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Expert nutritionist Marion Nestle receives honorary degree from Transylvania University

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Marion Nestle, one of the nation’s top experts on nutrition, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Transylvania University on Tuesday, Oct. 23, in Haggin Auditorium. Nestle was recognized for her distinguished career in the field of nutrition as a teacher, scholar, author, public servant and advocate for enlightened policies on dietary guidance, social and environmental influences on food choice, the politics of food safety and the effects of food industry marketing on children’s diets and health.

President R. Owen Williams conferred the degree prior to Nestle’s presentation of the fall 2012 Kenan Lecture, “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.”

Nestle talked to the 700-member audience about rising obesity rates in the United States and how they correlate with several changes that have taken place in the food industry and food politics over the past 15-30 years. She cited research that shows the obesity rate in the early 1980s was around 15 percent, and in the early 2000s, that number jumped to 33 percent and is still rising. She said the average American eats between 200-700 more calories per day than they did in the 1980s.

Several factors have led to people eating more, Nestle said, including deregulation of agriculture, Wall Street, and food marketing, which have allowed for much cheaper food to be available outside the home and created more pressure on the food companies to raise their profits.

“Much of that increase in the food outside the home came from fast food, which proliferated starting in the 1980s until they were all over the place,” she said. “The point here is that food outside the home has more calories in it than food cooked inside the home.”

Other variables in today’s high-calorie diets include an increase in portion size, particularly in sodas and other sugary drinks; lower prices for processed food; a rise in the prices of fruits and vegetables, which Nestle said have gone up approximately 40 percent; and lobbying from the food companies to keep regulations from being passed.

In spite of the turmoil within the food industry, she is hopeful about the future of food politics and health in America.

“One of the questions I get asked all the time is, ‘Doesn’t all of this depress you?’” she said. “One of the reasons I’m not depressed at all is that I think we’re in the middle of a food revolution.”

Nestle, a specialist in the politics of food and dietary choice, is the Paulette Goddard Professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, where she researches the connection between scientific and societal influences on dietary advice and practices.

Her book “Food Politics” has won awards from the Association of American Publishers, the James Beard Foundation and World Hunger Year, and “What to Eat” was named one of Amazon’s top 10 books of 2006 and called a “must read” by “Eating Well” magazine.

Nestle has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley, where she received the 2011 National Public Health Hero award. In addition to her tenure at NYU, she is the visiting professor in the Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences.

She was senior nutrition policy adviser for the Department of Health and Human Services and a managing editor for the 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health. She has been a member of the FDA Food Advisory Committee and Science Board, the United States Department of Agriculture/Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and the American Cancer Society.

Transylvania’s Kenan Lecture Series is funded by a grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust.