Fast Food Giants Target Obese-Prone Children

November 13th, 2014 No comments »

The Washington Post Wonkblog carries an article on research from Arizona State University’s Punam Ohri-Vachaspati which found that fast-food chains are targeting children already at high risk for obesity, including African-Americans, poor and those in rural areas.


NYC Ban on Beverage Cups Crushed

June 27th, 2014 No comments »

The New York State Court of Appeals has affirmed lower court decisions banning the sale of sugar sweetened beverages in cups over 16 ounces capacity. The Court of Appeals decision, as was the case in the lower courts, focused on the power of the New York City Board of Health to make several policy decisions in this area when the New York City Council and the New York State Legislature had not acted in this area.

Predictably, some activists pointed to the money employed to fight the City’s regulation. They miss the point. This regulation was bad policy at the outset. Those who think obesity is the result of “One Thing” are always disappointed when it turns out that changing the “One Thing” does not affect the accumulation of excess body fat. In addition, the regulation had numerous inconsistencies. It suffered from “over-inclusion” because it affected everyone buying a beverage in New York City and from “under-inclusive” in that other beverages of same or greater caloric content were not covered.

No doubt those who believe in the value of restricting marketing of food items will be back at work trying to find a way to work around  this decision. These advocates need to keep in mind that the Supreme Court (and other courts) have set a very high bar on legislative restrictions on marketing. These cases are based on First Amendment  (which was not even touched in the New York City case) to arbitrary restrictions on commercial practices. Restricting or banning advertising of food to children is a frequent mantra in prevention-of-obesity circles. The Supreme Court is pretty clear that such restrictions are not likely to be upheld.


Are Food Deserts A Mirage?

February 8th, 2014 No comments »

A study in California shows no relationship between food outlets and Body Mass Index BMI) but did find an association between supermarkets and BMI beyond a walking distance of 1 mile or greater. Researchers conclude that shopping patterns are weakly related, if at all, to neighborhoods because of car transportation. Another study of the Pennsylvania Fresh Foods Financing Initiative. Researchers found in this pilot study in one Philadelphia community that improved access to grocery stores improved residents’ perceptions of food accessibility. However, improved access does not lead to changes in consumption of fruits and vegetables not improvements in Body Mass Index (BMI).


NYC ban on large soda cups unconstitutional

July 31st, 2013 No comments »

New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division has held that the New York City’s ban on the sale of sugar sweetened beverages in cups over 16 ounces unconstitutional, upholding a lower court decision. The ruling held that sugar-sweetened beverages were not inherently a health risk, only when not taken in moderation. It found the New York City ban, which applied to some food outlets and not to others and to some sweetened beverages, but not others, exceeded the Board of Health’s authority. The rule covered non-diet soft drinks, sweetened teas, sweetened black coffee, hot chocolate, energy drinks, sport drinks and sweetened juices. It did not cover alcoholic drinks, milkshakes, fruit smoothies, mixed coffee drinks, mochas, lattes and 100% fruit juices. It applied to delis, fast-food franchises, movie theaters, stadiums and street carts but not to grocery stores, convenience stores, bodegas, gas stations and other similar businesses.

The appeals court found that the NYC ban violated all four factors indicative of usurpation of legislative functions. They noted that the NYC ban was not an all-encompassing regulation but included numerous economic and social policy decisions, reserved to the legislature.

The appeals court did not address the issue of whether such a ban was an unconstitutional restriction on personal liberty.

While the appeals court relied on New York State law, it is worth noting that federal constitutional law, especially the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, contains a very high bar to regulations which provide such loopholes and exceptions. See, The Supreme Court and the Future of Obesity Policies. Obesity advocates need to be much more aware of the limits of policy-making in this area. The risk that some policies will be over-inclusive, on the one hand, but under-inclusive in other ways, will make for difficult law and adverse decisions, such as this one.

Mayor Bloomberg is serving his last term and his tenure will be noted for its commitment to improving the health of New Yorkers. Hopefully, he will spare us another petulant moment after the first court rejected the cup size ban, when on the David Letterman Show, he pleaded (with whom?) “As long as you don’t to ban ‘Cheezits’. ‘Cheezits’ are ok.”

I hope the next Mayor of New York, or any public official understands obesity is tougher than you think. See, Note to Mayor Bloomberg: It’s Harder Than You Think, September, 2102.


Economist author of most important unread book on obesity dies

June 12th, 2013 No comments »

The New York Times reports on June 12,  2013 that Robert W. Fogel, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, died at the age of 86. The Time’s obituary notes, “In 2011, Professor Fogel and three co-authors published what the New York Times called the “capstone” of a huge project that had occupied three decades of his later work: The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700.” (Cambridge University Press, New York)

That book (reviewed here in June 2011) established that the human body was increasing in both height and weight for 300 years, not 30 years as many obesity pundits like to allege. Furthermore, the book establishes that the increases in height and weight are due to improved nutrition, which is due, in turn to positive technological improvements in agriculture, food safety, reduction in communicable diseases, improvements in public water and sewer systems, etc. This approach clearly contradicts the mantra of blame attached to food companies, television, computer games, etc. It makes obesity more complicated. It forces people to think. So, of course, people don’t bother with it. Quel dommage!


Court Bans Bloomberg’s Ban

March 11th, 2013 5 comments »

The New York Times reports that a New York State Supreme Court judge has thrown out Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s ban on large size serving cups of sugar sweetened beverages. The judge apparently concluded that the statute was ‘arbitrary and capricious’ because other high calorie drinks were not covered and not all establishments selling beverages were covered.

The Court’s opinion states, “The simple reading of the Rule is nevertheless fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences. The simple reading of the Rule leads to the earlier acknowledged uneven enforcement even within a particular City block, much less the City as a whole. Furthermore, as previously discussed, the loophole in this Rule effectively defeat the stated purpose of the Rule. It is arbitrary and capricious because it applies to some put not all food establishments in the City, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and the loopholes inherent in the Rule, including but not limited to no limitations on re-fills, defeat and/or serve to gut the purpose of the Rule.”

These problems with the law were easily foreseeable, as I wrote in Note to Mayor Bloomberg. The judge’s opinion also appears to reflect recent decisions of the Supreme Court which are likely to limit similar, broad approaches to obesity.



Slight drop in fast food consumption

February 21st, 2013 No comments »

New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for health statistics finds a modest drop in calories consumed by adults eating at fast food outlets (and, somewhat ambiguously, “pizza”). An earlier report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the percentage of adults eating fast food increased from the early 1990s to the mid-1990s. Moreover, previous studies have reported that more frequent fast-food consumption is associated with higher energy and fat intake and lower intake of healthful nutrients. This report indicates that for 2007–2010, on average, adults consumed just over one-tenth of their percentage of calories from fast food, which represents a decrease from 2003–2006 when approximately 13% of calories were consumed from fast food. During 2007–2010, the highest percentage of calories from fast food was consumed among adults who were aged 20–39 or non-Hispanic black or obese. Among young non-Hispanic black adults, more than one-fifth of their calories were consumed from fast food.

Denmark pulls back on fat taxes

September 19th, 2012 No comments »

Denmark has decided to repeal its tax on saturated fats and forego other taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and foods after finding that Danes simply went to Germany to buy the foods at lower prices. See FoodNavigator: Fat-tax-why-is-Denmark-such-a-quitter

If you want to see a really well-informed discussion of such taxes, see these presentations from Professor Mick Gibney, Dr. Anne Nugent, Dr. Kevin Denny and Professor David Madden at University College Dublin, Ireland. UCD: Seminar fat and sugar taxes