Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"J" for Junk - Rating Junk Food Advertising to Kids?

Soft drink manufacturers spend an average of $20 per American teenager in advertising. That’s a lot of money to spend to convince a kid that your brand of high fructose corn syrup is better (or cooler or hipper) than another brand of high fructose corn syrup.

Such astonishing outlays of advertising cash have promoted the FTC to (again) look into junk food advertising aimed at kids (as they did in the 1970s and 1980s - both times being squashed by aggressive Congressional lobbying from manufacturers of soda, cereal, and fast food).

To get an idea of the scale of the marketing of junk food to kids, take a look at the recent FTC report on the topic ( and also check out the award-winning obesity documentary, Killer at Large ( for a startling “behind the scenes” look at the nation’s obesity epidemic and the role advertising plays (you’ll see Shrek selling everything from Twinkies to Happy Meals).

The FTC continues to call on food and beverage manufacturers and marketers to “do more” to regulate themselves - but many feel that this call for self-regulation is too passive. The soda and cupcake lobby, not surprisingly, feels that any government regulation of predatory advertising practices aimed at kids infringes their First Amendment rights to advertise poison to children.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly agree that there needs to be some “middle road” between encouraging companies to market healthier foods and restrictions on marketing certain types of foods to certain demographics. You have to agree that spending $20 per American teen to market soda is excessive.

Will the government step in and impose advertising regulations on food and beverage companies? If history is any guide, the answer is NO. As we documented in the Killer at Large film, efforts by the FTC to limit junk food advertising to kids has been viciously beaten back by aggressive lobbying on every occasion it has been proposed over the past 3 decades. The remote possibility exists, however, that the next Presidential administration and Congress will actually give a damn about the abysmal health and diet of the average American child, which may spur them into regulatory action if the companies fail to take action.

How do you encourage food companies to limit junk food advertising and increase the development and marketing of more healthful foods? YOU BUY THE HEALTHIER STUFF! Let’s face it - Junk food sells because people eat it - and eat LOTS of it.

Why do they eat it? Because it tastes good.
Why do they buy it? Because it’s cheap.

Would people eat less junk food if they knew that it made them fatter, and dumber, and closer to disease and death? How about if every package of junk food was required to carry a RATING sticker (like for movies or video games) - so your Twinkies would carry a big black “J” for “Junk” and your Pepsi would carry a big black “F” for “Fat” - would that get us to consume these products in reduced amounts?

How can we get junk food consumption to become socially discouraged? When does being seen at the fast food drive-thru window become as undesirable as being seen at the adult video store? When does ordering a Coke with your lunch become as disgusting as picking your nose in front of friends? Junk food has become such an ingrained part of our obese culture and nothing short of a cultural shift will be able to change the dismal public health future that we are all facing (not the mention the obvious “personal health future” that most of us are facing on a day-to-day basis).

Do something. See Killer at Large. Get motivated.

Thanks for reading,

Shawn Talbott, PhD
I also blog on a daily basis at: (about various health and wellness topics) (about the pros and cons of dietary supplements) (about weight loss, metabolism, and feeling better) (about traditional Asian medicine, or TAM) (about nutrition for endurance athletes) (about metabolism, nutrition, exercise, and energy)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dietary Supplement Regulation?

I gave a seminar on dietary supplements this weekend in San Antonio - and was asked to comment on “Why the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements?” This is a very common question based on a huge misperception among consumers, health professionals, and journalists. The truth of the matter is that the FDA strongly regulates the dietary supplement industry - but it does so using different metrics compared to the other industries over which it has oversight (drugs, medical devices, and foods).

The FDA has the power and jurisdiction to take supplements off the market, ban them for sale, restrict claims, impose fines, and arrest violators and throw them in prison (as just happened to Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals founder, Steve Warshak, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after his conviction on 93 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering). You can’t get much more “regulated” than a 25 year prison sentence!

Where people (including journalists) get confused is in the differences in regulations between drugs and supplements. Drugs are “new to the world” synthetic molecules that have unknown effects in the human body - so the FDA requires a certain level of pre-market testing and evaluation of the efficacy and safety of these new compounds before allowing them onto the open market. In many recent examples, even the extensive pre-market studies of new drugs is not enough to prevent serious adverse side effects (drugs for cholesterol reduction, pain management, depression, and attention deficit have all been linked recently to serious adverse health effects, including death).

On the other hand, dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs, are part of the natural world, and as such, are considered by the FDA to be more like foods than like drugs. This means that the FDA regulates dietary supplements more like it does typical foods like peanut butter and cupcakes, than like synthetic chemical compounds like pharmaceuticals.

Does this mean that all dietary supplements, being “natural,” are also safe? Certainly not - and consumers still need to be vigilant about product claims (which are closely regulated by both the FDA and FTC) as well as prudent in their use of any supplements. By using supplements as directed, and especially by looking for specific products that are backed by scientific evidence (i.e. human feeding trials on the finished product formulation), consumers can be reasonable confident that they are getting a product that provides worthwhile benefits.

Thanks for reading,

Shawn Talbott, PhD

I also blog on a daily basis at: (about various health and wellness topics) (about the pros and cons of dietary supplements) (about weight loss, metabolism, and feeling better) (about traditional Asian medicine, or TAM) (about nutrition for endurance athletes) (about metabolism, nutrition, exercise, and energy)

Candy Bars and Jelly Beans are Healthy?

Maybe you find it as ironic (or hypocritical) as I do that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), which has a mission of “Advancing health through science, education and medicine” has selected makers of candy bars and jelly beans to be “platinum” sponsors of its 13th Annual Health & Fitness Summit to be held March 25-28, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Irony (noun) = incongruity between what actually happens and what might be expected to happen, especially when this disparity seems absurd or laughable

I must admit, that as a Fellow of the ACSM, I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry when I read that Mars (makers of high-fat M&Ms and Milky Way candy bars) and Jelly Belly (makers of high-sugar jelly beans) were prominent sponsors of Health & Fitness Summit in 2009 (behind only Gatorade in terms of sponsorship dollars).

The marketing material for the event asks me to “BE INSPIRED” by presentations on Coronary Heart Disease, Diabetes, Obesity, and Cancer – while also asking me to “GET MOTIVATED” by ACSM’s “workout gurus” (their terminology) who will help me develop better balance, stability, strength, cardiovascular fitness, and overall health.

I’m not sure that I’m either “inspired” or “motivated” to attend any conference “brought to you by BIG CANDY” – would you be?

I can already hear people saying “everything in moderation” – which I agree with (who doesn’t enjoy an occasional handful of M&Ms?) – but I also train for Ironman triathlons and 12-hour ultra-distance trail runs, so I can “afford” an occasional treat (or cheat) in my diet (as can many of the hyper-fit exercise gurus who will be attending the Summit).

BUT, the implication of the cozy relationship between BIG CANDY and ACSM is that junk food is just fine – and all you have to do is “exercise enough” and you’ll be fine. The reality is that the average American adult, teen, and child is NOT getting enough exercise to work off even a single M&M or Jelly Belly. How many more kids with “adult-onset” diabetes do we have to see before we wake up and realize that this mentality is not just wrong – it’s dangerous and irresponsible?

I invite anyone who is concerned about the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes (which affects 2 out of 3 Americans), to spend a few minutes viewing the trailer for the award-winning documentary on the topic, Killer at Large ( - it is a sobering and eye-opening look at the many factors underlying the causes of obesity and related chronic diseases in our society (many of which, you probably have NO idea about).

I have also invited ACSM to set aside a room and a block of time for their members to attend a FREE screening of Killer at Large during the 2009 Health & Fitness Summit (at my personal expense). As Executive Producer of the film, I have made it my mission to get as many health professionals, concerned parents, and community activists as possible to see Killer at Large and to use it as a platform to institute grassroots ACTION to address the causes of obesity in their own communities. This is a National effort, but it must be carried out by individual action on a local level. Please accept my invitation and join me in this mission.

Thanks for reading,

Shawn Talbott, PhD (FACSM)

I also blog on a daily basis at: (about various health and wellness topics) (about the pros and cons of dietary supplements) (about weight loss, metabolism, and feeling better) (about traditional Asian medicine, or TAM) (about nutrition for endurance athletes) (about metabolism, nutrition, exercise, and energy)