Public Health? Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

ABA Close UpDe do do do, de da da da. Entering the Brooklyn subway on a sunny day. But what’s this? A public health message? Move in closer….img_1921

Okay, I see. Big Soda is paying the MTA to endear us to their products, disguised of healthful advice. This ad is sponsored by the group that represents Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. (I miss Mayor Bloomberg.)
Public Health Indeed!

That was fours days ago. Then. today I woke up to this article in the New York Times: Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against it. Ah, the public health part.

But these articles, also ripped from today’s headlines, put another spin on “public health”:

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (“The Academy”), the professional organization of registered dietitians in which I once held leadership positions, accepts (a lot of) sponsorship from Big Food. That’s why I am no longer a member. They have sullied my name and so they must be renounced. My dietitian friends will tell you, the phrase “The Academy” always evokes the response, “I hate them.”

Personally, I favor a soda tax (and everything else that can be done to reform our sick brand Capitalism.) I neither drink soda nor eat processed food. (Bread is about as processed as it gets.) I’ve written about why I favor a soda tax in the blog posts listed below.

Your thoughts: How can we stop this?

Healthy Vending Machines Are Here to Stay

bettervendingmachinesAn important diet trend is unfolding. The food in vending machines is changing for the best.

You can’t believe how often people eat from vending machines. Teens get around one third of their calories from snack foods eaten away from home. At work, school and in public places, machines may be the only option. I ate from vending machines I worked in the cubes. 🙁 I used to buy two ounces of salted Planter’s Peanuts, full of calories but also nutrients, I was starving, and the other food was crap. I should have packed a snack.

Anyway, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, (Michelle Obama’s) federal law that affects public school food, mandated that food sold in schools, including vending machines, meet the USDA’s “Smart Snacks in Schools” nutrition standards. In turn, several major cities, and now the State of California, mandated that vending machines on government property be healthy. That drove the market for suppliers and (surprise!) people liked the healthy food better (well not all.) Still, it looks like a healthy vending machine franchise is good financial bet.

To learn more, read my article, Healthier Vending Machines are a Win-Win for All Hungry Consumers, at DietsInReview.com.

Your thoughts: What do you buy from the vending machine?

Squatters Get Free Subway Rides

Subway Squat

This is right up my alley. I ride the subway, I worship squats, and I’m all over free stuff. The proof is in my archives:
Do You Know (How to) Squat?
If You See Something Say Something
3 Degrees of Separation from Snackman
Cock-a-Leekie Soup and Free Yogurt

And so, you can imagine my excitement when I read the headline today:

—-   Russian Commuters Can Earn Free Subway Ticket by Doing Squats   —-

The news is that the Russian Committee for the 2014 Winter Olympics (in Russia) came up with a cool promotion for one month. They are giving away a free travel ticket to anyone who does thirty squats. How clever is that? And look at how easy it was to set up the ticket machine:

If this is another Space Race, then Russia is beating us for supremacy in physical fitness, public health and public relations campaigns. Our subway stunts don’t promote healthy behavior. Do you remember when Heineken Took Over the NYC MTA? You know, I’m going to email Mike Bloomberg, Michelle Obama, and Stephen Colbert too right now.

Your thoughts: Should Americans get free subway tickets for doing squats?

Beware of the Ground Turkey Trots

ground-turkey-406x250“Don’t buy the ground turkey,” I said to my nonagenarian aunt at the supermarket. She is just too frail and too old to take that risk.

Consumer Reports’ recently investigated 257 samples of raw ground turkey meat from major supermarkets in the United States. They tested for five bacteria (enterococcus, E. coli, salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, and campylobacter) that may cause severe foodborne illness and be fatal in some cases. Consumer Reports’ found that 90 percent of the samples tested had  one or more of the five bacteria.  But what’s worse is that nearly 80 percent of the Enterococcus bacteria were resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics, as were more than half of the E. coli and 67 percent of the Salmonella strains. Who can forget the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak of 2011? One person died, 37 were hospitalized and 136 people were officially sickened – from ground turkey. The CDC said the outbreak might have sickened 4,000 more people.

Consumer Reports’ recommends buying ground turkey labeled “no antibiotics” or “organic” because turkeys “raised without antibiotics” contain fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria – they still harbor bacteria, but they are less likely to be superbugs. Still, just to be safe, IMHO the very young, very old and frail, pregnant, and sick should avoid ground turkey and the risk of getting the turkey trots.

Your thoughts, Do you eat ground turkey meat?

Rethinking Soda at the Movies

soda at the MoviesSince I choose to do those things that amuse me most, I find myself in lots of crazy places. A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Brooklyn Independent Television’s show, Intersect, talking about Mayor Bloomberg’s sugary drink limit with host Brian Vines and fellow guest Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. At minute 23:05, I talk Brian Vine out of thinking big portions of soda at the movies are a bargain. Here is our conversation:

BV:   I was just at the movies two weeks ago and split a, what had to be a 60-ounce something, between the two of us. The thing was gone, and this was the debate we had afterwards, that if the mayor would have had his thing, we would’ve had to buy two drinks – and I believe in my health, but I more than that, I am cheaper than I am healthy – so we would have had to buy two different drinks to get the same thing, but we wouldn’t even be allowed to buy the thing if this law passed. So it hits you in the pocketbook because cheap food is usually bad food…
MH:   That’s not food. DON’T CALL THAT FOOD!
BV:   What is it then? It’s empty calorie things….
MH:   It’s empty calorie stuff. You cannot compare….
BV:   Cheap drinks. It’s enjoyment. It’s cheaper though….
MH: Well, for instance, I’m a fun gal, but one thing about me is I do not order anything at the movies. I have unhooked the idea that sitting in a movie means eating. Talk about cheap! I’m not going to that concession stand. I’m not buying any of that stuff!
BV: It’s relative. (laugh)
MH: So let’s get it all straightened out, okay, and that’s what the dialogue is about. It’s testing those ideas people have: “I need my soda!”  Well, why do you need your soda?
BV: Thank you for unhooking me, because it’s not cheap. Soda isn’t cheap at the movies.

Your thoughts: Will Brian Vine quit drinking soda at the movies?

You Are No Match for Big Food as Stephen Colbert Explains

So, by now, everybody knows that, at the 11th hour, a New York State Supreme Court Judge overturned Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in New York City restaurants. Constitutionality aside, I think the judge didn’t want to wait in the long line at Dunkin’ Donuts. There will be appeals and the lawyers will get rich because the American Beverage Association spends millions and billions to fight soda taxes and laws like Bloomberg’s across the land every year. People don’t understand that we all pay for obesity in higher taxes to support Medicare, Medicare, disability benefits, etc.  And “personal responsibility” is no match against foods that are engineered and marketed to make us overeat. Stephen Colbert explains it better than I. Watch.

Confusion at the Coffee Counter

Dunkin' Donuts Flyer

Dunkin’ Donuts Flyer

Call me blogger in absentia. I’ve been busy freelancing for the public relations agency that represents Eggland’s Best eggs – the eggs that are superior in nutrition, with twice the vitamin D, ten times more vitamin E, more than double the omega-3s, 35% more lutein, and 25% less saturated fat – compared to ordinary eggs. It’s all about the chicken feed. I eat EB eggs. And that is public relations.

But I had to take a break to comment about this flyer that comes to you newly at the Dunkin’ Donuts check out counter in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of sugar beverages larger that 16-ounces goes into effect next week.Dunkin’ Donuts want to get ahead of the confusion, which shows that it’s easier to complain than it is to fix.

Here’s the deal: if your hot coffee is smaller than 16-ounces, Dunkin’ will add the sugar for you, but if your hot coffee is size large or X-large, then you’ll have to add the sugar yourself. For iced beverages, do-it-yourself sugar service starts with size medium because, for iced, medium is the large hot and large is the hot X-large. Got it? That ice has to go somewhere. For beverages that already come with added sugar, like hot chocolate or that oxymoron, frozen hot chocolate, you cannot buy a portion larger than medium – but you can buy two or more.

So, now, you will have to think twice before adding six sugar packets to your “Extra Extra.” Teeheehee. And it doesn’t stop there. Bloomberg is going after the Styrofoam cup next.

Your thoughts: Mayor Bloomberg: Yea or Nay?

Read about mayor’s public health campaigns in The New York Times:
City’s New Drink Rules Add Wrinkle to Coffee Orders
To Go: Plastic-Foam Containers, if the Mayor Gets His Way

We Need to Talk About Pizza

Pizza sliceFist bump

Today, I’m on a mission to simplify the challenge of reducing sodium intake in America. I am inspired by the Heart Association’s (AHA) sodium awareness campaign, the Sodium Swap Challenge, launched this week. AHA wants us to know about the “Salty Six” – bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meat, pizza, poultry, soup, and sandwiches – common foods that are loaded with sodium – and then they ask us to cut back at the rate of two foods per week to change our acquired taste for salt in 21 days.

Kudos to AHA for a noble effort. Excess salt is associated with high blood pressure, a modifiable risk factor for stroke. And because sodium holds onto excess fluid, it can make us puffy and bloated. (Stop right there!) On average, Americans eat 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day; however, the dietary guidelines recommend less than 2,300 mg and only 1,500 mg if you are 51 or older, have a cardiovascular condition, or are African-American.

First I Look at the Pizza

Back to simplification. Bread sales are down, as are canned soup sales, but the pizza market is growing. Cheese consumption has quadrupled since the 1950s. That’s because it’s on the pizza. The average American eats 10 pizza pies – 23 pounds of pizza – a year; 94 percent of us eat pizza (at least) once a month; 41 percent eat pizza (at least) once a week. Kids ages 3 to 11 prefer pizza over all other foods.

Pizza is the go-to food for busy people. People who wouldn’t dream of dinner at McDonald’s think nothing of ordering a pizza or two. Do they know that a Big Mac with medium fries has 1310 milligrams of sodium, while the same weight of pepperoni pizza has 3249 milligrams?!! One pizza meal has enough sodium (and saturated fat) for two days.

Pizza is an amalgam of bread, cured meat (36% of pizzas are pepperoni), cheese, and tomato sauce, four top sodium foods from the Centers for Disease Control’s Top Sources of Sodium in the Diet, a better list.  To simplify sodium reduction, pizza-eating families and singles should look to pizza.

I’m glad we talked.

Your thoughts: Do you know anyone who eats too much pizza?

A Postmortem for Prop 37

Prop 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative, was rejected by California voters. If passed, genetically engineered foods would have had to include an identifying label on the package and whole foods would need a sign on the shelf. But, alas, Californians gave up their right to know.

I thought it was reasonable to ask for transparency in food labeling. (See my blog, What You Should Know About Labeling Genetically Modified Food.) Fifty countries, including the European Union, Australia, Japan, Russia and China (China!), already label genetically modified foods.

Genetically modified foods are made in the lab by taking genes from one species and inserting them into the DNA of another species. The genes introduced produce proteins that have some a new effect. For instance, corn hybrids contain a Bt gene, a gene from a bacterium that produces an insecticidal protein, and the Roundup Ready gene makes plants resistant to the herbicide Roundup. In the United States, 70 to 80 percent of our processed food is made with genetically modified soybeans, corn, sugar beets, cottonseed oil, and other GMO ingredients.

Prop 37 supporters argued that the long-term health impacts of genetic manipulations are unclear. In humans, they fear allergic and immune system reactions, transfer of antibiotic resistant pathogens, and unexpected secondary effects. And because weeds are rapidly becoming resistant to GMO crops, more herbicides are being used.

But opponents argued louder and spent more money to defeat Prop 37.
Big Agra actually spent close to $46 million to lobby against the initiative. They claim that GMOs are tested and safe (even though safety testing is left up to the manufactures and long-term testing does not exist), and compliance would have cost voters $400 a year in handed-down costs of label changes and lawsuits.

In the end, the voters surrendered their right to know.  For now.

Your thoughts: Are you for or against Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food?

Heineken Takes Over the NYC MTA

Who, besides me, thinks it’s weird to see Heineken ads on the turnstiles at the MTA? Check out the 1-2-3 station at 7th Avenue and West 14th Street in Manhattan. I think it’s part of a promotional push by Heineken for the new James Bond movie, Skyfall. Heineken reputedly paid many millions of dollars to have Bond drink their beer in the film. Last month, Heineken celebrated their Bond partnership with a party at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. But that party was private. The turnstile is not.

Advertise Responsibly?

I’m no Carrie Nation, but is this necessary? Research shows that alcohol advertisements promote underage drinking. The American Academy of Family Practice published a position paper against it. The subway is full of kids.

For products that are addictive, such as cigarettes, alcohol, and even candy, advertising cues may induce cravings. A abstinent alcoholic exposed to visual cues will experience physiological changes like increased salvation that characterize the urge to drink.

I know the MTA has financial issues and a fare hike is in the works, and Heineken’s money is nice and green, but this is too much blood on the tracks for me.

Your thoughts: Heineken ads at the turnstile. Good idea or not?