I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

May 23, 2010

Food safety, marketing, and reducing childhood obesity

White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report

This report was released earlier this month. It discusses issues and offers recommendations relating to childhood obesity, including the usual regarding diet and lack of physical activity, but also notes the role that “obesogens” (endocrine disruptors and other chemicals thought to increase obesity by interfering with the body’s metabolic processes), food marketing, product formulation, access to healthier food, etc., play a part in the obesity epidemic.

Report: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation

http://www.letsmove.gov/taskforce_childhoodobesityrpt.html

Full reporthttp://www.letsmove.gov/tfco_table_of_contents.pdf (chapters also available as individual PDFs)

Contents
  • Early Childhood – A. Prenatal Care; B. Breastfeeding; C. Chemical Exposures; D. Screen Time; and E. Early Care and Education
  • Empowering parents and caregivers – A. Making Nutrition Information Useful; B. Food Marketing; and C. Health Care Services
  • Healthy Food in Schools – A. Quality School Meals; B. Other Foods in Schools; C. Food-Related Factors in the School Environment; and D. Food in Other Institutions
  • Access to Healthy, Affordable Food – A. Physical Access to Healthy Food; B. Food Pricing; C. Product Formulation; D. Hunger and Obesity
  • Increasing Physical Activity – A. School-Based Approaches; B. Expanded Day and Afterschool Activities; C. The “Built Environment”; and D. Community Recreation Venues

The role of marketing

The report notes:

Food marketing to children and adolescents is a big business. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that, in 2006, food, beverage, and quick-serve restaurant companies spent more than $1.6 billion to promote their products to young people. Children and adolescents are an important demographic for marketers for several reasons: (1) they are customers themselves; (2) they influence purchases made by parents and caregivers; and (3) they are the future adult market.

The report says that the relationship between marketing and obesity isn’t firmly established, but that advertising does appear to have an effect on kids. Give me a break. Why would companies spend that kind of money if they weren’t getting the results they wanted?

Many books have been written about the ways in which companies try to market products to kids. A couple of note are Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture by Juliet Schor and Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood by Susan Linn. Both books cover food marketing in a good amount of detail (and are well-documented).

One of the things that caught my attention in Born to Buy was Schor’s discussion of how marketing companies want to create a world in which consumers are constantly bombarded by 360-degree advertising (or what one agency refers to as “infinite consumer touchpoint possibilities”).

What are the effects of such marketing? Probably not just obesity. Overstimulation. Psychological effects. Increased materialism. And what are the eventual consequences? In an article, “Children, Commercialism, and Environmental Sustainability,” the authors (Tim Kasser, Tom Crompton, and Susan Linn) argue that “the same generation of children that is being encouraged to prioritize wealth, consumption, and possessions is the same generation that, if current trends continue, will need to drastically reduce its consumption patterns so as to prevent further global climate disruption, habitat loss, and species extinction.”

Food safety issues

The USDA Office of Inspector General issued a report in March 2010 (Audit Report 24601-08-KC) noting that:

One of the public food safety issues facing the United States is the contamination of meat with residual veterinary drugs, pesticides, and heavy metals. “Residue” of this sort finds its way into the food supply when producers bring animals to slaughter plants while they have these residual contaminants in their system. When the animals are slaughtered, traces of the drugs or pesticides contained in these animals’ meat is shipped to meat processors and retail supermarkets, and eventually purchased by consumers. In order to safeguard the Nation’s food supply from harmful residue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) administers the national residue program.

The Inspector General found that “the national residue program is not accomplishing its mission of monitoring the food supply for harmful residues. Together, FSIS, FDA, and EPA have not established thresholds for many dangerous substances (e.g., copper or dioxin), which has resulted in meat with these substances being distributed in commerce. Additionally, FSIS does not attempt to recall meat, even when its tests have confirmed the excessive presence of veterinary drugs.”

So the food we eat might actually be a source of obesity in more than one way.  Does this bother anyone else?

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May 11, 2010

President’s Cancer Panel recommendations for individuals

I had difficulty copying these from the 7+ MB report (my Adobe Acrobat kept crashing).  Then I discovered that Acrobat Reader 9 lets you save a PDF as text!

Full report URL – http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf

Note: I added the links below—they were not in the original report (and they may or may not be sanctioned by the Panel or the U.S. government).

President’s Cancer Panel – What Individuals Can Do: Recommendations

Much remains to be learned about the effects of environmental exposures on cancer risk. Based on what is known, however, there is much that government and industry can do now to address environmental cancer risk. The Panel’s recommendations in this regard are detailed above. At the same time, individuals can take important steps in their own lives to reduce their exposure to environmental elements that increase risk for cancer and other diseases. And collectively, individual small actions can drastically reduce the number and levels of environmental contaminants.

CHILDREN

1. It is vitally important to recognize that children are far more susceptible to damage from environmental carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting compounds than adults. To the extent possible, parents and child care providers should choose foods, house and garden products, play spaces, toys, medicines, and medical tests that will minimize children’s exposure to toxics.
Ideally, both mothers and fathers should avoid exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and known or suspected carcinogens prior to a child’s conception and throughout pregnancy and early life, when risk of damage is greatest.

CHEMICAL EXPOSURES

2. Individuals and families have many opportunities to reduce or eliminate chemical exposures. For example:

  • Family exposure to numerous occupational chemicals can be reduced by removing shoes before entering the home and washing work clothes separately from the other family laundry.
  • Filtering home tap or well water can decrease exposure to numerous known or suspected carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Unless the home water source is known to be contaminated, it is preferable to use filtered tap water instead of commercially bottled water.
  • Storing and carrying water in stainless steel, glass, or BPA– and phthalate-free containers will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting and other chemicals that may leach into water from plastics. This action also will decrease the need for plastic bottles, the manufacture of which produces toxic by-products, and reduce the need to dispose of and recycle plastic bottles. Similarly, microwaving food and beverages in ceramic or glass instead of plastic containers will reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may leach into food when containers are heated.
  • Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues. Similarly, exposure to antibiotics, growth hormones, and toxic run-off from livestock feed lots can be minimized by eating free-range meat raised without these medications if it is available. Avoiding or minimizing consumption of processed, charred, and well-done meats will reduce exposure to carcinogenic heterocyclic amines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Individuals can consult information sources such as the Household Products Database to help them make informed decisions about the products they buy and use.
  • Properly disposing of pharmaceuticals, household chemicals, paints, and other materials will minimize drinking water and soil contamination. Individuals also can choose products made with non-toxic substances or environmentally safe chemicals. Similarly, reducing or ceasing landscaping pesticide and fertilizer use will help keep these chemicals from contaminating drinking water supplies.
  • Turning off lights and electrical devices when not in use reduces exposure to petroleum combustion by-products because doing so reduces the need for electricity, much of which is generated using fossil fuels. Driving a fuel-efficient car, biking or walking when possible, or using public transportation also cuts the amount of toxic auto exhaust in the air.
  • Individuals can reduce or eliminate exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in the home, auto, and public places. Most counseling and medications to help smokers quit are covered by health insurance or available at little or no cost.

RADIATION

3. Adults and children can reduce their exposure to electromagnetic energy by wearing a headset when using a cell phone, texting instead of calling, and keeping calls brief.

4. It is advisable to periodically check home radon levels. Home buyers should conduct a radon test in any home they are considering purchasing.

5. To reduce exposure to radiation from medical sources, patients should discuss with their health care providers the need for medical tests or procedures that involve radiation exposure. Key considerations include personal history of radiation exposure, the expected benefit of the test,
and alternative ways of obtaining the same information. In addition, to help limit cumulative medical radiation exposure, individuals can create a record of all imaging or nuclear medicine tests received and, if known, the estimated radiation dose for each test.

6. Adults and children can avoid overexposure to ultraviolet light by wearing protective clothing and sunscreens when outdoors and avoiding exposure when the sunlight is most intense.

SELF-ADVOCACY

7. Each person can become an active voice in his or her community. To a greater extent than many realize, individuals have the power to affect public policy by letting policymakers know that they strongly support environmental cancer research and measures that will reduce or remove from the environment toxics that are known or suspected carcinogens or endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Individuals also can influence industry by selecting non-toxic products and, where these do not exist, communicating with manufacturers and trade organizations about their desire for safer products.

April 2, 2010

Are PET plastic bottles a source of endocrine disruptors?

PET (or PETE) bottles are the ones with the recycling number “1”.  (For a list of all the numbers and a description of the various plastics (and what they’re used for), see the Resin Identification Codes chart at the American Chemistry Council.)

Polyethylene Terephthalate May Yield Endocrine Disruptors

Leonard Sax, Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(4) Apr 2010.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the material most commonly used to make the clear plastic bottles in which bottled water is sold. PET bottles are also in widespread use as containers for soda beverages, sports drinks, and condiments such as vinegar and salad dressing. PET bottles are also commonly used for the packaging of cosmetic products, such as shampoo, particularly when such products are sold in clear plastic bottles.

From the Editor’s Summary

Sax suggests that the phthalate content of PET bottles, if present, might vary as a function of the acidity of the product and the temperature and duration of storage. Sax also makes the observation that other nonphthalate chemicals such as antimony, which is used as a catalyst in the polycondensation of PET, might also contribute to the endocrine-disrupting activity of products stored in PET containers.

Note: McDonough and Braungart comment on the use of antimony in the manufacture of polyester in Cradle to Cradle.

Article contents

Cites “Exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds via the food chain: Is packaging a relevant source?” by Jane Muncke, Science of the Total Environment, Volume 407, Issue 16, 1 August 2009, Pages 4549-4559 doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.05.006.

March 21, 2010

Sound advice to companies on endocrine disruptors

Found a post on endocrine disruptors that advises companies on steps they should be taking to deal with endocrine disruptors now.  You’re probably thinking what I thought when I first saw the post, “Yeah, right.”

I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s heartening to see an investment manager taking an enlightened  position like this.

The Chemicals That Should Be on Your Radar … but Probably Aren’t

By Richard Liroff – Published February 25, 2010
[This post is a follow up to Liroff’s earlier article “What Does the FDA’s BPA Decision Mean for Companies?” on GreenBiz.com.]

Liroff notes:

As a class, [endocrine disruptors (EDs)] can have profound and unparalleled impacts on families, communities and businesses because of their possible links to learning disabilities, selected cancers, reproductive disorders, diabetes and other health disorders.

Systematically identifying EDs, substituting safer substances and product designs, and reducing exposures promise sizeable payoffs from reduced health care burdens and enhanced employee productivity. Such actions help align consumer-facing companies in particular with consumers’ concerns about involuntary exposures to toxic chemicals in daily living.

Liroff lists several recent developments in public awareness regarding endocrine disruptors, describes what endocrine disruptors are and how they can affect health, and offers the following advice to chemical companies regarding endocrine disruptors:

1. Get educated.

He provides links to European, U.S. EPA, and NIEHS endocrine disruption websites as well as the The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) list of resources.  (A very nice list!)

2. Make sure corporate science staff stay current.

Why the Adage ‘the Dose Makes the Poison’ Can Be Toxic to Corporate Chemicals Policy

Heed the advice of NIEHS’s Dr. Linda Birnbaum: “[T]he timing, as well as the dose, makes the poison.” The American Chemical Society, in a newly published statement on endocrine disruptors, echoes this view: “A large and growing body of environmental health literature shows that endocrine disrupting substances … do not fit the central tenet of regulatory toxicology, namely, that the ‘dose makes the poison.'”

3. Know the chemicals in your products and supply chain.

4. Take action. Join the leading edge companies who are actively screening their chemical inventories for endocrine disruptors and are taking steps to lower toxicity via safer chemical substitutes or designs….

[A] proactive approach of analysis and substitution, and responding to early warning signals, is more likely to buttress consumer confidence in your brand than defensive posturing that reflexively asserts “more research is needed” or “no cause-effect relationships have been shown.”

Richard A. Liroff, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN). IEHN is a collaboration of investment managers that advocates for safer corporate chemicals policies to grow long-term shareholder value and reduce financial and reputational risks to companies. The business case for corporate safer chemicals policies, a list of shareholder resolutions on safer chemicals policies, and a roster of participants can be found on the IEHN website, www.iehn.org. Disclosure: Liroff serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange and served on the priority-setting work group of EPA’s Endocrine Disruption Screening and Testing Advisory Committee.

Global regulatory activities on endocrine disruptors

Regulating endocrine disrupting chemicals – A success story?

A very comprehensive writeup of recent activities by environmental agencies across the world.  Posted by Meghan White of Enhesa, a global environmental health and safety consultancy.  (I have no connection with this company in any way.)

She concludes:

Identifying products at risk and attempting to find alternatives to the use of EDC as far as possible would also be a key step in preparing for the implementation of any new stringent legislation being adopted. Bottom line, affected companies should not wait for government action to begin implementing measures to restrict or eliminate use of EDC. Invoking the idea of the precautionary principle is the way forward for dealing with EDC.

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