Cornflakes, Corn Syrup and Cancer

Americans are living longer than ever, but not as long as people in 41 other countries.  The U.S. has slipped in international rankings of life expectancy as other countries improve health care, nutrition and lifestyles. A baby born in the U.S. in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd – down from 11th two decades earlier. (1)

“Something’s wrong here when one of the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not able to keep up with other countries,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Is Food to Blame?

Kellogg’s

According to Kellogg’s 2006 annual report, sales in North America equaled US$7.4 billion (67.3 percent of total sales, up 8 percent from 2005). Full-year revenues were US$11 billion, making Kellogg’s the world’s leading producer of ready-to-eat cereal products.  It commands 40 percent of global breakfast cereal sales and makes about 50 percent of Asian prepackaged cereals. However, Asia represents only 2 percent of total company revenues.

Popular cereal brands include Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Rice Crispies.  Typical ingredients of cornflakes include;

  • Milled Corn
  • Sugar (Sucrose)
  • Malt flavoring
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Salt
  • Iron

Kellogg’s is also a leading seller of convenience foods such as fruit snacks, cereal bars, crackers, toasted pastries, cookies and frozen waffles.

Japan

Japan is one country that surpasses the U.S. in longevity where a typical breakfast consists of rice, miso soup, and a side dish, such as an egg or grilled fish. (2)

In 2009, Japanese women and men extended their average life expectancy to new records — 86.44 years for women and 79.59 years for men.  Average life spans rose by almost five months for women and nearly four months for men compared to the previous year according to statistics compiled and published by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Health officials often cite Japan’s relatively healthy diet and high living standards as contributing to growing longevity.(3)

However, many Japanese are beginning to turn to Western-style food for breakfast and lunch, especially in the cities.

Aspartame and MSG

Kellogg’s recently agreed on a business alliance with Japanese company Ajinomoto Co., Inc. on a joint study and development project on health foods aimed at delivering benefits in such areas as weight management and sugar reduction. The two companies will work to develop products containing fat-burning ingredients as well as no-calorie sweeteners. (4)

Ajinomoto Co., Inc. produces food seasonings, cooking oils, and  sweeteners amongst other items – monosodium glutamate (MSG) seasoning being their signature product.  It  was first marketed in Japan in 1909.  Although traditional Asian cuisine had often used seaweed extract which contains high concentrations of glutamic acid, modern commercial MSG is produced by fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses.  About 1.5 million tonnes were sold in 2001, with 4 percent annual growth expected.

MSG is used commercially as a flavor enhancer. Although once associated with foods in Chinese restaurants, MSG is now used by most fast food chains and in many foodstuffs, particularly processed foods including;

  • Prepared stocks often known as stock cubes or bouillon cubes
  • Condiments such as barbecue sauce and salad dressings
  • Canned, frozen, or dried prepared food
  • Common snack foods such as flavored jerky, flavored potato chips (crisps) and flavored tortilla chips.

Ajinomoto is also the world’s largest manufacturer of aspartame, sold under the trade name Aminosweet. It acquired its aspartame business in 2000 from Monsanto. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that replaces sugar (being 180 times sweeter) in many products such as diet Coke, diet Pepsi, sugar free gum, yogurt and children’s aspirin. Yearly revenue stands at US$9.84 billion. (5)

Banned

In the UK, in 2009, Kellogg’s biscuit advert was banned after a consumer watchdog ruled it falsely sold the product as healthy. The cereal giant was reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for selling Nutri-Grain Soft Oaties as “wholesome cookie goodness”. (6)

Kellogg’s was ordered to axe its advertising campaign for the biscuit after product tester Which? accused it of misleading the public into believing it was healthy, despite its high sugar and fat content.

The ASA, an independent body set up by the advertising industry to police the rules laid down in the advertising codes, implemented the ban on Kellogg’s after finding it had breached Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code truthfulness clauses. Kellogg’s said it believed consumers understood cookies were not on their own beneficial to health and said the campaign was intended to communicate that Nutri-Grain Soft Oaties were a source of fiber, six B vitamins and iron.

In April 2010, Kellogg’s escaped another ban when the ASA decided that it did not encourage schoolchildren to eat excessive amounts of Coco Pops. (7)

CocoPopsThe poster ad featured a picture of the cartoon character Coco the Monkey dressed in school uniform. The ad states;

Ever thought of Coco Pops after school?”

The ASA referenced two specific CAP rulings;

  • Marketing communications should not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children.
  • Marketing communications addressed to or targeted at children should not actively encourage them to eat or drink at or near bedtime, to eat frequently throughout the day, or to replace main meals with confectionery or snack foods.

Complainants challenged whether the ad was irresponsible because they believed it encouraged children to eat two bowls of breakfast cereal a day.

Kellogg’s argued that the ad did not mention consuming Coco Pops twice a day, but only referred to it as a suitable snack for after-school consumption.

The cereal maker cited independent research, which claimed that 93 percent of mothers thought Coco Pops with milk would be a suitable substitute snack, and said if they were to give it to their children, they would do so as a replacement for crisps, biscuits or sweets.

On 30 June this year it was reported that Kellogg’s has pulled its application to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for approval of a weight health relationship claim under the proprietary and emerging science article 13.5 for generic ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.(8)

The wording of the claim, which was only submitted in February this year, is that a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal ‘consumed at breakfast and as part of a second meal (either lunch or dinner) in a two week dietary programe can help to reduce body weight.’

Is Kellogg’s having doubts about its own product?

Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com, Marta Baffigo, public affairs director Europe for Kellogg’s, would not disclose the specific reason for the withdrawal.  She said that Kellogg’s was not ruling out the possibility of resubmission of the claim at a later stage.

Like many other companies we are still going through the learning phase in relation to the regulation. We are not the first to withdraw claims under Article 13.5 and we certainly won’t be the last.

However, we are still very confident about our scientific evidence having conducted clinical trials around the world, and having peer reviewed studies in our portfolio.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Maybe this explains news reported on 4 August 2010 that Kellogg’s is to reduce the amount of sugar in the breakfast cereal Coco Pops after saying it had “listened to mums”. (9)

Four of its Coco Pops brands will have the sugar content reduced from 35 per 100 grams to 29.75 per 100 grams – a reduction of 15 per cent. The change will happen next year.

Greg Peterson, managing director of Kellogg’s UK, said;

“We have listened to mums. They want a balance: lower sugar cereals which children will still eat.”

“We have invested millions of pounds and thousands of staff hours over the last two years to make this happen, and will do this without compromising the taste,” he added.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, gave the move a “cautious welcome”.

“Fifteen per cent is better than nothing but we have been waiting for much more,” he said.

“It’s a cautious welcome because we think that companies that are serious about reformulating should be acknowledged.”

Let’s hope Kellogg’s are true to their word and do reduce the sugar content.

A recent report published in the journal Cancer Research states tumor cells that were fed both glucose (table sugar)  and fructose (HFCS) used the two sugars in two different ways, according to a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles. (10)

Tumor cells thrive on sugar but they used the fructose to proliferate, states Dr. Anthony Heaney of UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center.

Dr. Heaney’s team grew pancreatic cancer cells in lab dishes and fed them both glucose and fructose.

Importantly, fructose and glucose metabolism are quite different.

I think this paper has a lot of public health implications. Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of high fructose corn syrup in our diets, Heaney said in a statement.

Americans take in large amounts of fructose, mainly in high fructose corn syrup, a mix of fructose and glucose that is used in soft drinks, bread and a range of other foods, including Kellogg’s cornflakes.  In the U.S., HFCS is among the sweeteners that have partially replaced sucrose, due to governmental subsidies of U.S. corn and an import tariff on foreign sugar, raising the price of sucrose, thus making HFCS  a cheaper option. (11)

U.S. consumption of HFCS went up 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, researchers reported in 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Is it any wonder U.S. life expectancy ranks 42nd – down from 11th two decades earlier?

Putting Heroin in our Cornflakes would appear to be a healthier option, but that’s another story…

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