh food > food access
rising food bills UK
food waste UK
Nearly half of the world's food ends up as
waste, report finds UK 2013
Figures from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
show as much as 2bn tonnes of food
never makes it on to a plate
out-of-date food UK
unhealthy foods UK
Lee Wolff Wattenberg
who helped jump-start
the field of cancer prevention,
finding weapons in the food people eat
— including chemical compounds in broccoli,
cabbage, coffee and
food watchdog /
Food Standards Agency FSA
U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA
food safety UK
food safety USA
bisphenol A BPA
salmonella outbreak UK
E. coli bacteria USA
a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria
outbreak of E. coli
cantaloupe contaminated with listeria
the deadliest outbreak of food-borne illness
in the United States in more than a decade
Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?
NYT 24 September 2011
by Dave Coverly
November 10, 2011
eating habits USA
trans fats / trans fatty acids USA
salt UK / USA
salt consumption UK
excessive salt consumption
UK / USA
sugary drinks USA
are one of the main dietary components.
This category of foods
sugars, starches, and fiber. USA
- NYT, 2.9.2014
- broken link
schools > unhealthy lunches
diet > Alzheimer UK
Eating badly kills 70,000 yearly, report says
nutritionists > fibre
Whole grains and fresh vegetables
are the best sources of fibre.
fast-casual chain USA
Chicken nuggets. French fries.
Bacon, sausages and ham
rank alongside smoking
as cancer causes, says WHO
junk foods UK
bad food USA
food activism USA
food additives UK
chemicals > phthalates
abattoir meat UK
horsemeat > burgers UK
Anatomy of a Burger
veggie burger USA
soft drinks / cans of fizz
soda tax USA
eating disorders > anorexia
Ten Mediterranean recipes to help
you live longer UK
in shape UK
studies show it increases our
risk of dying
from practically any disease you can think of.
But there is something we can do
– we can simply stand up
drugs and alcohol
Britain's addiction to unhealthy food
cheap ready meals UK
fast-food chain > Nathan’s Famous
fast-food outlets UK
sleep / nap UK
Fred L. Turner,
Innovative Chief of McDonald’s,
Dies at 80
January 8, 2013
The New York Times
By KATIE THOMAS
Fred L. Turner, who as chief executive helped transform
McDonald’s into a global giant and introduced the world to the Chicken McNugget,
the Egg McMuffin and the Happy Meal, died on Monday in Glenview, Ill. He was 80.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his daughter Paula Turner, said.
Mr. Turner went to work at the McDonald’s Corporation in 1956 as one of its
first employees. He had been flipping hamburgers at a local franchise — learning
the ropes as part of a plan to open his own restaurant with business partners —
when the chain’s pioneer, Ray A. Kroc, offered a job opening new franchises.
He was named vice president for operations in 1958, became president and chief
administrative officer in 1968, and was named chief executive in 1974, a
position he held until 1987.
Mr. Turner was seen as the driving force behind many of the ideas and products
that made McDonald’s one of the world’s most recognizable and successful brands.
“Ray Kroc founded it, but Fred Turner built it into what it is today,” said Dick
Starmann, a former McDonald’s executive and longtime spokesman, who worked with
Mr. Turner for nearly 30 years.
He is seen as the architect of the company’s “quality, service and cleanliness”
model, which helped establish its reputation in the United States and abroad as
a welcoming, family-friendly destination.
In 1961 he created Hamburger University, the training program for managers,
franchisees and employees. During his time as chief executive — when the number
of restaurants more than tripled — he expanded McDonald’s well beyond the early
model of the walk-up hamburger stand. Under his watch, the company increased
indoor seating and introduced the drive-through; the Happy Meal for children,
complete with a toy; and the Chicken McNugget.
One of Mr. Turner’s biggest successes was the introduction of a McDonald’s
breakfast companywide. Although some local franchises were already offering a
breakfast menu, there was debate internally about how aggressively the company
should promote it, Mr. Starmann recalled: “He made a big, bold decision — we’re
going on national TV. He said, ‘The breakfast train is leaving the station —
lead, follow or get out of the way.’ ”
In 1975 the company placed the Egg McMuffin on the national menu, and breakfast
sales soon took off.
The Chicken McNugget was a similar breakthrough. The company had been
experimenting with fried chicken for years, “but for whatever reason it just
didn’t seem like we got it right,” Mr. Starmann said. Under Mr. Turner’s
direction, the company developed the idea of “a boneless piece of chicken, to
sell them almost like French fries.” The Chicken McNugget was introduced in all
domestic restaurants in 1983.
Frederick Leo Turner was born on Jan. 6, 1933, in Des Moines, where he spent
much of his childhood. He met his future wife, Patty Shurtleff, while they were
students at Drake University. She died in 2000.
In addition to his daughter Paula, survivors include two other daughters, Patty
Rhea and Teri Turner, and eight grandchildren.
Fred L. Turner, Innovative Chief of
McDonald’s, Dies at 80,
Junk Food Really Cheaper?
The New York Times
By MARK BITTMAN
“fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of
how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with
lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips
is cheaper than a head of broccoli ...” or “it’s more affordable to feed a
family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”
This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food:
a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a
cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two
medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where
I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to
about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)
In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains
more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with
vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or
even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned
beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people
and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower
in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of
Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie,
and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap
calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher
percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few,
measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s
value by its alcohol content. (Why not drink 95 percent neutral grain spirit,
the cheapest way to get drunk?)
Besides, that argument, even if we all needed to gain weight, is not always
true. A meal of real food cooked at home can easily contain more calories, most
of them of the “healthy” variety. (Olive oil accounts for many of the calories
in the roast chicken meal, for example.)In comparing prices of real food and
junk food, I used supermarket ingredients, not the pricier organic or local food
that many people would consider ideal. But food choices are not black and white;
the alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic food, any more than the
alternative to soda is Bordeaux.
The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not
grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than
junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables,
frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a
thousand other things cooked at home — in almost every case a far superior
“Anything that you do that’s not fast food is terrific; cooking once a week is
far better than not cooking at all,” says Marion Nestle, professor of food
studies at New York University and author of “What to Eat.” “It’s the same
argument as exercise: more is better than less and some is a lot better than
THE fact is that most people can afford real food. Even the nearly 50 million
Americans who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(formerly known as food stamps) receive about $5 per person per day, which is
far from ideal but enough to survive. So we have to assume that money alone
doesn’t guide decisions about what to eat. There are, of course, the so-called
food deserts, places where it’s hard to find food: the Department of Agriculture
says that more than two million Americans in low-income rural areas live 10
miles or more from a supermarket, and more than five million households without
access to cars live more than a half mile from a supermarket.
Still, 93 percent of those with limited access to supermarkets do have access to
vehicles, though it takes them 20 more minutes to travel to the store than the
national average. And after a long day of work at one or even two jobs, 20 extra
minutes — plus cooking time — must seem like an eternity.
Taking the long route to putting food on the table may not be easy, but for
almost all Americans it remains a choice, and if you can drive to McDonald’s you
can drive to Safeway. It’s cooking that’s the real challenge. (The real
challenge is not “I’m too busy to cook.” In 2010 the average American,
regardless of weekly earnings, watched no less than an hour and a half of
television per day. The time is there.)
The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a
pleasure and a crutch. “People really are stressed out with all that they have
to do, and they don’t want to cook,” says Julie Guthman, associate professor of
community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and author of the
forthcoming “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism.”
“Their reaction is, ‘Let me enjoy what I want to eat, and stop telling me what
to do.’ And it’s one of the few things that less well-off people have: they
don’t have to cook.”
It’s not just about choice, however, and rational arguments go only so far,
because money and access and time and skill are not the only considerations. The
ubiquity, convenience and habit-forming appeal of hyperprocessed foods have
largely drowned out the alternatives: there are five fast-food restaurants for
every supermarket in the United States; in recent decades the adjusted for
inflation price of fresh produce has increased by 40 percent while the price of
soda and processed food has decreased by as much as 30 percent; and nearly
inconceivable resources go into encouraging consumption in restaurants:
fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009.
Furthermore, the engineering behind hyperprocessed food makes it virtually
addictive. A 2009 study by the Scripps Research Institute indicates that
overconsumption of fast food “triggers addiction-like neuroaddictive responses”
in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. In other
words the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the
report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity.
This addiction to processed food is the result of decades of vision and hard
work by the industry. For 50 years, says David A. Kessler, former commissioner
of the Food and Drug Administration and author of “The End of Overeating,”
companies strove to create food that was “energy-dense, highly stimulating, and
went down easy. They put it on every street corner and made it mobile, and they
made it socially acceptable to eat anytime and anyplace. They created a food
carnival, and that’s where we live. And if you’re used to self-stimulation every
15 minutes, well, you can’t run into the kitchen to satisfy that urge.”
Real cultural changes are needed to turn this around. Somehow, no-nonsense
cooking and eating — roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich,
scrambling an egg, tossing a salad — must become popular again, and valued not
just by hipsters in Brooklyn or locavores in Berkeley. The smart campaign is not
to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy
rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.
As with any addictive behavior, this one is most easily countered by educating
children about the better way. Children, after all, are born without bad habits.
And yet it’s adults who must begin to tear down the food carnival.
The question is how? Efforts are everywhere. The People’s Grocery in Oakland
secures affordable groceries for low-income people. Zoning laws in Los Angeles
restrict the number of fast-food restaurants in high-obesity neighborhoods.
There’s the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a successful Pennsylvania program
to build fresh food outlets in underserved areas, now being expanded nationally.
FoodCorps and Cooking Matters teach young people how to farm and cook.
As Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security
Network, says, “We’ve seen minor successes, but the food movement is still at
the infant stage, and we need a massive social shift to convince people to
consider healthier options.”
HOW do you change a culture? The answers, not surprisingly, are complex. “Once I
look at what I’m eating,” says Dr. Kessler, “and realize it’s not food, and I
ask ‘what am I doing here?’ that’s the start. It’s not about whether I think
it’s good for me, it’s about changing how I feel. And we change how people feel
by changing the environment.”
Obviously, in an atmosphere where any regulation is immediately labeled “nanny
statism,” changing “the environment” is difficult. But we’ve done this before,
with tobacco. The 1998 tobacco settlement limited cigarette marketing and forced
manufacturers to finance anti-smoking campaigns — a negotiated change that led
to an environmental one that in turn led to a cultural one, after which kids
said to their parents, “I wish you didn’t smoke.” Smoking had to be converted
from a cool habit into one practiced by pariahs.
A similar victory in the food world is symbolized by the stories parents tell me
of their kids booing as they drive by McDonald’s.
To make changes like this more widespread we need action both cultural and
political. The cultural lies in celebrating real food; raising our children in
homes that don’t program them for fast-produced, eaten-on-the-run, high-calorie,
low-nutrition junk; giving them the gift of appreciating the pleasures of
nourishing one another and enjoying that nourishment together.
Political action would mean agitating to limit the marketing of junk; forcing
its makers to pay the true costs of production; recognizing that advertising for
fast food is not the exercise of free speech but behavior manipulation of
addictive substances; and making certain that real food is affordable and
available to everyone. The political challenge is the more difficult one, but it
cannot be ignored.
What’s easier is to cook at every opportunity, to demonstrate to family and
neighbors that the real way is the better way. And even the more fun way: kind
of like a carnival.
Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?,
In E. Coli Fight,
Are Largely Ignored
May 26, 2010
The New York Times
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
For nearly two decades, Public Enemy No. 1 for the food industry and its
government regulators has been a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria that has
killed hundreds of people, sickened thousands and prompted the recall of
millions of pounds of hamburger, spinach and other foods.
But as everyone focused on controlling that particular bacterium, known as E.
coli O157:H7, the six rarer strains of toxic E. coli were largely ignored.
Collectively, those other strains are now emerging as a serious threat to food
safety. In April, romaine lettuce tainted with one of them sickened at least 26
people in five states, including three teenagers who suffered kidney failure.
Although the federal government and the beef and produce industries have known
about the risk posed by these other dangerous bacteria for years, regulators
have taken few concrete steps to directly address it or even measure the scope
of the problem.
For three years, the United States Department of Agriculture has been
considering whether to make it illegal to sell ground beef tainted with the six
lesser-known E. coli strains, which would give them the same outlaw status as
their more famous cousin. The meat industry has resisted the idea, arguing that
it takes other steps to keep E. coli out of the beef supply and that no outbreak
involving the rarer strains has been definitively tied to beef.
The severity of the April outbreak is spurring a reassessment.
“This is something that we really have to look at,” said Senator Kirsten
Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, who plans to introduce a bill that would
pre-empt the Agriculture Department by declaring a broad range of
disease-causing E. coli to be illegal in ground beef and requiring the meat
industry to begin testing for the microbes. “How many people do we have to see
die or become seriously ill because of food poisoning?”
The issue will be one of the first faced by President Obama’s nominee to head
the department’s food safety division, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, who is scheduled to
testify Thursday in her Senate confirmation hearing.
Part of the problem is that so little is known about the rarer E. coli strains,
which have been called the “big six” by public health experts. (The term refers
to the fact that, after the O157 strain, these six strains are the most virulent
of a group of related E. coli.) Few food companies test their products for the
six strains, many doctors do not look for them and only about 5 percent of
medical labs are equipped to diagnose them in sick patients.
A physiological quirk of E. coli O157 makes it easy to test for in the lab, and
many types of food are screened for it. The other E. coli strains are much
harder to identify and testing can be time-consuming. The Agriculture Department
has been working to develop tests that could be used in meat plants to rapidly
detect the pathogens.
The lettuce linked to the April outbreak tested negative for the more famous
form of E. coli, but no one checked it for the other strains, according to the
Ohio company that processed it, Freshway Foods. It turned out that the romaine
was infected with E. coli O145, one of the more potent of the six strains.
Emily Grabowski, 18, a student from Irondequoit, N.Y., ate some of the lettuce
at her college dining hall and ended up in the hospital with kidney failure.
Recuperating at home, she wonders now if she could have been spared her ordeal.
“If they had tested it and they had caught it,” she said, “I wouldn’t have had
the E. coli.”
Earthbound Farm, the nation’s largest producer of organic salad greens, is one
of the few companies that does screen for the full range of toxic E. coli, and
it has found a worrisome incidence of the rarer strains. Out of 120,000
microbial tests last year, about one in 1,000 showed the presence of unwanted
microbes, mostly the six strains.
“No one is looking for non-O157 to the level we are,” said Will Daniels,
Earthbound Farm’s senior vice president for food safety. “I believe it is really
going to emerge as one of the areas of concern.”
Earthbound Farm was not involved in the April outbreak.
The O157 strain of E. coli is a frightening bug, causing bloody diarrhea and
sometimes kidney failure, which can be fatal. Some of the six strains cause less
severe illness, but others appear to be just as devastating as the O157.
The toxic E. coli bacteria originate in the guts of cattle, putting the beef
industry on the front line. The O157 strain achieved notoriety in 1993 when four
children died and hundreds of people were sickened by tainted hamburger sold at
Jack in the Box restaurants. The next year, the Agriculture Department made it
illegal to sell ground beef containing the O157 bacteria.
The beef industry now routinely tests for the O157 strain, but there is no
regular testing for the other six strains.
It is unclear how prevalent the six strains are in ground beef. Preliminary data
from a department study found the pathogens in only 0.2 percent of samples. By
comparison, the O157 strain already banned shows up in about 0.3 percent of
samples, according to other government data.
But tests commissioned by William Marler, a Seattle lawyer who represents
victims of food poisoning and has pushed the department to ban more E. coli
strains, found the six strains in 0.7 percent of ground beef samples bought at
The E. coli bacteria can be killed by thorough cooking to 160 degrees.
Tracking the impact of the rarer E. coli strains on human health is difficult
because few medical labs test for them, and health officials say illnesses
caused by them are vastly underreported.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed at least 10
food-borne outbreaks from 1990 to 2008 involving the six strains, carried in
foods like salad or strawberries. Investigators suspected ground beef as the
cause of a 2007 outbreak in North Dakota, but the link was not confirmed.
The April outbreak is a signal of a broader problem, said Michael R. Taylor,
deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration.
“We need to be developing our tools and abilities to assess” the full range of
toxic E. coli, he said. The agency, which regulates produce, is waiting for
Congress to pass a law that would greatly expand its food safety authority.
It is not clear how E. coli travels from cattle to produce, but scientists think
it may occur through contact with manure, perhaps tracked through fields by wild
animals, or through tainted irrigation water.
For its part, the Agriculture Department has said it is reluctant to ban the
broader range of E. coli in beef until it has developed tests that can rapidly
detect the pathogens. It expects to complete those by the end of 2011 and then
study how often the six strains show up in the beef supply.
But an official said the timetable was not rigid. “I don’t want to give the
impression that we’re going to wait months and months for these tests, and
months and months to see what’s in the beef supply,” said Dr. David Goldman, an
assistant administrator for the Office of Public Health Science of the
department. “In terms of policy options, it’s not like we have to do one and
then the other.”
James H. Hodges, executive vice president of the American Meat Institute, an
industry group, said that the industry had put in place many procedures to keep
E. coli O157:H7 out of ground beef, like washing carcasses in hot water and
Those steps also work against the other E. coli, Mr. Hodges said, pointing to
the lack of outbreaks of illness connected to them. “It certainly tells me that
both the government and the industry is targeting the correct organism,” he
Dr. Richard Raymond, who was the department’s head of food safety from 2005 to
2008, said he stopped short of banning the rarer E. coli from hamburger because
he thought that he would not have been able to defend the decision against
industry criticism until rapid tests were developed.
But he said the April outbreak could push regulators to act. “I don’t think the
U.S.D.A. wants to see another Jack in the Box,” Dr. Raymond said.
In E. Coli Fight, Some
Strains Are Largely Ignored,
Putting America on a Healthier Diet
September 12, 2009
The New York Times
To the Editor:
Re “Big Food vs. Big Insurance,” by
Michael Pollan (Op-Ed, Sept. 10):
Mr. Pollan rightly contends that health care reform will be ineffective unless
the country’s increasing obesity problem is addressed. But because the food
industry is only part of the problem, reforming it is only part of the solution.
The other part of the problem is the American consumer. While food producers
provide an array of unhealthy fare, how, what and when we eat are personal
Mr. Pollan praises attempts to tax sugary sodas because these products add empty
calories to our diets, particularly for our youth. Yet sugar-free sodas have
been available and widely consumed for 40 years. The choice is the consumer’s.
If we are to make headway on this issue, we must have comprehensive physical
education and health education in our schools and incentives supporting healthy,
active lifestyles and nutritional food choices for all citizens.
Like all industries, the food producers are driven by their bottom line. Only
when consumers begin to demand healthier food will the industry change.
Davenport, Iowa, Sept. 10, 2009
To the Editor:
I applaud Michael Pollan’s recognition that obesity is the “elephant in the
room” in the health care debate, but dissent on his solutions.
Taxing specific products such as soft drinks or creating yet another educational
program will not get the job done. Multiple studies have demonstrated that “fat”
taxes will not appreciably lower obesity rates, while attempts to change
consumer eating behavior have historically come up short.
The real enemy is the number of excess calories available for consumption,
regardless of the source. The only way to slim down this beast is to engage the
Rather than alienate or overregulate the industry, my recommendation is to put
into effect tax incentives that would entice food companies to sell fewer
calories. If they cut their calories, they would be rewarded. If they continued
to spew excess calories on the public, they would risk losing favorable tax
This approach is well worth discussing. Our nation’s health depends on it.
Henry J. Cardello
Chapel Hill, N.C., Sept. 10, 2009
The writer is a former food industry executive and author of “Stuffed: An
Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat.”
To the Editor:
Eating well and exercising are important, but not necessarily a panacea against
I am a 55-year-old woman who is slim, eats a healthy organic diet, takes ballet
classes and practices yoga on a weekly basis.
I had breast cancer in 2003 and learned I had Stage 4 tonsil cancer in 2008. My
out-of-the-pocket costs for my recent treatment for tonsil cancer totaled
As part of my follow-up care, I need thousands of dollars of dental work, plus
expensive magnetic resonance imaging every six months for the next three years.
My monthly health insurance premium, for me alone, has gone up to $662.
Michael Pollan is correct in targeting agribusiness for contributing to obesity,
but he does a grave disservice to me, and Americans in general, when he links
the dire consequences of not having strong and meaningful health care reform
with the honorable, but separate, issue of food industry reform.
San Francisco, Sept. 10, 2009
To the Editor:
As a big fan of Michael Pollan, I was delighted to read “Big Food vs. Big
I am 65, look 50, and weigh 10 pounds more than when I graduated from high
school, where I lettered in two sports. I work out three or four times a week,
recently added two weekly yoga classes, take stairs whenever possible and have
no major health issues.
My “diet” is to eat as much as I need, and no more. If my weight is up a little
any morning, I just eat less that day.
My wife and I usually split the massive entrees at restaurants, we eat very
little meat, and our snacks are fruits and nuts. And yes, I indulge — with a
little delicious dark chocolate and low-fat ice cream every day.
I don’t eat junk food or buy the soft drinks and other reconstituted muck that
American agribusiness currently substitutes for real food.
When Americans demand that restaurants and agribusiness put our health first, I
will no longer be unusual.
James G. Goodale
Houston, Sept. 10, 2009
To the Editor:
Michael Pollan’s essay on the role of the food industry in contributing to
obesity and associated chronic diseases may have some merit, but only because
too many consumers make poor dietary choices, meal after meal, day after day.
Are we really going to blame the food industry for providing foods we enjoy but
overindulge in? When did personal responsibility go out the window?
Most of us like a good hamburger with all the “fixings,” maybe even fries and a
shake with it. But is the provider to blame when we consume them day after day,
and couple this with other food choices that are high in calories and fat, with
little or no exercise to offset these poor dietary choices?
The old saying that there are no good foods or bad foods, only good or bad
diets, is still relevant.
Rather than play the blame game, we should direct our efforts at better
educating consumers on the importance of balancing caloric intake with energy
Taxing or blaming the food industry may add more money to the government
coffers, and make some feel better, but it has no public benefit.
Jasper, Ga., Sept. 10, 2009
Putting America on a
Big Food vs. Big
September 10, 2009
The New York Times
By MICHAEL POLLAN
TO listen to President Obama’s speech on Wednesday night, or to just about
anyone else in the health care debate, you would think that the biggest problem
with health care in America is the system itself — perverse incentives,
inefficiencies, unnecessary tests and procedures, lack of competition, and
No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the health care industry is
often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much
per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially
explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. Even the
most efficient health care system that the administration could hope to devise
would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.
That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately
depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and
reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of
health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all
of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many,
if not most, of them are.
We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes,
and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types
of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study
estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past
20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that
now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.
The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate
over health care. The president has made a few notable allusions to it, and, by
planting her vegetable garden on the South Lawn, Michelle Obama has tried to
focus our attention on it. Just last month, Mr. Obama talked about putting a
farmers’ market in front of the White House, and building new distribution
networks to connect local farmers to public schools so that student lunches
might offer more fresh produce and fewer Tater Tots. He’s even floated the idea
of taxing soda.
But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation
about health care reform. 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.
Why the disconnect? Probably because reforming the food system is politically
even more difficult than reforming the health care system. At least in the
health care battle, the administration can count some powerful corporate
interests on its side — like the large segment of the Fortune 500 that has
concluded the current system is unsustainable.
That is hardly the case when it comes to challenging agribusiness. Cheap food is
going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food
are charged to the future. 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.
The market for prescription drugs and medical devices to manage Type 2 diabetes,
which the Centers for Disease Control estimates will afflict one in three
Americans born after 2000, is one of the brighter spots in the American economy.
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.
As for the insurers, you would think preventing chronic diseases would be good
business, but, at least under the current rules, it’s much better business
simply to keep patients at risk for chronic disease out of your pool of
customers, whether through lifetime caps on coverage or rules against
pre-existing conditions or by figuring out ways to toss patients overboard when
they become ill.
But these rules may well be about to change — and, when it comes to reforming
the American diet and food system, that step alone could be a game changer. Even
under the weaker versions of health care reform now on offer, health insurers
would be required to take everyone at the same rates, provide a standard level
of coverage and keep people on their rolls regardless of their health. Terms
like “pre-existing conditions” and “underwriting” would vanish from the health
insurance rulebook — and, when they do, the relationship between the health
insurance industry and the food industry will undergo a sea change.
The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly
discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic
diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health
care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more
than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2
diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every
can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look
like a threat to future profits.
When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the
collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system —
everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire
a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.
AGRIBUSINESS dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted
away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry
realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh
produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will
promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the
industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding
that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more
firmly in mind.
In the same way much of the health insurance industry threw its weight behind
the campaign against smoking, we can expect it to support, and perhaps even help
pay for, public education efforts like New York City’s bold new ad campaign
against drinking soda. At the moment, a federal campaign to discourage the
consumption of sweetened soft drinks is a political nonstarter, but few things
could do more to slow the rise of Type 2 diabetes among adolescents than to
reduce their soda consumption, which represents 15 percent of their caloric
That’s why it’s easy to imagine the industry throwing its weight behind a soda
tax. School lunch reform would become its cause, too, and in time the industry
would come to see that the development of regional food systems, which make
fresh produce more available and reduce dependence on heavily processed food
from far away, could help prevent chronic disease and reduce their costs.
Recently a team of designers from M.I.T. and Columbia was asked by the
foundation of the insurer UnitedHealthcare to develop an innovative systems
approach to tackling childhood obesity in America. Their conclusion surprised
the designers as much as their sponsor: they determined that promoting the
concept of a “foodshed” — a diversified, regional food economy — could be the
key to improving the American diet.
All of which suggests that passing a health care reform bill, no matter how
ambitious, is only the first step in solving our health care crisis. To keep
from bankrupting ourselves, we will then have to get to work on improving our
health — which means going to work on the American way of eating.
But even if we get a health care bill that does little more than require
insurers to cover everyone on the same basis, it could put us on that course.
For it will force the industry, and the government, to take a good hard look at
the elephant in the room and galvanize a movement to slim it down.
a contributing writer for The Times Magazine
and a professor
at the University of California, Berkeley,
is the author of “In
Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
Big Food vs. Big
Against Junk Food
Puts a School on Edge
June 16, 2009
The New York Times
By SUSAN DOMINUS
MeMe Roth, a publicist and an Upper West Side mother of two,
is getting really, really mad — “and I do not mean angry,” she clarified. “I
mean mad, like crazy.” Ms. Roth is being driven mad by Public School 9, where
her children are in second and fourth grades, and it seems that P.S. 9, in turn,
is being driven mad by Ms. Roth.
Ms. Roth, who runs a group called National Action Against Obesity, has no
problem with the school lunches provided at the highly regarded elementary
school on Columbus Avenue and 84th Street. What sets her off is the junk food
served on special occasions: the cupcakes that come out for every birthday, the
doughnuts her children were once given in gym, the sugary “Fun-Dip” packets that
some parent provided the whole class on Valentine’s Day.
“I thought I was sending my kid to P.S. 9, not Chuck E. Cheese,” Ms. Roth, a
trim, impassioned 40-year-old from Atlanta, said in an interview. “Is there or
is there not an obesity and diabetes epidemic in this country?”
When offered any food at school other than the school lunch, Ms. Roth’s children
— who shall go nameless since it seems they have enough on, or off, their plates
— are instructed to deposit the item into a piece of Tupperware their mother
calls a “junk food collector.”
This solution seemed to be working pretty well until Ms. Roth’s daughter
dutifully tried to stick a juice pop — a special class treat from her teacher on
a hot day — into her plastic container. The teacher told Ms. Roth’s daughter to
eat it or lose it, and according to the child pointed out that she had seen the
young girl eating the corn chips served with school lunch — did that not count
as junk food?
This prompted one of Ms. Roth’s infamous heated e-mail messages to the school.
Which, in turn, prompted administrators to pull her daughter out of class to
discuss the juice pop incident, which only further infuriated Ms. Roth, who said
her daughter felt as if she’d been ambushed.
What followed was the kind of meeting in which bureaucracy masquerades as farce,
or maybe it’s the other way around. Ms. Roth and her husband, Ben, say they were
told by Helene Moffatt, a school safety official, that if they considered the
regular dissemination of junk food a threat to their children’s health and
safety — and indeed, they do — they should request a health and safety transfer,
something that generally follows threats of violence. That transfer request,
they were told, would also require filing a complaint with the police.
“What would that conversation even sound like?” asked Mr. Roth, who works in
marketing. “ ‘We know you guys are dealing with stabbings and shootings, but
stop everything: We have a cupcake situation’ ?”
Both parents left feeling they were being pushed out of P.S. 9, which they
perceive as exhausted by Ms. Roth’s intense lobbying for, among other things,
permission slips for any food not on the official lunch menu. It would not be
the first time: The Roths previously lived in Millburn, N.J., where, after Ms.
Roth waged war on the bagels and Pringles meal served to kids at lunch, received
e-mail from one member of the P.T.A. that said, “Please, consider moving.” That
was in 2006, and P.S. 9 has been hearing about its transgressions against
healthy eating pretty much ever since.
“The community is very concerned,” the principal, Diane Brady, wrote in an
e-mail message. At the meeting with Ms. Moffatt, Ms. Brady said that Ms. Roth
“was hostile” and “threw candy onto the table and cursed.” It was not the first
time, she added, that Ms. Roth had “displayed this hostile behavior.”
Ms. Roth’s message is hardly outlandish: There is an obesity epidemic, and there
are probably better ways to celebrate a child’s birth than sending a passel of
kids into sugar shock in the middle of math class.
Her extreme methods have earned her attention before: The police were called to
a Y.M.C.A. in 2007 when she absconded with the sprinkles and syrups on a table
where members were being served ice cream. That was Ms. Roth who called Santa
Claus fat on television that Christmas, and she has a continuing campaign
against the humble Girl Scout cookies, on the premise that no community activity
should promote unhealthy eating.
“She has some valid points, but the way she delivers them is abrasive,” said Jim
Stanek, a fellow P.S. 9 parent, who responded angrily to an e-mail message Ms.
Roth sent to around 75 parents saying that the physical education teacher who
served her children doughnuts probably “couldn’t pass a standardized phys ed.
It is too bad that Ms. Roth’s suggestions come in e-mail messages strung with
too many capital letters and undiplomatic, if accurate, scare tactics (on the
threat of diabetes—“we’re talking amputations, blindness, endless finger
pricking, endless disabilities”). It would probably benefit New York’s students,
and no doubt Ms. Roth’s family, if she tried to catch a few flies with honey.
Make that agave nectar.
Mother’s Fight Against
Junk Food Puts a School on Edge,
Related > Anglonautes > Vocapedia
poverty > the poor > hunger, food
lifestyle / health
smoking, drinking / alcohol,
food, diet, obesity
The Guardian > Nutrition