Category Archives: Public Health Nutrition

Americans Continuing to Plump Up

A study released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health found that obesity rates increased in 28 states. Mississippi still reigns supreme as the heaviest state, and also boasts the highest rates of hypertension and being physically inactive.

The survey also polled parents, and found that there is an increasing awareness of obesity and the potential harmful impacts it can have on individuals and the public overall. However, parents still aren’t connecting childhood obesity on a broader scale with the impacts it can have on their own kids’ lives. For example, 84% of parents think their kids are at a healthy weight, yet 33% of kids and teens are overweight/obese (there is a 17% discrepancy between reality and perceptions).

It’s great that an increasing number of people and parents are becoming aware of the obesity epidemic and how linked it is to overall health. Yes, the obesity numbers are growing in the majority of states. However, the fact that awareness is on the rise is a great sign – and the first step to improving the situation.

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2010 Dietary Guidelines: A Draft Report & Your Chance to Comment

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee draft report. Everyone in the U.S. (including YOU!) has an opportunity to comment on the report until July 15. This report will be used to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which will reign as the overarching U.S. gov’t’s nutrition recommendations until 2015.

The report is long and contains a lot of details. Some of the notable conclusions/recommendations include:

  • Audience: Previous versions have focused recommendations on a healthy population. Not this time. Since the majority of Americans are overweight or obese, these recommendations have been tailored to folks who need to drop some pounds. Of course, the recommendation is to do so smartly, by decreasing/managing calorie intake and moving more.
  • Sodium: Dropping daily intakes down to 1,500 mg/day (from the last version’s recommended 2,300mg). This is pretty drastic, but with the help of the recently-released IOM report on sodium, there will likely be gradual decreases in sodium content in the overall food environment of foods over time. The majority of sodium in the diet is in processed foods and restaurant foods. Essentially, the U.S. palate will need to change so people don’t go running for the salt shaker to make these sodium-reduced foods “taste right.”
  • Plant-Based and Whole Foods-Based: The report recommends eating a plant-based diet that includes low-fat and fat-free dairy but is limited to moderate amounts of  meat, poultry and eggs. It also puts an emphasis on eating whole foods that are dense in nutrients and that are minimally processed.
  • Reducing Added Sugars, Solid Fat, Refined Grains and Sodium: In addition to the sodium note above (a big change for the population!), there is a large push to limit added sugars, solid (saturated/trans) fats and grains that are highly refined plus low in nutrients and/or high in added sugar. Limiting these components is more of a focus than discretionary calories (extra calories left over you could have fun with if you got what you needed first), which were an emphasis in the last iteration.
  • Focus on Breakfast: The importance of breaking the fast is a sub-focus of the report, as the authors note the important links between eating breakfast and getting more nutrients and the lower risk for obesity, especially in kids.
  • Fats: Saturated fat recommendations have been dropped to 7% of total calories from 10% in the last iteration of the report. Further, they’ve singled out “cholesterol-lowering fatty acids,” which include both saturated and artificially-created trans fats, and give the target of a 5-7% of calories total.
  • Sustainability: The report emphasizes this topic for the first time, underscoring the importance of a sustainable food supply.
  • Nutrients of Concern: The nutrients that people aren’t getting enough of that the report focuses on are vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber. It emphasizes ways to get more of these nutrients.

An extra tidbit: The guidelines are considered to be released jointly by USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This round, USDA has taken the lead on development. Next round, DHHS will.

Marion Nestle Shares List of Helpful USDA Reports

In a blog post over the holiday weekend, Marion Nestle shared a helpful list of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the agency has released recently. Included among the reports is information on individual states (population, income, poverty and employment rates, agricultural characteristics), the WIC program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which serveds 9.1 million people a month), agricultural statistics, foodborne illnesses, organic farming, local food systems and more.

These types of reports are free and released regularly by USDA. They’re definitely helpful if you’re trying to brush up on a food topic – especially in terms of what it means as a U.S. citizen.

White House Task Force Delivers Report on Fighting Child Obesity

Yesterday, Michelle Obama and Cabinet officials announced the release of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report. The report includes 70 recommendations and a governmental nudge that, if action isn’t taken in various areas to make the recommendations a reality, the gov’t will step in.

The Task Force aims to drop child obesity rates down to 5% (or lower) by 2030. With current rates fluxing around 20%, that’s quite a drop.

The five broad guidelines of the report are:

  1. Reduce the risk of obesity early in childrens’ lives, with good prenatal care for their mothers, promotion of breastfeeding, limits on “screen time”, and quality child care settings with nutritious food and many opportunities for young children to be physically active.
  2. Empower parents and caregivers my making nutrition information more useful, improving food marketing and labeling practices and strengthening the health care provider’s role in patient education and healthcare services.
  3. Provide healthy food in schools, through improvements in federally-supported school lunches and breakfasts, improving the nutritional quality of other foods sold in schools and improving nutrition education and the overall school environment to match these healthier food offerings. 
  4. Ensure access to healthy, affordable food by eliminating “food deserts” in urban and rural America, lowering prices of healthier foods, providing a broader range of healthy foods in the marketplace and giving all access to resources for consumers to make healthful choices (via education, nutrition assistance programs, etc.)
  5. Increase physical activity levels in children through quality physical education, recess, and other opportunities in and after school, modifying the “built environment” that make it easier and safer for children to walk or bike in their communities and improving access to safe parks, playgrounds, and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.

This is the most far-reaching initiative of its kind in U.S. government, with a larger number of people and groups on the bandwagon than ever before. We think there’s definitely a lot of promise with this initiative and can’t wait to see how it gets started across various sectors of the U.S.

Food Insecurity Goes Up, Free Dinners Become Popular

As reported by the Associated Press, the number of food insecure households (households that don’t always have enough nutritious food available) has risen drastically from 36 million in 2007 to 49 million in 2008, according to the Economic Research Service. These are the latest numbers, but it makes one wonder what 2009 and the beginning of 2010 would show.

Currently, 13 states provide an option for free after-school supper programs in at-risk communities where at least 50% of the population is below the poverty level. Currently, 49,000 kids in the U.S. take advantage of after-school meals. These programs appear to be increasing in popularity, especially as families are losing their jobs and homes.

Kids who get enough food to eat are able to think more clearly, make better decisions and develop well.  Filling kids (but not stuffing them!) with nutrious meals can help kids grow and learn their best. Despite whatever hiccups do exist with federal nutrition programs, the fact that these kids are getting to eat dinner when they otherwise might not be able to is definitely a huge help.

Sugar: Whatever Will We Do About This Sweet, Sweet Substance?

CalorieLab had a great post about added sugars in U.S. diets.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released guidelines for how much added sugar we should be taking in. They emphasize that eating a lot of added sugars (the kind of sugars slipped into processed foods and sugars we add to foods ourselves) is linked to a number of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.

AHA recommends that adult women should keep added sugar intake within 100 calories/day (6.5 teaspoons) and men within 150 calories/day (9.5 teaspoons). Brown sugar, table sugar, honey, agave nectar, high fructose corn syrup and molasses are included in this “added sugar” category.

A key fact about these sugars is that, beyond calories, they don’t provide any nutritional value. In other words, they’re empty calories. In a world where were getting too many calories and too few nutrients, this adds up. Especially with the stat that in the U.S., on average, people consume 22.2 teaspoons of added sugars/day (355 calories).

The post also provides a list of some common processed food items and their added sugar content. These foods have a startlingly high level of sugar. Many foods we don’t even think of as being sweet, such as breads and sauces, are stocked with added sugars.

It’s clear that food processing will need to change to take some of these added sugars out of processed foods, which many of us are eating more than we’re not eating them. It’ll be interesting to see if U.S. palates can gradually tune down enough to accept lower-sugar products as palatable.

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.