Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nestle's obesity campaigns

"And now the whole country, indeed, the whole world seemed suddenly to be caught up in a mad chocolate buying spree..."
                                    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was one of my favorite author's to read out loud to my children.  His book, Matilda, had our whole family in tears laughing so hard.  I read the BFG over and over again to one of my children.  The worlds he created seemed real, despite the wildness of the characters.  One could not help but root for Matilda, the innocent, incredible intelligent child, tormented by uncaring, stupid people in her life.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of his books that never really appealed to me, that is until now.  Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head and I began to see the sophistication of Dahl's story about a poor boy who wins a ticket to tour Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.  So you, the reader of my blog, ask what does this have to do with human milk, infant formula,patents, breastfeeding? the book. Does fiction imitate life or does life imitate fiction?

"Nestle has joined a Government campaign to combat obesity--by rewarding families for buying Kit Kats, Smarties and Milky Bars."
                          an article in the UK's Daily Mail online 10/14/2010

In the Philipines a Nestle Promo, "Wellness 'Win A Laptop Every Week.'  To join the raffle promotion one must register via mobile (SMS) phone and proof of purchase of at least one hundred pesos worth of participating Nestle products within the promotion period (Jan15, 2011 til March 31, 2011)."  Some of the participating products were:  Nescafe, Milo, Nestea, Maggi, Nido, Nestle Crunch, Kit Kat, Fox's, Smarties, etc. 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964.  I was already a teenager and never had the pleasure of reading the book as a child but only as an adult to her own children.  Funny how life seems to imitate fiction.  Nestle in real life owns Wonka, which makes gobbstoppers, nerds, etc.  Augustus Gloop is the obese child in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who drinks from the river of chocolate and is duly punished by Willy Wonka.  Augustus Gloop gets the chocolate squeezed out of him as punishment. Back when Dahl wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, childhood obesity did occur but was rare.  The CDC documents that obesity rates in USA for children aged 2-19 years old is now approximately 17% or 12.5 million children.

Something has changed in the past 40-50 years.  Blame it on the food or lack of activity, many of our children who are obese face a lifetime of health issues as well as being socially ostracized.  Health organizations, governments, corporations have taken notice of this "epidemic" and have decided to wage a battle.  How?  By letting the very industries, the Willy Wonka's of the global food system "educate" us.  We will learn portion control, we will become more active, and we will buy the food products that will fight obesity.

"Mr. Willy Wonka can make marshmallows that taste of violets...he can make lovely blue bird eggs..."  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

In the USA, Nestle's obesity battle has joined forces with governmental organizations.  In the state of Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder wants to attack childhood obesity.  Gerber (which is now owned by Nestle) along with state agencies, the Michigan Grocers Association and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association have created a health and nutrition initiative.  Gerber will lend to the state program its expertise in childhood nutrition and Nestle-owned meal planning and educational materials.  Nestle's Gerber is also helping Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey.  They will help Newark reverse its childhood obesity rates through an educational curriculum.  Nestle is partnered with local community organization, including Newark Youth Policy Board and Rutgers University.  Nothing like an independent educational system....

Other countries seem to be benefiting from Nestle's generosity in its fight against the global obesity epidemic.  South Africa and it's governmental organization the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, part of South Africa's Department for Science and Technology).  "We expect the collaboration will help to provide the scientific basis for sound nutrition and food safety policies, as well as identify research needs for science-based regulations on food, nutrition and health."

"The Mozambican Nestle Global Healthy Kids Programme is a partnership project between Nestle Mozambique and Mozambican Ministry of Education..."

"The American University of Beirut joins forces with Nestle to fight obesity among Lebanon's schoolchildren through research and intervention programs."

Surprisingly or not so surprisingly I found that one of the USDA's National Strategic Partners is Gerber and yes, Nestle, as well as the National Dairy Council (many other corporations Dean Foods, Birds Eye, Chiquita, Juicy-Juice--oh wait that is a Nestle owned company).

It seems the food industry, in particular Nestle, is setting the scene to educate the governments of this world as well as academic institutions about obesity.  Believe it or not, but how babies are feed in the early days influences obesity.  Breastfeeding is recognized as important for healthy weight gain.  Thus, the infant formula industry will educate us about breastfeeding.  Huh?  Roald Dahl (if he were still alive) could write a hilarious children's book about an infant formula industry teaching mothers to breastfeed.   Nestle in its patent applications describes the problem and how to go about fixing it.  Presto, chango...ta-da...create a better infant formula, more like human milk!!!  Nestle seems more prepared to fight the obesity campaign than any other infant formula company.  They have submitted over 50 patent applications to the US Patent & Trademark Office since 2003.  Other infant formula companies have a few patents regarding obesity but Nestle is outstanding.  Financially for this company, its a win-win situation.  And this is what our adult world seems to be about, making money and just more money, more toys, more candy...gluttony, thy name is capitalism.

Anyway, just a small sample of some of Nestle's obesity patent applications.

Patent application 20120029080 entitles, "Reduction of risk of obesity."
"Increasingly it is believed that the first 6 months of life represent one of the most important post natal periods for human fat mass development and consequently may be critical window for programming excess of adiposity later in life."

Patent application 2012021977, entitled, "Promotion of healthy catch-up growth."  This patent is about how catch-up growth might not be such a great thing, there are risks for babies who gain rapid weight on previous infant formulas.

Patent application 20118244072 entitled, "Modulation of infant fat mass."
"Weight gain during the first week of life has been associated with overweight in adulthood."

As someone who tried to help woman breastfeed, reading these patents creates some angry feeling.  One of the main issues during the years I was involved with breastfeeding assistance (1985-2005) was breastfed infants who were not gaining enough.  Pediatricians using infant formula provided growth charts would tell mothers that their baby was not gaining enough.  When the person in the white coat, the doctor, tells a mother that her baby is not gaining enough and that supplementation is required; it is next to impossible to step-in and change the situation.  Most often, I could not see that there was a weight-gain problem, just a "chart" problem.  Growth charts provided by the infant formula industry, seemed well a little wrong for the breastfed infant.  Supplementation with infant formula, usually is the beginning of the end of breastfeeding in most cases, unless the mother gets some guidance from someone who has a deeper understanding of supply-demand issues that govern breastfeeding.  How many mothers during those years quit breastfeeding, believing that they didn't have enough milk?  How many?  In my practice, I was overwhelmed by these cases. And here we have these patent applications to develop an infant formula more like breastmilk so that babies will not become obese children.  Some of the patent applications want to increase the protein content, some decrease the protein content...all Nestle patent applications.  One patent thinks that Lactobacillus reuteri (a bacteria specifically identified from human milk) is an anti-obesity agent.  Another considers Lactobacillus rhamnous an agent for weight control.  One has to wonder why we think that obesity can be resolved by one ingredient.  

One of the patent applications that became a patent in 2007 is called, "Pre-adipose cell lines,"  patent applciation 20030175957.  In order to develop drugs, food ingredients and supplements against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, Nestle has created a new immortalized human pre-adipose cell lines.  The patent states, "Obesity has been declared a public health hazard by the National Institutes of Health....The effects of obesity, e.g. non-insulin dependent diabetes, coronary artery disease, and hypertension, are estimated to have resulted in $45.8 billion in direct costs and an additional $23 billion in indirect costs from, e.g. missed work."

This patent thinks it will be "useful to predict and measure a person's propensity or susceptibility to obesity."  I have a better way of predicting and preventing obesity and it doesn't need patenting and is very cost effective.  Infant feeding practices predicts whether an infant will be at high risk for obesity in later life.  Nestle says so in its patents, they have done the research.  I would say exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life would be a first step in prevention of obesity.  And the question must be is how much does Nestle really want breastfeeding to succeed, when so much is riding on diagnosis and treatment of obesity  through patent-pending products?  How is it that our global world lets a corporation make profits from creating a problem and then watches it profit from its resolution?  Curious our world.

"Of course they're real people.  They're Oompa-Loompas. Imported.  direct from Loompaland."    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. by Roald Dahl

Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain

Two IBCLCs (Renee Hefti and Maria Parlapiano) are currently working hard to alert people to Nestle's partnerships with several governmental offices in Newark, New Jersey and Michigan.  If you my readers are troubled by this kind of partnership, please consider signing the Health Petition to Stop Newark/Nestle Now at 

You may also be interested in letters written by the organization, Public Citizen.