New school meal standards significantly increase fruit, vegetable consumption

March 4, 2014, Harvard School of Public Health News

New federal standards launched in 2012 that require schools to offer healthier meals have led to increased fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers. The study, the first to examine school food consumption both before and after the standards went into effect, contradicts criticisms that the new standards have increased food waste.

“There is a push from some organizations and lawmakers to weaken the new standards. We hope the findings, which show that students are consuming more fruits and vegetables, will discourage those efforts,” said lead author Juliana Cohen, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH.

Some 32 million students eat school meals every day; for many low-income students, up to half their daily energy intake is from school meals. Under the previous dietary guidelines, school breakfasts and lunches were high in sodium and saturated fats and were low in whole grains and fiber. The new standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed to improve the nutritional quality of school meals by making whole grains, fruits, and vegetables more available, requiring the selection of a fruit or vegetable, increasing the portion sizes of fruits and vegetables, removing trans fats, and placing limits on total calories and sodium levels. Continue reading

Obesity linked to lower grades among teen girls

March 11, 2014, NPR [Shots Blog]

By Linda Poon

Childhood obesity has made it to the forefront of public health issues, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

Now researchers at the Universities of Dundee, Strathclyde, Georgia, and Bristol say that not only does obesity affect a child’s overall health, but it may also lead to poorer school performance among teenage girls. Among boys, the link is less apparent.

Since the 1990s, the United Kingdom has seen childhood obesity rates grow at an alarming rate, says John Reilly, specialist in the prevention of childhood obesity at the University of Strathclyde, and the study’s lead author. Today, nearly a quarter of children in United Kingdom are obese by the time they reach age 12. Continue reading

Accessing the Catalogue of Surveillance Systems and Measures Registry is even easier

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) website has a new look! The website features a redesigned homepage and new navigation tabs which make it even easier to locate NCCOR projects, resources, and tools including the Catalogue of Surveillance Systems and Measures Registry. The Catalogue and Measures Registry project pages have been updated to make accessing the tools and relevant resources simple and straightforward. Additionally, the tools themselves have undergone extensive usability testing and have been revised and reformatted to make finding data easier and faster. Continue reading

IOM to host webinar about increasing physical activity and physical education in schools

Almost one year ago, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released the report Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School, which offered recommendations, strategies, and action steps that have potential to increase children’s opportunities to engage in physical activity at school, including before, during, and after school. However, many barriers exist to achieving the recommended amount of physical activity in the school environment.

In recognition of the one year anniversary of the release of the report, IOM will host a webinar on May 13 (3-4 p.m.) titled, “Making it Happen: Overcoming Barriers to Increasing Physical Activity and Physical Education in Schools.” The webinar will review the recommendations of the report and ways that schools across the country are working to implement physical activity programs. The webinar will consider barriers to implementation faced by schools and highlight ways in which district and school-level administrators are working to overcome these obstacles. Continue reading

Rutgers study finds link between teen girls, depression, and obesity

March 20, 2014, The Star-Ledger

By Susan K. Livio

Adolescent girls diagnosed with major depression are likely to gain an unhealthy amount of weight as they mature, according to a study co-written by a Rutgers-Camden professor and released March 20.

Conversely, obese teenager girls are prone to develop depression as they reach adulthood, according to the study, which was published March 19 in the International Journal of Obesity.

The same correlation between depression and weight was not found among boys and young men, according to the article.

While obesity and depression have long thought to be linked, the study found that one diagnosis is likely to follow the other among girls ages 14 to 24. Continue reading

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