School gardens grow kids’ physical activity levels

March 20, 2014, Cornell Chronicle

By Ted Boscia

To get school children moving, uproot them from classrooms into school gardens, concludes a two-year Cornell study of 12 elementary schools in five New York regions.

By experiment’s end, kids at schools with gardens were moderately physically active at school for 10 more minutes a week than before their schools had gardens. That was an increase of four times what peers experienced at gardenless schools. What’s more, children who gardened at school were substantially less sedentary at home and elsewhere than their counterparts.

With nearly one in three American children overweight or obese, school gardens could be a simple, low-cost way to get kids more active, said environmental psychologist Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

She presented the findings March 11 at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Conference in San Diego. Continue reading

Schools increasingly check students for obesity

March 29, 2014, The Washington Post

The Chula Vista school district not only measures the academic progress of Marina Beltran’s second-grader, it also measures her son’s body fat.

Every two years, Antonio Beltran, like his classmates, steps on a scale. Trained district personnel also measure his height and then use the two figures to calculate his body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fat.

The calculation isn’t reported to Beltran or her son, who cannot see the readout on the scale that has a remote display. Instead it’s used by the district to collect local data on children’s weight.

Beltran supports her son’s school in measuring students because the data has brought in help to address obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other illnesses tied to a lifetime of poor habits. Continue reading

NCCOR Member Meeting panel offers insights

The most recent National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) Member Meeting, held on April 3, featured a lunchtime panel to discuss possible factors contributing to recently reported childhood obesity declines and related topics.

The event sparked an engaging discussion among members as the panel offered thoughts on what areas the Collaborative might focus on over the next five years. The meeting was the first since NCCOR celebrated its 5th birthday in February.

The panelists were:

  • Hank Cardello, Senior Fellow and Director, Obesity Solutions Initiative, The Hudson Institute
  • Jessica Donze Black, Director, Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods, The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Tracy Fox, President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC

Moderator Elaine Arkin of NCCOR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation moderated the discussion, which included questions from NCCOR members.

All three panelists agreed that the recent declines indicate complementary shifts are occurring—that changes in food systems are being complemented by environmental and cultural shifts. Actions taken by the policy, industry, personal, and environmental sectors are beginning to have an impact. “Personal responsibility is being complemented by corporate responsibility and government responsibility,” said Fox.

The group also remarked that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been important in clarifying the link between obesity and increased health care costs.

The new statistics on declines in childhood obesity look good overall and are the beginning of what researchers would have hoped to see, given the increase in efforts for children ages 2-5 in recent years, they said. A panelist acknowledged changes in the composition of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages as a potential contributing factor, for example. Even so, the panel noted the numbers mask distinct differences across subpopulations.

The panel reminded NCCOR that food marketing is still an enormous challenge. The food industry has specifically targeted certain groups, including children and minority groups. Also, marketing techniques have evolved significantly and now go far beyond traditional television marketing to encompass social media and other digital platforms such as games on mobile devices. To continue making headway, marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to children must be addressed.

In thinking about NCCOR’s next five years, the panel closed by listing several activities NCCOR may consider and adopt.

  • Find ways to replicate successes for populations and groups not currently experiencing declines.
  • Replicate successful natural experiments underway and figure out dynamic ways to communicate results.
  • Demonstrate and communicate what’s working using language that can be accessed by diverse groups, and frame results in ways that make groups act.
  • Communicate return-on-investment factors and “build the business case. It’s essential,” said Cardello, to educate businesses on how obesity declines benefit them.
  • “Let’s protect the really good policies we have in place right now,” said Donze Black, explaining that personal stories often impact legislative decisions. Thus, clear research findings accompanied by individual accounts can be very effective.

Study: Fried food can cause some more weight gain, depending on genes

March 18, 2014, USA TODAY

By Kim Painter

A diet full of fried foods isn’t good for anyone, but it may result in more weight gain for people at a high genetic risk of obesity, a new study suggests.

The study, published in the journal BMJ, is the latest evidence that life isn’t fair when it comes to navigating a world of french fries, soda, and comfy sofas — because some people are genetically predisposed to become fatter than others indulging in the same bad habits.

It’s a “groundbreaking concept” that could lead to more individualized prescriptions for weight control, says lead author Lu Qi, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Continue reading

Low-income families don’t limit shopping to ‘food deserts’

March 20, 2014, MinnPost

By Cynthia Boyd

Social-welfare experts have long assumed poor people, hampered by transportation difficulties, grocery-shop close to home at small corner groceries or convenience stores — “food deserts” that mostly offer high-sugar, highly processed, less-nutritious foods.

Inner city neighborhoods, particularly, have worried public-health officials who want to expand the availability of nutritious foods for low-income families.

But fresh research from the University of Minnesota, while far from suggesting that food deserts aren’t a problem, does indicate that lower-income Minnesotans who receive government aid to put food on the table go the distance for their food buys. Continue reading

NCCOR’s D. Berrigan an HHSinnovates semi-finalist: Voting is open!

We are pleased to share that Dr. Tatalovich and National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) member Dr. David Berrigan’s  HHSinnovates nomination – “Updated Urban Sprawl Data for the United States: Better data describing changes in urban form over time will strengthen evidence for the role of the built environment in access to health services and as an influence on obesity and health” – has been selected as a semi-finalist in Round 7 of the HHSinnovates program and will advance to the next phase of the competition—Health and Human Services (HHS) community voting. From April 7-25, HHS employees are invited to review this round’s semifinalists and help choose the best.

If you are an HHS employee, you can go on its intranet to read about the nomination (and vote) here or here. Please note that these links will only work for HHS employees.  Continue reading

Toddlers who sleep less may eat more

March 25, 2014, HealthDay

Toddlers who get too little sleep tend to eat more and are at increased risk for obesity, a new study indicates.

The study included children in over 1,300 British families who had their sleep measured when they were 16 months old and their diet checked when they were 21 months old.

Those who slept less than 10 hours a day consumed about 10 percent more calories than those who slept more than 13 hours, according to the study in the International Journal of Obesity.

This is the first study to link amount of sleep to calorie consumption in children younger than 3 years, the University College London (UCL) researchers said. They suggested that shorter sleep may disrupt the regulation of appetite hormones. Continue reading

Preemie birth linked to higher insulin levels in kids

Feb. 11, 2013, HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

Based on tests of newborns and young children, a new study suggests that premature babies could face a higher risk of diabetes much later in life.

The findings don’t confirm a connection between premature birth and diabetes, although other studies have hinted at a possible connection and increased risk.

But they do show that babies and young children have higher insulin levels if they were born before full term, and the levels are greatest in those who were the most premature. Higher insulin levels, in turn, could be an indicator of diabetes even decades down the line, the researchers noted. Continue reading

Study: Obesity’s link to type 2 diabetes not so clear-cut

Feb. 12, 2014, HealthDay

Although it’s a common belief that a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes often follows a large weight gain, a new study challenges that notion.

Researchers found that the majority of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes didn’t get the disease until they’d been overweight or obese for a number of years.

What’s more, participants who maintained stable levels of overweight and eventually developed type 2 diabetes didn’t have a significant rise in their level of insulin resistance — a traditional risk factor — before getting the disease.

“In general, the majority of individuals developing type 2 diabetes were rather weight stable during follow-up with a slightly higher average BMI [body mass index] than the diabetes-free population,” wrote study author Dorte Vistisen, at the Steno Diabetes Center in Denmark, and colleagues. Continue reading

California lawmaker proposes warning labels for sugary drinks

Feb. 13, 2014, Reuters

By Sharon Bernstein

All sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks sold in California would be required to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay under a bill introduced in Sacramento on Feb. 13, backed by several public health advocacy groups.

If passed, caloric drinks would join tobacco and alcohol products in carrying health warning labels in California, the nation’s most populous state and a legislative trend-setter.

Proponents say the first-of-its kind effort takes aim at the epidemic of obesity in the United States, where 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children aged 2 to 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continue reading