Obesity Theories, Milk Controversy, and More in Food Policy This Week

In Food Policy This Week: 5 News Bites

A roundup of news clippings we're reading that affect the way we eat.


Are these cows A1 or A2? [Photograph: USDA on Flickr]

New Theories Attempt to Explain Why Americans Are Gaining Weight

It's easy to boil America's obesity problem down to fast food and inactivity. But increasingly, researchers are seeking more complicated and nuanced explanations for why Americans have gained an average of 25 pounds in the past 40 years. Salon has a good synopsis of several obesity theories gaining traction recently. One posits that consumption of antibiotics—whether through antibiotic-treated meat or prescribed by a doctor—disrupt our digestive and metabolic systems, leading to weight gain. Another suggests that use of "animal fatteners" in the meat industry could also lead to the fattening of animal eaters. Yet another points out the many endocrine-disrupting pesticides used on our fruits and vegetables. None of these theories will likely hold the key to understanding the rise of obesity entirely, but each provides a new insight into this complex issue.

Study Finds that Native American Children Living Near Casinos Have Lower Obesity Rate

And here's another interesting study related to obesity trends. Native Americans who live on tribal lands are often cited as among the least healthy American demographics. About 50% of kids who grow up on tribal lands are overweight or obese, compared to the national average of roughly 30%. Many of these areas are near casinos, often maligned as epicenters of indulgence and unhealthy behaviors. But a new study shows a correlation between the presence of casinos and a decreased rate of obesity and overweight among Native American kids. It's well known that casinos boost local economies, and this study suggests that casino-related household economic gain may also result in healthier eating and exercise habits. The correlations are loose but meaningful, and supplement existing data that indicates that poverty is a strong indicator and cause of obesity.

Are American Cow Milk Proteins Making You Sick?

Fascinating new research suggests that the unique protein make-up of American milk might have health consequences for some consumers. It turns out that American dairy cows—typically Holsteins—produce milk with A1 protein, which is generally found only in American and some European milks. Across the rest of the world, cows produce milk with A2 protein. These proteins are variations of beta-casein, and on the surface aren't significantly different from one another. But several studies link consumption of A1 protein to health conditions ranging from digestive issues to heart disease to autism. None of these studies is conclusive when taken alone, but together they provide a compelling story. The A1 vs. A2 debate has been ongoing in New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Europe for years, but is just starting to make waves in the U.S. Not all consumers will be susceptible to health impacts from drinking A1 milk, but this research suggests that the American dairy industry might want to take a look at producing some A2 protein milk.

Politicians Interested in Rolling Back School Food Reform

When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010, it stirred up a lot of controversy. The law changed the requirements for school nutrition programs, upping vegetables and lowering sodium, sugar, and starch content in school meals. Since 2010, the specifics of the law have been constantly debated. Now, some politicians are looking to roll back parts of the regulation before schools are expected to meet all guidelines in the 2014-5 school year. Schools that have begun implementing parts of the new requirements report that kids are less interested in school food when sodium and sugar are replaced in part with leafy greens. But proponents of the reform maintain that educating students on the importance of eating healthy is a necessary component of the new regulations. Congress is expecting to hold formal hearings on the regulations in the spring.

About the Author: Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website, and you can follow her on Twitter @leahjdouglas.