Prevent disease? Start by removing sugar.

Cutting 20% of sugar from packaged foods and 40% from beverages could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events (such as strokes, heart attacks, cardiac arrests), 490,000 cardiovascular deaths, and 750,000 diabetes cases in the U.S. over the lifetime of the adult population, reports a study published in Circulation…

Implementing a national policy, however, will require government support to monitor companies as they work toward the targets and to publicly report on their progress. The researchers hope their model will build consensus on the need for a national-sugar reformulation policy in the US. “We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” says Siyi Shangguan, MD, MPH, lead author…“Reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a larger impact on the health of Americans than other initiatives to cut sugar, such as imposing a sugar tax, labeling added sugar content, or banning sugary drinks in schools.”

Say “Amen!”

“Natural” supplements are unregulated for quality, content or safety


David Malan/Getty

More than two-thirds of Americans take dietary supplements. The vast majority of consumers – 84% – are confident the products are safe and effective.

They should not be so trusting.

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows manufacturers to sell dietary supplements without providing proof of their quality to the FDA. Instead, it’s up to the FDA to prove a product is unsafe and take it off the market. That’s an incredibly tall order, and woefully inadequate. But it’s unlikely to change.

All you have to worry about are heavy metals, bacterial and fungal contamination, undisclosed drugs including not approved for pharmaceuticals, over-and-under-dosing of listed ingredients…and more. Professor White’s article suggests independent labs that monitor supplements. He includes several ways you can assure yourself – to a point about what you’re going to consume.

Please be careful.

50,000 reports of malfunctioning heart device hidden by the FDA


Congressional Quarterly

❝ The Food and Drug Administration allowed the maker of a faulty implantable heart device to secretly log 50,000 malfunction incidents, according to a series of investigations by Kaiser Health News.

The device—the Sprint Fidelis, made by Medtronic—consists of a pair of wires and a defibrillator to jolt the heart into a regular rhythm. But doctors found that it was giving patients random, harmful zaps and sometimes failed during actual cardiac emergencies.

❝ Medtronic recalled the device in 2007 but only after it was implanted in around 268,000 patients. Many of those patients have since faced the ghastly choice of learning to live with the faulty device or undergoing an invasive, risky—sometimes deadly—surgery to remove it. According to the KHN investigation, they’ve been making that choice without information from the 50,000 incident reports.

The FDA accumulated over a million reports they “exempted” from reporting requirements which would have aided patients and doctors…and opened the manufacturers of faulty gear to lawsuits. What’s the likelihood of our 2-party government doing something as radical as that, eh?

Soon you’ll know how much added sugar is in your groceries


Old label vs new label

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently ordered up new nutrition labels for cereal boxes, candy bars, and every other packaged food item in the supermarket. Soon, they will list not just how much sugar is inside, but whether that sugar was naturally occurring, as in raisins, or added later, as on the flakes that come with them.

Though this additional information won’t be required until next year, health advocates predicted that such legally mandated disclosure would deliver less-sugary foods in its wake. They were right.

Four Twizzler strawberry twists have the same sugar content as an apple, but clearly the fruit is a better choice — in no small part because it comes with fiber and Vitamin C. The FDA decision recognized that the source of sugar matters, and that listing “Sugars” alone doesn’t reflect that. The agency decision attempts to outsmart food manufacturers that commonly call added sugar ingredients by other names, such as high fructose corn syrup, agave, and fruit juice. Current-ingredients lists and nutrition-facts panels, the FDA was saying, can be surprisingly deceptive.

Experts in both health and the food industry predicted that the new labels would lead to reformulated products, with those marketed as “healthy” likely to be the first to get makeovers. Now that manufacturers would have to show in no uncertain terms how much sugar was being added, they would cut it, just as they did with trans fats when their disclosure became required.

Lo and behold, those predictions proved prescient. On Tuesday, Kind, maker of the increasingly popular fruit and nut bars, is to start posting the added sugar content of its more than 60 products on its website. The information, which will appear on the bars themselves early next year, shows that, as with other foods getting ingredient makeovers, some of the bars now have less added sugar than they once had. It also lets Kind be one of the first brands, if not the first, to give the new nutritional information to customers…

Companies seem to recognize the rising consumer interest in ingredients and aren’t fighting the new FDA requirement. The Grocery Manufacturers Association called the update “timely,” noting that “consumer preferences have changed dramatically since the Nutrition Facts panel was first introduced.”…Only the Sugar Association, the trade group representing the companies that make all that added sugar, pushed back, saying, blah, blah, blah, blah.

An informed consumer has the opportunity to make better choices. We certainly try to do so in our family. I hope that you do, too. The new nutrition panels are supposed to be easier to read – which will be a big help to folks like me who never remembers to bring along his reading glasses.

I look pretty silly when I take a quick photo with my iPhone of the nutrition info on a box of cereal so I can enlarge it onscreen with my fingertips to readable size. 🙂

California first in line to ban single-use plastic bags in the United States

California lawmakers have approved a measure that would make the state the first to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

SB270 cleared the Senate on a 22-15 vote Friday and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. It was approved by the Assembly a day earlier.

Senators who had previously opposed the bill, including incoming Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, this time supported the measure after protections were added for plastic bag manufacturers.

The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles would prohibit single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies in 2015 and at convenience stores in 2016.

It includes $2 million in loans to help manufacturers shift to producing reusable bags and lets grocers charge 10 cents each for paper and reusable bags.

Typical American copout politicians. There isn’t a single one of these companies that needs a loan to shift production. If they’re that incompetent – they shouldn’t be in business.

The bill had sparked one of the most contentious debates in the last weeks of the legislative session, with aggressive lobbying by environmentalists and bag manufacturers.

For years, a statewide plastic bag ban has been an elusive goal for lawmakers trying to reduce the buildup of plastic waste in oceans and waterways that costs millions of dollars to cleanup. About 100 local jurisdictions in California already have adopted similar bans, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

You may as well ask your Congress-critter, now, when will they get round to passing a matching national regulation. I expect I won’t still be alive when that happens.

Thanks, Mike

The public health crisis added to our food

IF you have high blood pressure, you’re in good company. Hypertension afflicts 67 million Americans, including nearly two-thirds of people over age 60. But it isn’t an inevitable part of the aging process. It’s better to think of it as chronic sodium intoxication. And, as an important new study from Britain shows, there’s a way to prevent the problem — and to save many, many lives.

A lifetime of consuming too much sodium (mostly in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt) raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure kills and disables people by triggering strokes and heart attacks. In the United States, according to best estimates, excess sodium is killing between 40,000 and 90,000 people and running up to $20 billion in medical costs a year…

The reason that nearly everyone eats way too much sodium is that our food is loaded with it, and often where we don’t taste or expect it…A blueberry muffin can have more than double the salt of a serving of potato chips. Even healthy-sounding food can pack heavy sodium loads. Two slices of whole wheat bread can have nearly 400 milligrams of sodium, as can two tablespoons of fat-free salad dressing…

We all like the taste of salt, but there is much that food companies can do without driving away customers. Often they add sodium for leavening or food texture rather than taste, when replacement ingredients are available. And sodium levels in similar popular foods made by different manufacturers often vary two- or threefold (for example, a slice of pizza can pack anywhere from between 370 and 730 milligrams), which suggests that many manufacturers can cut sodium levels in their foods sharply without hurting taste. When salt levels in food drop, people’s preference for salt also shifts down, so no one would notice a gradual reduction in sodium across all foods.

That’s exactly what Britain’s Food Standards Agency has done. It divided processed food into different categories, set salt-reduction targets in each category and then asked companies to meet those targets over time. And as they did that, from 2001 to 2011, sodium consumption by the British fell 15 percent.

The new study shows that this drop in salt intake has been accompanied by a substantial reduction in average blood pressure, a 40 percent drop in deaths from heart attacks and a 42 percent decline in deaths from stroke…

There is absolutely no reason we can’t do an initiative similar to Britain’s on this side of the Atlantic now…A proposal as important to human life as this needs the stature and resources of the federal government to bring…the food industry along. The F.D.A. has been developing a new plan for a voluntary, coordinated, national initiative. Unfortunately, even though it is voluntary, the food industry is fighting it, and the plan is stalled.

Per usual, bought-and-paid-for politicians are as much part of the problem as bureaucrats and behemoth corporate budgets. As a side issue, one more reason to adopt an election model that allows NO private or PAC donations and probably includes a short regulated electioneering season. Take the money out of elections and you take most of the money out of political graft.

That still leaves us with libertarian silliness over the government stepping in on the side of medicine and science. But, fools can still add as much salt as they wish to their beer and onion dip.

Glaxo paying $3 Billion fine for fraud and deceptive marketing

The British drug company GlaxoSmithKline said Thursday that it had agreed to pay $3 billion to settle United States government civil and criminal investigations into its sales practices for numerous drugs.

The settlement would be the largest yet in a wave of federal cases against pharmaceutical companies accused of illegal marketing, surpassing the previous record of $2.3 billion paid by Pfizer in 2009. In recent years, drug companies have been prime targets of federal fraud investigations, which have recovered tens of billions of dollars for Medicaid and Medicare.

The cases against GlaxoSmithKline include illegal marketing of Avandia, a diabetes drug that was severely restricted last year after it was linked to heart risks. Federal prosecutors said the company had paid doctors and manipulated medical research to promote the drug…I keep forgetting about the “high standards” of our medical professionals.

The agreement to settle its biggest federal cases should be completed next year, the company added in the statement. It said $3 billion would settle not only the Avandia case, but also a Justice Department investigation of its Medicaid pricing practices and a nationwide investigation led by the United States attorneys in Colorado and Massachusetts into the sales and marketing of nine of its drugs from 1997 to 2004…

Critics of the settlements made with drug companies argued for stiffer penalties, including prison sentences for corporate officials…How about prison sentences for Congress-thugs who enabled a lot of the fraud?

Patrick Burns, spokesman for Taxpayers Against Fraud, an advocacy group for whistle-blowers, said, “Who at Glaxo is going to jail as a part of this settlement? Who in management is being excluded from doing future business with the U.S. government..?”

Mr. Burns said the health care sector accounted for more than 80 percent of the $4 billion in overpayments recovered by the government in 2010 as a result of whistle-blower lawsuits and resulting fraud investigations by federal and state agencies.

But, don’t worry. The Republicans in Congress just ran a bill through the House to remove jury trials from whistleblower lawsuits. They feel safer relying on judges.

Perish the thought we should have a system of laws and sanctions which involves ordinary Americans who might not understand about treating really important corporations with the proper respect.

World’s 10 best engines

VW Jetta TDI, 2.0L 140-hp turbodiesel, 3rd consecutive award winner

The auto industry is embracing the age of electrification, and so too is the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list.

Both the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV earn their way onto the 2011 list, as selected by Ward’s editors after evaluating 38 vehicles with new or significantly improved engines for the ’11 model year.

But fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness are not the most important criteria for eligibility this year, as seen by recognition of the new 5.0L V-8 in the Ford Mustang GT, 5.0L V-8 in the Hyundai Genesis and the 3.0L supercharged V-6 in the Audi S4.

“We have something for everybody on this year’s Ward’s 10 Best Engines list,” says Drew Winter, editor-in-chief of Ward’s AutoWorld magazine. “It’s the most diverse mix we’ve ever had, as well as the most technologically advanced.”

This year’s winners and the applications tested:

3.0L TFSI Supercharged DOHC V-6 (Audi S4)
3.0L N55 Turbocharged DOHC I-6 (BMW 335i)
1.6L Turbocharged DOHC I-4 (Mini Cooper S)
3.6L Pentastar DOHC V-6 (Dodge Avenger)
5.0L DOHC V-8 (Ford Mustang GT)
1.4L DOHC I-4/111kW Drive Motor (Chevrolet Volt)
5.0L Tau DOHC V-8 (Hyundai Genesis)
80kW AC Synchronous Electric Motor (Nissan Leaf)
2.0L DOHC I-4 Turbodiesel (Volkswagen Jetta TDI)
3.0L Turbocharged DOHC I-6 (Volvo S60)

Now in its 17th year, the Ward’s 10 Best Engines competition is designed to recognize powertrains that set new benchmarks in their respective vehicle segments.

The one thing they have in common is they all are stand-out performers in their own way and sell the value proposition of the vehicles they power,” Winter says.

RTFA. The editors delve into each award and why. Just a paragraph or two; but, gives you a taste of the breadth of modern prize-winning design coming from auto engineers around the world.

Detailed analysis of each is in the upcoming issue of Ward’s Autoworld magazine and will be online, next week.

Toxic toy crisis requires fresh solutions

Manufacturer recalls of toys, promotional drinking glasses, and other children’s products constitute an ongoing “toxic toys crisis” that requires banning potentially harmful ingredients in these products and other changes in policy and practices. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.

Monica Becker, Sally Edwards and Rachel Massey note that in June the United States government recalled 12 million promotional drinking glasses sold at a fast-food restaurant chain because the painted coating contained cadmium, a toxic metal. Since 2007, the government has recalled more than 17 million toys due to high levels of lead.

The report says that these and other incidents have raised concern about the problem of toxic substances in toys and other children’s products, many of which are made overseas. The substances include ingredients either suspected or recognized as potentially damaging to children’s health. Although government, industry, and advocacy groups have taken significant actions to solve the problem, including restricting the use of certain substances, that response remains inadequate, the scientists say.

The authors recommend several actions for the government, including banning or restricting the use of all substances with well-documented toxicity in toys and other children’s products. They also offer recommendations for how the toy industry can be proactive, including establishing an industry-wide list of toxic substances to avoid.

Anyone bet on who gets the job done first?

Our government studying, listening to lobbyists, checking with election campaign managers, polling companies – deciding what legislation is needed if any?

The worldwide toy industry establishing a proactive body to suggest to all concerned governments what should be banned and/or watched?