June 2009






Individual Stress Linked to Adolescent Obesity

May 16, 2009, ScienceDaily

Stress may indeed be a direct contributor to childhood obesity. That's according to a new Iowa State University study finding that increased levels of stress in adolescents are associated with a greater likelihood of them being overweight or obese.

The study of 1,011 adolescents (aged 10-15) and their mothers from low-income families living in three cities – Boston, Chicago and San Antonio – is posted on the website of the Journal of Adolescent Health, and will be printed in its August issue. Forty-seven percent of the teens in the sample were overweight or obese, but that percentage increased to 56.2 percent among those who were impacted by four or more stressors.

"We found that an adolescent or youth who's more stressed – caused by such things as having poor grades, mental health problems, more aggressive behavior, or doing more drugs and alcohol – is also more likely to be overweight or obese," said lead author Brenda Lohman, an Iowa State assistant professor of human development and family studies (HDFS).

Susan Stewart, an ISU associate professor of sociology; and Steven Garasky, a professor of HDFS at Iowa State; joined Lohman on the research team. Former ISU faculty members Craig Gundersen, a member of the agricultural and consumer economics faculty at the University of Illinois; and Joey Eisenmann, a member of the kinesiology and pediatrics faculty at Michigan State University, also contributed to the study.

Data collected from noted three-city study

The study analyzes data obtained from the "Welfare, Children and Families: A Three-City Study" – a six-year longitudinal investigation. Researchers measured the height and weight of the adolescents to determine their body mass index, which was subsequently used to determine weight status based on two widely used classification systems. Adolescent food insecurity status and individual, maternal, and family stressors were also determined through interviews.

The five factors used to determine the individual stressor index for the adolescents were:

  • Academic problems
  • Consumption of drugs and alcohol
  • Depression or poor mental health levels
  • Acting out or aggressive behaviors
  • Lack of future orientation.

The researchers wrote that the adolescents' relationship with stress and becoming overweight may be a result of biological (perturbed hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal glands) as well as behavioral responses to stress, such as overeating and lack of exercise.

"It could possibly be that the obesity is leading to these stressors too," Lohman said. "And so the work that we're doing right now looks at which one of these is really coming first: the stressors or the obesity. We know that it is cyclical and that all of these factors just compound on each other."

The study also found that a mother's stress, coupled with food insecurity in the household – a situation in which an individual cannot access enough food to sustain active, healthy living – contributes to a child's chances of becoming overweight or obese.

"In our past research, we did not find this association for older youth (ages 11-17), we only found it for young children (ages 3-10) who were in a house that had enough food or were food-secure," Lohman said. "But it may be that the adolescents are more cognitively aware of what's going on in the household and they take on their mothers' stress as well. This may be exacerbated in houses where there's not enough food."

Mothers receive the initial focus

While this study singles out mothers, fathers aren't immune to their child's weight status either.

"My own research focuses on fathers and shows that fathers, too, have an effect on children's eating habits and obesity," said Stewart, author of the book "Brave New Stepfamilies," who had another study posted by the Journal of Adolescent Health last month on nonresident father involvement and adolescent eating patterns.

"In our latest study, we found that kids who are involved with nonresident dads eat better – more vegetables, less fast food," she said. "However, similar to the Lohman study, living with a single mom was associated with worse eating habits."

Lohman says the new research should emphasize the need for health care professionals to take a more holistic approach in their treatment of obese teens. "We absolutely have to focus on their (teens) health, well-being, nutrition and exercise – and education of these things for them," she said. "But we really need to also look holistically at their life and work toward reducing stress and rates of food insecurity for those adolescents as well."

Gunderson, Garasky and Lohman also published a study on the relationship between food insecurity and adolescent obesity. Among 2,516 participants (1,239 girls, 1,277 boys) drawn from the 2001-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 37 percent of families were considered food insecure. Using five different measures of obesity – BMI, waist circumference, triceps skinfold thickness, trunk fat mass, and percent body fat – the researchers determined that 15 percent to 45 percent of children were classified as obese. Yet they found no statistically significant relationship between food insecurity and obesity, regardless of which indicator was used. The study is online and published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

Lohman is part of another team of ISU researchers that just submitted a new grant proposal to develop family intervention strategies to reduce childhood obesity.


Original Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090514125200.htm



Leadership for Healthy Communities' Toolkit Offers Concrete Resources for Policymakers Working to Prevent Childhood Obesity

May 8, 2009

Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released the Action Strategies Toolkit to help provide guidance on the best approaches policymakers can use to make their states, communities and schools healthier places to live.

The toolkit offers practical examples of policy approaches and resources covering a wide range of issues, including increasing access to parks and recreation centers, improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, offering healthier foods in schools, and attracting grocery stores that provide healthy, affordable foods to lower-income communities.

Download the Executive Summary and Action Strategies Toolkit here.


Preventing Childhood Obesity: A School Health Policy Guide

May 6, 2009, RWJF Childhood Obesity News Digest

Schools have many powerful tools at their disposal to serve as one of the primary agents to address the obesity crisis. This policy guide is based on the National Association of State Boards of Education's Fit, Healthy, and Ready to Learn: A School Health Policy Guide, a comprehensive document developed in cooperation with the Division of Adolescent and School Health of the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) divided into several chapters addressing various student health needs and the school's role in addressing those needs.

The goal of this guide is to offer the latest policy updates and recommendations about how to promote physical education and activity and healthy eating policies in schools. To accomplish this goal, the guide refocuses the research and policy recommendations in these chapters to provide specific models for schools to address the childhood obesity epidemic. It is important to note, however, schools cannot and should not be expected to conquer this crisis alone. Instead, schools have a responsibility to work with parents, state and local government, and communities to take the necessary steps to truly address the epidemic.

Download the guide here.


Daniels SR, Jacobson MS, McCrindle BW, Eckel RH, Sanner BW. American Heart Association Childhood Obesity Research Summit Report, Circulation, 2009;119:e489-e517.

As part of its strategic focus on childhood obesity, and particularly the prevention of childhood obesity, the American Heart Association convened a Childhood Obesity Research Summit to examine research opportunities where the obesity epidemic intersects with the healthcare system. The outcomes of the conference help inform the American Heart Association and the Alliance for a Healthy Generation broadly in terms that help to focus ongoing research and public policy initiatives.




Controlling Kids' Food May Not Lead to Obesity

May 26, 2009, Los Angeles Times

By Jeannine Stein

In an Obesity journal study, researchers studied 789 boys and girls in nearly equal numbers, calculating changes in their body mass index between the ages of 4 and 7, and ages 7 and 9, to determine how their mothers' restrictive feeding affected how much weight they gained – or didn't gain. The data were from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's study of early child care and youth development.

Mothers were also asked, "Do you let your child eat what he/she feels like eating?" Answers were scored on a four-point scale, from "definitely no" to "mostly no," "mostly yes," and "definitely yes."

Researchers found no correlation between a rise in mothers controlling their kids' eating and weight gain later on, but there were some differences in how they behaved with boys and girls. In boys, increases in restrictive feeding practices between the ages of 4 and 7 were associated with a decreased risk of increased BMI by the time the boys were 7-9 years old. However, if their daughters showed substantial weight gain from ages 4 to 7, mothers tended to increase their control over food.

Those gender differences weren't lost on the researchers. Lead author Kyung Rhee with the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at the Miriam Hospital, said in a release, "Our findings mirror those of other studies that have found that parents are much less likely to recognize or be concerned about the overweight status of sons compared to daughters. These behaviors may represent a sensitivity to societal values that girls should be slim while boys have a physical or social advantage in being larger."


Original Source: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2009/05/


Study Singles Out Overeating as Primary Cause of U.S. Obesity Epidemic

May 11, 2009, RWJF Childhood Obesity News Digest

Research presented last week at the European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam faults an increase in overeating, rather than a decline in physical activity, for the current obesity epidemic in the United States, Reuters reports.

Noting that experts have long assumed both reduced physical activity and increased caloric intake are driving up obesity rates, researchers from the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, sought to quantify their relative contributions to the epidemic. To do so, they tested nearly 1,400 adults and more than 950 children to determine the number of calories burned under normal conditions. The researchers then calculated how many daily calories adults would need in order to maintain a stable weight and how many calories children would need in order to maintain a healthy growth curve. They compared those data with how many calories adults and children actually consumed based on national food supply data collected during the 1970s and early 2000s. Then they determined how much the average weight of American adults and children would have increased across the 30-year period if food intake were the only influence.

According to the findings, the "predicted and actual weight increase matched exactly" for children, suggesting that food intake was the most important factor contributing to weight-gain among children. The researchers' calculations predicted adults would be 23.8 pounds heavier in 2000 than they were in the 1970s. However, U.S. adults actually gained only 18.9 pounds across the 30-year time period, suggesting that although "excess food intake still explains the weight gain ... there may have been increases in physical activity over the 30 years that have blunted what would have been a higher weight gain."

The researchers suggest that children and adults would need to cut their daily caloric intake by 350 calories and 500 calories, respectively, to return to the average weights recorded during the 1970s. The researchers also note that similar results could be attained by increasing moderate physical activity by 150 minutes per day for children and 110 minutes for adults. However, they further contend that a combination of both reduced calorie consumption and increased physical activity is recommended (Rauscher, Reuters, 5/8/09; European Association for the Study of Obesity release, 5/8/09).


Original Source: http://www.rwjf.org/childhoodobesity/digest.jsp?id=10649/


Hispanic Children in U.S. at Greater Risk for Obesity than Other Ethnic/Racial Groups

June 1, 2009, EurekAlert

The prevalence of overweight in the U.S. population is among the highest in Mexican-American children and adolescents. In a study of 1,030 Hispanic children between the ages of 4 and 19, published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine found less than optimal diets in both overweight and non-overweight participants.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), in 2005-2006 the prevalence of overweight among children (2-19 years) from all ethnic/racial groups was 15.5 percent. For Mexican-American males and females (2-19 years) the prevalence was 23.2 percent and 18.5 percent, respectively. Although the U.S. environment encourages a sedentary lifestyle and excess food intake, the Hispanic population is burdened with additional risk factors for childhood obesity including parental obesity, low socioeconomic status (SES), recent immigration, acculturation to U.S. diet and lifestyle, and limited health insurance coverage.

The VIVA LA FAMILIA Study was designed to identify genetic and environmental factors contributing to childhood obesity in the Hispanic population. It provided the novel opportunity to assess the diet of a large cohort of Hispanic children from low-SES families at high risk for obesity (1,030 children from 319 families in Houston, Texas). On average, 91 percent of parents were overweight or obese and parental income and education levels were low. Food insecurity was reported by 49 percent of households.

Writing in the article, Nancy F. Butte, PhD, Professor, USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, states, "The diets of these low-SES Hispanic children were adequate in most essential nutrients, but suboptimal for the promotion of long-term health. Diet quality did not satisfy U.S. dietary guidelines for fat, cholesterol, saturated fatty acids, fiber, added sugar, and sodium. Although energy intake was higher in overweight children, food sources, diet quality, and macro- and micronutrient composition were similar between non-overweight and overweight siblings. ... Knowledge of the dietary intake of children from low-SES Hispanic families at high risk for obesity will provide a basis on which to build nutritional interventions and policy that are appropriately tailored to population sub-groups."


Original Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-06/


Researchers Urge Crackdown on Junk Food T.V. Ads

May 8, 2009, Reuters

By Elke Bun

AMSTERDAM - Junk food ads account for two-thirds of televised advertisements for food that are shown when children are likely to be watching, obesity researchers said, based on a study of 11 countries.

Germany and the United States led the way at 90 percent, with Britain and Australia the lowest at about 50 percent, the researchers said, urging governments to limit such marketing in order to combat obesity.

"Internationally, children are exposed to high volumes of unhealthy food and beverage advertising on television," Bridget Kelly, a nutrition researcher at the Cancer Council NSW in Australia, and colleagues told the European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam.

"Limiting this food marketing is an important preventative strategy for childhood obesity."

About 177 million children and teenagers under 18 years old worldwide are clinically overweight or obese. The figures include 22 million overweight children under five years old, according to the International Obesity Task Force.

Obesity raises the risk of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and the growing epidemic is piling pressure on many cash-strapped national health systems.

Unhealthy lifestyles including high-calorie diets, poor exercise and hours spent in front of the television or computer have contributed to the surge in childhood obesity.

"There is a lot of attention on unhealthy food marketing as an influence on childhood obesity and a lot of governments are reluctant to regulate," Kelly said in an interview. "So most countries in the study don't have regulations on food advertising."

The researchers, who looked at children in Australia, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe and North and South America, found that junk food ads mainly featuring fast food, confectionery and high-fat dairy foods increased during times young people were most likely to be watching.

"Children see around 4,000 to 6,000 food advertisements on television a year and between 2,000 and 4,000 are for unhealthy foods," Kelly said. "So even if you are in countries that are advertising less to children, that is still a lot."

While establishing a direct link between advertising and obesity is difficult, it is clear marketing plays a big role in the kinds of food children prefer, the researchers said.

(Writing by Michael Kahn; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)


Original Source: http://in.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idINTRE5473LK20090508?sp=true



Hardened Arteries Threaten Obese, Diabetic Youth

May 26, 2009, HealthDay News

An examination of the neck arteries of today's obese or diabetic young people bodes ill for their future health, researchers report.

The walls of these carotid arteries, which carry blood to the brain, showed a thickening and stiffness known to increase the risk of future strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems, according to a report to be published in the June 9 issue of Circulation.

"Since the 1980s, there has been a major increase in obesity in our youth," said Dr. Elaine Urbina, director of preventive cardiology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati and lead author of the report. "This could be the first generation of Americans that has a shorter life expectancy than its parents," she said.

In the study, Urbina and her team used ultrasound to assess the carotid arteries of a few hundred young people (average age 18) – 182 who were lean, 128 diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (often tied to obesity), and 136 classified as obese because their weight-for-height was above the 95th percentile. "It was one of the larger studies of carotid thickness in adolescents," Urbina said.

The researchers looked at the thickness of the intima, one of the layers of tissue that line the arteries.

"If you have diabetes, the intima is thicker than if you don't have diabetes," Urbina said. "If you are obese, the artery is also thicker. Stiff carotids are linked to heart attacks as well as strokes, because if you are having a buildup of plaque in the arteries that lead to the brain, you probably are having a buildup in the coronary arteries as well."

Plaque is the term for the fatty deposits that can increase in size and thickness until they limit or totally block normal blood flow.

The young people who were obese or had diabetes were more likely to have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as higher blood pressure and high levels of blood fats such as cholesterol, the study found. But those factors did not account for the significant changes in artery structure and function, the researchers said.

According to Urbina, the detection of unhealthy artery changes in young, obese or diabetic people "demonstrates the need for research in this area."

One expert said the findings reinforce prior research.

"This is more evidence that obesity is not good for young people," said Dr. Robert H. Eckel, professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Colorado, a spokesman for the American Heart Association. However, it's not clear from the study how damaging obesity might be in these young people, Eckel said.

"How important [the findings are] in terms of what is to follow is not clear," he said, noting that the consequences for adult health of obesity in childhood are not set in stone.

"There can be intervention to modify risk, not necessarily to reduce obesity but to control blood pressure and blood lipids more aggressively. I would like to see further studies that follow these young people with and without intervention for 10 years," Eckel said.

In the meantime, rising childhood obesity is now a troubling fact of life for doctors who see young patients, Urbina added. A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, and "at least once a month, I see a child who weighs more in kilograms than I weigh in pounds," she said. "Yesterday, I saw that in an 11-year-old."

The child and youth obesity problem is an issue for schools as well as parents, Urbina said. Schools must play a role, because "80 percent of the calories children consume are outside the control of parents," she said, and also because schools often do not emphasize physical activities that can help prevent excess weight gain.

"We need better nutrition and better after-school programs," she said.


Original Source: http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/living/health/43281782.html


The Injured Obese Child: Let's Give Him Some Ankle Support

May 2, 2009, Newswise

In comparison to non-obese children, obese children are significantly more likely to have lower body injuries, such as in their ankles and legs. The Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study, which was conducted to determine if different body parts are injured in obese children compared to non-obese children so that prevention strategies can be developed, was presented May 2 at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore.

"The most common lower body injuries were sprains," said Wendy Pomerantz, MD, emergency medicine physician and lead author of the study. "Because obese patients have an increased body mass and force, they are more likely to twist or roll on a lower extremity and cause injury than the non-obese children. Other injuries that the patients experienced were fractures and lacerations."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obese children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes than are other children and adolescents.

The study that Dr. Pomerantz and her team conducted included 23,349 children who visited the Cincinnati Children's emergency department for an injury from Jan. 1, 2005, to March 31, 2008. The average age of the children was approximately eight years. Some 16.5 percent of those observed were obese.

According to Dr. Pomerantz, childhood obesity not only puts children at a greater risk for injuries but it also prolongs recovery time. "Though it is not well studied, we suspect that increased force due to increased weight puts undue strain on the ligaments, tendons, muscles, joints and bones of these particular children. Repetitive forces with increased weight likely results in more damage to their bodies and lengthy recovery times," she said.

Dr. Pomerantz said that as obesity continues to increase in the US, doctors and care providers are likely to see more of these injuries. With weight loss and exercise, however, these children may be able to prevent getting hurt.

"The best advice for parents of an obese child who want the child to exercise but is afraid of the child getting injured should work with a specialist to get a tailored diet and exercise regimen to help them lose weight," said Dr. Pomerantz. "There are different kinds of programs across the country, such as Cincinnati Children's HealthWorks! Program, that work with children to assist them with achieving their weight loss goals." She added that one of the most important things for parents to remember that every little bit of dieting and exercise will help their child lose weight.

The PAS meeting is sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research and the Ambulatory Pediatric Association.


Original Source: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/551796/



Experts Testify Before Lawmakers on Fighting Childhood Obesity

May 14, 2009, RTT News - Global Financial Newswires

The House Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee held a hearing in May where lawmakers heard testimony from expert witnesses on dealing with the growing problem of childhood obesity.

During the testimonies, lawmakers heard recommendations for both an increase and a decrease in federal government involvement in developing programs to fight childhood obesity.

Healthy Families and Communities Chairwoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) gave an overview of her experience with childhood obesity, stating that she has found that low income communities tend to have the highest obesity rates and that minority children are at the greatest risk for obesity.

Representative Michael Castle (R-Del.) argued that it is "clear we must work with state and local school districts to further address the important and complex issue of childhood obesity by supporting programs under current law that promote nutrition education and physical activity at the state and local level; implementing programs with proven results in improving health outcomes; and targeting those children who are at the greatest risk."

Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) testified that Congress should pass the bill she introduced, H.R. 1324, the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act.

According to Woolsey, the act "will ensure that all foods sold in schools during the entire school day are based on current, scientific, and sound nutrition standards."

She further noted that it would "require that nutrition standards for foods sold in vending machines and ala carte lines meet standards for caloric intake, saturated fats, trans fats, and refined sugars."

Nancy Copperman, director of Public Health Initiatives for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, discussed the importance of the Activity Works Program.

"The Activity Works Program is a unique elementary school physical activity program that integrates subject matter with an exercise physiologist designed beat per minute exercise protocol," Copperman said.

She said it was specifically created to be easily implemented by a classroom teacher who "simply loads the CD or DVD into a player and the audio and/or video directs the class exercise program."

"The Activity Works Program has been incorporated into the physical education curriculum of three school districts," Copperman added.

"The program has provided an additional 50 minutes of Physical Education/week increasing daily activity and meeting New York State Department of Education Physical Education requirements without increasing staffing and space needs."

"By increasing physical activity through the integration of subject matter and prescribed exercise in the classroom in daily 10 minute sessions, schools can address their physical activity wellness policy goals with gradual expansion to after school and home activities," she continued.

"Activity Works is an example of one such innovative program."

Reginald Felton, director of Federal Legislation for the National School Boards Association, testified that local schools should be the ones to implement programs to fight obesity, not Federal regulators.

"Federal mandates on our public schools should not be the vehicle for changes in society," Felton argued.

"In our view, federal mandates on what is sold in our schools and what cannot be sold in our schools beyond federally subsidized food programs should not be adopted."

He said the National School Boards Association believes that as local school board actions increase, positive changes in behavior will take place reflecting the will of the local communities.

"We feel that community-based decisions are much more effective in the long run than mandates from the federal government," Felton said.

"Significant improvements in child nutrition and health will not be achieved through the expanded authority of the Secretary of Agriculture. Rather, it will be through the active engagement of local communities that hold strongly to the belief that those at the local level should best make such determinations."

Virginia Stallings, Chair of the Committee on Nutrition Standards for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, took the opposite approach, asking for more government involvement in establishing obesity-fighting programs.

"It is now time to develop recommendations for further revisions to the nutrition standards and meal requirements of the school meal programs so that the program can achieve greater benefits for our nation's children," Stallings said.

She said that new revisions to the National School Lunch Program are needed, since revisions will "enable the programs to incorporate current public health recommendations and newer knowledge about the nutritional needs of children and adolescents and the impact on health in childhood and throughout the lifetime."

A specific reason for revisions, Stallings stated, is the "alarming increases in the prevalence of childhood obesity coupled with the short and long term health consequences that will likely follow childhood obesity."


Original Source: http://www.rttnews.com/Content/PoliticalNews.aspx?Node=B1&Id=949584


New Mexico Lawmaker Reintroduces Federal Obesity Prevention and Treatment Bill

May 21, 2009, RWJF Childhood Obesity News Digest

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has reintroduced legislation aimed at reducing the nation's obesity epidemic, the Associated Press reports. The multifaceted Obesity Prevention, Treatment and Research Act of 2009 seeks to foster collaborative efforts among federal agencies, private entities and communities to reduce adult and childhood obesity. Specifically, the measure seeks to establish the United States Council on Overweight and Obesity Prevention (USCO-OP), which would be tasked with developing a comprehensive national strategy aimed at reducing and preventing overweight and obesity. The USCO-OP would work to update federal guidelines, identify best practices, perform ongoing surveillance and monitoring of existing federal programs, and update daily physical activity requirements for schools.

The council would also team with the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update and reform federal oversight of food and beverage labeling. The legislation also would allow for enhanced access to nutritional counseling, prevention services and physical education programs for beneficiaries of Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs and would allot additional funding to the USDA's Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program. Meanwhile, the bill would create grant programs to support initiatives launched in schools, community health centers, medical societies, state health departments and communities that are designed to prevent and treat overweight and obesity. Calling obesity a "costly program for the United States both in terms of health care expenditures and the loss of life," Bingaman notes that the bill marks "a first step to helping address this epidemic." (AP/KWES NewsWest 9, 5/19/09; Office of Sen. Jeff Bingaman, release, 5/18/09)


Original Source: http://www.rwjf.org/publichealth/digest.jsp?id=10807


Massachusetts Approves Nation's Toughest Menu-Labeling Rules

May 14, 2009, RWJF Childhood Obesity News Digest

The Massachusetts Public Health Council has approved a measure requiring restaurant chains to display the calorie counts of all items on menus, including drive-through menu boards, effectively creating the nation's strictest statewide menu labeling rules, Reuters reports. Created to address rising obesity rates, the regulations mandate that chain restaurants with 20 or more in-state outlets post the calorie count next to each menu item. The mandate, slated to take effect November 1, 2010, applies to 50 restaurant chains, accounting for 5,800 locations, according to Reuters. Although California and New York City have passed similar regulations "the drive-through component makes the Massachusetts measure the most stringent in the country," according to Judy Grant, the campaign director of the advocacy group ValueTheMeal.org. In addition, the state policy will not supersede regulations from other municipalities that enforce even tougher labeling rules, marking a distinct departure from California's regulations, which nullified menu labeling regulations that had been passed in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Commenting on the measure, Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach says it "is a major step in the right direction in fighting the obesity epidemic," adding that, "with more than half our adult population and one-third of our middle and high school students either overweight or obese, we need to do more to make informed choices" (Szep, Reuters, 5/13/09; Kirk, Eagle-Tribune, 5/13/09).


Original Source: http://www.rwjf.org/childhoodobesity/digest.jsp?id=10711


Schools Face Hurdles in Adopting Healthier Meals

May 27, 2009, RWJF Childhood Obesity News Digest

Poor enforcement of nutritional standards and a proliferation of fast-food restaurants are making it increasingly difficult for school districts and state governments to improve the nutritional quality of school meals, Reuters reports. Currently, the U.S. government spends $11.7 billion annually on the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, which provide meals for 30 million and 10 million students, respectively, but nutritional standards for the programs were last updated in 1995.

In the absence of broader reform, 18 states and some individual schools have adopted their own stricter nutrition standards for school meals. The Los Angeles Unified School District has eliminated deep-fat fryolators, improved fresh fruit offerings and reduced the sodium content of school meals. The district also has banned sugary sodas and no longer stocks vending machines with junk food. Despite such individual efforts, states lack the authority to punish schools that fail to comply with the revised standards. Additionally, efforts by many schools to enhance the nutritional value of their meals have been thwarted by an influx of fast-food options in the immediate community.

According to a study from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the number of fast-food restaurant outlets in the United States increased from 30,000 in 1970 to 220,000 in 2001, and fast-food spending has increased from $6 billion to $110 billion over the last three decades. However, comprehensive reform of school meal programs may be on the horizon, as President Obama recently announced plans to increase funding for U.S. child nutrition programs by $1 billion per year in light of the current economic downturn (Baertlein, Reuters, 5/26/09).


Original Source: http://www.rwjf.org/childhoodobesity/digest.jsp?id=10860




Survey Finds Link Between Obesity and Flu Severity

May 20, 2009, The Washington Post

By David Brown and Robin Shulman

A survey of people hospitalized because of swine flu in California has raised the possibility that obesity is as much of a risk factor for serious complications from the flu as diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy, all known to raise a person's risk.

In all, about two-thirds of the California patients had some underlying medical condition, according to a report yesterday in the weekly bulletin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, 47 states and the District have reported 5,469 cases and six deaths since the start of the outbreak in late April, according to the CDC's count. Yesterday, officials in Missouri reported a seventh U.S. death – that of a 44-year-old man who had no underlying medical problems, wire services reported. "We were surprised by the frequency of obesity among the severe cases that we've been tracking," said Anne Schuchat, one of the CDC epidemiologists managing the outbreak. She said scientists are "looking into" the possibility that obese people should be at the head of the line along with other high-risk groups if a swine flu vaccine becomes available.

Other studies have shown that pregnant women are also at higher risk for serious influenza infection, especially in the third trimester, when the fetus and womb compress the lower parts of the lungs. This makes it harder to breathe deeply and cough forcefully; it may also alter blood flow in the chest. A similar thing may be occurring in severely overweight people, some experts speculated.

The average age of the 30 Californians hospitalized for swine flu was 27.5 years. Nearly three-quarters were women, and 65 percent were Hispanic. Half lived in two counties bordering Mexico.

Of the 30 people, 11 had a lung ailment such as asthma or emphysema, six had an immune disorder, five had heart disease, five were pregnant, four had diabetes and four were obese.

In New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) said officials were investigating whether 16-month-old Jonathan Castillo, who died with a high fever Monday night at a Queens hospital, had contracted the H1N1 virus. The toddler's 3-year-old sibling was treated for flulike symptoms and released.

The mayor said lack of health insurance or immigration status should not deter people who feel sick from seeking attention.

"Whether you have health insurance coverage or your immigration status is in question, it doesn't matter," Bloomberg said. "We will not ask about that." The mayor also said four inmates at a Rikers Island jail had been confirmed to have the H1N1 virus and four more are likely to have it.

The union representing the city's correctional officers criticized the response to the swine flu outbreak among inmates and filed a letter of protest with the state Labor Department.

"If I had to design a place where you could put people who were sick and get as many people sick as possible, it's the New York City jail," said Richard J. Koehler, a lawyer for the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.


Menu Labeling Bill Introduced by U.S. Lawmakers

May 16, 2009, Los Angeles Times

By Jerry Hirsch

Two federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to require fast-food and other chain restaurants to post calories on menu boards and food display tags. The chains also would have to put information about calories, fats, carbohydrates and salt on printed menus.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on Thursday introduced the Menu Education and Labeling Act, called the MEAL Act for short. They said it would help consumers make more informed choices about the nutritional content of the food they are ordering. The bill has the support of many consumer and health groups and emulates legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in September that requires chain restaurants in California to display calorie counts with each menu item. That was the nation's first state law of its kind; it won the support of the California Restaurant Assn. because it standardized requirements and preempted ordinances in Santa Clara and San Francisco.

Health advocates believe that when people see the amount of calories, fat and salt in meals before they order them, they will gravitate to more healthful selections.

"Consumers play an impossible guessing game trying to make healthier choices in restaurants," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Who would guess that a large chocolate shake at McDonald's has more calories than two Big Macs or that a multigrain bagel at Dunkin' Donuts has 140 more calories than a jelly doughnut?" The restaurant industry is pushing a competing bill. The Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, nicknamed the LEAN Act, would require chains with more than 20 units to post calorie counts. It also would nullify state and local measures now in effect and preempt future regional measures.

New York City already has a law, and more than a dozen states and numerous cities are pondering menu-labeling legislation. The cities and states with such regulations take different approaches. New York requires the posting of calories, whereas Seattle requires a listing of calories, sodium, saturated fat and carbohydrates.

Americans get a third of their calories from eating out, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "At table-service chains like Ruby Tuesday, Macaroni Grill and Chili's, it's easy to find 1,000-calorie appetizers, 1,000-calorie entrees and 1,000-calorie desserts. Not surprisingly, about two-thirds of American adults and a third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese," Wootan said.

Some chains aren't waiting for legislation.

Yum Brands Inc., the parent of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, plans to add product calorie information to menu boards in its company-owned restaurants nationwide and to encourage franchise owners to do the same. The company said the calorie information would be phased onto menu boards starting this year and be completed by Jan. 1, 2011.

It's a big move by one of the largest purveyors of fast food. Louisville, Ky.-based Yum franchises or owns about 20,000 U.S. restaurants.

The California law applies to restaurants with 20 or more locations in California, about 17,000 eateries. Beginning July 1, they must provide brochures with the number of calories and grams of saturated fat for each item. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, all menus and menu boards will have to include the number of calories for each item.


Original Source: http://www.latimes.com/business