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Campaign Against Obesity & Junk Foods Moves Forward

May 2004
>From Informed Eating Newsletter <>

Warning: Food Might Be Addictive

Those who object to comparisons of junk food with tobacco are quick to point
out that smoking tobacco is addictive, while as far as we know, eating junk
food is not. That may no longer be true. A recent study involving brain
scans showed that when people saw and smelled their favorite foods, their
brains lit up in a manner similar to reactions seen in cocaine addicts. When
subjects were presented with foods such as cheeseburgers, pizza, fried
chicken, ice cream, and chocolate cake, brain metabolism increased
significantly in those areas of the brain known to be associated with

"These results could explain the deleterious effects of constant exposure to
food stimuli, such as advertising, candy machines, food channels, and food
displays in stores," said Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, of Brookhaven National
Laboratory, who led the study. He added: "The high sensitivity of this brain
region to food stimuli, coupled with the huge number and variety of these
stimuli in the environment, likely contributes to the obesity epidemic."

Meanwhile, officials at the Food and Drug Administration are considering
placing warning labels on packages of unhealthy foods. According to an
interview in the Boston Globe, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug
Administration, Lester M. Crawford, said that food labels could be
transformed ''from providing information into providing warnings." The bold
idea is still only under discussion among high-level government officials.
Any warning label on food would be less harsh than those on cigarette packs.
''We could consider saying, 'If you indulge in this, there may be health
consequences,"' Crawford said.

Any such effort could take years to enact, especially given the loud
opposition the idea is likely to garner from industry. But someday, we may
find out that warning labels on food are just about as effective as they are
on cigarettes.

Sources: Reuters, 04/20/04
Boston Globe, 04/23/04

Update: Anti-Obesity Lawsuit Legislation

The National Restaurant Association continues its effort of going state by
state to lobby for legislation that would ban health-related lawsuits
against the food industry. While the federal version, the so-called
³Cheeseburger bill,² awaits consideration in the Senate after having passed
the House in March, Big Food¹s lobby is gaining ground in some states, while
facing setbacks in others. To date, 25 states have introduced such bills,
with seven having been enacted, and five awaiting a governor¹s signature.
Here in California, the bill was defeated by a 6-3 vote of the Assembly
Judiciary Committee. Testifying in opposition were CIFC¹s Michele Simon,
Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, and
representatives from Consumer Attorneys of California. While we were
outnumbered by the bill¹s proponents from the food industry, enough
committee members showed the courage to vote no. Let¹s hope the U.S. Senate
and other states can also withstand industry pressure.

Source: National Restaurant Association Website


Healthier Foods in School Vending Machines

Several more school districts have joined the growing movement to ban junk
food sold in school vending machines, giving energy to state and national
efforts. By next fall, vending machines in all New Haven, Connecticut
schools are to be stripped of junk food. Soda will be replaced by water,
juice and milk, while baked chips will replace fried, and granola will
replace cookies. Meanwhile, a bill is pending in the Connecticut legislature
that would require all schools to offer healthier items such as juices,
water, and dried fruit, and ensure a 20-minute recess.

In Chicago, the nation's third-largest public school district plans to ban
soft drinks, candy, and fat-laden snacks from school vending machines,
replacing them with healthier offerings by next fall. The Chicago district
said it is seeking proposals to replace its exclusive and expiring beverage
contract with Coca-Cola with offerings restricted to 100 percent fruit
juices in elementary schools and at least 50 percent fruit juice in high
schools. Snacks in school vending machines must have no more than 30 percent
of their calories from fat and no more than 40 percent sugar by weight.
Candy and chewing gum would be banned outright. On the state level last
month, Colorado passed a law to require school vending machines to provide
more nutritious selections by 2006.

All this effort comes not a moment too soon, as the Center for Science in
the Public Interest just last week released the results of a nationwide
survey of 1,420 vending machines in 251 middle schools and high schools. Not
surprisingly, their study showed that 75 percent of the drinks and 85
percent of the snacks sold are of poor nutritional value. To address the
problem on a national level, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) have each introduced legislation that would give the
USDA the authority to set nutrition standards on foods sold outside of the
National School Lunch Program.

Sources: Reuters, 04/20/04, 04/22/04
Associated Press, 05/03/04
Center for Science in the Public Interest Press Release, 05/11/04
The Center for Informed Food Choices in a nonprofit organization that
advocates for a whole foods, plant-based diet and educates about the
politics of food.

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Informed Eating is written and edited by Michele Simon. You may contact her
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