[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
SPEAKER 2: Calories are the source of health problems affecting billions of people in today's globalized world. And these units of energy are a mystery to many of us. In a September 2012 talk at Mann Library, Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, and Malden Nesheim, Cornell University Provost Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Sciences draw from their recent book, Why Calories Count, to explain what calories are and how they work, both biologically and politically.
While highlighting the ways that federal and corporate policies have worked to create and eat-more environment in the United States, Why Calories Count reviews the fundamental issues of dieting, weight gain, weight loss, and obesity. The book arms readers with the information to interpret food labels, evaluate diet claims, and understand evidence as presented in popular media.
Thank you very much Marion for that very nice introduction. It's really a pleasure to be here. This is the second one of these that Marion and I have done. A little bit of a change of pace because we did do one on our pet food book about a couple of years ago, which we had a lot of fun with.
So we're here to talk about our book called Why Calories Count. And the subtitle of this book is From Science to Politics. And I'm going to say a few words about the science and Marion is going to talk about politics. But why did we do a book on calories? I mean, calories seems to be something everybody knows about. Except when we started digging into it, nobody really knew what a calorie was.
Marion had published several of her books with the University of California Press. And her editor there said to Marion, you really ought to write a book about calories. And we kind of looked at each other when you heard that. And we said, that's really a good idea. And she said, would you help me?
So I said yes. So there we are. We wrote this book together. It came out last April, had a lot of fun doing it.
And I want to tell you a little bit about the background of it. We wrote this book primarily because there's so much information out there about calories that is so confusing. First of all, people don't know what they are. There's a whole lot of discussion and popular literature about them. And we thought we ought to try to make a book that would provide some of the basic information about calories, so that people could kind of make judgments about all the things they are bombarded with when it comes to talking about calories. So that's the kind of background for the book.
So the other background for the book, of course, is what's happened in the United States in the last 30 years. I mean, right now about 34% of the United States population is considered obese. And if you add to that those that are considered overweight, it's about 2/3 of the US population is overweight or obese. It's something that has happened in the last 30-some years. It really went up since about 1980.
In 1960, if you took men, the average weight of men from 19 to about 75 years old, they weighed 174 pounds. In 2000, they weigh 20 pounds more. They weigh 195 pounds. Same thing with women. They've gained 20 pounds in the last many years as well.
So the whole population has moved up. Not everybody has gone up that much. So there's some people have gained a lot more and some have not gained any at all.
And the other disturbing trend has been, of course, with children, where are the trends in overweight in children has just been continuing. And you look until about 20% of children, 12 to 19, in the 2007 and 2008 are overweight compared to those many years-- several years earlier.
So the problem of obesity has become a major issue in the United States. And it's not just the United States. Around the world, the same thing is happening. If you look at other developed countries in the world, you see that same trend. People are getting heavier and body weights are increasing.
Now, you do see calories everywhere. And so the label-- there's actually a tie-- a group that's called Calories Blah Blah. Some of you probably know about it. I had never heard of it before, but you can find them on the internet. There's a whole lot of books that talk about diets and calories. It's everywhere.
You even find it on Domino Sugar, 15 calories in a teaspoon of Domino Sugar. They're advertising that for some reason. I'm not quite sure why. And you can even find it on pet foods. That's a pet food treat package. So there's 5 calories per pet food treat. So what about calories?
There's all kinds of diet books. There's diet books that tell you to eat no carbohydrates. There's diet books that tell you to eat no fat. There's diet books that say eat lots of carbohydrates. I mean, it's amazing the kind of variety you can find.
And how you're supposed to deal with the weight issues, how do you manage diets to control your weight? The diet industry in the United States is a $60 billion industry. So we found a few. If you do diet books on Amazon, we find about 15,000 titles that you can find on Amazon.
And even food studies people have-- the science studies people have gotten into this. And they're trying to say that calories are really an issue of government dominance. Taubes has written this book, which is quite a wonderful book, but he's also talked about how calories are misused as an instrument of government domination. And others say calories are anti-cultural and they reduce food to a number. So we shouldn't be talking about calories in food.
And others say it's irrelevant. Gary Taubes says it's all due to carbohydrates. And that's the only reason we come obese.
And then others, like Richard Wrangham, have talked about how misinterpreting calories because if we cook food, we get more calories out of it. And that's why we learn how to cook food. And that's why our brains are so big. So there's a lot of stuff out there about calories in other contexts as well.
So what are calories? Well, this is one definition.
If you look at the internet, why that's one that pops up. Well, they're not really tiny creatures that live in your closet. So you can define them a little more scientifically. And here's a unit of measurement equivalent to approximately 1.1480 joules. That's very informative, don't you think.
So we felt that we needed to try to make the definition of a calorie a little bit more understandable. Now, here's a definition of a food calorie to use. It's the heat energy needed to raise the temperature of a kilogram of water by 1 degree, from 14 and 1/2 to 15 and 1/2 degrees per unit of atmospheric pressure.
Now, Marion had a screen debut a few years ago in this movie called Super Size Me. Remember that movie, Super Size Me? The director went on a McDonald's diet for 30 days and just ate at McDonald's for every meal. And he gained 30 pounds.
And one of the things they did in the movie was to ask people on the street what was a calorie? And it's amazing. People just stuttered and sputtered. And they gave all kinds of funny definitions of what a calorie was.
And so they went to Marion's office. And she had to give them what the real definition of the calorie was in this movie. And so that's the one that she gave in Super Size Me.
Actually, we tried to translate this a little bit. It's the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature-- if you don't look and think in liters, well, you can think in quarts, which is little less than a liter-- by 1 degree centigrade or 100 calories will little raise a quart of water to a boil, if nothing escapes otherwise. And it's about two Oreo cookies.
Now, we knew about calories and the whole issue of why heat, and calories, and food are related because of the work of Lavoisier back in the late 1700s. And we talk about in the book about the history of the calorie, and how it was discovered, and how it began to be used, and so forth. But he discovered that, of course, that burning food in a flame reduced carbon dioxide and water. At the same time, burning food in our body releases carbon dioxide and water.
And so that you can estimate the amount of calories, the amount of heat, available to the body by burning the food in an instrument called a calorimeter. And he actually could put an animal in a calorimeter and measure the heat that was released from the animal. And so he could kind of balance the amount of heat that an animal took in from its food, the amount of energy, and how much output that it was making. And that took place back in the late 1700s.
So in reality for the whole equation, the energy equation over the years, it's always been more or less accepted to be the fact that the balance of our body depends upon food intake and energy expenditure. The amount of food we take in-- if we take in more than our energy expenditure, we're likely to gain weight. If we take it less than our energy expenditure, we're likely to lose weight. And people that are in balance are taking in an amount of energy that's about equal to what we need.
Now, the person who really did the work in the United States was a man named Wilbur Atwater. He's really the father of nutritional sciences in the United States. He worked with the USDA. He was a professor of chemistry at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
But he developed the first calorimeter, which you could put a person in, in the United States-- the first one in the United States. You could put a person in there and measure how much heat this person would give off. And measure the input from food and measure the output from heat. And so he did a lot of energy balance studies way back before the turn of last century.
He did a lot of work. I mean, this was a period of nutrition where people were interested in what goes in and what comes out. And he was interested in what has disappeared in between. And so he was measuring how much energy one could get from food, and how much was lost in digestion, and how much was lost in the metabolism. And so he published an enormous amount of material, with different states and so forth in this period before the early 1900-- in the early 1900s.
And his values are still here today. I don't know how many of you have heard of Atwater values. If you know that carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, and fats have 9, and protein has 4 calories per gram, these are Atwater values. And they're still used to calculate the composition-- the calorie composition of most foods on food labels, for example. There are some corrections for certain foods that are known not to be digested quite as well. But the Atwater values are still a standard value that were here from a hundred years ago.
The average requirements of people-- the method up there, called doubly labeled water, which is kind of the standard method now, which I won't go into, says that the average person, the average man-- and this depends on your body weight-- will require about 3,000 calories per day, for a woman about 2,400. But you see all kinds of different estimates for calorie needs because of different ways of measuring.
It's very hard to measure how much calories people are taking in. If I were to ask you how much-- what you ate and how many calories you ate yesterday, you would tell me something. But I would tell you you're probably lying because it's very difficult to do this on an accurate basis. And Marion will tell you later, our food supply has about 3,900 calories in it, uncorrected for losses.
So people are overweight. They become obese. Is it because they become obese because of genetics? Is it their genetic composition that makes them put on weight? Why are some people in the environment heavy and some people are not?
And yes, there's a very complex metabolic regulation, that regulates in our bodies our energy balance. And we talk about this in the book. And we also talk about the fact that, yes, there are many, many genes involved in body weight regulation. But there's also a very big environmental interaction.
There are populations that live perfectly well under certain environmental conditions, with very little obesity and very little overweight. And you put them in a new environment, in another environment, and suddenly a portion of that population will become overweight and obese. And it's an interaction with the environment.
And this environmental issue is the food environment. And the food environment gets us back to food politics, and how does is food environment constructed in this country, and what is it that affects it, and how does that influence what we eat? And so that's what I'm going to give Marion a chance to talk about.
MARION NESTLE: Well done. Let's hope this works. Like that? Does that work? Oh, thank you all for coming. This is really exciting. Where's the-- ah, there. OK.
So I'm going to talk a little bit about the political aspects of calories. And I always get asked why are calories political? They're political because if you ready to do something about obesity, the advice is to eat less and move more. But eating less is very, very bad for business. And that's what we're going to talk about.
So I want to talk a little bit about the political aspects, starting with the unusual situation that we're in right now, where the First Lady of the United States has made as one of the things that she's most interested in doing something about, besides, if you watched your speech the other night, military families, she also early on in her tenure as First Lady announced that she was going to be doing something about childhood obesity, doing something to end childhood obesity within a generation, a very ambitious project. And I don't know how you feel about it. But for somebody who's been interested in nutrition for decades, I think it's pretty thrilling to have somebody in the White House who's interested in the same kind of issues that I am. May she flourish.
The food environment is the easiest to understand as something that promotes calorie consumption. And the easiest way to understand that is with large portions. This is my former doctoral student, now Dr. Lisa Young, actually at one of the talks on her dissertation, where she measured the size of portions in the food supply and showed that food portions have gotten larger exactly in parallel with rising rates of obesity.
The white cup on the left is an 8-ounce Department of Agriculture standard serving size for a soft drink. The one on the right is-- these are cups she bought at our local movie theater. And the big one on the right, if it doesn't have too much ice in it, holds 800 calories.
The evidence shows that that cup is not passed down the aisle in the movie theater and shared with everybody sitting there. It's consumed with one person. And if I had one thing that I could teach, it would be that larger portions have more calories.
Unfortunately, it's not intuitively obvious.
The other real concern about it is where the calories are coming from. And the data on national intake-- national dietary surveys shows that the single most important source of calories in American diets is what they are referring to as grain-based desserts. That is, cookies, pastries, donuts, and everything else that's made with some kind of wheat flour. That's the single most important contributor.
The others are listed here, yeast breads, fried chicken, soft drinks, pizza, and alcohol. How's that for a healthy diet? Although these numbers of calories are small, when you look at it across the entire population it really adds up. And between this kind of thing and larger portions, that's a complete explanation for why people are gaining weight.
Another factor in the environment is that food is now everywhere. We went around Ithaca with a camera. And discovered that Kinney Drugs, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Staples have now become food stores. Staples has a section on office food. So while you're buying your copy paper, you can also stock up for what you're feeding people in the office.
And the library itself has become a source of food. I can remember, not all that long ago, when the NYU Library not only didn't have any food in it, but there were signs all over the library saying you can't bring food into this environment. And if you do, you are going to be out of NYU so fast you won't even know what happened. And now NYU has two cafes and vending machines all over the place. And the Olin and Mann Library and the Johnson Museum on this campus also are food providers. So this is part of the food environment, where there's lots of it.
One of the things that nobody pays much attention to is food advertising. And it's very, very difficult to get figures on specific advertising budgets for specific products. But every now and then Advertising Age publishes some. And these are the most recent figures from June this year, where Kellogg in 2011 spent $50.9 million just to advertise Pop Tarts and $41.8 million just to advertise Frosted Flakes.
So if you add up those numbers across all of the national advertising brands, it comes out to about $14 billion a year. And that's just the amount of money that is spent through advertising agencies. It doesn't count advertising and marketing that doesn't go through advertising agencies, like trade shows, and product placements in supermarkets, and things like that.
We know that another factor that encourages people to eat more than they need or should has to do with health claims on food packages. And there is now an increasing amount of work coming out, some of it from Cornell, showing what is called the biasing effect of health halos on fast food health claims. When people see a health claim on a food product, they think the product doesn't have any calories. That's now been tested. And, in fact, if they see-- or they think that organic food has fewer calories than nonorganic.
So whenever you see these kinds of big health claims on food packages, they're there to make you forget about the calories. And they're very effective at doing so. So all in all, we live in an environment in which the government, the food industry, and sometimes health professionals, are kind of collaborating on creating what I call-- and we call in our book-- an eat-more food environment.
So the question is, what's being done about it? And government agencies and health departments are looking for ways in which to educate the public and change the food environment at the same time in order to make it easier for people to make more healthful choices. And the sort of slogan is to make healthy choices the easy choices.
I live in New York City, which has had for the last two regimes health commissioners who are really unusual. They're really interested in public health, which is not always the case with health departments. And they're backed up by a billionaire mayor, who doesn't care what anybody thinks of him, and is really eager to do something about public health in New York City.
So the first thing that happened in 2008 was they passed-- the New York City health people got an ordinance passed that requires fast food restaurants to list labels on-- to list the number of calories on menus. And for any of you who have been in New York City and have seen that, it's pretty revelatory. It's kind of astounding to find out how many calories these things have.
And while there have been a lot of studies that have looked at it to see if they change behavior, on average the menu labeling doesn't seem to be changing behavior. But it certainly changes my behavior. If I see that a breakfast muffin that has 600 or 700 calories in it, I'm going to think twice before eating the whole thing.
When President Obama signed the Health Care Reform Act in 2010, buried in it was a small codicil that takes menu labeling national. And that was supposed to be implemented this year. But the menu labeling regulations have been held up at the Office of Management and Budget, probably because the Obama administration is very uncomfortable about putting out a lot of new regulations in an election year. So that's being held up, although at some point maybe it'll get released.
In New York City in 2011, the health department began focusing on the amount of calories in soft drinks. Soft drinks are sugars and nothing else. So they're sort of extraneous calories that aren't necessary and aren't very good for you. And began also talking about the amount of walking or exercise that you would have to do to work off the calories in one 12-ounce soft drinks.
A 20-ounce soft drink, you'd have to walk for three miles, from the middle of Manhattan to Brooklyn, in order to do that. And I was amazed to go to a baseball game and see that the people who were hawking junk food at the baseball game were wearing tags that showed how many calories the products had. It didn't seem to be stopping anybody from eating them.
And this year's campaign had to do with portion size, sort of implying that if you don't reduce your-- showing the increase in portion size over time and implying that if you didn't do something about portion sizes, you were going to gain weight and would be disabled-- very controversial. And these posters got a lot of attention.
But by far, the most attention-getting-device was Mayor Bloomberg's decision that he was going to ban soft drinks larger-- or put a cap on soft drinks that were larger than 16 ounces in New York City. I was kind of amazed to pick this up and discover that it's 16.9 ounces. If this were a soda, it would be capped under that kind of regulation. This has gotten an enormous amount of attention and generated a lot of controversy.
The reason that they picked on 16 ounces is that it's about 10% of an average person's daily calories. A 16-ounce soft drink contains about 200 calories and about 50 grams of sugar, which is more than almost-- which is almost two ounces, very close to two ounces. It seems like a lot to me. It used to be really a lot. If you go back to the 1950s, Coca-Cola advertised a 16-ounce Coke as the big size and one that served three, at least over ice. That seems just incredible these days.
The pushback on Bloomberg's soda initiative has been extraordinary. The American Beverage Association, which represents Coke and Pepsi, did a full-page color ad in The New York Times and other newspapers attacking the science behind the soda initiative and arguing that sugary drinks have nothing whatsoever to do with obesity.
The "Center for Consumer Freedom," which I put in quotation marks because it's a public relations arm of the soda and restaurant kinds of industries, attack The Advocate. And they put a full-page ad in The New York Times depicting Mayor Bloomberg in a dress and calling him the nanny.
Bloomberg is very smart man. And he was asked about this in a press conference afterwards by a reporter for The New York Times, who quoted him on Twitter as saying would I wear a dress like that? No. The dress is too unflattering.
The soda industry then went to town big time. And there have been a lot of articles in the paper about how the soda industry has been fighting the proposed cap on sodas, focusing on personal choice. And they've used social media. They've had radio and TV ads. They had planes flying over the city.
They had lots, and lots, and lots of young people they paid $30 an hour to go out and collect signatures on petitions. They had terrific T-shirts. I picked out my beverage all by myself. There were movie marquee ads. There were signs on trucks.
And I got mailed to my home, a mailing-- I cannot imagine how much this cost. And they don't have to disclose how much they paid on that-- but I got a mailing to sign a petition, saying I can make my own beverage choices. And I'm taking a stand to protect my freedom of choice. One can only imagine how much this cost.
The soda industry is being very active. And New York is a really big city. And you can understand why the soda industry would be very concerned about something that might affect sales in New York City. But Richmond, California is the new target of the soda industry. Richmond is a Bay Area city that is largely nonwhite. 80% of the people who live there are non-white.
It's largely Black and Hispanic. It has an average household income of $23,000. So it's probably one of the poorest cities in California. And there's a lot of obesity. And they drink a lot of sodas, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods.
So a city councilman got the bright idea of getting a ballot initiative to put a one penny tax per ounce tax on sugary soft drinks. And the response to it by the soda industry has been massive, described in the newspaper as a flood of spending. The anti-soda tax spending has been about $355,000 compared to about $7,000 for the pro-tax group. And what's particularly interesting about it-- this is a copy of a mailing that went home-- is that the mailings about this initiative, no matter what side of the initiative they're on, had to disclose who funded because the city of Richmond passed an ordinance last June that said that all campaign documents and flyers like this, or mailings to homes, had to disclose the funders and list the top five funding sources.
So this one was paid for by the Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes, which is a community coalition that's funded by the American Beverage Association and some other groups. And the Community Coalition has just gone to court in San Francisco, in the federal court, to sue the city of Richmond, to block the city of Richmond's enforcing the disclosure provision. So in other words, they're suing Richmond so they don't have to disclose what they're funding. This is really heavy-duty politics. Who would ever have guessed that calories would lead to such a thing.
So this is the other kind of issue that was discussed by the Occupy Wall Street people, who have a subset called Occupy the Food System. And these are the same kinds of issues that were discussed in these kinds of meetings. And it's the same kind of issues that we discussed in our book.
So I hope that this gives you an idea of what's in it. And Mal and I will be glad to answer questions. Thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much.
SPEAKER 1: This has been a production of Cornell University, on the web at cornell.edu.
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Calories are the source of health problems affecting billions of people in today's globalized world, and although they are essential to human health and survival, these units of energy are a mystery to many of us. Few people understand what they are and how they work even though we now have a population in which 64 percent of adults and one third of our children are overweight.
Join experts Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim for a talk about their new book,
Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics. Marion Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University. Malden Nesheim is professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at Cornell and provost emeritus.
In a Chats in the Stacks book talk at Mann Library on September 6, 2012, Nestle and Nesheim explain what calories are and how they work, both biologically and politically. They elucidate the political stakes and show how federal and corporate policies have come together to create an "eat more" environment.