Focus on Fat

Focus on Fat

Obesity Identified as Critical Issue at SFM Conference.

Attendees of the 2010 Critical Issues Conference of the Society for Foodservice Management (SFM) addressed the theme of Health and Workplace Wellness during the one-day event held April 15 at the Credit Suisse headquarters in New York City. A second group joined in from Seattle by teleconference, with Microsoft serving as the West Coast host site.

As the first speaker of the day, Derek Yach of PepsiCo delivered a highly informative address on the Continuing Threat of Obesity. Yach, Pepsi's director of global health policy, has an impeccable resume, having previously served as representative of the director general at the World Health Organization, as a professor of public health at Yale University and as director of Global Health for the Rockefeller Foundation.

In his talk, Yach outlined the critical components of the health debate. Obesity may start reversing some of the health and life expectancy trends we've been seeing in the developed world, he noted.

Betty Perez, Brian Schwagerl, Regina Toomey Bueno and Derek Yac
Sumi DeBenedittis Ann McNally

(top, l. to r.) Betty Perez, Brian Schwagerl, Regina Toomey Bueno and Derek Yach take audience questions following a panel presentation (not pictured: Ned Monroe of NAMA). Also addressing the Conference were (above l.) Conference Chair Sumi DeBenedittis of PepsiCo Foodservice and SFM President Ann McNally (above r.)

He explained that the three primary preventable causes of early death in Americans are smoking, high blood pressure and obesity. However, while obesity is responsible for only about half as many deaths currently as smoking, “it's growing fast.”

To illustrate that further, he cited a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health that segmented Americans into eight categories by health and risk factors. Life expectancy differed by more than 15 years between the lowest and highest lived group, showing how behavior affects life expectancy given different lifestyle demographics.

In a subsequent Q&A, when asked about the sodium reduction issue, Yach expressed a preference for a “voluntary, incremental long-term approach.” “Doing it overnight would be a disaster,” he added.

The agenda also included presentations by Ned Monroe of the National Automatic Merchandisers Association on regulatory issues and a panel discussion on wellness issues with Betty Perez of UMDNJ-University Hospital, Regina Toomey Bueno of New York University Medical Ctr. and Brian Schwagerl of Hearst.


“I don't care whether they like pizza or not. It's not up to them to decide. It's up to the adults to decide. It's one of the things about being a kid: too bad for you.”

— Author and nutrition/public health professor Marion Nestle, commenting on who should decide what is served on school lunch menus (from the Associated Press, March 30, 2010)