By 2030 50% of American adults will be obese, and 25% will be severely obese

by Diana R. H. Winters

If the predictions from a recent New England Journal of Medicine article (pay-walled, but 3 free articles a month available with account creation) come true, the implications–for our nation’s health, for our health care system, and for our economy–are vast.  The study shows that by 2030, almost half of American adults will be obese and a quarter will be severely obese.  The study authors were meticulous in their methods to increase the reliability of their projections.

The study found that there is great variation among states, with over 29 states projected to have higher than 50% obesity, and a large variation in the prevalence of obesity according to income.  Severe obesity will be much more common among low-income adults than higher income adults.

The study also notes that the health consequences of this magnitude of obesity in the population are enormous, and will likely increase socioeconomic disparities.

Although the researchers are light on policy suggestions, the authors do write that, “a range of sustained approaches to maintain a healthy weight over the life course, including policy and environmental interventions at the community level that address upstream social and cultural determinants of obesity, will probably be needed to prevent further weight gain across the BMI distribution.”

In the New York Times, Jane E. Brody notes in covering this study that the United States has done very little to address the food environment that has led to such a marked increase in obesity (since 1990, obesity in the United States has doubled).  Policy interventions such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, portion control, and partnering with restaurants and food manufacturers to reformulate food to be more healthy would be a start.

In fact, another article published today in the New York Times shows that multifaceted policy intervention can have a huge effect on consumption.  It is four years since Chile passed a series of sweeping laws to combat obesity including raising taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and “advertising restrictions on unhealthy foods, bold front-of-package warning labels and a ban on junk food in schools,” and there has been a marked drop in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.  That article cited a public health policy professor from Harvard University who said “the early results suggested that a raft of food policies, not just stand-alone measures like soda taxes, were needed to address a growing obesity crisis that is affecting nations rich and poor.”

As the study and these articles note, time is short.  The costs of obesity at this magnitude are enormous – on quality of life, on health care spending, on the economy, on socioeconomic disparities.  We need these policies, and we need them now.

 

 

The FAO’s Food Fraud Conference

by Michael T. Roberts

I just returned from an exceptionally productive, four-day Food Fraud Workshop hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. Our participation in the workshop was the first project for the Resnick Center following its MOU with the FAO earlier this year.

In connection with the workshop, I have had the privilege of working with the FAO Legal Department in the drafting of a background paper on the regulation of food fraud. Given the Center’s publication of two white papers on food fraud, this experience is particularly rewarding.

The workshop had a number of interesting law and science presentations. I delivered a keynote presentation on the regulatory framework that governs food fraud both internationally and domestically. I was also happy to be joined by colleagues from various countries, including Dr. Sun Juanjuan from Renmin University School of Law in China, with whom the center collaborates with closely. Overall, the proceedings reinforced for me the important role of law and governance strategies in addressing food fraud. There is a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to being involved in this global effort.

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Once again, scientists say not to give children juice

by Diana R. H. Winters

In my house, I frown on recreational juice drinking by my children.  My kids get juice on their birthdays, sometimes.

I am happy to say that a panel of scientists has issued new nutritional guidelines for children supporting my draconian approach.  Kids under five should drink milk and water, and every once in a while, a half of a cup of 100% fruit juice.

And although I am delighted to have these recommendations to hand to my poor kids when they ask for juice, I do wish this wasn’t news, because as coverage of this study explains, “[r]ecommendations to limit juice are not new.”

Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says, “When we talk about empty calories that are consumed through beverages and the number of calories people get from sugar-sweetened drinks, we’re not just talking about soda . . . Juice is another source of calories that nutritionally aren’t terrific.”

 

From The Economist: Death of the Calorie

by Diana R. H. Winters

“What we…know, however, suggests that counting calories is very crude and often misleading…. a  growing body of research shows that when different people consume the same meal, the impact on each person’s blood sugar and fat formation will vary according to their genes, lifestyles and unique mix of gut bacteria…[and] the amount of energy we absorb from food depends on how we prepare it..”                                                                    -Peter Wilson, “Death of the Calorie”

Today I taught a segment of a pre-written nutrition curriculum to my son’s fourth grade class on serving sizes.  Imagine my dismay when I picked up the script twenty minutes (oops) before I was to teach the class and found that it wanted me to teach the kids that serving sizes were recommended portions, not a reflection of what Americans actually eat (which they are, by law).  The fundamental lesson, however, contained some decent guidance–people should eat less protein (although the lesson didn’t recognize any protein but animal) and processed foods, and eat more fruits,vegetables, and other whole foods.  This simple prescription, also taught by Michael Pollan (“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”), is more effective by far than teaching people to rely on serving sizes and calorie counting to eat healthy and maintain body weight.

This article in The Economist’s 1843 magazine on our misguided reliance on calories to measure our food intake addresses this concept, and is a fascinating and important read.

The foodralist paradigm

by Diana R. H. Winters

Laurie Beyranevand at the Vermont Law School and I wrote a paper about striking a balance between federal and state decision-making in the area of food policy, called Retooling American Foodralismand the University of Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review wrote a thoughtful analysis of the paper here.  In the article, author Nicholas Bellos writes:

“[F]or an industry as sprawling and complex—and vital—as the nation’s agricultural sector, should states be the principal actors ensuring consumer safety?

In a recent paper, two scholars argue that they should. University of Vermont Law School’s Laurie Beyranevand and University of Indiana Robert H. McKinney School of Law’s* Diana Winters say that more states should take initiative like California to enact food safety regulations of their own, rather than depend on federal regulators to lead the way. The balance between federal and state decision-making—what they call “foodralism”—needs to tilt more toward state governments, they argue. States need to fill the gaps in the current patchwork of U.S. food regulations and serve as laboratories for developing new rules and standards.”

Retooling American Foodralism is forthcoming in the American Journal of Law and Medicine.

 

*Although I used to be at I.U. McKinney, I am now the Assistant Director of Scholarship at the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

 

MSU Global Food Law Current Issues Conference

by Diana Winters

I was lucky over the last few days to attend and present at the MSU College of Law Global Food Law Program’s fantastic Global Food Law Current Issues Conference. At the conference there was a mix of academics, practitioners, scientists, and industry representatives, and a truly global focus. Wednesday’s discussions of dietary supplement labeling, developments in organic foods, issues regarding animal food labeling were fascinating, and the keynote on food litigation by Bill Marler, was, for a food law aficionado, a dream come true. Thursday’s talk on professional consumers in China and their effect on food safety provided an opportunity to reflect on the absence of a citizen suit provision in the FDCA, and the discussion of new technologies in product supply chains was a chance to engage with blockchain, 3D printing, and other fun stuff. These are only a few highlights of the conference, which also included discussions of intellectual property, food security, and innovation in the food space, as well as opportunities to explore the food and environment of greater Lansing, Michigan. Note: if you find yourself in East Lansing, don’t miss the Zaha Hadid designed Broad Museum of Art—a short walk from campus (picture above).

 

The value of a conference that provides a space for academics, practitioners, and scientists to meet and mingle is immense, and I’m so glad I went.

Consume This! Hop To It

I found the following blog post about researching the history of hops, originally posted on the Consumers & Consumption blog, fascinating.

-Diana

 

by Jennifer Jordan

I have a stack of library books to my left, and in front of me is a hard drive full of documents and reading notes, and the powerful (if also problematic) search engine that’s easy to take for granted. I am in the middle of writing a book about hops, whose history illuminates labor relations, racial and ethnic formations, gender and family structures, ecologies, riverways, trade routes, and changing tastes and landscapes. Because all of my research subjects were long ago laid in their graves or cremated on their pyres (my time period is roughly the 12th century to the early 20th), I look for traces of their thoughts and actions, tastes and habits in vast quantities of library books, digitized archives, oral histories, photographs and maps, handwritten ledgers and old newspapers, and other sources of varying degrees of inscrutability. Once in a while I’ll venture out to talk to a farmer or brewer, grateful for all-wheel drive as I wind my way down ever-narrower and icier country roads to one of Wisconsin’s new hop yards.

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But more often I’m poring over texts both digital and analog. One of the most powerful tools I use is Google Books—the ability to electronically search so many full text documents is quite remarkable for someone who started her writing life with a typewriter and a card catalog. Even when the search only yields a snippet of a page, I can then order the actual book through interlibrary loan. In other cases the whole book unfolds before me on the screen, with the relevant pages so helpfully illuminated. The ability to thoroughly search within the bodies of obscure agricultural manuals, city registries, and decades-old ethnographic surveys with a couple of keystrokes radically alters the process of this kind of research. Here, for example, I followed a lead from another source that had suggested a man named “Kiewert” might have been a Milwaukee hop dealer–and there he is.

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The ease of access to so much of this material, however, can mean that I’m sometimes startled to discover that really valuable sources are deeply analog. My university library happens to hold the Blatz and Pabst brewery papers in its archive, so just steps away from my office I can descend into archival reverie (and sometimes drudgery). The leather binding rots all over my hands with a stinging dust, as the archivist slides a pillow underneath the enormous book to take the pressure off its 150-year-old spine. I search through these ledgers, page by page, to find out where Blatz and Pabst and others were buying their hops. It turns out, not surprisingly, that they were buying almost entirely from dealers rather than farmers. Here Kiewert appears in real life (if also with a slightly different spelling), but now I also know where his building was, and where he lived.

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The combination of Google Books and old ledgers helped me realize the centrality of hop dealers to both the production and consumption of beer in the 19th century (and far beyond Wisconsin). According to the census searches I’ve done so far, they are all white men, some of whom started out as hop farmers themselves, and many of whom became prosperous traders in other people’s hops. These dealers command time and space with railways, telegraph wires, and the well-packed hop bales piled into train cars, horse-drawn carts, schooners and later steam ships, speeding to the marketplace that promises the best prices. Sometimes there was a glut, and the hops would languish in rural barns (one farmer lost thousands of pounds of dried hops when his barn burned down) or urban warehouses in Milwaukee or lower Manhattan or Liverpool. This was a brisk international trade, made possible by the same smoothing out of uneven land with railroad tracks that William Cronon describes in the rise of Chicago to a metropolis. That trade, in turn, relied on tens of thousands of children, women, and men picking hops in the brief window of ripeness in August and early September.

As I move through these documents, both physical and virtual, individual personalities and biographies emerge for both Wisconsin and California (14th century Germany is a whole other ballgame). I have a growing database of hop farmers and hop dealers—and a very scanty collection of the names of hop pickers, despite the fact that they vastly outnumbered the dealers and farmers. Before mechanized harvesters appeared in the early 20th century, the hop harvest required a sudden and massive influx of laborers to pick the hops by hand. In Wisconsin in the hop boom of the 1860s, this labor force consisted largely of young white women. In California, in the second half of the 19th century, hop pickers reflected the broader racialized, classed, and gendered labor pool in the state. Depending on the time and place, the quickly ripening hops were picked by Chinese men, Japanese men, Native American families, and white families. Despite their greater number, the people who swiftly harvested these sticky, perishable blossoms have, so far, appeared less frequently in search engines and the holdings of historical societies than the property owners. That said, clues do emerge here and there. Annie Burke (1876-1960), for example, was a Makahmo-speaking Pomo basket weaver, who also picked hops in her younger years in Hopland, California.[i] Here is a picture of her gravestone, with abalone shells laid before it, and a photograph of Annie with several baskets: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/123821853 There is also John Rooney (1844-1917), who was born in Ireland, but moved to Wisconsin with his family as a child. He was a hop picker and later a hop farmer, and also had two sisters (probably Margaret and Ann, the oldest) who picked hops in Loganville, Wisconsin during the Civil War.[ii] Digitized historical census data has proven extremely useful in piecing together the shapes and paths of families, including the wives and daughters performing unpaid labor for and with the hop farmers, as well as the paid hop harvesters, and the smaller number of people hired to string the hops as they start to wind up their poles.

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The hop is an odd consumable. It has very little value outside of beer-making, at least today. Only edible as a young shoot, it was enjoyed in that form by many Romans, long before the hop blossom had found its way into brew kettles. Only in the 9th century is there more convincing archaeological and archival evidence associating hops with brewing. By the 19th century, just about any commercial brewing in the US and Europe would have used some quantity of hops. If you are not a beer drinker, chances are pretty good that hops play no role in your life. If you are a beer drinker, hops are absolutely essential to the flavor you experience, whether you are drinking a watery American lager, a citrusy IPA, or a barrel-aged imperial stout. In other words, hops have long been grown for one use only—beer, where they lend bitterness and a range of aromas (depending in part on the variety and quantity of hop), as well as antimicrobial properties. The tastes of beer drinkers, whether in the 12th century, 19th century, or today, have translated into specific types of agricultural landscapes and labor patterns. Hops have long, hungry root systems that seek out deep, alluvial soils when they grow wild, as they have done for millennia across Europe, Asia, and North America. Cultivated hops are also often planted in river plains, capturing the nutrients those rivers have laid down over millennia of flowing water and seasonal flooding. The tending of these plants, and the satisfying of the thirsts of legions of beer drinkers, leaves its mark unevenly and sometimes inscrutably in landscapes and archives alike.

 

[i] Herbert W. Luthin, ed. Surviving Through the Days: A California Indian Reader: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs. Berkeley: UC Press, 2002, p. 313.

[ii] John Rooney, in Harry Ellsworth Cole, A Standard History of Sauk County, Wisconsin, Volume 1. Sauk County, Wisconsin: Lewis Publishing Company, 1918, pp 96-97.

 

Jennifer Jordan is professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She is the author of Structures of Memory: Understanding Urban Change in Berlin and Beyondand Edible Memory: The Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods.

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