Category Archives: Nutrition Education

One Year Plus ‘Til National Calorie Labeling Takes Effect

As you may have heard, the health care reform enacted earlier this year touched on more than what many think of plain ‘ol healthcare. Included in that “other” category was menu labeling in chain restaurants and vending machines.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has one year to formulate national menu labeling regulations. These regulations require that all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations AND operators of 20 or more vending machines provide calorie counts for each item. However, it’s not clear when the federal law will actually be enforced.

This will no doubt make it easier than fitting the patchwork standards that had begun to pop up in cities and states, which was making it a bit confusing, costly and time consuming for chains to comply. It also will help with the confusing variety for folks who were looking for that information to help make better choices. Would this city/state have the information available? Would it not? 

It’s cool to know that eventually, wherever in the U.S. we are, we’ll be able to count on standard calorie info in chains. And the vending machine piece will be a small sliver of a boost that will help people make more informed choices wherever they are – and it’ll also contribute to the school-focused arm of the nationwide Let’s Move! campaign aimed at tackling childhood obesity within a generation. Until then, blissful ignorance will continue!

Liverpool Interested in Nixing Word Obesity

According to an article in the Telegraph, Liverpool, UK is considering banning the terms “obese” and “obesity” when addressing children. This would apply to all public health strategies aimed at helping kids get to/maintain a healthy weight. They recommend replacing these terms with “unhealthy weight” so as to not stigmatize or offend children in this category.

It’s a tough call. We definitely see benefits in promoting healthy lifestyles instead of focusing on the negative – and offering tools and solutions for how to up the ante of a family’s lifestyle to keep kids in the “healthy weight” zone. But is “unhealthy weight” any better than “obese,” really?

Focusing on healthy lifestyles instead of the negative (not being at an ideal weight), no matter what types of terms are used, is definitely the way to go.

Happy Registered Dietitian Day!

Today, March 10, marks National Registered Dietitian Day. It’s smack dab in the middle of National Nutrition Month, a month meant to remind us about the importance eating well plays in our whole lives.

The day was created two years ago by the American Dietetic Association to celebrate the registered dietitian (RD) – both of us! As RDs, we aren’t simply self-proclaimed nutrition experts (unlike your Aunt Thelma, your next door neighbor or the overly helpful clerk at a health foods store); we have degrees in/related to our  fields (in our cases public health and nutrition) and finished an internship and passed an exam to get the designation of RD.

Turn to us as food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into realistic solutions for living well. And, no, you don’t have to eat a carrot today in celebration if you don’t want to!

Nutrition Labeling Everywhere You Turn

It’s hard not to notice nutrition labels and symbols popping up and competing with each other on the front of a lot of food packaging.

There are several formats out there on the front of food packaging – symbols on foods that meet certain nutrition criteria, call-outs of certain nutrition information as well as scoring systems. All of them are voluntary.

The most recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published articles on the effectiveness of three such systems, NuVal, the Nutrient Rich Foods Index and Smart Choices.

The FDA is actively looking into the possibility of putting into place a single front-of-pack food labeling system. Some initial research on various systems and positive results from the UK food labeling indicate that a single front-of-pack system might work. The question is: Which one? Likely the one of the options with the most scientific backing and credible rationale.

We’ll see … we admit, for example, when hurredly shopping for bread in that enormous aisle, among the breads that call themselves “whole grain,” “multi-grain,” etc. we often look to front-of-pack labels to help us quickly find out which options actually DO have at least 3g/serving (not as many as you think!).

Coke and Gov’t Partnership Against Heart Disease Under Fire

The partnership of Coca-Cola with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) The Heart Truth campaign has been heavily scrutinized this week by the likes of the consumer advocacy group Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Julie Deardorff (Chicago Tribune) and Tara Parker-Pope (New York Times).

The campaign, which aims to spread awareness of heart disease and encourage prevention among women, has named Heidi Klum as the “Diet Coke heart health ambassador.”

Critics say not only have regular soft drinks been linked to the obesity epidemic, but diet soft drinks have been, too, as some research indicates diet soft drink sippers are more likely to be overweight than regular soda drinkers. Furthermore, CSPI calls Coca-Cola the world’s “biggest manufacturer of obesigenic soft drinks.”

This relationship is under particular scrutiny after President Obama signed an executive order that directed a coordinated government strategy to solve the childhood obesity problem within one generation; heart disease is noted as an obesity-related health problem.

It’s further complicated, however, because if this wasn’t co-funded by Coca-Cola, the campaign wouldn’t nearly have the legs it does with corporate sponsorship, especially as gov’t funds are being stretched tighter and tighter.

Knowledge: Not Enough For a Healthy Weight

We came across an interesting post by John Barban on his blog. While he’s not a registered dietitian (RD), he does bring up an interesting concept that, in our experience, many dietitians seem to agree with: For most people, simply knowing how to eat well or “right” isn’t enough to get them to a healthy weight and good eating habits. He makes an overall correct observation that, in North America, we’re heavier than ever, yet we also know more about nutrition than we ever have.

This gets to the core of our public health training, which emphasizes that knowledge isn’t enough for behavior change. People need to be both ready and internally motivated to undertake any behavior, whether it’s losing/maintaining weight, quitting smoking, or something else.

It will be interesting to see how large-scale public health initiatives that aim to change the food environment affect people’s health, such as the First Lady’s sweeping Let’s Move campaign (we mentioned last week) and the NYC call to reduce sodium in restaurant and packaged foods by 25% in 5 years.

It’s Been Quite a Week for Child & School Nutrition!

While it’s been hard not to hear or read about this, we wouldn’t be calling attention to an important issue if we failed to mention it …

On Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama dominated the news as she unveiled her Let’s Move campaign, which aims to take action against the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. The President gave the newly appointed Taskforce on Childhood Obesity 90 days to come up with a plan that cuts across a number of government agencies and encourages collaboration in other sectors in a way that aligns with the campaign. Let’s Move outlines four specific goals:

  1. To offer parents tools and information they need to make healthier choices for their kids
  2. To get healthier foods into U.S. schools
  3. To ensure all families have access to healthy, affordable food in their communities
  4. To increase opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school.

During her announcement, the First Lady also introduced the Partnership for a Healthier America, an independent organization that aims to “expand and accelerate” their work to prevent and combat childhood obesity.

In the days following her announcement, a number of organizations and companies, including the Grocery Manufacturers Assoc., School Nutrition Assoc., American Academy of Pediatrics, Kraft, Sara Lee, and Burger King released statements in support of the initiative.

Some critics say these efforts cut short personal freedoms and don’t address key issues like “junk food” advertising and marketing to kids. Regardless, it’s hard to deny that there never has been this much united attention on this scary issue.

We’re interested and eager to see how a record level of attention and action against this problem will impact results. Before and after measurements are definitely key, as are regular evaluations of the good and bad!