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Calories, whether we take in too many – or too few – in a single day, have always been a source of debate in the health care and nutrition community. The issue was front and center at NYAM as Marion Nestle, PhD, of New York University presented her recent book, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics (co-authored with Malden Nesheim), at a NYAM Author Night on June 11, 2012.
Dr. Nestle's lecture delved into various aspects of calories and the ways in which they impact the way we view food and nutrition.
“Before I began the project, I realized that such a book on calories was badly needed, especially what I thought was most important – work on food systems (and the) connection between science and public policy,” Dr. Nestle said. “The book looks at three essential aspects of calorie counting: food insecurity, obesity, and the public’s confusion about the distinction between calories in food and calories in the human body.”
Dr. Nestle said that while the United Nations has seen a drop in the number of people who go hungry each day (just under a billion), obesity rates around the world have significantly risen – almost a third of the world’s population, with Hungary, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. at the top. She attributes much of this to the daily caloric intake of most humans.
“Calories are tiny creatures that live in your closet and sew your clothes a bit tighter every night,” she said.
Dr. Nestle said that many people are simply confused about the science behind calories, adding that most people think they may be eating something nutritional, even organic in nature, but all food contains calories. She said it’s a matter of measurement versus estimation.
“We can’t eat smell or taste calories; the only effect we measure is on the body,” Dr. Nestle said. “If you are gaining weight, you are taking in too many calories.”
Worse yet, marketing around food, which amounts to a $60 billion-a-year industry, has a huge effect on society’s decisions about what foods are healthy, a fact that is often skewed by the corporate push for consumer favor. Dr. Nestle said that much of our food consumption is grained-based with particular foods being eaten the most, including yeast bread, fried chicken, soda, pizza, and alcohol.
“It all comes down to coping with the calorie environment," Dr. Nestle said. “That means consumers need to get more organized about the foods they eat, they must learn to eat less but eat better, they need to move more, and they need to get political about the business of food and the ways in which it is marketed."
Marion Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University which she chaired from 1988-2003. Dr. Nestle is also Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She earned a PhD in molecular biology and an MPH in public health nutrition from University of California, Berkeley. Previous faculty positions were at Brandeis University and the UCSF School of Medicine (Associate Dean). Her research examines scientific and socioeconomic influences on food choice, obesity, and food safety, emphasizing the role of food marketing. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health; Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety; and What to Eat.
Posted on June 15, 2012
Abigail J. Franklin
Vice President for Development & Communications
The New York Academy of Medicine
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This report identifies opportunities that build on both the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) and New York’s ongoing efforts toward improving the health of its 19 million residents.
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