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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April 11, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder and National Environmental Education Week (April 11-17, 2010)

This week is National Environmental Education Week.  By teaching our kids more about the environment we will hopefully reduce Nature Deficit Disorder (this is NOT a medical condition, but is related to modern lifestyles).

NOTE: I have posted a number of these links on the “Parenting Resources” page.

Nature Deficit Disorder Resource Center (Education.com)

What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

from http://www.education.com/facts/quickfacts-ndd/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder/

A lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods in order to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today’s children. Louv says we have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, as Louv presents in his book, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt. Those who don’t develop the symptoms of NDD, which include attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards.

Source: Johanna Sorrentino “Nature Deficit Disorder: What You Need to Know”; Richard Louv “Nature Deficit Disorder”

The site notes that

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2006 to pediatric health care providers on ways to increase physical activity in children and adolescents.
  • The authors stated that lifestyle-related physical activity, as opposed to aerobics or calisthenics, is critical for sustained weight loss in children, and recommended free, unorganized outdoor play as a method of physical activity.

[Ed. note: The above is from a post entitled “Is NDD linked to obesity?” It may be linked, but there are a lot of other factors beyond physical activity (or lack thereof) and diet.  But more on that in another post.)

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation. “Fact Sheet: Children’s Health and Nature

This fact sheet describes a number of recent research findings on the effects Nature Deficit Disorder might have on children’s health.

National Environmental Education Week, April 11-17th

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson encourages educators and students to get involved in National Environmental Education Week, April 11-17th. A week-long effort involving thousands of teachers and more than a million students, EE Week connects educators around the country with environmental resources to promote students’ understanding of the environment. Join EPA Administrator Jackson and take part in EE Week 2010.

Teaching resources

Highlights

EPA Resources

Environmental Education

http://www.epa.gov/education/index.html

National Environmental Education Act of 1990http://www.epa.gov/education/whatis.html

Federal Legislative Authorities for Environmental Educationhttp://www.epa.gov/education/flaee.html

February 23, 2010

The Virtual Frontier

Filed under: Digital life,Internet,Metacognition — Myles Tougeau @ 1:02 am
Tags: , ,

While setting up a blog for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., it finally dawned on me that “Hey, I could be doing this for myself, too!”

However, unlike the American frontier of the 1800’s, it seems that the virtual frontier (taken from the subtitle of a FRONTLINE special, Digital_Nation: Life on the virtual frontier) is not that far from the frenzy of “the madding crowd.”

In fact, it’s all around.  24/7 stimulation.  Of course, how different is that from all-night cable shows and radio stations that you could watch or listen to or even call in to?

I’m not sure.  What is all of this doing to us?  To our minds?  What’s happened to introspection?  To contemplation?  Can we even think anymore?  Or do we just react?

Where did all the peace and quiet go?!  (And how did I, a simple country boy, end up here?)

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