Open Consultative Council Meeting Minutes - 5 November 2014

Minutes of the Open Meeting of the Food Safety Consultative Council on 5 November 2014 at 09:00 in the Radisson, Golden Lane, Dublin 8

Members Present

Ms Veronica Campbell (Chair), [VC]
Mr Martin Roper, [MR]
Mr Ray Bowe [RB]
Mr Donal Maguire (DM)
Mr Tim O’Brien (TO’B)
Mr Pat Daly [PD]
Mr Dermott Jewell (DJ)
Ms Margaret Leahy [ML]
Ms Sinead Finnegan, [SF]
Ms Paula Mee [PM]
Dr Susanne Boyd [SB]
Ms Breda Raggett, [BR]

Apologies for Absence

Ms Una Fitzgibbon (UF)
Ms Maree Gallagher [MGa]
Mr Cormac Healy [CH]
Mr Brendan Kehoe [BK]

In Attendance

Mr Raymond Ellard [RE]
Ms Eileen Lippert [EL]
Prof. Alan Reilly [AR]

1. Welcome

Raymond Ellard welcomed everyone to the meeting, went through the main house-keeping issues for the meeting and introduced the Minister for Health, Leo Varadker, T.D. The Minister addressed the meeting and outlined some of the main initiatives that are in place to improve health in Ireland and wished the meeting well. RE then introduced Veronica Campbell, Chair of the FSCC who spoke of the work of the Council.

The theme of the open meeting was “Food Addiction – Fact or Fiction” and comprised four presentations and a panel/audience debate chaired by food journalist and broadcaster Ms Suzanne Campbell. The presentations were given by:

  • Dr John Menzies- University of Edinburgh
  • Prof Julian Mercer – University of Aberdeen
  • Ms Paula Mee , Nutrition Consulting and Member of the Food Safety Consultative Council
  • Dr Mary Flynn, Chief Specialist – Public Health Nutrition, FSAI

2. Understanding the Brains Energy-Regulation and Reward Pathways and their Influence on Food Choice – Dr John Menzies, University of Edinburgh

The main points of the presentation were:

  • The brain controls eating behaviour via two pathways – the homeostatic hypothamlus and the hedonic dopamine system;
  • Brain homeostatic mechanisms are in place to ensure we eat when hungry and stop when satiated. We defend a “set point”, but this can be disturbed by food.
  • An explanation of the homeostatic control mechanisms in the brain;
  • Appetite control mechanisms are mediated by the brain but rely on hormonal signals from the body;
  • Gave some examples of the power of hormones, esp. leptin;
  • Gave details of the hedonic control mechanisms in the brain – the reward pathway;
  • How dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in reward and gave examples from experiments with mice;
  • Food intake is not only driven by homeostatic requirements – also eat for pleasure;
  • The brain pathways that mediate this motivation are the same pathways that are hijacked by addictive drugs.
  • However he is of the view that food is not addictive in the way that substance abuse is, it’s more of a behaviour addiction.
  • He acknowledged Full4Health, NeuroFAST and Nudge-it

Action: EL will circulate a copy of the presentation to the members.

3. Food Addiction or Eating Addiction – Prof. Julian Mercer, University of Aberdeen

RE introduced Prof. Mercer and the main points of this presentation were:

  • The evolution of food reward
  • Discussed the fact that food is rewarding but could it be addictive?
  • Pointed out the large amount of media coverage that food ‘addiction’ receives;
  • The plethora of books on the topic of food addiction;
  • Provided information and highlights from the Food Addiction, Fact or Fiction Workshop which took place during the British Science Festival in Sept 2012;
  • Discussed the definition of addiction as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse;
  • Discussed the DSM-5 Development as per the American Psychiatric Association and how these have been sub-divided into substance-related disorders and non-substance-related disorders;
  • He elaborated on the diagnostic criteria (DSM-5) for substance use disorder;
  • The Yale Food Addiction Scale questionnaire diagnoses ‘food addiction’ based on DSM-4 criteria for substance dependence;
  • Discussed how observed patterns of over-eating relate to DSM-4 criteria for substance dependence;
  • Queried whether over-eating in binge-eating disorder is an addictive disorder;
  • Discussed food addiction in terms of public interest and scientific credibility and the food and drink industry;
  • Debated some of the policy and public health implications of food addiction;
  • Provided an alternative perspective for food addiction;
  • Acknowledged the Scottish Government, Full4health, Satin, NeuroFAST and EU Seventh Framework Programme

Action: EL will circulate a copy of the presentation to the members.

4. Food Addiction? Cause for Pause – Paula Mee

RE introduced Paula Mee. Her presentation discussed:

  • Whether any ingredient, food item, additive or combination of ingredients has addictive properties;
  • Referred to various experts who consider sugar to be the next tobacco;
  • Commented on increasing weight of men and women nationally and internationally;
  • Provided reasons for weight gain due to slowing metabolism;
  • Provided reasons for weight gain due to reduced activity;
  • Reasons for weight gain due to increased intake;
  • Discussed ways to monitor weight and commented on external environmental factors that may impact on weight gain;
  • She referred to research into the issue of mindless eating;
  • Increased portion sizes;
  • Made reference to findings from “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink;
  • Suggested ways to avoid mindless eating;
  • Gave examples of portion distortion;
  • Gave examples of how to eat mindfully;
  • Compared physical hunger against emotional hunger;
  • Outlined the four steps to mastering mindful eating;
  • Provided tips and advice on how to eat healthily;
  • How to measure your success;
  • Focussed briefly on the clinical perspective;
  • Spoke about the Binge Eating Scale and how information from this is assessed against the DSM 5 criteria;
  • Provided a list of support groups and organisations to help people with over-eating.

Action: EL will circulate a copy of the presentation to the members.

5. We’re Besieged – Not Addicted – Dr Mary Flynn, Food Safety Authority

Raymond Ellard introduced Dr Flynn and here presentation covered:

  • How much of the Irish population is actually a healthy weight;
  • Percentages of the 18-35 years population that are a healthy weight and overweight and obese;
  • Percentages of the 36-50 years population that are a healthy weight and overweight and obese;
  • Percentages of the 51-65 years population that are a healthy weight and overweight and obese;
  • Percentages of the 65+hotel years population that are a healthy weight and overweight and obese;
  • Advice on which foods to eat from the Healthy Eating Guidelines;
  • How smell and colour are properties are used to make foods from the top shelf (to avoid or eat sparingly) look more attractive;
  • Comments that there is a lot of evidence that high fat salty and sugary (HFSS foods) foods are promoted and advertised much more that the foods that make up the basis of a healthy diet;
  • The fact that convenience and fast food as well as HFSS foods tend to be less expensive than the healthier alternatives;
  • Provided information gathered on survey FSAI carried out on the affordability of healthy food, esp. for households in receipt of social welfare;
  • Weaning of babies onto solids starts too early and often children are fed inappropriate foods;
  • Warned that all foods that are advertised as baby foods are not necessarily healthy or suitable for babies;
  • Difficulties involved in children eating healthily – lack of nutrition policies in schools and after school care, lack of time, etc. 
  • The lack of physical exercise in some schools;
  • Bemoaned the lack of nutrient profiles. Originally they were due in Jan 2009 and still not set in Nov 2014;
  • Highlighted the different calorie intake requirements for men and women.

Action: EL will circulate the presentation to the members.

6. Panel Debate

RE welcomed Suzanne Campbell, Chairperson for the panel debating which comprised the four speakers. Some of the questions posed to the speakers included: 

  • How damaging has the media’s obsession with food addiction been?
  • Is there too much information available?
  • Why is nutrient profiling not happening quickly enough?
  • What happened to the traffic lights proposal?
  • Can anything be done with all the data available to help with hormone signalling?

In response to some of these questions, the meeting was informed that the traffic light proposal is caught up in a legal case in the UK and regarding the matter of too much information being available, the panel members agreed that the real issue is not lack of information but making sense of what is available. People inherently know that it’s not food’s fault that they are overweight – they know that habits of a lifetime need to be tweaked and adjusted. Discussions took place about the use of leptin in controlling weight and about weight reduction drugs. 

The audience also made comments amongst which included:

  • The lack of correlation between policy-makers and consumers in the lower socio-economic populations
  • People affected by obesity need to come up with solutions themselves – it can be counterproductive to have thin/slim people preaching to the overweight. 
  • The need for personal responsibility was raised and that the food industry is unfairly getting the rap for overweight and obesity;
  • The need to improve literacy levels was raised – there is no point having lots of labelling information if those in most need of it can’t read it. 
  • There should be nutrition policies in all schools and reference was made to a school meals policy/template in Scotland and that vending machines are not permitted in Scottish schools.
  • The point was made that policies were merely documents and that they need to be implemented. 
  • Incentivise food companies to make healthier snacks – this then led to discussions about sugar and fat taxes; also it was suggested that schools be penalised and budgets cut if healthy eating policies are not implemented. However it was stated that a realistic approach be taken and that schools and parents need to be involved in such incentives as curricula are already overloaded.
  • There was a query about what happens with all the data/science from NeuroFAST and Prof. Mercer addressed this and spoke about some initiatives in place. 
  • The need to be mindful of delivering nutrition information/messages to low income communities was stressed;
  • The heritability of obesity was questioned and Prof. Mercer is of the view that while it is genetic (as is underweight); environment plays a large role as our genes are still the same.
  • This led to discussion about the heritability of behavioural addictions and the speakers from Scotland were of the view that they are.
  • The possibility of reprogramming our palates – examples of disliking beer on very first taste was given as an example of this. 

7. Close of Meeting

Ray Ellard concluded the meeting and thanked everyone involved including the audience for their participation and especially the speakers for their informative lectures. While many points of discussion arose, a general conclusion was that food of itself is not addictive, but addictive behaviours can surround eating.

Last reviewed: 29/6/2015

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