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Category: Obesity

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Consumer Confidential: Unhealthiest cereals, email scam warning

Here's your why-do-fools-fall-in-love Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- So what are the unhealthiest cereals? Glad you asked. According to the Environmental Working Group, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, at nearly 56% sugar by weight, leads the list of the 10 worst children’s cereals. In fact, a one-cup serving of the brand packs more sugar than a Hostess Twinkie, and one cup of any of 44 other children’s cereals reviewed has more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies. No. 2 on the bad-for-you list is Post Golden Crisp (51.9% sugar by weight), followed by Kellogg's Froot Loops Marshmallow (48.3%), Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's OOPS! All Berries (46.9%) and Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch Original (44.4%). So what's good? You can't go wrong with a nice bowl of homemade oatmeal. (

-- Heads up: The Better Business Bureau is warning about a malicious email circulating the country. It says the email appears to come from a Better Business Bureau employee about a recently filed complaint with the organization. The email tells recipients to review the matter and advise the organization of their position on the complaint. Recipients are directed to a link which the email claims will take the reader to the BBB website. In fact the link takes recipient elsewhere, where a virus can be downloaded to your computer. An attachment with the mail may also contain a virus. The BBB says that if you get an email like this, delete it. Pronto. (

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Some kids' cereals are nearly half sugar by weight. Credit: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press


Consumer Confidential: Bank Transfer Day, hoodia settlement

Here's your fight-the-power Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Have any plans for Saturday? How about sticking it to your bank? Nov. 5 is Bank Transfer Day, organized by Kristen Christian, an art-gallery owner in California who is using Facebook to invite people to shift their funds from for-profit banking institutions to not-for-profit credit unions. As of Thursday, nearly 36,000 Facebook users "like" the concept while more than 73,000 indicated they will be taking matters into their own hands. An estimated 650,000 consumers have joined credit unions nationwide since Sept. 29, according to a statement from the Credit Union National Assn., a credit-union advocacy group. That’s the day Bank of America announced its now-aborted $5 debit-card fee.

--If you've been thinking about taking hoodia to help lose weight, don't bother. The Federal Trade Commission says it's settled a case against two companies which hyped weight-loss products based on hoodia, a substance derived from the Hoodia gordonii cactus of southern Africa. The FTC complaint alleged executives at Nutraceuticals International and Stella Labs falsely marketed hoodia products as effective weight-loss and appetite-suppression supplements, even though there was no scientific evidence of such benefits. David Romero, a principal at both companies, was assessed a $22.5-million fine for his role in the marketing claims. Romeo forfeited to the FTC a Vermont vacation home and $635,000 in business loans as part of his settlement. A $4-million judgment was also assessed against Deborah Vickey, a marketing executive at Nutraceuticals International.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Frustrated consumers are being encouraged to switch banks on Nov. 5. Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press


Consumer Confidential: Scary candy sales, be safe, Black Friday

Here's your mad-dogs-and-Englishmen Monday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- So how much candy will be doled out tonight for Halloween? The answer is $2.3 billion worth, according to the National Confectioners Assn. That's up about 1% from last year. The Census Bureau says the average American consumes about 25 pounds of candy every year. Some other fun facts: There are an estimated 41 million potential trick-or-treaters in 2010 -- children ages 5 to 14 -- across the country. The average jack-o'-lantern bucket holds about 250 pieces of candy, amounting to about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar. Most U.S. children consume between 3,500 and 7,000 calories from candy on Halloween. Finally, candy companies produced about 35 million pounds of candy corn this year. That's a truly scary figure.

-- How to make the holiday safer? Here's some advice from the experts at the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission: Choose flame-resistant costumes. Homemade costumes should be made out of flame-resistant fabrics, like polyester or nylon. Wear bright colors or costumes with reflectors to ensure being visible in the dark. Also, to avoid tripping, make sure costumes aren't too long. Avoid masks -- they can make it more difficult to see properly. Replace them with makeup and hats. Test makeup. Put a small amount of costume makeup on one arm about two days before dressing up.

-- Black Friday comes earlier and earlier. Macy's is planning its earliest start ever to the holiday shopping season by opening many of its U.S stores at midnight on Thanksgiving night. Target announced a similar move last week, setting the stage for what is likely to be a competitive holiday season for U.S. store chains. The National Retail Federation says U.S. retail sales should rise 2.8% in November and December, excluding cars, gas and restaurants. Store hours can vary by chain and by location, but last year most chains opened their doors at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving.

-- David Lazarus


Lap-Band sales fell 16% in third quarter, Allergan says

Get-thin photo

Sales of Allergan Inc.’s Lap-Band weight-loss device dropped 16% in the third quarter of the year, the company said.

The Lap-Band is familiar to many Southern California residents because it is marketed extensively by a company called 1-800-GET-THIN on freeway billboards, television, radio and the Internet. The ad company is not affiliated with Allergan.

In a Wednesday conference call with analysts, Allergan Chief Executive David E.I. Pyott blamed the slump in Lap-Band sales on the sluggish economy, high unemployment and steep insurance co-payment requirements. In a statement, the company said it “remains committed to the Lap-Band business, as we strongly believe it represents an important tool in addressing the obesity epidemic.”

Since 2009, five Southern California patients have died after undergoing Lap-Band procedures at clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ads, according to lawsuits, coroner’s records and interviews.

Several lawsuits have been filed against the advertising company, clinics at which the surgeries were performed and the doctors involved in the surgeries. Through their attorneys, the marketing company and surgery centers have denied wrongdoing.

The Lap-Band represents just a small fraction of Allergan’s sales. The Irvine company also markets Botox wrinkle treatment, breast implants, an eyelash lengthening drug and a number of eye medications. Allergan reported $1.31 billion in sales for the third quarter, down slightly from the $1.33 billion that analysts had expected. Its shares fell $3.22, or 3.7%, to $83.74 on Wednesday.


Another patient dies after Lap-Band surgery

Ad firm, two doctors sued over death of Lap-Band patient

Lap-Band clinic directed to improve

-- Stuart Pfeifer

Photo: An advertisement for Lap-Band surgery. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

Consumer Confidential: BlackBerry back; fat passengers on AirTran

Here's your things-that-make-you-go-hmmm Thursday roundup of consumner news from around the Web:

-- Peace in our time. BlackBerry services buzzed back to life across the world after a three-day outage that interrupted email messages and Internet services for millions of customers. Research In Motion, the maker of the phones, says the system was back to normal early Thursday. Some phones that have been out of touch for a long time may need to have their batteries pulled out and put back in to regain a connection to the network. A crucial link in BlackBerry's European network failed Monday, and a backup also failed. That immediately cut off service for most users in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

-- Flying fat will soon cost you more on AirTran. The carrier's new owner, Southwest Airlines, will bring its policy for large passengers to AirTran Airways starting in March. The new policy will require those passengers -- whom Southwest calls "customers of size" -- to buy a second seat if they are flying in AirTran's coach section. As of March 1, AirTran will require the purchase of more than one seat for a passenger who, "in the carrier's sole discretion," can't sit in just one seat with the armrest lowered. According to, AirTran's seats are 18 inches wide in coach class and 22 inches wide in business class.

-- Do you live in a cool neighborhood? Now you can find out. MapQuest is launching a website that ranks thousands of neighborhoods on quality-of-life measures, including restaurants and bars, shopping and how easy it is to get around on foot. The company says the site, mqVibe, uses algorithms to produce real-time rankings of 50,000 neighborhoods in 27,000 U.S. cities. It also lists the best-ranked places for dining, shopping, beauty and spas, health, lodging and other services. Rankings are based on user votes and what the company describes as interactions on and external data. That sounds like a really scientific way of taking a best guess.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: BlackBerry users, rejoice! Service is retored. Credit: Oliver Lang / Associated Press


Consumer Confidential: Low mortgage rates, formidable food ads

Homepic Here's your the-very-thought-of-you Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- In the market for a mortgage? Boy, have banks got a deal for you. Mortgage rates have never been cheaper, with the 30-year rate falling below 4% for the first time in history. The interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate loan fell to 3.94% this week, the lowest rate since mortgage giant Freddie Mac began tracking it. Meanwhile, the average for a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage also hit a record, falling to 3.26%. The dirt-cheap mortgage rates can result in considerable savings for homeowners. Compared with just three months ago, when the 30-year was at 4.60%, borrowers today can save about $40 a month per $100,000 borrowed. That comes to a savings of nearly $14,000 for every $100,000 borrowed over the life of the 30-year loan.

-- Your kids pay more attention to Madison Avenue than to you when it comes to food. Food ads have more clout when it comes to children's food selection than even an involved parent, a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests. The findings came as a surprise to researchers who were trying to determine the effect of commercials on kids' diets. Researchers from Texas A&M International University studied 75 children between the ages of 3 and 8. The children were shown a film that included two cartoons with three commercials in between each cartoon. Afterward, it turned out that the commercials had more influence over kids' decisions than the prodding of parents. Gosh, I wonder if that could be contributing to our obesity epidemic in any way ...

-- David Lazarus

Photo: If you're shopping for a new home, you can get sweet deals on loans. Credit:  Larry Downing  / Reuters


Report: U.S. spending billions of dollars to subsidize junk food

A new report released this week has found that, among the billions of dollars spent each year in federal subsidies for commodity crops, a steady flow of these taxpayer dollars are going to support high fructose corn syrup and three other common food additives used in junk food.

The report, “Apples to Twinkies: Comparing Federal Subsidies of Fresh Produce and Junk Food” by CALPIRG and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, studies the interesting question of whether the nation's problem with obesity is fueled by farm subsidies.

From 1995 to 2010, $16.9 billion in federal subsidies went to producers and others in the business of corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils, according to the report.

The findings come as the White House has been rallying to battle childhood obesity, and Congress is poised to potentially either quash or curtail direct farm subsidy payments in the future.

So how much is America spending? Enough for each U.S. taxpayer to buy 19 Twinkies a year, according to the report. In comparison, it said, federal subsidies for fresh produce would cover only a few bites of an apple per taxpayer a year.

One of the more interesting findings: Taxpayers in the San Francisco area spend $2,762,295 each year in junk food subsidies, but only $41,950 each year on apple subsidies.

“If these agricultural subsidies went directly to consumers to allow them to purchase food, each of America’s 144 million taxpayers would be given $7.36 to spend on junk food and 11 cents with which to buy apples each year –- enough to buy 19 Twinkies but less than a quarter of one Red Delicious apple apiece,” CALPIRG officials said in a statement.

You can read an executive summary of the report, and get a copy of the full report, here.


Healthier fast food for kids?

Got alcohol? Gov. Brown legalizes flavor-infused drinks

Consumer Confidential: Soda warning; free Chick-fil-A meals

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Hostess Twinkies. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images / AFP

Consumer Confidential: Airline fees, hot toys, less Coke

Baggage fees
Here's your to-sir-with-love Tuesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--If you're traveling abroad, don't pack too much. A USA Today survey of airline fees shows that some carriers have hit or surpassed the $400 mark for international passengers traveling with overweight baggage. On most international flights, Continental is charging $400 for a bag weighing 71 to 100 pounds. United Airlines similarly charges $400 for bags weighing 71 to 99.9 pounds on intercontinental flights. American Airlines will charge you $450 for overweight luggage bound for Asia. The reason, AA spokesman Tim Smith told USA Today, is to both defray fuel costs and to dissuade passengers from checking such heavy bags in the first place. Call it tough love.

--Is it too soon to think about what toys you'll be buying for Christmas? Of course not. Toys R Us, for one, is betting that 15 toys ranging from a flying, inflatable remote-control fish to tiny collectible monsters will be big hits this season. Making the right picks early is crucial for toy sellers so they have the right mixture of toys at the right prices to lure shoppers. The holiday season can account for about 40% of a toy seller's annual profit. In 2010, U.S. toy sales rose 2% to $21.87 billion, according to the NPD Group. Toys on the Toys R Us list include: Air Swimmers Extreme by Animal Planet, $49.99; Lalaloopsy Silly Hair dolls by MGA Entertainment, $34.99; and Monster High Fearleading 3-Pack by Mattel, $42.99.

--Coca-Cola thinks less may be more. The company will announce this week the launch of 12.5-ounce, 89-cent bottles to accompany the 16-ounce, 99-cent bottles it rolled out nationally last year as an alternative to 20-ounce bottles in U.S. convenience stores. It will also slash the suggested retail price on its recently introduced eight-pack of 7.5-ounce Coke "mini'' cans in supermarkets by about 20% to $2.99 to try to lure more customers. The proliferation represents a departure from years of relying heavily on three basic packages -- 20-ounce bottles in convenience stores and two-liter bottles and cases of 12-ounce cans in supermarkets -- as it battled rivals Pepsi and Dr Pepper in the $75-billion U.S. retail soda market. But sugar water is still sugar water, no matter how modest the serving.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: You may want to travel light to avoid higher baggage fees. Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt / Associated Press


Whole Foods' half-price LivingSocial deal has shoppers scrambling


Hungry for a discount? Whole Foods Market Inc., the largest U.S. natural-foods grocer and high-priced haven to the locavore-meets-vegan-meets-foodie crowd, on Tuesday is selling 1 million coupons on the LivingSocial website.

The deal from the Texas-based chain: $10 gets you $20 worth of groceries. But it’s a deal that also aims to help bolster children's health, say company officials. Fifty cents from each coupon sold will be donated to the company’s Whole Kids Foundation, which works to help combat childhood obesity.

Daily deal sites have long offered food promotions, but industry watchers point out that the deals are typically good only at a single grocery site or at small restaurant venues, rather than at a mainstream grocer that has locations across the country. Grocery store chains, such as Ralphs and Albertsons, have long offered deals and coupons through their websites to people who sign up for their loyalty programs,  but the discounts are typically not this steep.

On Tuesday, LivingSocial officials touted the deal as the first such grocery deal to be offered on a national level.

Here how it works: LivingSocial subscribers –- or anyone who signs up Tuesday -– can buy the deal for the $10-for-$20 voucher. After the purchase clears, the person takes that voucher into any Whole Foods location. Store officials will then exchange the voucher for a $20 gift card.

It is free to sign up for LivingSocial, which can be found here. (No coupon hording: One voucher per person.)

As of 10:13 a.m. PDT, 602,821 vouchers had been sold, according to the LivingSocial website.

“We’re not a traditional grocery,” company spokeswoman Kate Lowery told Bloomberg News. “We’re always looking for alternatives and ways for our shoppers to save.”


Food trucks still among 'hottest trends,' says restaurant group

Consumer Reports says many celebrity food brands are just average

Cornell lab prints food, says digital cuisine could change restaurants

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Shoppers browse the cheese and charcuterie section of a Whole Foods Market in El Segundo. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

FDA takes closer look at gluten-free labels

Grocery Shopper 
The federal Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at how gluten-free products are being labeled and is weighing stricter standards.

The agency has reopened the comment period, which will last through this month, for its 2007 proposal about labeling foods as “gluten-free.” One of the issues the FDA is proposing is that foods labeled as “gluten-free” can’t contain 20 parts per million or more gluten.

The agency is reexamining the issue because, back in 2007, it was difficult to scientifically validate such levels of gluten using the methods and techniques that then were available. Now, according to the agency, technology has advanced and such detections are available.

Such labels are key to people who have celiac disease, which means their bodies can’t tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Celiac disease damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, according to the FDA.
“Before finalizing our gluten-free definition, we want up-to-date input from affected consumers, the food industry, and others to help assure that the label strikes the right balance,” Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said in a statement. “We must take into account the need to protect individuals with celiac disease from adverse health consequences while ensuring that food manufacturers can meet the needs of consumers by producing a wide variety of gluten-free foods.”

To comment on the issue, click here and follow the directions.

This public discussion is happening as the FDA reportedly is also proposing to revamp food labels in general.

The proposal, according to Associated Press, would offer a clearer (and more realistic) definition of a serving size -- because really, how many people look at a 20-oz. bottle of soda and see 2.5 servings? -- and place more of the label’s focus on calories than on carbohydrates or proteins.

The quest to create a better, clearer label on food products -- and therefore help Americans make better food choices and combat obesity -- has been an ongoing effort by federal officials for eight years. While the FDA has said the proposal wouldn’t be a massive overhaul, officials reportedly have said they want food labels to be more useful for Americans when shopping or eating out.


Domino's Pizza plans to be first fast food joint on the moon

Sodium use up 144% in restaurants -- mostly through gourmet salt

Consumer Reports says many celebrity food brands are just average

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A shopper in a Florida grocery store. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Consumer Confidential: Soda warning; free Chick-fil-A meals

Soda warning
Here's your jumpin'-jack-flash Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Public-health advocates are calling on Americans to go easy on the soda. A coalition of health and consumer groups would like to see Americans reduce their consumption to three cans per week. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American Heart Assn., the American Diabetes Assn. and more than 100 other groups are mounting a campaign to educate Americans about the risks of consuming too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the single largest source of calories in the American diet and account for half of all added sugars consumed. And unlike any other food or beverage, only sugary drinks have been shown to have a causal role in promoting obesity. The American Heart Assn. recommends that people limit their intake of sugary drinks to about 450 calories per week, or about three 12-ounce cans. Average consumption is now more than twice that.

--Speaking of calories, our friends at fast-food chain Chick-fil-A are giving away breakfasts to customers who make an online reservation. To participate in the promotion, which runs from Sept. 6 to Sept. 10, customers should go to to find a participating restaurant near them and reserve the menu item of their choice, as well as the time they plan to pick it up (between 6:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.). Available dishes include: Chick-fil-A Chicken Biscuit; Chick-fil-A Spicy Chicken Biscuit; Sausage Biscuit; Chick-fil-A Chick-n-Minis; Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit; Chicken, Egg & Cheese on Sunflower Multigrain Bagel; Chicken Breakfast Burrito; Sausage Breakfast Burrito; and Multigrain Oatmeal.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Those sugary drinks may not be your friend. Credit: Daniel Barry / Bloomberg News



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