The last few months have been very busy for myself as well as for Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon as we have labored to present accurate nutrition information to various committees and agencies.
Child Nutrition Act
Congress has delayed further action on the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act until the next session, beginning at the end of January 2004. The Act was simply extended for another six months so that its programs could remain in operation. The House and Senate should complete their revisions by next spring.
In the meantime, the House Democrats on the Education and Workforce Committee introduced their version of the Child Nutrition Act, HR 3416, “The Healthy Children through Better Nutrition Act of 2003.” In an effort to support school food and nutrition departments as part of the solution to the epidemic of childhood obesity, the bill focuses on education. This includes encouraging schools to adopt policies that create school environments that model the lessons children should learn for a lifetime of good health. The bill also provides funds to states and local authorities to offer training and “nutrition education.” Of course, if this “nutrition education” is loaded with misinformation, the education that children receive will amount to little more than propaganda for the food industry.
As an example of the misinformation under which the lawmakers are laboring, this version of the bill changes the milk requirements to provide availability of lowfat milk and eliminate the requirement to offer only regular, whole milk. The Democratic version supports local growers working with school, but only for improved access and consumption among children of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, not animal products. One positive note: The bill requires that irradiated foods be labeled as such and that parents be notified if the school is serving irradiated foods. Responding to the problem of soft drink and junk food vending machines in schools, the bill requires that competitive foods guidelines be provided by the Institute of Medicine.
In addition, the US Senate passed S. 1172, the Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (or IMPACT Act). This bipartisan legislation amends the Public Health Service Act to address issues of overweight, obesity and eating disorders. The bill authorizes a $60 million pilot project to help communities develop programs to address the problem, in part by promoting “good nutrition” and physical fitness. Although a version of the bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives, no action has been taken on it. The IMPACT Act would need to be passed by the House as well before consideration by the President.
Dietary Guidelines and the Food Pyramid
The US Government has finally recognized that our country is tipping off the scales. It appears rather than create preventative measures, the Feds would rather wait until there is a full- blown health issue to take action. The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services inaugurated their review of the Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid by creating a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Every five years the government is required by law to review both and revise as required by new research on nutrition. The Committee first met in September 2003 and will meet three more times before its recommendations are due in June 2004. The Foundation plans to testify at its next meeting in January 2004.
A major concern we have is the Committee’s views on fats, which appear to follow the lipid theory of heart disease that saturated fats and cholesterol are bad for us; the Committee suggests lower amounts of saturated fats in our diets. The Committee will address two specific issues on fats: 1) are there optimal levels for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that should be recommended and 2) should upper intakes for these two types of fatty acids be established. In addition, the Committee will address levels of needed fiber in our diets, levels of added sugars, the overemphasis on grains in the Food Pyramid and glycemic potential of carbohydrates.
In early 2004, the USDA, which has jurisdiction over the food pyramid, will ask for recommendations on how to reconstruct the food pyramid. I will advise you as to the timing of this request through our Action Alert. I suggest that if you have any concerns or recommendations, please respond to the Alert.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) got into the act by creating an Obesity Workgroup. The Workgroup is to report to the Commissioner of FDA by February 12, 2004 its observations on the obesity health issue. A public hearing was held on October 20 in which Mary Enig, our vice president, testified on trans fatty acids in the food supply as well as the health implications of excess vegetable oils. After her testimony, Mary was congratulated by the FDA and USDA staff, some of whom reported that her testimony had vindicated their views that saturated fats are not harmful. However, FDA staffers are not allowed to set policy.
A subsequent hearing was held in November, which focused on the restaurant industry and its role in curbing obesity. The general tone of the industry during the meeting was that “it’s not our fault; do not force us to provide food labeling on our meals.”
On December 15, the FDA Workgroup met with various nutrition researchers and medical professionals. The meeting began with fruitless debate about what was needed–more education, behavior modification, weight loss support groups, etc. I then outlined the Foundation’s observations that our food supply has been so drastically altered in the past 60 years; that we have so far removed ourselves from traditional foods and food preparation; that we spend upwards of 90 percent of our food dollars on highly processed industrialized foods; and that is no wonder that we, as a nation, are now beset with obesity and many chronic diseases. Obesity is a symptom, a warning sign that we are in an energetically unbalanced state; it is not a disease.
I mentioned a 1971 USDA study on nutrition titled, “An Evaluation of Research in the United States on Human Nutrition.” Interestingly, which reported that:
- Major health issues are diet related;
- The solution to illness can be found in nutrition; and
- The real potential from improved diet is preventative in that it may defer or modify the development of a disease state.
Not surprisingly, the Nixon Administration never released this report to the public. In fact, it was shortly thereafter that the FDA changed its policy on imitation foods to allow imitation foods to be sold without an “imitation” label.
My politically incorrect comments were met with a range of reactions–from impassive stares by CDC officials, to nodding agreement from the AMA representative. A representative of Family Physicians appeared to be a little disoriented.
The Foundation submitted to the Advisory Committee and FDA’s Obesity Workgroup a comprehensive 49-page review of the current state of macronutrients in our food supply. You can download a copy of our comments here (PDF).
Soy Infant Formula
FDA’s Food Advisory Committee held a public hearing on infant formula and mercury in fish on December 11. Only two presented comments on infant formula. The first, a physician sponsored by the Infant Formula Council, argued that the best criteria for determining whether a type or brand of formula was adequate were the height and weight of the infant at six months–that’s all, just measure at six months without doing longer-term studies that look at neurological development, intelligence, future health problems, etc. The second to address the committee was Sally Fallon who presented the large body of evidence indicating the toxicity of soy formula. She pointed out that height and weight at six months was a woefully inadequate criteria for assessing the appropriateness of soy infant formula, especially as the estrogens in soy promote rapid growth, just as do estrogens in animal feed. The committee expressed great interest in her testimony and we have followed up by sending a packet of documents to each committee member. See Sally’s testimony, Soy-Based Infant Formula: Concerns and Recommendations (PPT).
Cardiovascular Disease Conference
The Illinois Department of Public Health and National Institutes of Health sponsored a conference on Cardiovascular Health in Chicago in early December. The Foundation had a booth, which was quite well attended by participants. We gave out brochures and reprints of key articles on heart disease and human diets. I found that many cardiovascular nurses and dieticians were urging their patients to use traditional foods and increase their consumption of good fats. This was surprising and quite pleasing to hear.
Cara Ebbeling, PhD, instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and research associate at Children’s Hospital of Boston, reported that she has success with obese adolescents on an experimental low glycemic index (GI)/load (GL) diet versus a typical energy-restricted, reduced-fat diet. Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate is metabolized and enters the blood stream. The higher the index number, the faster the blood sugar rises. Most refined carbohydrates have high GI. Glycemic load is the GI times the amount of carbohydrate consumed. Her study is another verification that lowfat, high-carbohydrate diets just do not work for most people.
The soy industry had a booth at the conference and was giving out a very slick brochure complete with recipes featuring everything from boiled soybeans to soy extenders; we had our Soy Alert! brochure on hand and many participants gravitated to our booth to ask questions after visiting the soy folks.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2003.