Childhood Obesity News A resource for health professionals, parents, teachers, counselors & kids on the childhood obesity epidemic. Tue, 07 Jul 2015 10:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Troubled History of the Soda Tax Concept Tue, 07 Jul 2015 10:00:20 +0000 chart Union of Concerned Scientists

Whenever a threat to their continued profitability arises, the food and beverage industries react. The chart on this page was created by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and it’s the best kind of chart—one whose message can be read from across the room, one so blatantly, cartoonishly obvious it is almost comical. The huge increase in lobbyist spending in 2009, from under $2 million to almost $20 million in one year, was the result of a federal proposal to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. Rebecca Wilce wrote at that time:

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 33 states already have sales tax on soft drinks, but the taxes (mean tax rate 5.2%) “are too small to affect consumption and the revenues are not earmarked for programs related to health.”

That is a problem, because earmarking for health-related problems is what leads people to vote in favor. The desire to impose what some call a “sin tax” is an effort to make the consumers of unhealthful food pay for the medical care they will eventually need. In this realm, SSBs are much easier to go after than solid food products. Liquids are sold in units that are uniform and amenable to measurement. Mainly, the task of definition is somewhat simplified because of the smaller range of possibilities and the relative ease of comparison.

Of course, there is still plenty of room for disagreement. For instance, industry lawyers can argue that orange juice, which is exempt from proposed taxes because of its health benefits, contains as much sugar per ounce as some soft drinks. Still, drawing guidelines for beverages is simpler than, for instance, ruling on an apple pie. Because apples are fruit, and fruit is good, and the government’s nutritional advisors want us to eat more fruit, right?

The Empire State Tries a Sin Tax

Michael Pollan once wrote:

It’s no accident that support for measures such as taxing soda is strongest in places like Massachusetts, where the solvency of the state and its insurance industry depends on figuring out how to reduce the rates of Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

With every passing year, more states feel the pain in their bank accounts, and awaken to awareness that today’s excesses are racking up major financial liabilities for the future. The industry tries to stay out in front the problem, seeking control and unwarranted influence by such means as preemption laws, which limit the ability of local governments to regulate restaurants. In Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Ohio, this was successful.

Early in 2010 the governor of New York State started to talk about taxing SSBs, and New York City’s formidable Mayor Bloomberg favored that goal, but state legislators voted it down. In the city he ran, Bloomberg tried to forbid the serving of soda portions larger than 16 ounces, but the soda business sued the city. In 2013 a judge ruled in favor of the business and against the attempted limitation. A gentleman named Michael Mudd, who had retired a decade earlier from an executive vice president post at Kraft Foods, became something of a whistleblower. Giving the public something to think about, the former industry bigwig wrote:

The executives who run these companies like to say they don’t create demand, they try only to satisfy it. “We’re just giving people what they want. We’re not putting a gun to their heads,” the refrain goes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the years, relentless efforts were made to increase the number of “eating occasions” people indulged in and the amount of food they consumed at each.

Bloomberg went on to use his money and influence in more easily persuadable places, and helped Mexico start taxing soda. In the spring of 2015 reporter Dan Goldberg wrote:

Some studies have found only a minimal impact, but a recent survey found a majority of Mexicans say they’re drinking less sugar this year and are also relating soda to health problems, after the country introduced a tax on sweet beverages.

But in the United States, a comparison was made between the annual per capita consumption of soda in 1998 (51 gallons) and in 2013 (44 gallons). Critics pointed out that this had been accomplished without an American soda tax, so why make a law when the desired good effect was already being accomplished through education?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “ALEC and Coca-Cola: A “Classic” Collaboration,”, 10/12/11
Source: “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System,”, 09/14/11
Source: “How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry,”, 03/16/13
Source: “Gillibrand disapproves of soda tax to fight obesity,”, 03/26/15
Image by Union of Concerned Scientists

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Globesity and Tax—Canada Mon, 06 Jul 2015 10:00:15 +0000

Canadians in fat suits advertise a massage parlor

The most basic argument for a “fat tax” it is that no matter how a national system is organized, hospitals and medicine cost a lot of money. When the political structure is more on the socialism part of the spectrum, everyone pays for everything—including their neighbors’ bad choices and regrettable habits. Someone who would gladly pitch in to fix a new baby’s cleft palate might not be so ready to shell out for a 500-pound teenager’s bariatric surgery. When these distinctions are discussed, emotions run high.

Even in the most capitalist economy, a case can be made that when people spend their money on medical care, it is no longer available to spend on other things, like houses, cars, appliances, and entertainment. According to this worldview, large segments of the national economy are harmed by being deprived of income they would have otherwise acquired.

In their capacity as taxpayers, or as consumers, people pay a lot for the consequences of obesity, whether their own or others’. So why not tax the substances that cause the problems, and use the revenues to prevent and treat those problems? It sounds obvious enough to be a foregone conclusion. Childhood Obesity News has been looking at various countries where taxation often appears to be a very attractive option for dealing with the obesity epidemic.

Fat Tax in Canada

With no legislative power, a medical association can only speak in favor of what it has decided is a good idea, and then hope that someone listens. In 2012 the Ontario Medical Association publicly advocated high taxes for fat and sugary foods, and lower taxes on more healthful groceries. (The group’s policy paper, “Applying lessons learned from anti-tobacco
campaigns to the prevention of obesity,” is available as a PDF download.)

Any mention of tobacco gives the anti-tax faction something to push back against. They say “tobacco has no place in a healthy, balanced lifestyle,” whereas everyone has to eat food. “So just take your tobacco-tax analogy and go home,” is their attitude. Food and Consumer Products of Canada (read: lobbyists) told the press that Denmark had to give up on its saturated fat tax after a year, the implication being that no “fat tax” could succeed anywhere, ever. As always, and with an empathy saturated with self-interest, the food industry valiantly stuck up for the rights of the lower and middle income citizens.

Helen Branswell of The Star identified other items on the OMA wish list:

For the campaign, it devised images of food products—a serving of french fries from a fast-food restaurant, a pizza box, a juice pack, a carton of chocolate milk—branded with the types of eye-catching images and warnings that have changed the face of cigarette packaging.

The juice box bore a graphic picture of a deep ulcer on the sole of a foot, a problem people with diabetes can face that can lead to amputation. The milk carton was printed with a warning declaring that 500 mL of chocolate milk (the largest individual size sold) contains 360 calories and 12.5 teaspoons of sugar.

The following year, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) published “a comprehensive report…examining the scientific research and real-world experience of food taxes and obesity causes….” The Childhood Obesity Foundation had been making noise about putting a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, so that was the area author Peter Shawn Taylor mainly set out to defend:

Obesity is a complex condition with multiple determinants including social, environmental and biological factors. Taxing particular foods or beverages to reduce obesity is a naive solution to a multi-faceted problem.

More recently, CTF’s Jordan Bateman, employing a classic debating ploy that escalates the issue into a worst-case scenario, alerted the public that taxing soda pop like tobacco “would drive the price of a 12-pack from $5 to $18.” Another of his objections, that might be taken more seriously, is the international shopping problem. An awful lot of Canadians live pretty close to the U.S. border, and have already proven their willingness to make forays into America for better gas prices.

Of course, Homeland Security procedures may soon discourage most border-crossing bargain hunters. But until then, Bateman warns, a Canadian food tax would only enrich American businesses and further injure Canada’s economy. His final argument is very hard to refute, when the other person just doesn’t get it:

More than 96 per cent of Canadians face no elevated risk of mortality due to their weight. That means 96 per cent of us would be paying more in food taxes for no reason… How does unfairly taxing 96 per cent of Canadians encourage “personal responsibility”?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fight obesity like tobacco, say Ontario doctors,”, 10/23/12
Source: “Opinion: Food taxes didn’t work in Denmark and won’t work here,”, 05/22/14
Image by Marc Falardeau

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The Fat Tax Debate in Australia Fri, 03 Jul 2015 10:00:35 +0000 Fat Controller

Childhood Obesity News mentioned how Australia achieved some success in quelling the smoking habit thanks to “plain packaging” (actually festooned with garish photos of horrible medical problems). The effort has certainly garnered attention, and in the United Kingdom, Parliament voted to introduce “uniform packaging for cigarettes” although it is not known whether the wrappings will display verbal warnings alone or frightening visuals as well.

The public is accustomed to hearing food corporations wail in horrified expectation of new laws. Big Food can point backwards to the (in their minds, outrageous) restrictions and taxes that have been placed upon nicotine and cry, “Beware! Next, the government will do the same to us, the innocent manufacturers of delicious, nutritious food!” This plea can be interpreted as blatant self-interest.

Big Food Uses Big Tobacco Arguments

Writing for New Scientist, Marion Nestle pointed out how the tobacco cartel has done sort of a reverse-engineering job on that old familiar argument, fluffing it up to fit current needs. According to Big Tobacco, the packaging issue represents the first stretch of a slippery slope. But it is not their own industry the tobacco moguls are worried about. No self-interest here! In their altruism, they are concerned about a damsel in distress, the poor weak helpless food industry, to whom the tobacco industry is a protective big brother.

If cigarettes must have plain packaging, their thinking goes, the day will soon come when processed food products will suffer the same fate. Comparable measures will be taken against the poor, sadly abused alcohol industry, fast food franchises, and, worst of all, the kingdom of sugar-sweetened beverages. Marion Nestle capsulizes an important feature of the debate:

Let me state from the outset that foods cannot be subject to the same level of regulatory intervention as cigarettes…The health message for tobacco is simple: stop smoking…For food it is much more nuanced. Food is not optional; we must eat to live…The problem is deciding which foods and beverages might call for plain wrappers. For anything but soft drinks and confectionery, the decisions look too vexing.

This describes what Nestle calls “the impossible politics of plain wrappers on foods,” a circumstance that leads health advocates to more willingly accept such compromises as additional warnings on traditional packaging.

Australia may be so willing to experiment because it realizes the serious trouble it is in. One out of four kids in the country is overweight or obese, as are 63 percent of the grownups. Critics say junk food is cheaper and more available than nutritious food of good quality. A couple of years back, the government commissioned a study, specifically designed to include plenty of input from the public, on the feasibility of taxing fat and fast food items. Steve Lewis wrote:

The three-year project—costing $463,442—is considering “the cost-effectiveness and consumer acceptability of taxation strategies to reduce rates of overweight and obesity amongst children in Australia.”

Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association, would like to see healthful food more affordable and fast food prohibitively expensive. In addition to medical skills, he is also something of a spin doctor, and says:

Rather than pitch it as a “fat tax,” it’s more, “How can we cross-subsidize the right foods to make them more affordable?”

In May of this year, the Obesity Coalition announced that its new survey had found that 85 percent of Australians were ready to live with a soda tax, which at 20 percent would make more than $250 million per year. Their approval is contingent upon use of the money for obesity reduction programs, especially to get kids involved in sports and more active in general. Proponents of the tax also vow to install more clean drinking water fountains in public places, a move which is said to have helped reduce soda consumption in Mexico.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “If tobacco gets plain packets will junk food be next?.”, 03/11/15
Source: “Federal Government backed study into fat tax on fast foods.”, 05/21/13
Source: “Eight in 10 Australians want a new tax on sugary soft drinks to tackle childhood obesity.”, 05/14/15
Image by Ewan Munro

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Globesity and Tax in Ireland and Australia Thu, 02 Jul 2015 10:00:32 +0000 Australia cigarette carton

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News looked at the United Kingdom, where the idea of taxing junk food and sugar-sweetened beverages has been tossed around but has met with little enthusiasm. Other countries also struggle with these issues, including Ireland and Australia.

Obesity experts from the World Health Organization, fluent in the language of statistics, are able to extrapolate from current trends and make projections about which country will be the most obese in any given year. They have predicted that by 2030, the fattest population will be found in Ireland. Among the Irish, many people in charge of public policy would like to discourage the consumption of sugar, saturated fat, and salt. Naturally, they ask whether a “fat tax” might be the answer.

As usual, opponents claim that implementation of a tax would not affect obesity levels, and would be bad for the economy, because consumers would adapt by organizing shopping expeditions to neighboring areas (mainly England) where no such extra fees are charged.

The Fine Gael political party has pointed out the parallels between tobacco and junk food, and has suggested plain packaging for junk food would eliminate the alluring imagery that pulls children in to a purchase. (Ireland recently passed a law requiring plain tobacco packaging with graphic descriptions of the harm smoking causes.)

The factions arguing against plain snack wrappers complain that it would be more difficult for them to enforce their brands and distinguish their products from those of competitors. In their eagerness to explain why plain wrappers are such a bad idea, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel by warning that it will “make counterfeits easier to produce”—as if a huge underground industry would spring up to flood the market with bogus candy bars in plain wrappers.

It is believed that generic cigarette packs discourage the young, because for them brand identity is part of the magic of smoking. Warnings that list specific diseases are thought to help too. Australia beat Ireland to the punch by printing repulsive photos of medical conditions on cigarette packs.

The first thorough evaluation of Australia’s new style was only completed a few months ago, and was a compilation of 14 different studies. It showed a “statistically significant increase” in the number of people thinking about quitting tobacco, or actually trying to. After plain packaging came in, 7 percent more people made quit attempts, which actually doesn’t sound that impressive. Then again, it’s early days, and every life counts.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Cantillon: Is ‘fat tax’ idea the thin end of the wedge?,”, 05/07/15
Source: “Ireland passes plain packaging bill for cigarettes.”, 03/03, 2015
Source: “Australia’s plain packaging laws successful, studies show.”, 03/18/15
Image by Australian Government Dept. of Health

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Globesity – No Fat Tax in the United Kingdom Wed, 01 Jul 2015 10:00:01 +0000 Hello_ Is that  the Pasty Police_

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News looked at Denmark’s attempt to institute a fat tax, and how its failure affected other countries. The United Kingdom also struggled with the issue. Early in 2013 a movement was afoot to tax soda, pop, sugar-sweetened beverages, SSBs, or what in England they apparently call soft drinks. The money that was raised would be used “to fund free fruit and meals in schools.”

The response of the British Soft Drink Association (read: industry lobbyists) was totally predictable: the soft drink companies are already doing their part, are committed to helpful voluntary action, can police themselves, and blah blah blah. As always, the gigantic corporations altruistically pleaded the case of the average, financially struggling consumer, whose life would be irremediably damaged by a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Just the usual suspects saying the usual things, through their incredibly proficient public relations departments. However, journalist Michelle Roberts included a fact which, if literally true, must throw doubt onto what previously seemed self-evident:

Over the past 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9% while the incidence of obesity has increased by 15%.

If this is so, then the conclusions that follow are awkward and difficult to explain. Empirically, pragmatically, there appears to be no point in taxing sugar. It is an unavoidable argument, and a sobering one. Because what if it doesn’t make any difference? What if the sugar merchants have been right all along?

Comparing Sugar to Tobacco

A year later, Britain was in the midst of an “Action on Sugar” campaign spearheaded by the University of Liverpool, under the motto “Sugar is the new tobacco.” The comparison references the tendency of the sugar cartel to be a “cynical industry focused [sic] on profit not health,” much like Big Tobacco. Also, there is an implication that heavy taxation might help to curb the sugar habit, as it apparently curbed the nicotine habit among smokers. The anti-sugar activists’ publicity says:

The major initial focus of the Action on Sugar group is to convince the food and drink industry and the Department of Health to adopt a reformulation programme to gradually reduce the amount of sugar added to all of their products.

In other words, the movement’s highest aspiration is to beg for a bit more self-policing, from an industry that has not been noticeably stellar at the task of keeping itself in line. Late in 2014, Britons learned that in the preceding 4 years, the United Kingdom’s obesity rate had increased by 40 percent.

After crunching some numbers, The Guardian stated that Britain’s obesity-based health bill of 47 billion pounds (or around $73 billion) was actually larger than its bill for “police and fire services, law courts, and prisons.” Compared to a different column of figures, the cost of obesity and diabetes also turned out to be more than the total expenditure to deal with armed violence/war/terrorism.

Commissioned to clarify the situation, McKinsey Global Institute issued a report that included 44 potential interventions that, if implemented, could allegedly return 20 percent of Britain’s overweight or obese people to normalcy within 5 or maybe 10 years. Among the recommendations was a 10 percent tax on high-sugar or high-fat food products.

Earlier this year, Lydia Willgress wrote for The Daily Mail about the ever-increasing number of what are called “exceptionally large babies” in the UK. The cutoff point for normal is 9 lbs., 15 oz., and heavier babies are classified as obese. It is no longer unusual to see a newborn weighing 12 or even 14 pounds. In many such cases, the obstetrical best practice is to deliver the child by Caesarean section, which adds to the National Health Service’s financial burden as another cost of obesity.

Since 2011, a large number of 2-year-olds (28 of them) and 3-year-olds (33 of them) have been admitted to British hospitals for obesity-related treatment. Among the 4- and 5-year-olds of Coventry, who are just starting school, 11 percent are already obese. Less than two months ago, the National Child Measurement Programme announced that the city had elementary school children weighing as much as 315 pounds. Within two weeks of that news, health minister George Freeman proposed that Britain should apply a tax to SSBs and snack foods, saying:

Where there is a product which confers costs on all of us as a society, as in sugar, then we could be looking at recouping some of that through taxation. Companies should know that if you insist on selling those products, we will tax them.

But thanks the Prime Minister and other high officials, food manufacturers know the exact opposite—their products will not be subject to a fat tax. So that’s that.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Call for soft drink sugar tax in UK,”, 01/28/13
Source: “”Sugar is the new tobacco” says expert,”, 01/09/14
Source: “Obesity bigger cost for Britain than war and terror,”, 11/20/14
Source: “Hundreds of babies are now being born clinically obese in the UK, shocking
new figures reveal,”, 03/02/15
Source: “22-stone Coventry children among heaviest in country,”, 05/07/15
Source: “Tory minister’s call for Sugar Tax on snacks and fizzy drinks ruled out by No.10,”, 05/22/15
Image by Ben Salter

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Globesity and Tax in the Far North Tue, 30 Jun 2015 10:00:52 +0000 RMS_fieldday_1410

Childhood Obesity News has been looking back over debates about tax, in recent years, and some of the attempts to implement taxes on soda and junk food to offset the enormous costs of public health care. Around the world, various countries have tried to cope with the problem, experiencing varying degrees of success.

Freakonomics authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt attended a seminar, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, on what to do about childhood obesity, and naturally the subject of a “fat tax” (an umbrella term for taxing various unhealthful goodies) was on the table. Dubner remarked:

One objection that I was surprised no one raised: the simple fact that taxpayers might hate the tax and rebel against it to the point where it becomes politically and economically impossible.

As luck would have it, it was during this conference that Denmark announced it was abandoning a brave and innovative fat tax (affecting oil, butter, sausage, cheese and cream) after only a year of implementation. A government assessment found that there had been a negative effect on the economy, and that the tax had been especially damaging to small businesses. In the wake of this decision, the Danish government also gave up on a planned sugar tax.

In 2014, when Canada was considering a fat tax, people remembered how Jens Klarskov of the Danish Chamber of Commerce had compared the food tax notion to using nuclear weapons for rabbit-hunting—in other words, an unnecessary show of overkill. Journalist Jordan Bateman gave more details on Denmark’s short-lived experiment:

It was an economic disaster: half of all Danes poured south to shop in cheaper Germany, more than 1,300 Danish jobs were lost, and merchants became snared in red tape.

The discredited Danish effort set an unsavory precedent that food-tax opponents eagerly cited time after time. This echo came from Gary Dawson CEO of Australia’s Food and Grocery Council (read: industry lobbyists) who said of Denmark’s aborted fat tax:

It raised food prices, hit the poorest the hardest and failed to bring about any measurable public health benefit—a shocking policy trifecta that no sensible government would want to emulate.

Of the Nordic countries, Finland is the fattest, but when a poll was commissioned earlier this year to take the public temperature regarding a fat tax, the research company found little enthusiasm. Its news service reported:

In the questionnaire about one thousand people were asked, among other things, if more tax money should be allocated for dealing with the problem. As many as 57 percent of respondents weren’t keen on this option. So should there be a fat tax—that is, a surcharge for overweight people using healthcare services? As many as 73 percent of respondents opposed such additional charges.

The researcher also made the sensible point that in Finland, a great deal of the native obesity is attributable to alcohol consumption. Even if it were successfully passed, a fat tax on food would cause social uproar disproportionate to the amount of good effect it might possible have.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fans of a “Fat Tax” Will Be Saddened by the News From Denmark,”, 11/13/12
Source: “Opinion: Food taxes didn’t work in Denmark and won’t work here,”, 05/22/14
Source: “Federal Government backed study into fat tax on fast foods,”, 05/21/13
Source: “Survey: Finns are against fat tax,”, 05/05/15
Image by Tom Woodward

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Antibiotics, Babies, and Obesity Mon, 29 Jun 2015 10:00:49 +0000 Check out the curls!

Childhood Obesity News continues to explore the complicated links between antibiotics, prematurity, ototoxicity, obesity, and epigenetics.

A child born early is more likely to become obese than a full-term child. To prevent infection, it is likely that antibiotics will be administered to a premature baby, increasing the obesity risk. Antibiotics also increase the likelihood of hearing loss, and a deaf child is more likely than his hearing counterpart to be obese. At the present time, with regard to obesity issues, the deaf community is just beginning to be recognized as understudied and underserved. To confuse matters even more, every passing month brings more evidence that the effects of any and all of these conditions can influence future generations in ways we barely understand.

In the 1990s in the United Kingdom, the Avon Longitudinal Study showed that children who had received antibiotics during their first half-year of life were more likely to become obese toddlers. In 2012, a study by the New York University School of Medicine confirmed a suspicious relationship between treating babies under six months of age with antibiotics and their tendency to beef up by the time they reach their third year. The researchers theorized that disruption (read: death) of healthy gut bacteria somehow led to over-absorption of calories. Dr. Charles Bailey, from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, agreed:

One of the side effects of [prescribing a] broad-spectrum antibiotic is not just an upset stomach…not just a little bit of diarrhea that will go away in a week, but…an increased risk of being obese 3 years later.

On the question of whether antibiotic overuse bears any blame for childhood obesity, the answer seems to be affirmative. The nutrients taken in by the body are processed by the intestinal fauna, and if those microorganisms are killed off by antibiotics, trouble ensues. A creature called H. Pylori, for instance, influences the production of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, both of which are connected with obesity.

By now, it is no surprise that future generations are affected. When a girl grows up with an inadequate supply of beneficial fauna, she is unable to pass along the bacterial birthright to the fetus she gestates, who is born already handicapped by a deficient microbiome. Our intestinal tenants influence our size in other labyrinthine ways, and this problem is non-trivial. Michael Pollan wrote:

Children in the West receive, on average, between 10 and 20 courses of antibiotics before they turn 18. And those prescribed drugs aren’t the only antimicrobials finding their way to the microbiota; scientists have found antibiotic residues in meat, milk and surface water as well.

Many activists have tried to warn the public about the ubiquity of these substances. The meat industry accounts for about 70 percent of America’s antibiotic use, which is passed along to any meat-eaters. In a way, the causation of obesity by antibiotics is good news, because that can be changed. There seems to be a slow movement away from meat consumption. On the medical side, retirement is gradually reducing the number of physicians who saw broad-spectrum antibiotics as their go-to answer for everything.

The awareness of doctors can be raised, and parents can be educated to not blindly demand antibiotics for every sniffle. Better yet, scientists can tweak the molecular structure of the medications themselves, tailoring them to cause less harm. It is difficult and very time-consuming, but do-able, as has been shown by Dr. Anthony Ricci and Dr. Alan Cheng. The exciting story of their quest for an aminoglycoside that does not cause deafness can be found at Stanford University’s website.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Early Antibiotic Use Linked to Childhood Obesity,”, 08/21/12
Source: “Medscape Medical News,”, 11/19/13
Source: “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs,”, 05/15/13
Source: “New version of common antibiotic could eliminate risk of hearing loss, study finds,”, 01/02/15
Image by Howard Lewis Ship


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The Cheese Roundup Fri, 26 Jun 2015 10:00:26 +0000 eat block of cheese

When obesity is the topic, cheese is destined to be a star. In Dr. Pretlow’s very useful booklet, “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People” it holds a prominent place on the list of problem foods (see page 33).

Since last discussing cheese, we have collected a few items of cheese trivia. According to Amy Terlisner, NMD, cheese contains the mycotoxin citrinin, a poisonous spore-based life form that may reduce testosterone production and contribute to kidney disease. In her book Life is Hard, Linda Spangle named cheese as one of the specific food types that appeal to a person who is trying to alleviate sadness, rather than some other kind of stress. Many nutrition professionals recommend niacin supplements to counteract cheese cravings.

By the way, depending on its type, cheese just might contain gluten. It is also purported to contain BCM7, which is suspected of affecting the human body like an opiate, is potentially addictive and definitely hinders weight loss.

Anti-cheese activists have a way of describing the stuff that can cause a listener to avoid it for days, if not weeks. The same illustration might look enticing or disgusting, either or both—like one titled “Close-up of Nathan’s Chili Cheese Fries.” The photo might also have been taken at the autopsy of a very obese person. The only indication that it was not is the section of decorated ceramic plate.

How do the corporations and the government conspire to (their words) “trigger the cheese craving?” Why does the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintain a huge agency (with a staff of 160 or so) whose one job is to help fast food companies cram the maximum amount of cheese down the throats of Americans? The Dairy Council named cheese the nation’s #1 snack food. Why is it the prevalent ingredient in almost every fast food genre?

Substance-Use Disorder in DSM-5” aims to help understand the categories and terminology of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In this fanciful little drama, as the exemplar of an abused substance, cheese is the star. Another previous Childhood Obesity News post contains quotations from young visitors to Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website, where many similar messages can be found. In his book, Overweight: What Kids Say, the most relevant and expressive messages have been curated, which provides a certain advantage.

The same post also recalls words from Jen Kirkman. Indeed, cheese seems to hold a special place in the hearts of comedians. “See what I did there?” as the cheesy ones are fond of saying. Here are two more quotations from contemporary stand-up comedy artists:

There’s almost no reason to ever eat cheese. It gives you nothing. It’s all only bad.
—Ari Shaffir

I think I’d give up sex before cheese.
—Candice Thompson

… which segues smoothly into the astonishing news that some people will quit chocolate sooner than renouncing cheese. That is a significant red flag, or ought to be.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Against the Grain: Mycotoxins in Our Food,”, October 2012
Image by


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Antibiotics, Prematurity, Ototoxicity, Obesity, and Epigenetics Thu, 25 Jun 2015 10:00:30 +0000 Premie in incubatorAs Childhood Obesity News recently pointed out, deaf children are at greater risk of becoming obese, and that is only one aspect of a complicated five-way relationship between hearing loss, obesity, prematurity, antibiotics, and the passing along of somatic liabilities to descendents. One corner of the puzzle was described by Mathew Dearnaley for the New Zealand Herald:

Children born prematurely not only risk becoming overweight adults, but they may also hand a legacy of obesity to their own offspring… And although early-born males are far more likely than premature females to pile on unhealthy fat in adulthood…a second generation of children is at greater risk of being overweight compared to other youngsters.

Researchers from the University of Auckland found that a child whose parent (of either gender) had been born prematurely, would have 12 to 21 percent more body fat than a child of full-term parents. Quoted in the story, Associate Professor Paul Hofman noted:

So an environmental insult has an impact in the next generation—it has a heritability about it which is quite scary.

This observation harks back to another recent Childhood Obesity News post, which discussed the work done by Sr. Edward Archer, who realized that depriving pregnant mice of exercise wheels would cause their grandchildren to be fat.

Returning to the topic at hand, there is a link between pre-term birth and obesity. There is also a link between pre-term birth and antibiotics. In 2009, Jeremy Laurance reported for The Independent:

An estimated 20,000 premature babies are treated each year with the powerful antibiotics, called aminoglycosides… Genetic specialists at the Institute of Child Health, who reviewed blood samples from over 9,000 children, found one in 500 had a genetic mutation that made them vulnerable to aminoglycosides.

Premature babies are given antibiotics to bolster their underdeveloped immune systems, but at a horrific price. Such miracle drugs as streptomycin have saved many lives, and have also proven to be ototoxic, poisoning to the ears. Otolaryngologist Anthony Ricci, Ph.D., explains how hearing functions correctly when…

…sound waves open ion channels within the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, allowing their conversion to electrical signals that eventually reach the brain.

But aminoglycosides kill those non-regenerating hair cells and cause deafness. Aminoglycoside use is incredibly widespread, since this type of antibiotic treats pneumonia, sepsis, peritonitis, mystifying infections of unknown origin, and bacterial diseases. It is used to prevent these disasters in kids who suffer from cancer, cystic fibrosis, and prematurity.

Back in 2009, it was believed that only one person in 500 has a genetic mutation making them susceptible to the danger of rogue aminoglycosides. Now, it appears that “an estimated 20-60 percent of all patients who receive these antibiotics suffer partial or complete hearing loss.”

To temporarily sum up: kids born premature already face increased obesity risk. If they are prophylactically dosed with antibiotics, that adds more obesity risk. The antibiotics might also cause deafness, and for a separate set of reasons, that disability adds more obesity risk. This is the simplest, straight-line scenario, but with so many variables and incidental factors, the landscape quickly becomes one of nightmarish confusion.

Next time: more about antibiotics and babies

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Premature birth links to obesity, say researchers,”, 11/23/13
Source: “Antibiotics Blamed for Child Deafness,”, 02/05/09
Source: “New version of common antibiotic could eliminate risk of hearing loss, study finds,”, 01/02/15
Image by Mike Blyth


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An Overlooked and Under-Served Obese Population: the Deaf Wed, 24 Jun 2015 10:00:57 +0000 Cheerleader in Air take #1

We are familiar with the idea that in the United States, children of color are more susceptible to forces, including their own genetic makeup, that cause childhood obesity. There is another demographic whose vulnerability has nothing to do with race: the deaf. The conjunction of deafness and obesity is studied by an organization signified by a mouthful of letters: RPRC:NCDHR, which stands for Rochester Prevention Research Center: National Center for Deaf Health Research.

RPRC is the world’s only research center that employs CBPR, or Community-Based Participatory Research. The Center’s webpage describes “Deaf Strong Hospital 2015,” a role-playing exercise in which deaf people pretend to be health care professionals and professionals, as part of their training, try to explain their medical needs to people who only speak American Sign Language. The results are probably hilarious, and also very revealing of exactly why it has been difficult for the hard-of-hearing population to make its problems understood.

Studying the Health of the Deaf and Hearing Loss Communities

RPRC sees two distinct “health disparity communities”—those who were born deaf and learned American Sign Language, and those who lost their hearing somewhere along the way. Both groups are characterized as overlooked, excluded, understudied, and underserved. Also, RPRC holds the belief that education and training are needed for researchers from all three sectors—the hearing, the Deaf, and the hearing loss communities.

In 2008, RPRC:NCDHR designed a sign language survey and developed “generalizable measures and methods that can be used in research and health surveillance with Deaf populations in other locations.” It included questions from other established studies like the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the National College Health Assessment. The result was a Deaf Health Survey covering 98 items. In the initial round, most of the respondents were either born deaf or had lost their hearing very early. In 2008:

Deaf adults reported low rates of current smoking, and higher rates of overweight/obesity, recent suicide attempts and experiences of interpersonal violence.

The researchers went on to survey adults at the 40th Reunion celebration of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. The results were similar, and also confirmed that “health disparities exist in deaf groups with high educational attainment.”

The Deaf Weight Wise Program

More recently, the university published more information on its Deaf Weight Wise program, a core research project for deaf American Sign Language users designed to “establish the effectiveness of an intervention to reduce weight gain and obesity.” They say with pride:

To our knowledge, this is the first randomized control trial of a healthy lifestyle intervention to be conducted in a Deaf population.

Some of the reasons why deaf people would become obese are easy to understand. Hearing people have stimuli coming in all the time, whether intentional like listening to music, or accidental like the constant ongoing hum of ambient noise that accompanies life. A hearing person can listen to a radio show or podcast, or talk on the phone, or eavesdrop on other people’s interesting conversations, while doing any number of other things like peeling potatoes, mowing the lawn, driving, or catching some rays. A deaf person cannot multi-task in the same way.

The lonely, profound boredom of deafness is difficult to imagine, but when assessing the impact, it helps to remember that sensory deprivation is used as a form of torture. Then there is the fact that when one sense is lost, the others become more acute. However much pleasure a hearing person gets from a piece of strawberry pie, it’s possible that a deaf person enjoys it even more.

A brand new report from Padbury, Australia, (a suburb of Perth) describes the Active Deaf Kids program,designed to tackle the problem. Irena Farinacci of the basketball Deaflympians (and a Deaf Sports Australia development officer) told reporter Mark Donaldson that deaf children have significantly fewer opportunities to participate in sports than their hearing classmates. Last month, 60 kids attended when Farinacci presented an event, along with other deaf athletes from basketball, cricket, and soccer, designed to inspire younger children to participate more and become more fit.

And then…there are the antibiotics, which can also be a factor, and which we will discuss next time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “About RPRC:NCDHR,”, undated
Source: “Deaf Health Survey 2008: Determinants of Health Risk in the Deaf Population,”, 2008
Source: “An Update on Deaf Weight Wise (2009-2014)”, 2014
Source: “Active inspiration,”, 06/23/15
Image by daveynin

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