PepsiCo spent $750,000 in lobbying last quarter, which comes to $3 million per year. This amount is small change to a company with $57.8 billion in global sales, but the news highlights the company’s bipolar relationship to consumer health.
Companies are required to disclose their lobbying activities with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and with the Secretary of the Senate. According to PepsiCo’s lobbying report, the company was generally interested in policies concerning childhood obesity and food and beverage labeling. In terms of specific legislation, PepsiCo opposed guidelines being created by the Interagency Working Group on Food Market to Children (IWG), which would limit the way unhealthy foods could be marketed to children. The company has also fought hard to keep soda from being excluded from nutrition assistance programs, such as food stamp programs.
Although PepsiCo has made a number of changes to improve the public conception of how healthy their products are, the money invested in this kind of lobbying betrays these efforts as little more than token concessions to Americans’ increased interest in healthy eating.
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This week, Congress threw the children of the United States under the school bus when they chose to reject the school lunch nutrition standards proposed by the Agriculture Department (USDA). By congressional mandate, the USDA had been tasked with bringing the National School Lunch (and School Breakfast) Programs into line the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Evaluations had shown that school meals were too high in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium, and too low in fiber from whole grains and from fruits and vegetables. And because school meals are designed to make a substantial contribution to a child’s daily intake, the hope was that a revision would have a positive impact on childhood obesity.
To investigate the issue and make recommendations, the USDA contracted the scientists at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM measured school menus against childhood nutrition standards as well as the practicality of mass food service within cost restraints. In the end, they recommended these service changes to align the program with the Dietary Guidelines:
- Add more fruit at breakfast, including whole fruit
- Add greater amount and variety of vegetables at lunch
- Require both fruit and vegetables on every lunch menu
- Add more whole grain-rich foods and subtract refined grain foods
- Limit milk choices to fat-free (unflavored or flavored) and plain 1% fat
- Increase the emphasis on limiting saturated fat
- Encourage schools to cook with unsaturated oils within the calorie limits
- Minimized the use of foods that contain trans fat
- Using stepwise reductions, create a major reduction in sodium to be achieved fully by 2020
The USDA then put those recommendations into proposed rules* for meal planning:
- Limit starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, to 1 cup (two servings) per week
- Require schools to serve a dark green or bright orange vegetable at least once a week
- Increase the amount of tomato paste that counts as one vegetable from 2-ounces, the amount typically served on one slice of pizza, to a 4-ounce (half-cup) serving
- Make at least half of the grains served at meals ‘whole’ grains
How many recommendations did Congress take? None at all.
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When I helped the first graders at my son’s school with their food group assignment recently, I was amazed at how many were confused about where to place types of food. So many didn’t know what a green bean was, or what strawberries were. Most were completely unaware that fish was a “meat.” It was disheartening and a good glimpse at the nutrition blunders our kids deal with. After hearing this morning’s news, things are going to get much more difficult. According to Congress, pizza will now be placed in the vegetable category.
Surely, I’m not alone in the jaw-drop response to this news. I re-read it just to make sure I was getting this right. But in clear print, the fact that school lunch pizzas contain tomato paste allows Congress to mark it as a vegetable, therefore keeping it on the menu multiple times a month in schools all over the country.
A congressional committee is responsible for this and other ridiculous staples being allowed to stay on our kids’ menus. As a fightback against the Obama administration’s proposal to make school lunches better and healthier for our kids, a bill was released late Monday entailing all the guidelines.
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by Kelsey Murray
We recently released the list of the healthiest cities in the USA. Sadly, my hometown ended up on the list of the unhealthiest cities. There are many factors that determine whether a city or state is considered to be healthy or unhealthy, including the personal health of the citizens, ability for citizens to walk or bike to work, and number of fast food restaurants per square miles (OKC wins again in this bad competition).
Many members of Congress are proud to display their states’ best assets in their offices in Washington, D.C. Often times this includes flags, artwork by artists from their districts, and even local snacks. The New York Times recently released a list of the snacks that several Congress members keep in their offices. Perhaps there is a link between the food political officials offer and how healthy their state is? Let’s take a look.
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