Income, not ‘food deserts,’ more to blame for U.S. obesity

Sept. 20, 2013, Gallup.com

By Kyley McGeeney and Elizabeth Mendes

In the United States, obesity in “food deserts” is above average. However, it is not solely — or even primarily — access to grocery stores that appears to be the issue — higher obesity rates are more likely to be linked to lower incomes. In other words, a lack of access to food in and of itself doesn’t matter when it comes to obesity. It only matters if Americans are also low-income. Further, income always matters, regardless of whether an individual has access to grocery stores or not.

“Food deserts” are typically defined as either an area that has limited access to grocery stores or as an area that is low income and lacks access to grocery stores. Regardless of which definition is used, what is clear is that the lack of access to grocery stores alone is not related to higher obesity rates — rather, it is more a lack of income. Continue reading

University of NH promotes healthy eating with plates printed with modified USDA guidelines

Sept. 18, 2013, The Washington Post

They may not be binging on broccoli, but some University of New Hampshire (UNH) students are at least pausing before they fill up on fried food, thanks to dishware designed to remind them about healthy options.

Two years after the federal government abandoned the food pyramid as a symbol for healthful eating and adopted an image of a plate instead, the university has gone a step further by printing dietary guidelines directly on plates used in campus dining halls.

The so-called Wildcat Plates, named after the school’s mascot, offer a bit more detail than the “My Plate” graphic promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While the USDA image shows a plate divided into four segments labeled “fruits,” ‘’vegetables,” ‘’grains,” and “proteins,” the Wildcat plate specifies “lean protein” and “whole grains” and offers suggestions such as “try whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or quinoa.” Continue reading

More education, not income, fights obesity

Sept. 13, 2013, Medical Xpress

By Stephanie Stephens

Educational status may protect women living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas against obesity, finds a new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The study adds to previous studies showing an inverse association between body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic status (SES). Generally, researchers have discovered that women in areas with fewer economic resources have higher BMIs than women in more affluent communities.

Income and education are frequently used as markers for studying health inequalities, although they are “conceptually distinct,” said the new report’s authors. “It is possible that education is a marker of an individual’s access to health information, capacity to assimilate health-related messages, and ability to retain knowledge-related assets, such as nutrition knowledge.” Continue reading

How cutting physical education in schools could hurt grades

Sept. 11, 2013, TIME

By Alexandra Sifferlin

While gym class may seem like an extraneous part of an academic program, getting aerobic exercise can help students to learn and remember more.

A small study of 48 students between the ages 9 and 10 showed that those with higher levels of physical fitness performed better on mental tests. The researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had the kids memorize names and locations on a map of a made-up region. Students in the top 30 percent of their age group for aerobic fitness were better able to learn and recall the fictitious names and locations than those in the lowest 30 percent for aerobic fitness. This difference was even more pronounced when the kids were tested in the most challenging way — after studying alone, compared to being tested periodically while they studied, which is considered an easier way to retain information. Continue reading

Obese kids at four-times risk of high blood pressure

Sept. 12, 2013, Everyday Health

By Amir Khan

Childhood obesity can lead to a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, and the risk may be worse than previously thought, according to preliminary new research being presented at the American Heart Association High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions meeting. Researchers found that obese children are at a four-time higher risk of developing high blood pressure in adulthood compared to non-obese children – a finding that further underscores the danger of the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.

Researchers tracked 1,117 healthy adolescents for 27 years, beginning in 1986, and found that 16 percent were overweight, with another 16 percent obese. As adults, 26 percent of the obese children developed high blood pressure, compared to 14 percent of overweight children and 6 percent of normal weight children. Continue reading

Study: Giving a boring food a cool name helps children make healthier meal choices

Sept. 14, 2013, Star Gazette

By Bob Jamieson

Cornell University experts have found ways to get America’s school kids to eat healthier school lunches.

They say their techniques are low cost, even no cost, and nudge students to more nutritious offerings by manipulating the lunchroom environment.

“A lot of our work is experimental. We will actually go out in the field and run experiments in schools to see what will happen,” said David Just, associate professor and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. Continue reading

Children who live in “smart growth” neighborhoods get 46 percent more physical activity

Sept. 10, 2013, News Medical

Children who live in “smart growth” neighborhoods — developments that are designed to increase walkability and have more parks and green space areas — get 46 percent more moderate or vigorous physical activity than kids who live in conventional neighborhoods, finds a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“We were surprised by the size of the effect,” said Michael Jerrett, Ph.D., professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author on the study.

He and his colleagues evaluated activity patterns in children aged 8 to 14 who recently moved to a smart growth community called The Preserve near Chino, CA. The researchers compared them with children living in eight nearby conventional communities, matched for ethnicity and family income. Continue reading

‘Severely obese:’ 5 percent of U.S. kids, teens fit risky new category

Sept. 9, 2013, NBC News

By JoNel Aleccia

Overall obesity rates for American kids may have leveled off, but a new report finds that children and teens at the far end of the spectrum are getting heavier, faster — with about 5 percent now classified as “severely obese.”

That means nearly 4 million U.S. youth fall into a new category of obesity risk, one that carries dangers of serious disease and early death, even beyond expected harms, according to a scientific statement published Sept. 9 by the American Heart Association.

“It appears that severe obesity is the fastest-growing subcategory of obesity in youth,” write the authors in the report published in the journal Circulation.

Worse, when children get that big, it’s difficult to help them lose weight with traditional tools of diet and exercise, or even with drugs and surgery. Continue reading

Changing up family routines can help kids shed pounds

Sept. 9, 2013, daily RX

There is more to combating obesity than ensuring that children eat healthy food. There are other factors that can increase children’s risk of obesity — and they can be addressed within a family.

A recent study found that adjusting a couple household routines in low-income, racially diverse families could help reduce children’s weight.

The most successful routines involved increasing the amount of time that children sleep and decreasing the time they spend watching TV on weekdays.

Children in families making these changes saw a small but significant drop in their average body mass index (BMI). BMI is a ratio of a person’s height to weight that is used to determine if they are a healthy weight or not. Continue reading

Michelle Obama says anti-obesity campaign creating ‘cultural shift’ in how Americans live, eat

Sept. 6, 2013, The Washington Post

Michelle Obama said Friday that her anti-childhood obesity campaign is creating a “cultural shift” in how Americans live and eat, and is beginning to have a positive influence on children’s health.

As an example, she cited something she said she couldn’t imagine when the Let’s Move! program was launched nearly four years ago: television commercials pitching fast-food breakfast sandwiches made with healthier egg whites instead of whole eggs.

But the first lady said more work is needed to solve the childhood obesity problem.

“Make no mistake about it, we are changing the conversation in this country,” Mrs. Obama said at a back-to-school event at a District of Columbia elementary school. “We are creating a cultural shift in how we live and eat and our efforts are beginning to have a real impact on our children’s lives.” Continue reading