A Statement of Support to our Colleagues at the Fletcher School

by The Friedman Justice League

The Friedman Justice League responds to Anthony Scaramucci’s resignation from the Advisory Board at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy on November 28, 2017. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

By Jdarsie11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jdarsie11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Friedman Justice League, with support from the Friedman Sprout, is writing to state its solidarity with the students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who bravely spoke out when they felt that a member of the Fletcher Advisory Board was not upholding the school’s core values. As a student organization, The Friedman Justice League is committed to finding ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs. We believe the actions taken by fellow students at the Fletcher school reflect this same mission, and for that we affirm our support.

On November 28, financier and former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci resigned from the Fletcher School’s Advisory Board after students and faculty rightly called attention to the discrepancy between his unethical behavior and the values befitting a Fletcher School board member. Earlier in November, Camilo Caballero, a graduate student at Fletcher, wrote an op-ed calling for Scaramucci’s removal from the board, following a petition by fellow student Carter Banker to remove Scaramucci from the board. In the op-ed, he described Scaramucci as an “irresponsible, inconsistent and unethical opportunist,” questioning his position on the Advisory board. They feared that the university was foregoing the long-term benefit of upholding its core values for the short-term benefit of monetary gain. Clearly, the actions Scaramucci took towards Caballero–to threaten a lawsuit because of our fellow student’s opinion–illustrate that his values may no longer align with those of the school, and thus he was no longer fit to continue serving on the board.

Our colleagues at the Fletcher school held themselves accountable for creating the change they wished to see within their institution. Rather than resigning themselves to defeat, they took action when they perceived an injustice. They took action when they perceived that “the power of money [was] taking precedent over the power of values.” We stand in solidarity with the brave steps taken by Camilo Caballero and Carter Banker.

We recognize that our Fletcher colleagues Caballero, Banker, and the editors and staff at The Tufts Daily published their articles at great personal risk to themselves, and we applaud them for doing so. In a statement on behalf of the Friedman Sprout, current co-editor Kathleen Nay says,Though we hope our writers would never feel intimidated or harassed into silence by outside forces, the Friedman Sprout upholds its commitment to empowering students’ voices, especially when challenging injustices in our school’s administration and in our food system more broadly.”

In keeping with the University’s vision “to be an innovative university of creative scholars…who have a profound impact on one another and the world,” we should be proud of our Fletcher colleagues for demonstrating the power of democratic free speech, civic engagement, and commitment to values over financial gain. We hope that should an occasion ever arise, the community at the Friedman School would respond with the same amount of conviction and integrity these students exemplified. The Friedman School prides itself in generating trusted science, educating future leaders, and creating a positive impact in the world of food and nutrition. We know that this is only truly possible if we have trusted experts and citizens at the helm guiding it in the right direction. Anything short of this would place the credibility of Friedman, and by extension the science and policy its research generates, at risk.

Moving forward, we also believe it is in the best interest of the university to develop a process for removing board members that are no longer fit to advise our school. Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins noted that there is no known precedent for removing an advisor from a board; they have only resigned when new positions create conflicts of interest. Although in this case Scaramucci resigned, we believe that no person should take being placed in such an honorable position for granted, and that as representatives of our institution they should be held to the highest standards of morality both within and outside of board meetings. We hope that the administration will take action to ensure that only those who continue to uphold the university’s values continue to have the privilege of a seat on the Board of Advisors.

With the brave voices of a few, our colleagues at the Fletcher school made national waves and created an impact that we believe makes Tufts University a more just and ethically consistent institution. We reaffirm our support of the actions of our fellow students. They inspire us at Friedman to remember to be vigilant, to speak up, and to never underestimate the power of your own voice.

In solidarity,

The Friedman Justice League
Alejandra Cabrera, NICBC 18
Tessa Salzman, AFE/UEP 18
Julie Kurtz, AFE/MPH 18
Casey Leger, NICBC 18
Yvonne Socolar, AFE 18
Kristin Sukys, AFE 18
John VanderHeide, AFE/UEP 18
Kirsten Archer, FPAN/MPH 17
Kathleen Nay, AFE/UEP 18
Eliza Hallett, NICBC 19
Alyssa Melendez, AFE 19
Hannah Meier, NutComm 18
Michelle Darian, NICBC/MPH 19
Megan Maisano, NICBC 18
Sara Scinto, NICBC 18
Jennifer Oslund, FPAN 19
Sabrina Kerin, AFE, 19
Jennifer Pustz, NICBC/MPH 19
Leah Powley, AFE 18
Michelle Rossi, NICBC/MPH 18
Hattie Brown, FPAN 19
Ryan Nebeker, AFE 19
Eliot Martin, FPAN 19
Maria Wrabel, FPAN, 18
Katherine Rancaño, NEPI 17/NICBC 20
Rachel Baer, NICBC 18
Madeline Bennett, FPAN 17
Alana Davidson, FPAN 19
Simon Ye, BMN 17/20
Jessica Manly, AFE 18
Caitlin Matthews, AFE/UEP 17
Amy Byrne, AFE/MPH 19
Ayten Salahi, FPAN/DPD 20
Theodore Fitopoulos, FPAN 18
Kimberly Lagasse, NICBC 18
Rachel Hoh, AFE/ UEP 19
Molly Knudsen, NICBC 19
Victoria Chase, AFE 18
Caitlin Bailey, NICBC 19
Sarah Chang, AFE/MPH 16
Suzanne Kline, FPAN 19
Carla Curle, AFE 16
Hannah Packman, AFE 16
Dianna Bartone, FPAN/MPH 17
Elisabeth Learned, NICBC 19
Bridget Gayer, FPAN/MPH 18
Abel Sandoval, NICBC 18
Rebecca Cohen, BMN 19
Nayla Bezares, AFE 19
Sabina C Robillard, FPAN 17
Laura Gallagher, AFE 19
Natalie Kaner, AFE 18
Lindsay Margolis, NICBC 17
Tori Wong, AFE 18
Megan Lehnerd, N14/PhD 18
Laura Walsh, NICBC 19
Alison Brown, FPAN 17
Marielle Hampton, AFE 19
Christine Sinclair, NICBC 19
Rebecca Boehm, AFE 12/17
Johanna Andrews Trevino, FPAN 18

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How Nutrition in MassCare May Put The ‘Health’ Back in ‘Universal Health Coverage’

by Ayten Salahi & Hattie Brown

Including local incentives for food equity and nutritional status may boost momentum and potential of the MA Right to Health movement. Members of budding student group – the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) – met with Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to discuss the need to include nutrition in a proposed cost analysis of a single payer health system (S.2202).

Pictured left to right: Ayten Salahi (MS/RD Candidate), Kurt Hager (MS/MPH Candidate), Senator Jamie Eldridge, Alana Davidson (MS Candidate). 22 NOV 2017

In thousands of American households, the prohibitive cost of healthcare has forced families into an impossible position: choose between financial ruin or the health decline and possible death of a loved one. In Massachusetts, this bleak reality has motivated both the state legislature and its constituents to revive a movement in favor of a single payer healthcare system. However, the degree to which nutrition interventions and food access will be covered in the proposed model remains largely unknown.

The central tenet of a single payer scheme under universal health coverage (UHC) is that health care is a human right. The proposed legislation in Massachusetts seeks to offer and protect healthcare for all residents through a publicly-financed program that provides comprehensive care and coverage under a single insurance plan. The single payer public option would serve as an alternative to employer-sponsored healthcare, in which premiums are paid through payroll deductions, coupled with co-pays and out-of-pocket deductibles. For middle- and lower-income beneficiaries, a single payer system means lower cost for better access to care.

In Massachusetts, the single-payer campaign has reached unprecedented support with 120 co-signers under a 2017 proposal colloquially called MassCare (H. 2987, S. 619). Though neither of the proposed legislation were passed this year, an amended bill (S. 2202) was passed with overwhelming support by the state Senate on November 10 by a 33-6 vote (all six Republicans in the chamber being against). S.2202 authorizes a cost analysis of a state-wide single payer system, and will be reviewed by the House in early 2018.

While MassCare holds promising potential to reduce healthcare spending for both the state and per capita, the proposed legislation does not explicitly or implicitly include nutrition interventions as a line item for consideration in the single payer costing analysis. Historically, UHC policy-makers have deemed nutrition-related services as non-essential, and therefore not covered by insurance. The World Bank refutes this trend, and reports that to accelerate progress towards affordability and access of care requires a “fundamental rethinking of how to keep people healthy.” The recommendations go on to cite regulatory measures targeted to improve diet-related behavior as seminal to the public health agenda. Just last year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) further urged policy-makers to include access to adequate nutrients as an essential service in all UHC programs.

To learn more about how nutrition might fit into the proposed single payer costing analysis, three members of the nascent, student-run Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) took to the Massachusetts State House in late November to meet with single payer champion and state Senator Jamie Eldridge. FFPAC emphasized that, as Massachusetts prepares to analyze the cost effectiveness of single payer models as outlined in S.2202, additional resources should be allocated to determine the efficacy of funding nutrition therapy programs within the model. To achieve this, FFPAC proposed that the MA single payer costing analysis include: 1) medical nutrition therapy coverage for patients with, or at risk for, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD); 2) enteral nutrition coverage as outlined in MassHealth; 3) food insecurity screenings for all patients; and 4) tailored food prescriptions for low-income patients.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, lead Senate sponsor of An Act Establishing Medicare For All in Massachusetts, said, “I was excited to meet with graduate students from the Friedman School of Nutrition, to discuss how preventative health, including nutrition interventions, would be a key component of single payer healthcare, and would help reduce healthcare costs in Massachusetts.”

As the proposed bill continues to undergo revision and review into 2018, FFPAC will continue to advocate that Massachusetts – home of the healthcare law that led to the Affordable Care Act –should again lead by investing in nutritional therapy programs in a single payer model as a method to improve the health of its citizens, lower healthcare costs, and lower the tax burdens of its residents.

The Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a developing student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. The group will be formally established in December 2017, with a mission to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. FFPAC will host its general interest meeting in the early 2018. For further information, please contact friedmanfpac@googlegroups.com. Stay tuned for opportunities to join us and amplify the voice of food advocates in 2018!

Ayten Salahi is a first-year FPAN MS/RD candidate, co-founder of the FFPAC, and is dedicated to the future of policy, programming, and clinical practice in sustainable diets. Ayten came to Friedman after working as a molecular and clinical researcher in neuropharmacology and diabetes management for nearly 8 years.

Hattie Brown is an MS candidate in the FPAN program, and a co-founder of FFPAC. Her interests at Friedman are in the economic implications of food systems, with a focus on the intersection of sustainable agriculture and access to nutritious food. Before coming to Friedman, Hattie worked as a researcher in various capacities, including legal, for a public finance firm, and clinical, for a study analyzing phytochemical compounds in cocoa and their impacts on satiety.

 

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts’s First Farm to School Awareness Day at the State Capitol

by Alana Davidson

October is National Farm to School Month. To celebrate, Massachusetts Farm to School hosted the first Farm to School Awareness Day at the state Capitol on October 26th. Alana Davidson recounts what happened at the event, and details current legislation that is being considered on Farm to School and ways to get involved and support strong Farm to School programs.  

Dozens of students, advocates, and government officials flocked to the state Capitol on October 26th for the first Farm to School Awareness Day, as part of National Farm to School Month. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 spurred the creation of Farm to School programs to provide grants and technical assistance to schools so they can provide more locally grown food in school meals. This State House event reflected on the progress Massachusetts has made in expanding Farm to School programs, as well as what more needs to be done.

The speakers at the event ranged from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to state senators. The USDA’s Farm to School Director, Erin Healy, spoke about the importance of these programs, and how the USDA 2015 Census of Farm to School found that 68% of Massachusetts’ school districts participated in these activities. That is 828 schools and 422,072 students! Rob Leshin, Director of Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Education, added that Farm to School programs have led to the investment of over $10 million in local foods. The locally grown food is not just being used in school lunch, but also in school breakfast, summer meals, and afterschool snack programs. Leshin also described how some schools are including local seafood in school meals. During lunchtime students get to eat Tilapia, the “Catch of the Day” that was caught that morning. Students learn about local fishermen and where and how their seafood is caught. The chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Senator Gobi and Congressman Pignatelli, also spoke. They expressed their support for Farm to School programs and recognized the importance of connecting local farmers with students and school meals. Having the support of the chairs is important because they can influence what bills ought to pass out of committee and what amendments are accepted or rejected. Also, if the House and Senate pass different bills, the chair is in charge of the committee that combines the two bills into one final version.

Photo: Alana Davidson. Rob Leshin Speaking

There is currently one bill in the Massachusetts congress that affects Farm to School programs (An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias, H.3549). The bill includes a three-year grant program to fund kitchen upgrades for one school each year, with the goal of improving fresh food accommodation and storage. Additionally, a four-year pilot grant program will provide funds to multiple schools to increase their supplies of locally grown foods in school meals, and improve student education and engagement around healthy eating. Finally, the bill establishes a School Interagency Task Force that will aim to increase the sustainability of Farm to School programs in Massachusetts, and provide guidance for the four-year grant. This bill has been introduced in the Joint Committee on Education and has had one hearing thus far on July 18th. Next, the bill is “reported out of committee”, which means committee members must decide if the bill ought to pass or not. They have until the third Wednesday of March 2018 to do this. If they decide it ought to pass the bill can then be debated and amendments added before the full House and Senate vote it on.

Farm to School programs help increase students’ access to healthy, nutritious food in schools. They also stimulate local economies by directing money to local farms and fisheries. These programs can be expanded by providing more funding to schools to increase educational activities, improve kitchen equipment, and strengthen local food systems through greater procurement policies with local farms.

If you are a supporter of these programs, contact your state members of Congress and tell them to support H.3549 and strong Farm to School programs! To find your legislator, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Also, tell your legislators to maintain the current funding for Farm to School programs ($120,000) in the fiscal year 2019 Massachusetts’s Budget!

If you do not live in Massachusetts, or are interested in federal policy (as opposed to state policy) – the Farm to School Act of 2017 is currently in committee in the House and Senate. This bill increases mandatory funding for the program from $5 million to $15 million due to increased demand. Tell your federal members of Congress to support this bill and strong Farm to School programs! To find your members, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition issues.

 

Do We Need More Business, or Better Business, to Feed a Growing Population?

by Rebecca Lucas and Emmy Moore

To create a world that can feed 9 billion people by 2030 while providing clean water access, ensuring equal access to education across gender, and supporting renewable and safe energy, do we need to establish new and profitable business models? Or do we simply need to adjust business as usual?

A giant social experiment took place in August. One thousand people from 129 countries. Ten days. Nine Danish folk high schools. All to formulate solutions to address the United Nation’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), that had been condensed to seven major themes: food, energy, water, sustainable production and consumption, education and information and communications technology (ICT), urban sustainability, and health.  After a week, 199 pitches of innovative solutions had been created by groups of people who had only just met at the start of the experiment.

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab, created with the intention of bringing together “talents,” aged 20-35, from all over the world to innovate on the UN’s SDGs and develop new businesses, new ideas, and new ways to achieve these objectives. The long term goal is to continue this program every year until 2030, banking on the probability that at least a few new and creative solutions will successfully emerge. Six individuals from the Friedman School were selected to be part of this inaugural year; while at times it was clear we were guinea pigs with similar frustrations, we were also immersed in an entirely unique and novel experience.

The setting is Denmark: known for clean design, universal health care, paid parental leave, and above all, a high per capita income. This makes for an interesting contrast when working on problems that are facing the world as a whole, yet many that disproportionately impact developing countries.

The first few days all 1,000 of us gathered in dichotomous venues; post-industrial sites, like locomotive storage, and prospects of the future, like Copenhagen City Hall. We were showered with inspirational words from a variety of sectors within Denmark, meant to invigorate us with direction of technology and what is possible today that was not ten years ago. But many of us were left wondering what these futuristic notions had to do with the issues we were at UNLEASH to tackle today.

After two days of corralling 1,000 millennials around Copenhagen, we were divided into our SDG themes and shipped to folk high schools. The Danish Folk High School feels like an adult summer camp but is so much more: individuals who want to learn anything left out of standard school settings, including banjo playing or poetry, can attend throughout their life for different lengths of time. Ry Folkskole, where half of the food-theme group resided, was on a lake and focused on music, theatre, and canoeing. It had a principal who told us the mission was to remind its students that there is more to life than business—there is life. An interesting juxtaposition when we were there with the objective of intensively creating business proposals.

After a morning assembly of singing and three rounds of problem framing on the first day at the high schools, we were divided into our teams that would ultimately produce the final pitch, loosely based on 20 “insights” that had been distilled from each participant’s application.

This was where the social experiment almost felt absurd at times: thrown together with people we had just met, we were meant to come up with a business plan on a clearly defined, singular problem with an explainable and innovative solution in less than four days. This process of problem framing with elegant solutions did not fit neatly with the SDGs and broader issues many of us initially gathered at UNLEASH to grapple with.

Sustainable Development Goal number two: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. It is a grand goal and for many reasons it can seem unachievable. Yet here we were, meant to come up with some thing, some product, some idea that was pitch-able to investors. So, the question kept surfacing: is what we need to achieve zero hunger something that is pitch-able? Is what we need to feed nine billion people by 2030 something that can make a profit? Is focusing on the creation of new apps what will address inequity of food access currently? Is the future of sustainability as discussed in this context applicable to the rest of the world?

Perhaps what is needed to address global hunger and improve food security is a paradigm shift, a major change in the way we view development and how development actually lands on the ground, plants its roots, and continues to grow. This isn’t innovative and yet it may just be something that could work if pursued on this type of platform, with these 1,000 people involved who are excited and ready.

The only problem is; this isn’t necessarily a business proposition. We couldn’t exactly prototype a development model with Legos and pitch it to investors and experts present on our panel of judges. Is UNLEASH’s answer to the SDGs the creation of more start-ups? Or is the answer just doing what we do now, but doing it better? Can it be both? Maybe we can innovate by renovating our existing business models to incorporate the objectives and indicators of the SDGs while also creating new business.

The goal of UNLEASH was not to achieve a paradigm shift in ten days. It aimed to build connections and support future projects and collaboration. The event introduced people from 129 countries to each other and reminded us that we have a shared desire. To gather 1,000 people together who want to make this world a little bit better has much larger implications and reverberations than any business pitch could generate. The paradigm shift is coming.

You can read more about some of the solutions that won prizes here.

Emmy Moore is a second year MS candidate in the Agriculture, Food, & Environment program. Her academic interests include agriculture policy, water resource management, and systems modeling. She likes playing with her cat Pin and road trips. Before joining Friedman she ran a business in California making pickles and jams.

Rebecca Lucas is a second year Agriculture Food & Environment/Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning dual degree student and changes her mind monthly as to her primary focus while in graduate school. Right now it’s all about community engagement and farm to institution work. Hailing originally from the central coast of California, she is still trying to understand how life still functions when it snows and the difference between a “winter” coat and just a coat.

NewTrition Welcome Back 2017

by Kenny Westerman, Katherine Rancano, Jessica Ellis and Jennifer Huang

NewTrition_logo

NewTrition uses a platform of TED-style talks to generate excitement and discussion about the field of nutrition both within and outside of the Friedman community. Previously, NewTrition has invited students, professors and external speakers to deliver short presentations on topics that interest them (which are not necessarily related to their coursework or research!) Check out this vimeo to get a better idea.

If you are interested in helping us organize these events this year, giving a talk yourself, or nominating someone else who you think would be a great speaker, please email tuftsnewtrition@gmail.com! Also, feel free to contact Kenny, Katherine, Jessie, or Jennifer with any questions.

Contact:

WIC at the Crossroads of the Opioid Epidemic

by Danièle Todorov

The complexity and pervasiveness of the opioid epidemic has forced government agencies to be innovative with their resources. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in a prime position to care for pregnant women affected by the epidemic and has stepped up to the plate.

In January of 2016, then Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was appointed by President Obama to lead an interagency taskforce to address the opioid epidemic in rural America. Secretary Vilsack, who’s been outspoken about his own mother’s struggle with prescription drug addiction, knew that compassion and collaboration would be vital. His agency, the USDA, has unique resources and relationships in rural areas, putting it in a prime position to address the epidemic.

Addressing the epidemic is no simple task. According to the CDC, 91 Americans died daily from opioid overdose in 2015. Nearly half of these deaths involved a prescription opioid, used in the treatment of pain. In a town hall meeting in Missouri last July, Secretary Vilsack stated that due to “the devastating toll that opioid misuse has taken on our communities, and particularly rural areas, I have tasked USDA with creatively using all of the resources at our disposal to stem the tide of this epidemic” [1]. Interestingly, Secretary Vilsack highlighted WIC as a resource that could be creatively used. “For many women”, he stated, “WIC is their first point of entry into the healthcare system, and we have an opportunity to intercept and potentially prevent dangerous health outcomes for both the mother and the child” [1].

Pain management is an important part of pregnancy care. The prescription of opioids for pain in pregnancy is increasingly common; 1 in 5 Medicaid-enrolled women were prescribed an opioid at some point during their pregnancy in 2014 [2]. However, the effect of opioids on birth outcomes is understudied. In utero opioid exposure may be associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight [3]. Exposed neonates may develop withdrawal symptoms, a condition known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is associated with increased risk of seizures and breathing difficulties [3]. Similarly understudied are the rates of opioid abuse during pregnancy. We do know that pregnant women with substance abuse problems are particularly vulnerable to food and job insecurities and unstable housing, which exacerbate potential health complications [4].

The healthcare system often stigmatizes and underserves pregnant women with substance abuse problems. However, WIC is increasing its ability to engage them in care. WIC’s mission is to promote the health of low-income women and their children by providing nutritious food, health education, and referrals. Starting in 2014, WIC agencies have increased staff training surrounding substance abuse [1]. Staff are better equipped to notice potential substance abuse, to educate WIC participants about the dangers of substance abuse during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and to connect them with local resources. These expanded roles align with WIC’s mission, not only because they aim to protect the health of the women they serve, but because WIC “acknowledges that substance use is incompatible with good nutrition” [5].

WIC is forming relationships with women at a promising point in time in their lives. In their staff training guide, WIC cites a study showing that women are “more motivated to improve their lifestyle and health habits during periods when they make the transition from one life situation or role to another… WIC participants are a natural target audience for substance use information because they are, by definition, in the life transition stage of pregnancy and new motherhood” [5].

WIC is playing an important part in the collaborative response to the epidemic. As the director of the USDA, Secretary Vilsack understood that a holistic response was the only effective solution and embraced President Obama’s mandate. “This disease isn’t a personal choice,” says Secretary Vilsack, “and it can’t be cured by willpower alone. It requires responses from whole communities, access to medical treatment, and an incredible amount of support. To me, our mandate is clear: don’t judge, just help” [6]. Secretary Vilsack’s endorsement of his replacement as Secretary of Agriculture, nominee Sonny Perdue, gives hope that the USDA will continue this vital endeavor.

Sources

  1. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Substance Misuse Prevention Resources for Low Income Pregnant Women and Mothers In Order to Battle the Opioid Epidemic, U. Office of Communications, Editor. 2016.
  2. Desai, R.J., et al., Increase in prescription opioid use during pregnancy among Medicaid-enrolled women. Obstetrics and gynecology, 2014. 123(5): p. 997.
  3. Patrick, S.W., et al., Prescription opioid epidemic and infant outcomes. Pediatrics, 2015. 135(5): p. 842-850.
  4. Sutter, M.B., S. Gopman, and L. Leeman, Patient-centered Care to Address Barriers for Pregnant Women with Opioid Dependence. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 2017. 44(1): p. 95-107.
  5. Substance Use Prevention: Screening, Education, and Referral Resource Guide for Local WIC Agencies, F.a.N.S. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Editor. 2013.
  6. USDA. Addressing the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Epidemic. 2016 02/17/17].

Danièle Todorov is a first-year nutritional epidemiology student with a focus on pregnancy nutrition and birth outcomes.

 

Coca-Colonization in Mexico: The Soda Tax that Almost Wasn’t

by Ally Gallop, RD, CDE

A year ago, I praised the Mexican government’s seminal 10% soda and 8% junk food taxes, which took effect January 1, 2014. The result? Soda consumption dropped by 6% and bottled water consumption increased by 4%. Yet nearly two years later, relentless soda lobbyists tried to cut the tax in half. Did you hear about that?

As someone who lacked a policy background prior to attending Friedman, I relied on the media to inform me about important nutrition policy issues; I didn’t seek these out. Of course, once at Friedman my interest level soared, and I began following nutrition policy. However, I realized that what initially makes the cut for national media attention isn’t always followed up.

Thanks to a prompt from Marion Nestle’s “Food Politics” blog, I found the follow-up I valued: Does anyone ever wonder what happened to the Mexican soda and junk food taxes passed in 2013? Let’s run through Mexico’s story together from the very beginning.

A 6-step guide through soda taxes in Mexico:

#1. 2006: The alarm sounded in Mexico

The release of the Mexican National Survey of Health and Nutrition instilled panic in the government: Between 1999 and 2006, the average waist size of adult women increased by 4.3 inches, childhood obesity increased by 40% in those aged 5-11 years, soda intake nearly doubled in adolescents and tripled in adult women, and the prevalence of diabetes had doubled (diabetes is the country’s leading cause of mortality). Furthermore, the top three sources of calories in the Mexican diet all came from high-calorie drinks.

Alarmed, the financial arm of the Mexican government consulted the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health at Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health. The Center’s solution was to cut sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption via an excise tax.

#2. 2012: The assistance of Michael Bloomberg

After Michael Bloomberg’s rejected soda tax in New York City, he continued to look for similar opportunities elsewhere. Industry money for lobbying was a major reason for his setback in New York, so in 2012 his foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, invested $16.5 million over a three-year period to match the Mexican soda industry’s anti-tax efforts. This investment allowed Mexico to fight on an even playing field against industry.

#3. October 2013: Mexico introduced a soda and junk food tax

The implementation of the Mexican taxes resulted from a unique set of circumstances. The government was looking for a swift way to prevent the continuous rise in diabetes and obesity. They were also looking for a means to raise money federally—the tax was hoped to raise $1.5 million per year. President Peña Nieto was in favor, but many in his party, the PRI, were not. The intra-governmental disagreement stemmed from close ties to soda: the PRI had previously accepted industry money, diabetes centers were funded by soda, and the industry had infiltrated both the country’s health secretary and the National Council on Science and Technology. All spoke out against the tax in favor of educating the public and promoting physical activity.

In a rare move of assessing public support, the government polled its citizens: 70% were in favor of the tax if revenue was directed to investing in water fountains in public schools.

The tax passed. Taking effect on January 1, 2014, the taxes would result in a one-peso-per-liter (10% or $0.08) tax on SSBs and an 8% tax on junk food supplying more than 275 calories per 100 grams. The tax neglects bottled water, flavored milk, and diet sodas. However, a VAT tax of 15% remained on these items.

#4. May to September 2015: Mexico drank less: Research showed the tax had been effective

Research out of the Mexican National Institute of Public Health, the University of North Carolina, and Euromonitor showed that during 2014:

  • Sales of SSBs fell by 6% overall
  • Sales of bottled water increased by 4%
  • SSB consumption dropped from 163 to 136.6 liters per person per year, declined by 10% in the first three months of 2014 (compared to the same period in 2013), and across all socioeconomic groups
  • The tax disproportionately affected the poor with SSB reductions of 9%. Yet diabetes also disproportionately affects the poor, who are less likely to have insurance to cover the disease’s medical costs

Further, the tax resulted in $1.2 billion USD in government revenue with $900,000 USD authorized for the installation of water fountains in schools. There were also 1,700 job cuts from industry due to decreased sales.

#5. October 2015: The soda industry fought back

Unsurprisingly, these victories made the soda industry unhappy. News broke in early October that the Mexican government’s lower house passed an amendment to cut the 10% tax in half for SSBs providing less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 milliliter. The reduction was aimed at providing industry incentive to reformulate its products to contain less sugar. The PRI apparently negotiated with FEMSA (the world’s largest bottling company located in Mexico) to reduce the tax.

However, once the public became aware of this, government parties scrambled and denied that they were ever in favor of the amendment.

#6. November 2015: The government’s change of heart

Ultimately, the senate overturned the amendment. The original taxes remain.

Ally Gallop, RD, CDE is a second-year nutrition communication and behavior change student focusing in U.S. food and nutrition policy. She prefers to sip on Americanos.