School Food Rules — Sensible or ‘Draconian’?

[before-and-after chart of new USDA standards]

USDA Standards

In 2012, the journal Pediatrics published the results of a study of the effect of “competitive foods” in schools. Those are snacks and drinks available from vending machines and snack bars, which compete with the meals provided by the school’s food service department. For the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise described how researchers compared the progress of kids in states that had no regulations against competitive foods with states where weak laws were in effect, as well as states with strong laws.

The study tracked weight changes for 6,300 students in 40 states between 2004 and 2007, following them from fifth to eighth grade…. Students who lived in states with strong laws throughout the entire three-year period gained an average of 0.44 fewer body mass index units, or roughly 2.25 fewer pounds for a 5-foot-tall child, than adolescents in states with no policies….

The study also found that obese fifth graders who lived in states with stronger laws were more likely to reach a healthy weight by the eighth grade than those living in states with no laws.

Another thing they learned was that weak laws are the same as no laws at all. Other studies showed similar results, and strict regulation appeared to be the only answer. Since then, the federal government has decided to be a strict regulator.

Starting in July when the rules change, “competitive” products can still be stocked by vending machines and school snack shops, but they will not have the same allure. Items that qualify as entrees will be limited to 350 calories and snacks to 200 calories, and they must consist of acceptably healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, or lean protein.

Any item sold on the school grounds will have to be free of trans fats and derive no more than 35% of its calories from fat. A sweet item can only be 35% sugar, and sugar-sweetened beverages will be excluded. The only permitted beverages will be water, fat-free or low-fat milk, and 100% fruit or vegetable juice. CNS News reporter Barbara Boland calls these rules “draconian.”

Really? “Draconian” means drastic, stringent, harsh, extreme, severe, and cruel. The Greek lawmaker Draco decreed that a person could be sold into slavery for owing money, or be sentenced to death for stealing a cabbage. The worst that will happen to a school violating the new food rules is loss of federal funding, which by all accounts is shrinking into near-invisibility anyway.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Study Links Healthier Weight in Children With Strict Laws on School Snacks,”, 08/13/12
Source: “USDA Bans Junk Food in Schools – Will Salty Snacks Move to Black Market?”, 04/14/14
Image by USDA

‘Pouring Rights’: Pay One Way or Another

[graphic of Coke bottles and sillouettes of a man getting wider]]

Tom Philpott reported for Mother Jones on how, since the early 1990s, public schools have been selling “pouring rights” to corporations, with Pepsi and Coke being the biggest players. In this arrangement, the company in question buys the exclusive right to sell beverages in the schools’ vending machines, snack bars, and stores (and, of course, at sporting events). He quoted a typical pouring-rights agreement, made with the school district in Rockford, Ill. — a 10-year contract for which Coca-Cola initially ponied up $4 million, and promised an additional $350,000 per year.

Along with actual product sales, such contracts extend the right to advertise profusely, which adds another level to the distress felt by critics of these arrangements. But the income makes possible the purchase of gym uniforms, field trips, and such classroom aids as the SMART Board, a combination of whiteboard and computer.

What’s not to like?

But wait. What happens if, for instance, all sugary drinks are banned from schools by federal law? Are the 10-year contracts grandfathered in, so that some school districts legally keep soda available while in others it is forbidden? Is that why a long-term agreement was engineered in the first place, to sidestep such a contingency? Or would the school, if halfway through such a contract, have to stop allowing the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages and refund some or all of the payment?

Last time, Childhood Obesity News looked at the situation in Seattle, where for years transportation, school publications, social events, and athletic uniforms had been paid for by the profits from vending machines. In 2004, the city’s schools adopted food health standards that were even stricter than any state or federal law at the time. This had a catastrophic effect on the budget of the Associated Student Body organizations. The school board promised to make up the difference, but it didn’t have any money either. Seattle Times education reporter Brian M. Rosenthal wrote:

Board members apologized to the students for failing to live up to their promise of refunding lost revenue. They said their tight budget makes it impossible to repay the money now, but they pledged to explore revising the ban.

How large a difference did the Seattle ban make? Back in 2001, the schools took in $214,000 from vending-machine sales. In 2011, after several years of strict rules, the vending-machine profit for the entire city’s school system had shrunk to $17,000. That should be good news! The difference represents $197,000 worth of junk food that wasn’t eaten. We should rejoice over all the obesity that was prevented by the city’s introduction of strict rules.

But as Rosenthal pointed out, just because it wasn’t available in the vending machines does not mean all that junk food remained uneaten. Many schools don’t require students to stay on campus all day, and they can easily walk to nearby convenience stores and gas stations where the full array of junk food is available. Tons of unhealthful food and drink are still consumed, and a lot of money is still being spent, but the income goes to those businesses rather than to the student organizations.

Is there a net gain in obesity avoidance? What about all the kids who stayed off sports teams because they couldn’t afford the gear? Didn’t they get fatter? What about the kids who didn’t have enrichment classes and after-school activities to provide them with intellectual stimulation and group fun? Probably a lot of them spent their time playing video games, feeding their faces, and getting fat. That’s the curse of unintended consequences.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “80 Percent of Public Schools Have Contracts With Coke or Pepsi,”, 08/15/12
Source: “School board may ease ban on junk food,”, 12/11/11
Image by Mike Licht

School Food Interventions

[children reaching for salads at school cafeteria]

In many places, there are strong movements to improve school cafeteria meals; to restrict vending machines to healthful items or even ban vending machines altogether; and even to extend the junk food ban to nearby retail establishments. Dr. Pretlow says:

If schools had cigarette vending machines in the halls, obviously kids would get hooked on smoking. Highly pleasurable fast food in school lunches is really no different. We’ve got to stop exposing kids to foods that they can get hooked on.

That’s unarguable, but many questions have arisen in connection with these efforts to reduce obesity by making strict rules for school food, whether it is available in the cafeteria, in vending machines, or both. The fact that kids spend so much time in the school environment is on everyone’s minds, but the implications of any proposed intervention are not so clear.

If someone proposed to install cigarette vending machines in schools, the uproar would be deafening. So why is there not the same level of objection to harmful food with low nutritional value or none at all? Why are so many Americans okay with the availability, in the educational setting, of food that contains harmful fats, additives, sugar, salt, and other undesirable ingredients?

On the theory that “you don’t miss what you never had,” the big mistake was to allow unhealthful foods in the first place. Their availability became taken for granted, and the notion of their acceptability gained a foothold. Worthless and harmful foods were permitted to become part of the culture, and especially of the financial underpinning of the educational system. The unintended consequences of that decision have been enormous, and as we will see, the unintended consequences of trying to revoke that decision are also momentous.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had already banned many foods from schools, but kids could still buy soda, chips, cookies, and candy. The University of Nebraska released news of a study conducted among kids in grades 7-12 at eight schools in the Midwest. The researchers also consulted school administrators and included several other factors in their deliberations. Here is what they learned:

The findings suggest that a single policy shift — banning all junk food from a la carte lines during school lunch hours — would result in an 18 percent reduction in overweight or obese students.

The study suggests expanding the USDA’s current ban on selling so-called Foods of Limited Nutritional Value during school meal times to include all junk food a la carte selections.

The following year, Brian M. Rosenthal reported for the Seattle Times that student governments were besieging the school board with complaints about strict school food rules. Seattle had been an early adopter, with years of enlightened awareness about the harmfulness of junk food and snacks, and rules that matched. Rosenthal wrote:

The policy, approved in 2004 — before any state or federal regulations on school nutrition had been established — put Seattle on the cutting edge of the fight against childhood obesity…. The restrictions, which are more strict than the now-crafted state and federal nutrition guidelines, allow only products such as milk, natural fruit juice, baked chips and oat-based granola bars.

Sadly, the chief reason for the rebellion was financial. The profits from vending machines on school property went to ASB (associated student body) organizations throughout the city. The income pays for the school yearbooks and newspapers, dances, clubs, transportation, and athletic uniforms and equipment. In 2001, the combined ASBs of Seattle had made $214,000. Ten years later, that number was down to $17,000.

Next: More consequences.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “UNL study: Schools that ban junk food at mealtime are 18% lighter,”, 10/28/2010
Source: “School board may ease ban on junk food.”, 12/11/11
Image by U.S. Department of Agriculture

PATHS, Pathways and Peer Pressure

[two small boys playing in a backyard]

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the school-based intervention program Pathways to Health, which grew out of the risk-behavior reduction program known as PATHS. Pathways to Health is all about sharpening and strengthening Executive Cognitive Function (ECF). The object is to avoid and prevent obesity by learning impulse control, emotional regulation, and other related coping skills.

For each grade, kindergarten through sixth, different PATHS curricula have been designed and adapted. The third-grade program, for instance, comprises 46 lessons, of which 10 are introductory, 16 are concerned with feelings and relationships, 17 teach cognitive problem-solving, and three cover relationships and social competence.

The literature traces the process of adaptation for elementary school use. The abundant material that makes up PATHS had to be trimmed down for Pathways to Health.

The PATHS program teaches youth to recognize ∼55 affective states in addition to varying degrees of those states (e.g. angry, upset, furious). Labeling of affective states is a fundamental component of PATHS; thus, many of the earlier lessons are dedicated to recognition and labeling….

For Pathways, the content and mode of delivery had to be changed dramatically to accommodate time constraints. The number of affect states was limited to 39 of those that could be directly linked to physical activity or dysregulated eating behaviors (e.g. angry, bored, guilty, happy, humiliated, rejected, satisfied, tired, uncomfortable, worried)….

This decision was based, in part, on literature that identified categories of emotional eating or provided evidence of a relationship between specific emotional states and dysregulated eating.

For the endocrinological website, H.S. Shin explained a Pathways to Health trial study, showing how peer pressure contributes to behaviors that are called high-risk, including obesogenic behaviors. This was:

…an ongoing longitudinal, multicomponent study that included a childhood obesity prevention program, to determine whether peer influence moderated obesity or had any effects on obesity-related behavior.

Oxford Journals presented a table titled “PATHS lessons with application to obesity,” illustrating 30 points of similarity between an ECF-based drug abuse prevention program, and an obesity prevention program. The idea is fascinating — that the PATHS approach to treating both substance abuse and violence can be repurposed for such a seemingly different problem.

For fourth- and fifth-grade lessons, peer relationships are mentioned five times in the Focus column, under the categories of “Class rules,” “PATHS kid,” “PATHS jeopardy review,” “Feelings review,” and “Making good decisions 1 — self-control resisting peer pressure.” In the area of Applications to Obesity, peer relationships are mentioned four times, including the category “Getting Help from Others.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Translating evidence based violence and drug use prevention to obesity prevention: development and construction of the Pathways program,”, 10/10/11
Source: “Childhood eating habits influenced by peers,”, 2014
Source: “Translating evidence based violence and drug use prevention to obesity prevention: development and construction of the Pathways program,”, 10/10/11
Image byeyeliam

PATHS and Pathways to Health

[children dancing]

The school-based program called Pathways to Health, which is concerned with obesity prevention, developed out of an earlier program called PATHS that was designed to prevent violence and substance abuse. While they may appear to be very different problems, at the most elemental level violence, substance abuse, and obesity all qualify as risk behavior, and they all are rooted in Executive Cognitive Function (ECF).

Poor ECF, plus a dysregulation of emotion, contribute to undesirable behavior patterns. In obesity, the behavior patterns have to do with eating and physical activity, which at first blush don’t seem similar to drug abuse or violence. But drugs and hyperpalatable foods both affect the brain’s reward circuitry. Aggression and overeating are both connected with poor impulse control and other inadequately regulated emotions. According to this paradigm, they all come from the same place. This Oxford Journals article explains:

PATHS was based on the principles of emotion theory but more specifically the Affective–Behavioral–Cognitive–Dynamic (ABCD) model of development The ABCD model places primary importance on the developmental integration of affect, behavior, cognition and emotion language.

PATHS addresses impulse control, emotional regulation, and executive cognitive function. But it goes even deeper. The Pathways program also draws from STAR, a program said to successfully prevent substance abuse, which is described as follows:

A number of STAR constructs were applicable to Pathways, including resistance skills in response to peer pressure, self-efficacy, counteracting perceived social norms, healthy decision making based on perceived consequences of behavior and lessons involving parents (prevention communication, rule setting, leisure and family physical activity).

Decision-making and self-regulation count as “important modifiable risk factors,” which is another way of saying that people can change. When goal achievement is itself a goal, where does the ability to regulate behavior and make decisions come from? ECF covers the territory of working memory, planning, organization, emotional control, and inhibitory control. While the process may be lengthy and painstaking, all those skills can be taught and learned.

In obesity prevention, inhibitory control is obviously vital, especially for contemporary children whose environment is filled with cues for the overconsumption of hyperpalatable and obesogenic foods. These cues include advertising, cultural mores, social expectations, and the almost constant availability of food every moment of the day.

Those prompts come from the outside, but emotional control is equally necessary to quell the cues that come from inside — feelings of boredom, discomfort, rejection, emptiness, and all the other sources of strong affect and behavioral impulses that need to be cognitively managed if obesity is to be avoided. The literature describes a specific Pathways example in which students are asked to imagine a specific scenario:

…a vignette describing a Thanksgiving dinner, a student stuffed full of food and then a beloved grandmother bringing out her dessert in which she insists everyone must partake. Teachers prompt students for their internal feeling states, how others might feel, a behavioral choice students could make and the consequences as a result of that choice.

It’s like a dress rehearsal for a situation that could very easily arise in a child’s life. To sum up, Pathways to Health is an obesity prevention program whose intent is not to teach the principles of nutrition or exercise, but to help children develop the inner resources to know what to do about nutrition and exercise. The concept is for each person to create the mental and emotional tools to control the behaviors that lead to poor nutrition and cultivate the behaviors that lead to engaging in plenty of physical activity, and so on.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Translating evidence based violence and drug use prevention to obesity prevention: development and construction of the Pathways program,”, 03/13/12
Image by David Robert Bliwas

A PE Teacher Reaches Out

[row of trophies]

Some kids are more sensitive than others and have a lower tolerance for teasing and bullying. This kind of persecution is bad enough when it originates from peers, but when a teacher or a coach says cruel things, many overweight children react by sliding into disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

A report from the National Institutes of Health mentioned how interpersonal difficulties in school can lead to the abuse of food, including the obsessive need to control eating, as a coping mechanism. It goes on to say:

In addition, history of depression and history of teasing by a teacher or coach have been linked to the onset of an eating disorder.

So, imagine a situation the radical opposite of that — in which a middle school physical education teacher writes to the interactive website Reddit and asks for advice on how to deal with a boy who weighs more than 400 pounds – “literally too big for the scale we use.” According to his records, this unfortunate youth had weighed an unbelievable 150 pounds in kindergarten. Throughout the years, he had received counseling, and attempts had been made to work with his parents and grandparents. At one point the education authorities had even tried to persuade social services to intervene and separate him from his family as an abused child.

Crowd-sourced help

The teacher asked advice on what exercises this student could do without incurring injury, but more importantly, for suggestions on how to keep him motivated and able to achieve some degree of success. The teacher’s plea for help elicited 220 comments from readers, including one that urged an exception to school rules so the boy could wear sweatpants rather than shorts in PE class.

Another reader stressed the importance of letting the morbidly obese boy set his own goals, like adding one more repetition of an exercise than the last time, or even doing the same workout but feeling a bit less tired. The teacher also heard from a former 400-pound eighth-grader for whom “gym was the absolute most frightening thing in the entire world.” This person, who remembered gym classes where he felt like a member of an alien species, advised:

In terms of how to teach him, remind him that all you want from him is his best effort, regardless of how that may look compared to the other kids. If you set him up with goals, they ought to be little, one-week goals that he can see immediately (5 more minutes around the track than last week, etc). Above all else, remind him that he is a valuable person and that you believe in him.

If only all PE teachers and coaches possessed such deep reserves of humility and compassion, what a difference that could make for overweight and obese kids everywhere.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Weight Management and Eating Disorders in Children and Adolescents,”, 04/01/12
Source: “I’m a pe teacher who needs advice about a morbidly obese student,”, 01/28/14
Image by Snap®

Corporate Muscle Maintains Childhood Obesity

[ominous shadows of a man and a child]

Some news stories remain current and relevant for a long time. For instance, one branch of the United Nations is the Food and Agriculture Organisation, whose mission is “to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.” Four years ago during FAO’s Compassion in World Farming Conference, speakers regretted how corporate interests insist on “blocking reforms which would improve human health and the environment.”

A world problem

Juliette Jowit reported on the remarks made by Dr. Samuel Jutzi, speaking as the Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division. Because the FAO operates on the basis of consensus, Dr. Jutzi regretted that “powerful lobby groups were able to delay decisions, sometimes for many years, and ‘water down’ proposed improvements.” When dealing with a large number of national governments, it’s not difficult for opponents to persuade enough delegates of their viewpoint, to stall or derail any suggestion.

Among the decisions not made and the measures not taken are many that would affect the worldwide obesity epidemic, and the childhood obesity nightmare in particular. Tom Lang, a professor of food policy, warned of ongoing efforts by corporate lobbyists to influence the FAO and similar organizations, and to negate their effectiveness. Even worse, Jowit wrote:

Lang said corporate interests had also become ‘embedded’ inside UN organisations through close and regular contacts between the people involved. ‘They don’t need to lobby increasingly, and mostly they are part of the architecture of power,’ he said.

Speaking as the director of public affairs for Compassion in World Farming, Joyce d’Silva spoke about how hard that organization tries to influence opinion, going up against major agribusiness corporations and national governments hostile to change. Jowit wrote:

She added that it was ‘horrifying’ that ‘the narrow interests of certain commercial sectors can have more influence than organizations which represent the values and aspirations of millions of citizens.’

Not much has changed. Today, are narrow commercial interests able to wield more influence than groups that try to make the voices of millions of citizens heard? Are corporate lobbyists still hard at work trying to buy influence? Are they still able to easily throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of progress? Yes, yes, and yes. Michael Pollan says of the American way of doing things:

The Congressional committees in charge of agricultural policies remain dominated by farm-state legislators openly hostile to reform…. the power of agribusiness has scarcely been disturbed.

One of the most explicit books about this ugly subject is Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children by Joel Bakan, who also wrote another book called The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl reviewed Childhood Under Siege, noting that the author includes separate chapters devoted to each of eight ways in which corporations exploit children. Typical is their habit, Young-Bruehl writes, of “addicting children to regimes of sugar and caffeine, contributing to zooming rates of childhood obesity and diabetes and neurological disorders.”

Corporations in your head

Especially discomfiting is Bakan’s contention that corporations are taking over the public education system with the aim of training children to be massive consumers and good corporate citizens. This co-opting is already happening with adults, such as required (and corporate-sponsored) continuing education for health professionals, as Childhood Obesity News has discussed. Here is the reviewer’s recommendation:

If a group of legislators or policy-makers concerned about protecting children and childhood from being targeted by corporations were looking for a briefing book, a catalogue of abuses, Joel Bakan’s Childhood Under Siege would certainly be the right choice. It would inform them about the key American fronts of an undeclared corporate anti-child war.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Corporate lobbying is blocking food reforms, senior UN official warns,”, 09/22/10
Source: “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System,”, 09/14/11
Source: “Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children,”, 09/06/12
Image by Ctd 2005

Girl Scouts on Wrong Path to Healthy Living

little girl poses with box of Girl Scout cookies

Back in 2001, the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota surveyed 234 Girl Scouts and found that almost one-third of them were trying to lose weight. Most of these children were doing sensible things like shunning high-fat foods and engaging in more exercise. Here’s the scary part:

12 girls said they were already taking diet pills, inducing vomiting and/or using laxatives to shed unwanted pounds.

All the girls in the survey were approximately 10 years old! Ten years later, healthy living enthusiast Stephanie Hoaglund published her thoughts about seeing thousands of Girl Scouts converge on Washington for the organization’s 100th anniversary celebration. The sight of a great many overweight troop leaders left her saddened, disappointed, angered, and annoyed.

With no intention of criticizing the Girl Scouts as a whole, she was moved to write about the experience, suggesting programs that would help both the kids and the troop leaders get and stay in shape, as well as some serious re-engineering of the cookie recipes. Hoaglund wrote:

If the Girl Scouts as an organization is truly behind empowering girls and helping them succeed in LIFE, they owe them nothing less than going all in and really backing up their words about overall health and fitness goals.

An anonymous blogger known as Dances With Fat displayed a bit of attitude the following year. First, it upset DWF that the Girl Scouts adhered to an oft-disputed “persistent myth,” the energy balance theory of weight control. A proponent of simple observation and anecdotal evidence, the writer argued:

Almost everyone knows someone who eats tons of food never works out and stays thin. On the other side, almost everyone knows a fat person who eats healthy and exercises but doesn’t lose weight (although, curiously, the calories in /calories out proponents typically say that the former is perfectly normal and the latter is impossible).

DWF also noted that in the previous decade, hospitalization of children under 12 for eating disorders had risen by 119%. Worse, the Scouts had made what the writer characterized as a “massive misstep” by partnering with the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which apparently charged the GSA $250,000 for some kind of weight control program. Despite having “foundation” in its name, this is not a nonprofit group. According to the writer,

These people are interested in promoting ‘energy balance’ because it takes [the] focus off the quality of the food…. They get to say that they are ‘doing something’ about childhood obesity… and they are doing [it] with … government money and, unbelievably, public donations….

There is plenty of evidence that suggests that teaching calorie counting to Brownies and Girl Scouts makes them more likely to develop eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise.

Was DWF correct to be suspicious of such a well-paid organization whose present and previous board members included the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, the CEO of the Hy-Vee retail chain, the CEO of Kellogg’s LINK, and – wait for it – a board president who was also on the board of the Girl Scouts? Could anyone be blamed for detecting in this arrangement a faint whiff of conflict of interest?

Then more recently, Dr. John Mandrola got all over the GSA’s case for “selling high-fat sugar-laden cookies to an increasing calorie-addicted populace.” He maintains that such a practice certainly does not build character. He calls the cookie sales “profiteering at the expense of public health” and concludes: “It’s simply not right.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Preteen Girls Hop On Dieting Bandwagon,”, 03/14/01
Source: “Girl Scouts vs. Health and Fitness,”, 2011
Source: “Girl Scouts – Cookie Sales and Calorie Counting?”, 05/23/12
Source: “Dear Girl Scouts: It’s time to cut out the cookies,”, 03/16/14
Image by North Charleston

‘Say Cheese!’ Government and Corporations Urge

[cheeseburgers stacked with five or six patties]

Cheese appears to be addictive because of the casein it contains, and it definitely contains a lot of fat. So why does the government collude with corporations that want to stuff more of it down out throats?

In a 2003 article, Dr. Neal Barnard traced some of the history of the movement to push cheese, which was already well underway. In 1996, a federal program helped Subway with a plan to sell an extra 70,000 pounds of cheese. Dr. Barnard says that in 1975 the average American consumed 15 pounds of cheese per year. By 1999, enabled by the federal government, the cheese industry had raised that number to an average of 30 pounds per year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture made a special report to Congress in 2000 which included mention of how the government had helped the cheese manufacturers in convincing fast-food franchises “to make sure that cheese was prominently displayed in menu items.”

Millions and millions

In the same year, a program officially sanctioned by the government helped Wendy’s sell 2.25 million pounds of cheese in a special promo program for the Cheddar Lover’s Bacon Cheeseburger. Another government-enabled campaign for the Ultimate Cheese Pizza, a Pizza Hut creation, helped that corporation peddle 5 million pounds of the stuff in six short weeks.

Then there was the Cheese Forum, to which a Dairy Management Inc. executive brought a visual presentation about how to get the retailers on board, which Dr. Barnard describes like this:

One slide asked the question ‘What do we want our marketing program to do?’ and then gave the answer: ‘Trigger the cheese craving.’ Mr. Cooper concluded with a cartoon of a playground slide with a large spider web woven to trap children as they reached the bottom.

Four years later the Dairy Council touted cheese as the country’s #1 snack food.

In 2011, nothing had changed and the government was still on both sides. About this conflict of interest, body builder and personal trainer Kevin Richardson wrote:

The recent revelation that the US Department of Agriculture had been working with fast food restaurants to increase the amount of cheese that people eat in pizzas while the administration talks [about] fighting a war against obesity is a classic example…. Our tax dollars subsidize everything from price supports to marketing and food promotion programs.

And how is the egregious conflict of interest faring today? A March 2014 AlterNet article by Martha Rosenberg describes the USDA “marketing creation” known as Dairy Management, which employs 162 people, all determined to induce Americans to eat more cheese. She says this about the efforts of our very own Department of Agriculture on behalf of the “double your cheese” team:

Dairy Management … received $5.3 million from the USDA during one year, for an overseas dairy campaign, which almost equals the total $6.5 million budget of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion — the group that cautions us about fatty foods like cheese. Yes, the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it tells the public what to put in its mouth.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Breaking the Food Seduction,”, 2003
Source: “The Economics Of Obesity: Why The Food Industry Needs Us To Overeat,”, 05/11/11
Source: “Americans Are Huge: 5 Surprising Reasons Why We May Be Getting Fatter,”, 03/12/14
Image by Jim Wall

The Case Against Casein

[grilled cheese sandwich]

For people who cope by eating the world, different emotional needs bring out different food cravings. Dr. Pretlow says:

The book, Life is Hard, Food is Easy, by Linda Spangle, notes that specific types of foods are preferred to ease sadness versus stress. Sweet, creamy, soothing foods (e.g. chocolate, ice cream, cheese) are preferred when sad or depressed, versus crunchy, chewy, action foods (e.g. chips, nuts, candy bars) when nervous or under tension.

Dr. Pretlow’s book Overweight: What Kids Say includes quotations from many young people about their struggles with food. Here are three brief excerpts concerning cheese:

(from a 14-year-old)
If im posting things on here im obviously bored and sad, i was just about to make cheese nachos…

(from an 18-year-old)
i’m afflicted with emotional eating!!! ever since 12 years old, every time im stressed out or feeling down, uncool, i start eating… i cant deal with myself – deep into the binge of cheese, peanut butter and cookies.

(from a 20-year-old)
I used to eat cubes of cheese and drink milk in the afternoon… no more.

Comedian Jen Kirkman talks about a cheese addiction that blossomed after a certain event, adding 30 pounds to her frame:

Everyone said to me the same thing when I gained all my weight, they were like, ‘Well, it’s just ’cause you got married, you’re a newlywed and you’re happy, that’s why you gained the weight.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I thought I gained the weight because every night I sit in front of the TV eating a block of cheese with my bare hands like it’s a sandwich.’

Cheese has a venerable history and a reputation for being a natural food, which it almost is. A lot of processing goes into the making of cheese, but relative to some other foodstuffs, it’s no big deal. There is nothing wrong with ingesting protein and calcium. The thing is, cheese also contains a substance called casein.

Starre Vartan once asked Amy Lanou of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) about what happens when casein gets inside the human body, and the ancient reason for it:

‘Caseins convert to casomorphines, which are chemically similar to morphine, when they break down during digestion. It’s these casomorphines that are addictive. All mammalian mothers’ milk contains casomorphines so that the young will return to the breast for milk.’ Since we are the only mammal that regularly drinks the milk of other animals, Lanou posits that it’s this process that’s behind humanity’s affection for cheese.

Comfort food, indeed! The PCRM researchers were moved to look into this question by the results of a study in which 59 women switched to a strict vegan diet. When queried about the food from the meat and dairy categories that they missed most, the majority of them named cheese. Dr. Neal Barnard wrote extensively about casein in relation to naloxene, the opiate-blocking drug used to treat overdoses of heroin and morphine. Patients who are given naloxene tend to experience greatly reduced cravings for cheese, as well as chocolate, sugar, meat, and other foodstuffs suspected of having addictive qualities.

Stephen Lau explains the potency of cheese cravings as resulting from the amounts of casein in this “concentrated protein with water and lactose sugar extracted.” When processed in this way, it’s like the difference between the benign effects of coca leaves plucked from a bush, and the devastating effect of the same chemical when highly concentrated, as in crack cocaine.

Casein is present in lesser amounts in milk, butter, and ice cream, as we would expect, and is also introduced into a wide variety of processed foods because of its “functional” properties, like the ability to improve foaming, whipping, emulsifiying, and tenderizing. Dan Mahony put together an array of links to resources that have something to say about casein, including one that lists a dismaying number of items that contain casein.

There are also links to sources describing evidence that casein makes lab animals and humans want to eat more of everything. One study found that, astonishingly, some people find cheese addiction even more difficult to break free of than nicotine addiction.

More unwelcome news — studies have indicted casein in relation to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, autism, schizophrenia, depression, arthritis, migraine, abnormal cell growth and cancer, especially of the prostate. But that’s not all — other researchers have found connections with high blood pressure, malabsorption of vitamin D, testosterone overproduction, and even pet obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Joke of the Day,”, 05/03/11
Source: “Just like cheese? Avoiding ‘addiction’ with dairy-free alternatives,”, 2004
Source: “Breaking the Food Seduction,”, 2003
Source: “Why are you Addicted to Cheese?”, 02/22/08
Source: “Is Casein A Hidden Cause of Obesity and Diabetes?”, undated
Image by Maggie Hoffman

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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