Black Lives Depend on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Don’t Water Them Down
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are, by law, updated every five years. They are often criticized for not clearly and directly condemning red and processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages, not noting the environmental impact of those foods, and for being heavily influenced by food companies. But the recently released 835-page final draft from the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the independent group of nutrition experts charged with the 2020 update, actually represents an important advance for Black Americans.
Poor diets kill nearly 320,000 Americans a year, from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic conditions. That exceeds the combat death toll of 291,000 U.S. soldiers in World War II. In a nation where 42% of Americans are obese, this is of particular gravity to Black Americans, half of whom are obese.
Sugar added to prepared foods and beverages contribute to weight gain. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. That's 350 calories, or more than 17% of the recommended 2,000-calorie daily diet. The most common sources of added sugar in the American diet are sugar-sweetened beverages, cookies, cake, candy, and ice cream.
This year's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended nearly halving daily sugar intake, from less than 10% of daily calories, as recommended in the 2015 guidelines, to less than 6%. The committee also advises that children under age 2 not be given juice or other sugar-sweetened beverages.
In a daily diet of 2,000 calories, 10% of added sugar represents 200 calories; 6% would be 120 calories. A bowl of Frosted Flakes and a strawberry Pop-Tart, each at 56 calories of added sugar, would put an individual's breakfast close to the new limit. One 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola is 140 calories of sugar; a 12-ounce can of Pepsi is 150 calories. Both exceed the new recommendation.
While all Americans eat too much sugar, Black Americans consume about 20% more than white Americans. I want to be clear here that I am not blaming Black Americans. Their disproportionate poor health is a direct legacy of slavery, legally enforced housing discrimination, and unattended disparities. Many Black Americans do not have access — financially or geographically — to the healthy food or modes of exercise that white Americans do.
This disparity is brought into even sharper focus by Black Americans dying from Covid-19 at more than twice the rate of white Americans, and at younger ages, partly due to poor diets that make bodies less resistant to the coronavirus. And along with other people of color, they are also overrepresented in so-called essential jobs, in which social distancing is very difficult.
Black Americans need science-based dietary guidelines in an acute way as they disproportionately benefit from federal nutrition programs that are mandated to follow the guidelines, such as school breakfast and lunch programs. For example, 74% of Black children are eligible for school lunch programs, compared to 29% of white children. Other guideline-following programs include Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); the Nutrition Services Program, mandated under the Older Americans Act; and nutrition programs administered by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
If the recommendations by the advisory committee are approved by the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and become part of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they will ultimately be reflected in healthier offerings in federal programs. These could go a small way toward righting America's wrongs by offering African Americans healthier diet options.
That would be particularly remarkable because these recommendations are happening under the aegis of the otherwise anti-science Trump administration. Given the toxic political atmosphere, the Union of Concerned Scientists called these recommendations "a science success story."
But to make this success stand up, people need to make sure that the USDA and HHS hear their voices. The public can comment on the draft report until Aug. 13.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's report then goes into what in the past has been an almost invisible process where corporate food lobbyists and members of Congress who receive heavy food industry contributions often push back hard against the committee's science-based recommendations. As my colleague and nutrition expert Walter Willett once wrote, the advisory committee's report is "yanked this way and that by competing powerful interests, few of which have your health as a central goal."
The 2015 advisory committee, for example, directly said that Americans should eat less processed red meat, replace sugar-sweetened beverages with water, and that the environmental sustainability of food production should be factored into the guidelines. The language around those issues was either watered down or deleted.
Americans, and particularly Black Americans, cannot afford another watering down of the recommendations. While we are understandably consumed with the horrific death toll of Covid-19, we cannot forget that so many of the deaths are compounded by a poor diet.
Reposted with permission from STAT.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.