Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Rating System Smackdown

The Institute of Medicine has just released it's recommendation that all foods be rated with an 'energy star' system: three stars = good, zero stars = bad:
The Energy Star system is a model because it’s simple and easy to use, and also because it’s gained traction with industry, which now develops products with the rating in mind, committee members said.
Except that this rating system hasn't gained traction with industry:
But the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute announced their own front-of-the-pack system, called Facts Up Front, in January. It gives information on calories, saturated fat, sodium and added sugars but doesn’t rate foods according to those components.

In a statement today, the GMA said it has “concerns about the untested, interpretive approach suggested by the IOM committee” and that “consumers have said repeatedly that they want to make their own judgments, rather than have government tell them what they should and should not eat.” The FMI said in an emailed statement that it believes the Facts Up Front program “utilizes the guiding principles recommended by IOM.”
This is a smackdown, ladies and gentlemen.

If this is what the wellness ivory towers are coming up with for America, imagine what other brilliant initiatives we can brace ourselves for as millions of dollars are shifted from grandma's pacemaker to expensive wellness campaigns such as this one.

But in small-town America where the corporate suits have herded, overregulated, and often micromanaged America's workers, ordering the "0 energy-star" food stuffs might be exactly the point:
Hey Mildred, can I have one of those '0-star' cherry pies for my breakfast? And while you're at it, grab a pack of Marlboro Lights, will ya?
Once again, Joe Worker fails to appreciate that the gurus at the institute and food industry are only trying to save him from himself.

When will our regulators get this? Studies have already suggested the futility of these attempts.

But I guess to a carpenter, everything looks like a nail.

-Wes

8 comments:

emmy said...

The problem for me being that I feel their bias for food choices being healthy or unhealthy is based on what foods they are subsidizing, and not on any sound science.

padschicago said...

I have to disagree with the photo of cherry pie ala mode being "zero stars". It should have 10 stars! Ice cream is high in VitD and calcium, the pie is baked using eggs, flour, sugar...the cherries. Cherry pie ala mode covers many of the basic food groups (caffeine and chocolate excluded, unless consumed with a venti mocha:) -bread, protein, dairy, fruit. Its all a matter of perspective! I am sure as a doctor you are also aware that number one our bodies require calories to survive. ;)

Keith said...

For us overweight Americans, the pie and ice cream is a 0 stars. for a starving Somoli?

Most buisiness models in this country have tried to obfuscate and confuse us as to the downsides of the products they sell. Whether it is the fine print that comes with your new credit card or all the hidden charges that appears on your phone bill, American companies have become very good at making it dificult to comparison shop. Nothing is worse than the health care industry where most patients (and even health care workers) don't have a clue what they are paying there providers and whether they are getting the best value for their health care dollar.

Thus I would applaud this attempt to design an easy system of determining whether some foods are fat and calorie laden or not. What is wrong with some easy to interpret information? Much better than attempting to read those labels you have to search for on the box or container. Why is every attempt for the goverment to give us transparent information attacked as some socialist plot? Is not the role of goverment to assure that producers honestly advertise and market their products and to make sure we understand the potential downsides of these products, since we sure can't depend on the producers to let us know.

DrWes said...

Keith-

What is wrong with some easy to interpret information? Much better than attempting to read those labels you have to search for on the box or container. Why is every attempt for the goverment to give us transparent information attacked as some socialist plot?

Now Keith, I did not mention a socialist plot. Are you projecting?

And what ever happened to your allegiance to evidenced-based medicine? Should we just dismiss studies which have suggested these intiatives don't influence behaviors? What costs are we incurring to products with these regulations? Speaking of transparency: who pays for the IOM's get-togethers?

Finally, you say "Most buisiness models in this country have tried to obfuscate and confuse us as to the downsides of the products they sell."

Off topic, but... wow.

emmy said...

What's wrong Keith is that that star rating is telling me that a food is good or bad without giving me the information that I need to make a wise choice. I need to know calorie, carbohydrate, fiber and protein contents of the food I eat,as well as if it contains things like transfats and HFCS. While 100% whole wheat bread is generally consider a wise choice, it contains too many carbohydrates to be compatable with the diet that is working to stabilize my A1c, lipids,insulin and triglyceride numbers. Giving it three stars tells me that it is healthy for the general population. It doesn't mean that it is healthy for everyone.

Tim Hulsey, MD said...

Keith said...
"Most buisiness models... have tried to obfuscate and confuse us as to the downsides of the products they sell."
Yes, and everything the government tries to "nudge" us toward is the gospel, with no ulterior motives, is the ultimate truth. How many times has the government changed its mind on how it thinks we should eat? Looking to the government, whether socialist, communist, fascist, or a representative republic, as an unbiased arbiter of truth is not an activity undertaken by intelligent individuals.

Anonymous said...

Another Example of the IOM demonstrating how out of touch they are with society? their 510k work was another bust. What happened to recommendations that are relevant to the public health?

Keith said...

In reply to Emmy, I would say that the rating is not intended to work for every situation. That is why my opening sentence stated that it is not applicable to starving refugees.

Presumably it related to calorie and fat composition and provides a quick point of reference to determine if this is a calorie laden food. If one wishes to drill down to the actual ingredients in terms of fat, carbs etc., then you can take it one step further.

Most significant levels of obesity exist in high poverty communities where one may not have great choices of nutritious foods, but also where educational levels and health educaton may be lacking. A simple system might prove very helpful in steering people away from the wrong choices.

Wes,

Why be so critical of unproven wellness campaigns while your cardiology brethren still place lots of stents in folks for reasons unknown? If they read their own literature, we could save alot of money so grandma can have her pacemaker. But first, industry has to stop developing pacemakers that offer marginal improvement at 3 times the cost! That is where comparitive effectiveness research will be important. But I already know where you stand on that one!