CSPI Releases its Extreme Eating Awards for 2010 Restaurant Food

The nutrition watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released its Extreme Eating Awards for 2010. These awards go to restaurant dishes that are frightenengly laden with calories, saturated fat and sodium (salt).

Among the winners are dishes from Outback Steakhouse, Five Guys Burgers, Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s and California Pizza Kitchen.

There’s not doubt that if people are eating these types of entrees on a regular basis as a “normal” lunch or dinner, this is a pretty briskly-flying red flag (and not just the ones that made this cut – there are plenty of options high in calories, fat and sodium out there). However, if you’ve planned all week/month for a fun occasional celebratory meal, you’re not a bad person. We all do have our cravings from time to time! Moderation and how often we eat these kinds of meals is the key to maintaining a healthy balance in life.

Possible Pesticide-ADHD Connection

A research article published in the well-respected research journal Pediatrics found a link between pesticides and ADHD in kids. The research measured the level of pesticide residues in urine of children and noted that kids with high levels of a certain type of pesticide residue in their urine were nearly twice as likely to have ADHD than kids who didn’t have any traces of the pesticide (Note: We can’t determine cause-and-effect from this).

It’s good that they actually measured the levels in urine, instead of just asking kids/parents what the kids were eating and making estimates of pesticide intake based on that – at least this research was more direct.

It is important to note that this is just one study – it isn’t the end-all, be-all that indicates a trace of pesticide is going to kill our kids or will make them go nuts. More research on this is definitely needed before findings can be confirmed.

However, in the meantime, it’s a great idea to always very thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables. And, while not all foods always have to be organic (organics aren’t allowed to use synthetic pesticides), always washing food thoroughly and opting for organic produce some of the time can help limit your pesticide exposure.

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.

Food Labeling: Your Voice Can Be Heard

Everyone in the nutrition arena is talking about it. TIME just put an article out about it.

If you’d like to shape how food labels, front-of-package labeling and shelf tags present and/or rate nutrition information for foods and beverages, now’s the time to comment. Members of the public have until July 28 to submit comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about point-of-purchase food information – especially if you have insights on any of the following concepts:

  • Data/info on the extent to which consumers notice front-of-pack labeling/shelf tags in retail stores (this doesn’t require an advanced degree, luckily!)
  • Research comparing the effectiveness of different methods of this labeling
  • Graphic design/marketing/advertising data that can guide the development of better point-of-purchase nutrition info
  • The extent to which point-of-purchase nutrition information may affect decisions by food manufacturers to reformulate products.

FDA wants its front-of-pack nutrition labeling effort is to “maximize the number of consumers who readily notice, understand and use point-of-purchase information to make more nutritious choices for themselves and their families.” Submit comments to http://www.regulations.gov.

FDA has commissioned the Institute of Medicine to provide a recommendation on front-of-pack labeling by the end of the year; this recommendation will very likely have a strong impact on front-of-pack labeling in the U.S. for many years to come.

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.

Bad Habits May Age Us 12 Years

A study from the Archives of Internal Medicine and covered in USA Today found that the combination of four common bad habits – smoking, drinking too much (3+ drinks/day for men and 2+ drinks/day for women), poor diet (eating fruits and veggies less than 3 times/day) and lack of activity (less than two hours per week) may age us by 12 years.

To us, there is a “Duh!” component to this research. However, the limits of “bad” habits weren’t too extreme – further encouraging us (and people we talk to) that moderate changes and improvements in our lifestyles can make a difference. Being healthy doesn’t have to be a joyless all-or-nothing lifestyle!