How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food
As growth slows in wealthy countries, Western food companies are aggressively expanding in developing nations, contributing to obesity and health problems.
Sep 16 2017

FORTALEZA, Brazil — Children’s squeals rang through the muggy morning air as a woman pushed a gleaming white cart along pitted, trash-strewn streets. She was making deliveries to some of the poorest households in this seaside city, bringing pudding, cookies and other packaged foods to the customers on her sales route.

Celene da Silva, 29, is one of thousands of door-to-door vendors for Nestlé, helping the world’s largest packaged food conglomerate expand its reach into a quarter-million households in Brazil’s farthest-flung corners.

As she dropped off variety packs of Chandelle pudding, Kit-Kats and Mucilon infant cereal, there was something striking about her customers: Many were visibly overweight, even small children.

She gestured to a home along her route and shook her head, recalling how its patriarch, a morbidly obese man, died the previous week. “He ate a piece of cake and died in his sleep,” she said.

Mrs. da Silva, who herself weighs more than 200 pounds, recently discovered that she had high blood pressure, a condition she acknowledges is probably tied to her weakness for fried chicken and the Coca-Cola she drinks with every meal, breakfast included.

Nestlé’s direct-sales army in Brazil is part of a broader transformation of the food system that is delivering Western-style processed food and sugary drinks to the most isolated pockets of Latin America, Africa and Asia. As their growth slows in the wealthiest countries, multinational food companies like Nestlé, PepsiCo and General Mills have been aggressively expanding their presence in developing nations, unleashing a marketing juggernaut that is upending traditional diets from Brazil to Ghana to India.

A New York Times examination of corporate records, epidemiological studies and government reports — as well as interviews with scores of nutritionists and health experts around the world — reveals a sea change in the way food is produced, distributed and advertised across much of the globe. The shift, many public health experts say, is contributing to a new epidemic of diabetes and heart disease, chronic illnesses that are fed by soaring rates of obesity in places that struggled with hunger and malnutrition just a generation ago.

The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished.

“The prevailing story is that this is the best of all possible worlds — cheap food, widely available. If you don’t think about it too hard, it makes sense,” said Anthony Winson, who studies the political economics of nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario. A closer look, however, reveals a much different story, he said. “To put it in stark terms: The diet is killing us.”

Even critics of processed food acknowledge that there are multiple factors in the rise of obesity, including genetics, urbanization, growing incomes and more sedentary lives. Nestlé executives say their products have helped alleviate hunger, provided crucial nutrients, and that the company has squeezed salt, fat and sugar from thousands of items to make them healthier. But Sean Westcott, head of food research and development at Nestlé, conceded obesity has been an unexpected side effect of making inexpensive processed food more widely available.

“We didn’t expect what the impact would be,” he said.

Part of the problem, he added, is a natural tendency for people to overeat as they can afford more food. Nestlé, he said, strives to educate consumers about proper portion size and to make and market foods that balance “pleasure and nutrition.”

There are now more than 700 million obese people worldwide, 108 million of them children, according to research published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine. The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries since 1980, contributing to four million premature deaths, the study found.



New poll finds that regressive views on race continue to pervade America

New poll finds that regressive views on race continue to pervade America
The study found that three out of ten disagree with interracial marriage.
Sep 14 2017

A new poll has revealed the troubling racial attitudes that continue to pervade American life, including opposition to interracial marriage and the importance of protecting “White European heritage.”

The study, by Reuters/Ipso and the University of Virginia, was carried out in the wake of the attack in Charlottesville. It showed that there was only limited outright support for far-right ideology, with 6 percent of respondents saying they strongly or somewhat supported the “alt-right”, and 8 percent expressing support for white nationalism.

However, when asked about more antiquated notions of race, a significant number expressed support. Fifty years after the Supreme Court struck down a ban on mixed-race marriage, three out of ten respondents failed to express tolerance towards the idea. When asked whether “marriage should only be allowed between two people of the same race,” 16 percent of respondents agreed and 14 percent neither agreed nor disagreed. This 30 percent would equal roughly 75 million adult Americans.

The fear of interracial romance, and more specifically of black men having relationships with white women, has been a continued racial theme throughout the history of the United States. In the late 19th century, lynchings in the South were often justified as a way to defend the honor of white women. Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was savagely beaten to death for allegedly flirting with a white girl. Carolyn Donham later admitted that she lied about Till making physical and verbal threats to her.

This racial fear remains ingrained today. Before shooting dead nine black churchgoers in Charleston, Dylann Roof allegedly said “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”  Thanks in part to white nationalists online, the word “cuck” — referring to the practice of an almost exclusively white husband being cuckolded by his wife, who is most commonly sleeping with an African American male — has become a mainstream insult.

The new poll also revealed other antiquated and troubling racial notions. When asked whether “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage”, 31 percent of participants agreed, while 39 percent agreed with the statement that “White people are currently under attack in this country.” Political correctness was also found in the survey to be extremely unpopular. A majority of participants — 59 percent — agreed with the statement that it “threatens our liberty as Americans to speak our minds.”


Mexican teacher barred from traveling to US to collect Internet Society award

Mexican teacher barred from traveling to US to collect Internet Society award
Mariano Gómez, 23, won an award for his working installing a wireless internet network in the remote community, but was told he couldn’t apply for a US visa
By David Agren in Mexico City
Sep 16 2017

A Mexican elementary school teacher who won an award for his efforts to connect an isolated indigenous village to the internet has been barred from traveling to the US to collect the prize.

Mariano Gómez, 23, was to have been honoured by the Internet Society (Isoc) at a ceremony in Los Angeles on 18 September for his working installing a wireless internet network in the remote community of San Martín Abasolo, which has no telephone or radio service.

But when Gómez travelled 16 hours from his home in Chiapas state for a visa appointment at the US embassy in Mexico City, he was told that he could not apply. 

Gómez, a member of the Tseltal indigenous community, said was told his application was rejected because he was unable to provide a street address and because he does not have a bank account. Rural Mexican villages often have no street names, while 70% of the population of Chiapas live in poverty. 

Another factor for the rejection was that he comes from a “marginalized community in a region that’s considered to be one of the places most migrants travel from to go to the United States illegally”, Gómez wrote in an open letter published online. 

“It’s an example of the reality of thousands of indigenous and non-indigenous brothers, who go through the same experience,” he said. “What’s more, in these times, they want to divide us with walls.”

Isoc said in a statement that three awardees would not attend the ceremony because they were not granted visas.

Questions sent to the US embassy in Mexico City were still unanswered at press time.

Communication networks in rural Mexico are often patchy, where telecoms monopolies have kept prices high and rates of mobile and internet penetration low. The rugged geography in mountainous areas like Chiapas also complicates matters.

Some communities have constructed small cellular networks, which operate in areas overlooked by companies like Telcel – the behemoth owned by billionaire Carlos Slim.

Gómez started his project seven years ago, when he set up a repeater to provide friends with a signal from his family’s satellite connection. It slowly spread and Gómez and a collective of self-taught colleagues known as Ik’ Ta K’op have connected 800 homes in five communities to a wireless network. They also established an intranet in the local high school stocked with educational and some audio and video files.


Flint water crisis: expert says lead levels normal but warns against celebration

Flint water crisis: expert says lead levels normal but warns against celebration
Virginia Tech researcher who has tested city’s water supply says people should continue using water filters – and ‘crisis of confidence’ in government remains
By Associated Press in Flint, Michigan
Sep 15 2017

An expert who has warned about dangerous lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water declared on Friday a qualified end to the crisis. 

Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards made the announcement at a news conference two years to the day after he stood in front of Flint’s city hall with residents and other researchers to highlight a serious lead contamination problem in the financially struggling industrial city’s water supply. 

Edwards acknowledged the symmetry of the situations yet cautioned against celebration. He recommended the continued use of filters and warned many residents would take a long time to regain trust in government officials who initially dismissed their concerns. 

“Today, we have equally definitive data showing that the levels of these parameters currently in Flint water are now back to normal levels for a city with old lead pipes,” Edwards said. 

“Obviously, there is still a crisis of confidence among Flint residents that’s not going to be restored anytime soon. It’s beyond the reach of science to solve – it can only be addressed by years of trustworthy behavior by government agencies, who unfortunately lost that trust, deservedly, in the first place.” 

Edwards’ team has collected samples from 138 Flint homes, with the fifth and probably final round last month. The testing showed that lead levels continued to stay well below the federal safety standard of 15 parts-per-billion. 

Flint’s water was tainted with lead for at least 18 months, starting in spring 2014. While under the control of state-appointed financial managers, the city tapped the Flint river as its water source while a new pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. But the river water was not treated to reduce corrosion. As a result, lead leached from old pipes and fixtures. 

Elevated lead levels, which can cause miscarriage, developmental delays and other problems, were found in some children. The disaster has led to 15 current or former governmental officials being charged with crimes and lawsuits filed by numerous residents. 

A federal judge in March approved a landmark deal to replace lead and galvanized steel water lines at 18,000 homes by 2020. The city has so far replaced more than 3,000, part of the mayor’s plan to replace 6,000 this year. 

Edwards expressed concern for federal lead and copper rules, which he said were several years out of date. He praised cities and states working toward enacting stricter standards. He is also working with many other cities that have similar lead levels in their water supply. 

“We all owe Flint a huge debt of gratitude for exposing this problem nationally,” he said.


The reason a calorie-restricted diet extends your lifespan is in your genes

The reason a calorie-restricted diet extends your lifespan is in your genes
By Rich Haridy
Sep 15 2017

You’ve probably seen some headlines in recent years heralding the correlation between a lowered caloric intake and increased lifespan. The topic has been a rich area of research for decades, but scientists have been unable to successfully explain the phenomenon. New research from a team at Temple University may have finally cracked the puzzle by revealing that epigenetic changes that occur with age can be slowed through a calorie-restricted diet.

The research focused on the process of DNA methylation, a chemical activity that essentially directs when a gene should or shouldn’t be expressed. These methylation patterns were found to shift as an animal ages, increasing and decreasing in different genomic areas.

“Our study shows that epigenetic drift, which is characterized by gains and losses in DNA methylation in the genome over time, occurs more rapidly in mice than in monkeys and more rapidly in monkeys than in humans,” says senior investigator Jean-Pierre Issa.

Using deep-sequencing technology the team first studied how age-related variations in DNA methylation were correlated with an animal’s lifespan. It was discovered that the greater the epigenetic change from methylation, the shorter the animal’s lifespan.

Knowing that a great deal of research has already shown how calorie restriction can increase lifespan, the focus of the study then moved on to examining whether reduced dietary calories had a direct effect on epigenetic drift.

Groups of rhesus monkeys and mice fed calorie restricted diets both displayed reduced evidence of epigenetic drift when compared to similar control groups eating an average caloric volume. The rhesus monkeys, eating a diet with 30 percent less calories than normal, displayed a blood methylation age equivalent to animals seven years younger. 

The results were even more pronounced in the mice studies, which the researchers suggest is related to the animal’s shortened lifespan (allowing for a restricted diet to be imposed over the animal’s entire life), and the increased restriction of the diet (which was increased to a 40 percent caloric reduction).

“The impacts of calorie restriction on lifespan have been known for decades, but thanks to modern quantitative techniques, we are able to show for the first time a striking slowing down of epigenetic drift as lifespan increases,” says Issa.


Half of Canada’s monitored wildlife is in decline, major study finds

Half of Canada’s monitored wildlife is in decline, major study finds
New report paints a bleak picture for wildlife in a country that is home to a quarter of the Earth’s wetlands, 8,500 rivers and more than 2m lakes
By Ashifa Kassam in Toronto
Sep 15 2017

A new analysis looking at the long-term trends of more than 900 species of wildlife in Canada has found that half of them have seen their populations decline, including several species already listed as threatened or endangered.

The Living Planet Report Canada, released on Thursday by World Wildlife Fund Canada, paints a bleak picture for wildlife in a country that is home to a quarter of the earth’s wetlands, 8,500 rivers and more than 2m freshwater lakes. 

During the past four decades, human activity – whether industrial development, farming, forestry or the expansion of urban areas – as well as climate change, pollution and overfishing have helped shrink the populations of 451 species, representing half of the 903 monitored species in the country.

“I think for many Canadians, it’s somewhat of a surprise,” said James Snider of WWF Canada and the lead author of the report. “Canada is this vast nation with huge wilderness areas, at times we assume that wildlife here is doing OK.”

The list of species in decline ranges from the woodland caribou, who grace the country’s 25¢ coin but have seen their habitat shrink from logging, mining and gas development, to the several species of whale that live off Canada’s three coasts.

The report found that for species with diminishing populations, the average loss was 83% of their population. “That’s a really striking number,” said Snider.

The report – billed by the conservation group as the most comprehensive synthesis of Canadian wildlife population trends to date – was compiled using more than 400 sources of data on species population.

Scientists looked at more than 3,700 populations of vertebrates, including 106 specials of mammals, hundreds of fish and bird species and dozens of 46 amphibians and reptiles, during a period that stretched from 1970 to 2014.

Wide gaps remain in regions such as the Arctic, where a lack of historical information prevented researchers from drawing conclusive results. It’s a critical omission, said Snider.

“Climate change is being witnessed in the Arctic at a rate really not seen elsewhere in the world. We need to be effectively monitoring today the status of wildlife populations so that we can understand the impacts of climate change on a lot of really unique and important species in the Canadian north.”

Of the 903 monitored species – representing about half of the known vertebrates in Canada – 407 species showed an increase in population, while 45 remained stable. 

Success stories included the once struggling raptors – such as Cooper’s hawks and peregrine falcons – whose species have seen their numbers swell an average of 88% in recent decades, thanks to the reduced use and outright bans of pesticides such as DDT. Their rebound hints at the turnaround that is possible, said Snider. “So when we as society decide to take action and elevate the concern of wildlife, we are able to make real change.” 

Researchers, however, found that federal legislation – one of the country’s primary tools aimed at protecting wildlife at risk – had failed to stem the decline of many species. The report looked at 64 species protected by federal legislation and found their populations diminished by an average of 2.7% per year since 2002, when federal legislation was adopted to protect species at risk, as compared to an annual decline of 1.7% between 1970 and 2002.


How badly did Equifax breach damage the Social Security system?

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

How badly did Equifax breach damage the Social Security system? 
Exclusive: Salon investigation suggests mySocialSecurity web portal could be at risk after Equifax hack
Sep 15 2017

Millions of Americans are worried that their credit information and Social Security numbers may have been among the 143 million records breached in an unprecedented hack that attacked Equifax, the credit reporting company. But there’s more to the story. While Equifax and the Social Security Administration aren’t talking about it, Equifax was also hired a year ago, on a $10 million contract, to “help the SSA manage risk and mitigate fraud for the mySocialSecurity system, a personalized portal for customers to access some of SSA’s services such as the online statement.”

That’s how the company put it in a press release on Feb. 10, 2016. In that announcement, Equifax also boasted that the Social Security Administration “has completed integration with Equifax Inc.”

Despite Equifax’s self-described intimate role in providing security and preventing fraud on the Social Security System’s public access website for current workers and beneficiaries, there has been no indication that the Social Security Administration is concerned about whether weaknesses in Equifax’s own customer portal security — such as the Apache tool on which the company is blaming the breach — might have been involved in its security work for the mySocialSecurity portal. 

Efforts by Salon to ascertain the extent of Equifax’s actual work on the construction and operation of the SSA portal, or what if anything the SSA has done in the wake of its contractor’s security breach to protect that portal’s security, met with no success. 

Repeated calls and emails to the public affairs office of the SSA elicited the recommendation to “contact Equifax,” though our questions involved issues concerning the agency, not the corporate contractor. 

Chief public information officer Mark Hinkle wrote in an email reply that Social Security, not Equifax, “runs the mySocialSecurity portal.” But when asked whether the SSA was concerned about whether any weaknesses in Equifax’s own security system may have been introduced into the security system and protocol the company set up for the mySocialSecurity portal — and also when asked when the SSA was informed by Equifax about its security breach (when it happened in mid-July? or six weeks later when the company went public with the news?), Hinkle said the agency would have no comment.

Equifax also failed to respond to phone and email inquiries from Salon about its work for the Social Security Administration portal. A company public relations official only emailed to say the request had been received, and referred the reporter to a company website for consumers concerned about the Equifax breach. There was no reference there to the company’s security work for the Social Security Administration portal.