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Nutrition & Health News, week of December 9th

  • Michelle Obama announced a shift in the priorities of the Let’s Move! campaign from promoting healthy diets to emphasizing physical activity for kids. Food policy expert Marion Nestle believes the shift is a bad move, and that FLOTUS has given up on lobbying the food industry and others to make healthier foods because promoting physical activity isn’t as politically loaded. [Food Politics]
  • In a landmark move this week, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s petition to sell Plan B (the morning-after pill) over the counter to girls under the age of 17. Research by the FDA had determined that girls under age 17 (the legal age at which one can purchase Plan B without a prescription) were capable of making an informed decision to use it appropriately without a doctor’s (or parent’s) guidance, but Sebelius disagreed. Notably, she called for more research on the 10-11 age group, even though only 10% of girls are able to bear children at that age. [The Atlantic Wire]
  • Loopholes in the regulations around SNAP (food stamps) allow  beneficiaries in some states to purchase foods at Starbucks, Taco Bell, and KFC. Should the USDA be able to restrict the use of SNAP to only healthy foods? [Obama Foodorama]
  • An article in Time Magazine offers reasons why a tax on soda would work. The author posits that taxes imposed on manufacturers (an excise tax) would force them to reformulate recipes to include less sugar or high-fructose corn syrup rather than raise prices for consumers. I’m not convinced that’s how it would play out, but we’ll have to wait and see. [TIME]
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Boston Health News, week of December 2nd

  • With flu season just around the corner, the Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square, poses a significant health risk. Occupiers partnered with the Boston Public Health Commission to set up a free flu clinic on site for occupiers to receive vaccines in order to establish herd immunity among the campers. [Commonhealth]
  • The 2011 Health of Boston report, released yesterday, indicates the city is doing well in some respects, and poorly in others. The BPHC said of the results, “Boston is one of the healthiest city in America, but, obviously, there is still work to do…That’s why it’s important that we continue to sound the alarm about the bad health consequences of sugary beverages and tobacco, while continuing to provide support for community gardening, Farmer’s Markets, and create policies and programs that allow residents to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine.’’ Read the full report here. [Commonhealth]
  • Boston was recognized for its impressive Farm to School initiative by the Mother Nature Network. The city’s public schools receive locally grown, fresh produce from area farms to incorporate into school meals. The meals are offered in conjunction with additional nutrition education and some cafeterias have had professional guest chefs cook their meals. [Grub Street Boston]

 

Nutrition & Health News, week of December 2

  • More and more children are receiving free or reduced school lunches due to recent economic downturn. According to the New York Times, the number of students receiving subsidized lunch has increased by 17% since 2007. With more students relying on these meals, it becomes even more crucial for Congress to pass improved meal standards for the federal school lunch program. [NYT]
  • Siri, the iPhone 4S’s smart assistant, appears to be pro-life. Ask Siri where to find a nearby abortion clinic or emergency contraception and she won’t be able to tell you despite the fact that the same Google search will yield results. However, she can still direct you to an escort service or tell you where to dump a body. Was this deliberate or just a programming glitch? Apple has yet to comment on the issue. [Gizmodo, The Atlantic, VentureBeat]
  • A lengthy feature in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine explains the rise of celiac disease in the United States. As awareness of the disease rises, so do diagnoses – and food companies, like General Mills, are taking advantage of a new audience to sell products to. Celiacs are happy because gluten-free choices are easier to find, and taste less like cardboard.  [NYT Magazine]

Nutrition & Health News, week of November 18

  • In a compromise between the House and Senate, a $18.2b appropriations bill seeks to revise many of the changes to the national school lunch program that were proposed by the USDA earlier this year. The original bill’s proposed changes to school lunch regulations, which attempt to meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, have been met with strong opposition from various interest groups (e.g. the potato industry). Among one of the revisions that has been squashed is the rule that would have stopped tomato paste used on pizza from being counted as a vegetable serving. [Obama Foodorama, NPR/Salt, Food Politics]
  • Mark Bittman’s most recent column describes “The Secret Farm Bill,” rewriting of the 2012 Farm Bill that is happening behind closed doors. Four members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees (all from Midwestern states with a large amount of farming) are working to slash $23 billion in appropriations from the current version of the bill. Many of the cuts are expected to come from commodity subsidies (direct payments to farmers producing crops like corn and soy), but some of the cuts may be to public food assistance programs like SNAP (food stamps). Bittman calls for an open policy debate on the Farm Bill’s provisions, which is unlikely to happen. [NYT Opinionator]
  • The world’s fattest nation is, surprisingly, not the United States but Qatar. With an obesity rate of nearly 50% and a diabetes rate of 17%, the nation is getting unhealthier rapidly. (For comparison, the current obesity rate in the U.S. is 33%.) Fast economic growth and affluence of the population are likely the root causes of the spike in these so-called lifestyle diseases.  [The Atlantic]
  • Good news for beer drinkers: a research study in Italy indicates that drinking 1-2 pints of beer per day lowers one’s risk of cardiovascular disease, as much as drinking a daily glass of wine. [All Headline News via The Food Section]

Nutrition & Health News, week of November 11

  • A federal judge put a stop to the graphic warnings that the FDA proposed to put on cigarette boxes. Tobacco companies argue that the images, which would cover approximately half of the front and back sides of the cartons, violate their rights to free speech. Hopefully, the delay is temporary. [The Atlantic Wire]
  • A recent article in the New York Times recounted a study of schools that had banned soda, but not other sugar-sweetened beverages. In these schools, students drank more energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened juice in place of soda – limiting the impact of the bans on changing students’ consumption habits. In order for school bans to be effective, they must be comprehensive, following Boston’s example to ban the sale of all sugar-sweetened beverages on public school campuses. [NYT, The Atlantic]
  • Wal-mart is looking to expand their healthcare business, right after announcing that they would no longer be offering health insurance benefits for part-time employees. How convenient. Wal-Mart already has a number of in-store clinics (much like CVS’s Minute Clinics), and will likely begin adding them to more stores and expand services to provide basic primary care and preventive services in an effort to reduce health care costs. [NPR]
  • Michael Pollan picked “The World’s 7 Most Powerful Foodies” for Forbes magazine. Topping the list as most influential is first lady Michelle Obama, who has brought childhood obesity to the national agenda through her Let’s Move! campaign. [Forbes]

*image via The Atlantic

Nutrition & Health News, week of Nov. 4

  • A new research study of teens in Boston public schools indicates a possible link between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and violence. Teens who drank 5 or more cans of soda per week were more likely to carry a knife or gun and to act violently towards friends and family than their peers who drank less than 4 cans per week. More research on this topic is needed, but researchers hypothesized that perhaps the excessive sugar and caffeine intake might be causing aggressive behavior. [The Atlantic]
  • On Tuesday, the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act was introduced in the Senate and the House. The proposed bill would make changes to the current Farm Bill (the next Farm Bill is due to be passed in 2012) to promote small, organic farms and improve local and regional food systems for both farmers and consumers. [Obama Foodorama]
  • A small study looked at the effects of weight on the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine. The study was composed of 74 people who were either normal weight, overweight, or obese. The results indicated that the vaccine was less effective in the obese patients, who had less antibodies over time than patients who were normal weight. The study implies that a higher dose vaccine may be needed for patients who are obese. [Commonhealth]
  • U.S. News has released a list of the healthiest diets. But, no surprise, the healthiest diets aren’t the ones that people say actually work for them, helping them to both eat better and eat less (and lose weight). Topping the list are Weight Watchers and Eco-Atkins. [The Atlantic]

Nutrition & Health News, week of Oct 28

  • A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association demonstrates that consumers are less conscious of nutrition labels on foods than they think they are. Consumers were asked to look at nutrition labels on a computer screen for a large number of foods. Consumers greatly overestimated the amount they looked at various parts of the label, including calorie content, total fat, and serving size.  For example, 1 of 3 consumers reported always checking calorie content, but only 9% did in actuality. [The Atlantic]
  • A huge component of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is working to eliminate the nation’s 6,500 food deserts. Tuesday, she invited 8 mayors to join her at a food desert summit in Chicago, to discuss food access and nutrition initiatives that have been successful (or not) in their communities, both urban and rural. The list included  Somerville, MA’s mayor Joseph Curtatone, who has supported nutrition initiatives, such as Shape Up Somerville, for years. [Obama Foodorama]
  • In honor of Monday’s Food Day, Forbes highlighted a handful of new technologies that are helping communities access local foods by improving distribution for farmers and connecting them with consumers. Included on the list is Market Mobile, an online ordering system for 40 New England farms run by Farm Fresh Rhode Island (an awesome non-profit). [Forbes]
  • Massachusetts received a $3 million grant from the federal government for community-based public health programs. Governor Deval Patrick announced yesterday that 43 towns and cities across the state would receive funding for programs ranging from obesity prevention to smoking reduction. [Commonhealth]

P.S. I’ve updated the links in my Box O’ Recipes on the right with a few warm and comforting Autumn recipes that I’ve made recently – try them out!

Nutrition & Health News, week of Oct. 21

  • After a lengthy review process, the Institute of Medicine’s council on front-of-package (FOP) labeling has released its final report. Faced with numerous FOP labeling systems – it seems like every brand, grocery store, etc. has their own – Congress called upon the IOM to evaluate which kind of label would be most useful and informative for consumers who want a quick glance at the nutrient content of packaged foods (because everyone knows the Nutrition Facts label on the side is hard to figure out). After months of research, the IOM endorsed a basic rating system – “a simple icon with 3, 2, 1, or zero check marks [stars]” and calories per serving – but no word on whether this will become standard or mandatory. [Food Safety News]
  • The USDA’s proposed rule to limit the number of servings of white potatoes and other starchy vegetables that can be served as part of the National School lunch menus was struck down on Wednesday in an amendment to the 2012 agriculture appropriations bill. The rule  is part of sweeping regulations that aim to improve the nutrient quality of federally subsidized meals for school children. Restrictions on potatoes were only one small part of the proposed rule, which received more than 130,000 comments in the federal register. The National Potato Council and other lobbyists were vehemently opposed to this part of the rule. The final revised rule will be released in December. [Obama Foodorama]
  • Girl Scouts can now earn a “locavore” badge, given for learning about and cooking with locally sourced foods. The badge encourages scouts to explore their local food communities, and think about the impact of local foods on their health and environment. Cool! [The Food Section]

Nutrition & Health News, week of October 7

  • People have been speculating that Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, may put his name in the hat for the Republican nomination. But, a series of mean and degrading comments about his weight threaten to ruin his potential campaign, arguing that he is too fat to be president. Frank Bruni weighs in on the issue. Should someone’s weight be of concern to voters? [New York Times]
  • Denmark is being proactive in preventing obesity with what may be the world’s first fat tax. The tax is imposed on any foods containing saturated fat, at a rate of “16 kroner ($2.90) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of saturated fat in a product.” This is part of an effort to increase life expectancy among the Danish population, despite an obesity rate of only 10% (for comparison, 25% of the population of the United States is obese). They estimate that this tax will increase life expectancy by 3 years over the next ten years. Denmark already charges more for foods high in sugar, as do a number of other European countries, but is a fat tax going to far? [Washington Post]
  • Healthy vending machines in schools are gaining momentum, but not popularity among students. While some students are open to the idea of healthier snacking, many are not, and are turned off by high prices and foods they can get at home. [New York Times]
  • Drinking caffeinated beverages, like coffee, cuts the risk of depression in women, according to a Harvard University study. The researchers used data from 50,000 women in the ongoing Nurses Health Study. Results showed that women who drank 2-3 cups of coffee per day reduced their risk of depression by 15%, while those who drank 4 cups reduced it by 20%, compared to non-coffee drinkers. Good news for me! Drink up. [HuffPost]

I’m looking forward to weekend of fall activities – including apple-picking! Be on the lookout for apple-themed posts next week.

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