Herewith a wrap of recent food policy and research news…

Calorie counting fast food menus coming soon in the US
From next year, anyone walking into a McDonald’s, Starbucks or other big restaurant chain in the US will know how many calories they’re ordering, according to this New York Times report.

It says the requirement is one of the lesser known aspects of the health care reform legislation, and that it will soon “be impossible to chomp down on a Big Mac without knowing that it contains over 500 calories, more than a quarter of the Agriculture Department’s 2,000-calorie daily guideline.”

The legislation also requires labels on food items in vending machines, meaning that anybody tempted by a king-size Snickers bar will know up front that it packs 440 calories. The measure is intended to create a national policy modeled on a requirement that has already taken effect in New York City and was to go into effect in 2011 in places like California and Oregon.

Croakey presumes and hopes that someone, somewhere will be evaluating the impact of the legislation.

(Update on 28 March: Former NSW Premier Bob Carr wrote about this initiative in Saturday’s SMH and seems to be emerging as a public health advocate.)

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Are food companies committed to real change or is it just PR?

This post from US public health nutritionist Marion Nestle reviews recent moves by various food companies (including Mars, Pepscio, Kraft) to position themselves as health conscious and responsible businesses. It also raises questions about whether the moves are about generating positive PR or achieving real change that might benefit public health.

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Taxing junk foods

Here are some links to to tools for promoting taxes on soft drinks, a hot issue in the US right now (links courtesy of Marion Nestle)

Meanwhile, here is the abstract of a recent US study which found an association between increased prices of soft drink and takeaway pizza and reduced consumption, with associated health benefits. The authors, writing in Archives of Internal Medicine, conclude: “Policies aimed at altering the price of soda or away-from-home pizza may be effective mechanisms to steer US adults toward a more healthful diet and help reduce long-term weight gain or insulin levels over time.”

And this is a great illustration from The Atlantic which somewhat undermines arguments against taxing junk foods…it shows how federal subsidies for food production in the US do not support the healthy eating pyramid.

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Conflicts of interest in the food and nutrition field

Questions are being asked about the independence of the British Nutrition Foundation.

Closer to home, concerns were recently raised in a letter to the Medical Journal of Australia about the relationship between the food industry and nutritional health professionals (these were defined as including doctors, dietitians, nutritionists and nurses). Public health experts from Cancer Council Western Australia, Curtin University and CHOICE say there may be the need for a code of conduct to ensure integrity and transparency in such relationships, and cite the example of the Medicines Australia code of conduct.

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