Ending Food Deserts in Clevo, Decreases in Childhood Obesity, New Food Label, and a Fermentation School Bus

Some good food news in Cleveland and in childhood obesity. Also info on a new food label and the need for independent sources, in science and beyond…

1. Everyone should check out this Kickstarter about the Farm Food Program at Case Western Reserve University’s Farm.  The FFP will provided jobs to Cleveland residents to help grow hundreds of pounds of produce exclusively for residents living in food deserts around Cleveland. The graphic below is taken from their shirt that you can get from donating!

Farm to Food Desert


2. While I am dreaming about decent weather, biking, sunshine, and vitamin D, Tara Whitsitt is making her dream a reality (wow I am a terrible writer). Last summer, Tara dreamed about driving a school bus full of fermented foods around the country last summer. She decided to make these dreams a reality and started Fermentation of Wheels. Her school bus is touring around the country this year, teaching fermentation and connecting people with local food. She will be making her way over to Ohio in July! If you are interested in fermented foods you may also want to check out Sandor Katz’s website Wild Fermentation. Katz was also interviewed on Food Sleuth Radio last April. I plan to post more about fermented foods and gut bacteria, especially since gut bacteria may play a role in obesity.


3. The Cleveland Film fest program guides are out this week and there are many movies I am looking forward to, including Farmland. Farmland is the latest documentary from Academy Award winner James Moll. The movie goes behind the scenes with a new generation of younger farmers, and tries to explore all sides of modern farming. Check out the trailer…

4. Some good news, early childhood obesity may be decreasing. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In 2003-2004, 14 percent of children aged 2 to 5 years were obese compared to over 8 percent in 2011-2012. This is an overall decline of 43 percent! based on CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data. While the cause of the decline in obesity is not clear, data from the CDC shows decreases in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among youth in recent years, along with improvement in breastfeeding rates.

It is also important to keep in mind that there seems to be significant racial and ethnic disparities in obese children and adolescents. Per CDC, in 2007-2008, Hispanic boys, aged 2 to 19 years, were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white boys, and non-Hispanic black girls were significantly more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white girls.

5. As noted above, decreasing intake of foods with added sugars (such as sugar-sweetened beverages) should be encouraged to combat obesity. States all around the country are looking at ways to tax (more info below) or label sugar-sweetened beverages. Personally, I dig California senator Bill Monning (D-CA), who has proposed a statewide bill that would require drinks with added sugar (at least 75 calories per 12 ounces)to include a label stating: “State of California Safety Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.” How much more straightforward can you get?

6. Furthermore, First Lady Michelle Obama has proposed updates to the food label that would separately identify added sugars. Food companies would also have to maintain records on how they verified that amount. Serving sizes would also be adjusted to actual portions that we eat, i.e. half cup ice cream (current serving) would become one whole cup! Wow, exciting. Other changes on the food label can be seen below:

The food label has not changed in 20 years, while a lot has changed in nutrition recommendations.

The food label has not changed in 20 years, while a lot has changed in nutrition recommendations.


The food label is a start, finally acknowledging that intake added sugars needs an easy way to be monitored. Potassium will be nice to know since processing largely depletes many foods of their potassium. This is also helpful for people that need to follow a restricted potassium diet. However, I am concerned that manufacturers will add vitamin D to processed foods just to make them seem healthier. Barely any foods are high in vitamin D, since vitamin D is actually a hormone that our body makes from the sun. It may be time to acknowledge that humans were made to be outside in the sun versus damned to hell in an office in Cleveland or Seattle. I definitely don’t think this could just be solved by eating more sardines (sorry pale Clevelander, no matter how many sardines you eat you are still pale). The FDA will be taking comments for 90 days, you can learn more about the label and submit comments on this page.

vitamin D food sources

Vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods and is actually added to milk. I don’t think our problem is lack of eating it, but lack of making it from the sun.
Source: whfoods.com


Marshmallow Pebbles, an excellent source of vitamin D

The last thing we need is more processed foods selling us on health claims such as “excellent source of vitamin D” on this box of Marshmallow Pebbles.


7. Also food label related, it appears that our friends from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) have launched a long-awaited $50 million campaign to promote voluntary Facts Up Front” labels on food packages. The Facts Up Front are largely at odds with recommendations made Institute of Medicine in 2011. If you aren’t familiar with the IOM, they are an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public. The IOM are also the people that decided nutrition recommendations. Now who would you trust for unbiased information – The GMA, which represents large food corporations and profits from selling consumers junk food; or the IOM, an independent organization that makes unbiased recommendations to congress? I don’t know about you, but I’d go with the IOM.

IOM recommends that front-of-package labels be: Simple: easy to understand; Interpretive: putting judgments in context; Scaled: indicating good, better, and best (i.e. red, yellow, green stop light system). This is largely in contrast to the “Facts Up Front” label which does none of these and is used more as a marketing tool. The GMA and FMI conducted and funded their own study which found that consumers love Facts up Front (hmm… follow the money). Their fancy methodology is on the bottom of the page stating: “because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the online panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.” Translation: If you find enough dingdongs to complete our online survey, we can manipulate the results to say what we want. To me, this study is meaningless. If we had Facts up Front, nutrients featured could be cherry picked by food companies  (i.e. vitamin D would be advertised on the Marshmallow Pebbles) to make any food look like a healthy  food. God, make it stop, FRUITY PEBBLES ARE NOT A HEALTH FOOD (vitamin D or no vitamin D).  Please stick to IOM’s recommendations instead. For more information, you can read this great article by Michele Simon on Facts Up Front.

8. With all this talk of food labeling and policies, maybe we should look at what other countries are doing. Take a look at Brazil’s new dietary guidelines. These guidelines are about preventing malnutrition (already in sharp decline in Latin America), avoiding obesity, and encouraging good health among all Brazilians. The guidelines are easy to follow, and focus mostly on actual foods instead of specific nutrients. The three golden rules are universal:

  • Make fresh and minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
  • Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation when preparing dishes and meals
  • Limit consumption of ready-to eat food and drink products.

Wow, I wonder what our friends at the GMA would have to say about these guidelines if they were proposed in America, or how much money they would spent to prevent these from going into effect? Just look at how much effort similar front groups are putting in to avoid a soda tax in San Fransisco.

9. See a pattern? Big food does not represent what is best for the public interest, dietitians should take note of this when completing education sponsored by big food. And if funding education and $50 million campaigns wasn’t enough, now corporations are looking to buy journalism altogether, such as Unilever paying seven figures to the Guardian to provide “branded content” about sustainability. Unilever includes a few food brands, such as Lipton and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, so be aware of “branded content” telling you how Lipton is saving the environment… Maybe the Guardian should take learn some more about journalistic independence from their former employee Glenn Greenwald.


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