Revised food labels still won’t tell whole story

Oct. 26, 2014, The New York Times [Well Blog]

By Jane E. Brody

Are you among the half of Americans who say they check the nutrition labels on packaged foods when shopping? If you can read the information without a magnifying glass, do you understand what the many numbers mean to your health?

Do you look only at calories, or do you also check the amounts of sugar, sodium, protein, or dietary fiber in a serving? And does the serving size listed represent how much you might actually consume at a sitting? Continue reading

NCI releases new Dietary Assessment Primer

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) part of the National Institutes of Health, a funder of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR), is pleased to announce the availability of a web-based Dietary Assessment Primer. Various types of self-report instruments have been developed to assess dietary intake. Each has distinct features and strengths. The Dietary Assessment Primer: Continue reading

Johns Hopkins GOPC explores social networks

The Johns Hopkins Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) hosted a symposium titled “The Social Network: a Systems Approach to #Childhood Obesity,” on Wednesday, Oct. 22. Guest speakers and leaders in the field guided the audience throughout the day, going from theory and principles to real-world applications. Continue reading

USDA invests nearly $118 million to support America’s specialty crop producers

Oct. 2, 2014, U.S. Department of Agriculture

On Oct. 2 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced nearly $118 million in grants to strengthen markets for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture, and nursery crops. The grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill as part of an effort to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and provide resources to strengthen American agriculture. The Secretary made the announcement in Florida.

“Specialty crop grants provide a major boost to the rural economies,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s announcement is another example of how [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] (USDA) is implementing the Farm Bill to deliver critical tools producers need to successfully grow, process, and market high-quality products.”

Sales of specialty crops total nearly $65 billion per year, making them a critical part of the U.S. economy. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), will provide $66 million to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research and programs to increase demand. In addition, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is awarding $51.8 million in grants through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). SCRI supports the specialty crop sector by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. Continue reading

Key groups launch research consortium for design, public health collaboration

Request for proposals due Oct. 15 for university-led research 

The AIA Foundation, along with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), recently announced the establishment of the AIA Design & Health Research Consortium to help fund basic research into the growing influence design has on public health.

The consortium will be comprised of like-minded university teams consisting of experts in architecture and public health. AIA Foundation and its partners will work with consortium members to identify and develop opportunities for funded research, publication, and other resources in design and public health, with the idea that coordination and collaboration will benefit the consortium, its partners, and the design and health professions. Continue reading

Child obesity levels hold steady in West Virginia

July 23, 2014, The Herald-Dispatch

One of the early signals that West Virginia was developing a child obesity problem came from the work of Huntington, W. Va., native Dr. William A. Neal. For the past 16 years, Neal has been checking the weight and health of elementary school students in the state through the West Virginia University School of Medicine’s CARDIAC Project.

Neal began to raise concerns more than a decade ago, and… in recent years, West Virginia has been the vanguard of a national crisis of childhood obesity.

But this year’s research shows some signs of progress, according to a report in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram.

The state’s obesity rate among fifth-graders has remained steady at 28 percent, and there have been some declines in the prevalence of hypertension, indicators of prediabetes, and some cholesterol levels. That likely indicates an improvement in diet, and changes in school lunch programs could be a factor. Continue reading

Once-hailed salad bars gone from city’s schools

May 27, 2014, The Boston Globe

By James Vaznis

They stopped selling junk food at lunch and they persuaded a health-conscious food organization to donate a salad bar for their cafeteria so students could eat fresh romaine, cherry tomatoes, and bean salads instead of ice cream and potato chips.

By all accounts the fight against childhood obesity and diabetes appeared to be on the upswing at The Curley K-8 School in Jamaica Plain. The salad bar, offered twice a week to the upper grades, was a big hit with about half the students.

But it’s gone.

The School Department has refused to stock the salad bar since September and — to the horror of the school’s health and wellness committee — has reinstated the sale of snacks, including cookies and Doritos, during lunch. Continue reading

School vending machines ditch Oreos, Fritos for ‘smart snacks’

July 1, 2014, Chicago Tribune

By Jessica Wohl

The school vending machine is no longer an easy place to satisfy a snack craving.

Under new national nutritional guidelines that kick in July 1, schools that are part of the National School Lunch Program can no longer sell treats such as Oreos and Fritos. The “Smart Snacks in School” program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) covers foods and drinks sold in vending machines, on cafeteria à la carte menus and for club fundraisers during school hours.

For years, school systems have been pushing for healthier foods on their breakfast and lunch menus. Now, schools must also make sure products in their vending machines meet new standards.

Companies that fill school vending machines have been busy preparing to ensure they have the right products. The USDA standards include limits on calories, sodium, and sugar. Grain items must have 50 percent or more whole grains by weight, or list whole grains as their first ingredient. Continue reading

Apples vs. oranges: Google tool offers ultimate nutrition smackdown

March 24, 2014, NPR [The Salt Blog]

By Eliza Barclay

Leave it to the folks at Reddit to uncover the hidden treasures of the Internet. Recently, they were gabbing about Google’s nutrition comparison tool, which was quietly launched at the end of 2013 and escaped us here at The Salt.

Using this clever little tool is as simple as searching for two types of food, preceded by the word “compare.” The word “vs.” between the two foods also seems to work for some comparisons but not every single one.

So, for example, say you want to compare the calories, sugar content, and nutrients of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes? Just type in “compare mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes,” and boom, you get photos and an elegant chart revealing that sweet potatoes have 4.2 grams of sugar per 100 grams, compared with 0.5 grams in mashed potatoes. Scroll down and you’ll see that sweet potatoes kill mashed potatoes in vitamin A, potassium, and calcium content.

As you contrast ingredients, perhaps out of sheer curiosity, perhaps to design a meal plan, you’ll learn a lot by playing around with the preparation and cooking method of the food. Tweak the mashed potatoes to “potato, mashed, with milk and butter,” and unsurprisingly, the fat content jumps up.

You can even compare apples and oranges (apples are slightly sweeter and have slightly more calories, in case you were wondering). Or analyze foods from totally different food groups — for instance, what do grapes and bacon have in common? Google says it’s getting most of its data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database, so you can compare pretty much anything in it.

According to Google spokeswoman Krisztina Radosavljevic-Szilagyi, the company created the comparison tool after the success of its original nutrition search tool, introduced in May 2013.

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