Author: Casey Evans

Using Mass Communication to Curb Obesity

Internationally we continue to see substantial increases in overweight and obesity rates. In 2016, the World Health Organization reported that about 39% of all adults were overweight. Since overnutrition seems to traverse cultures, languages and international waters many people are looking for the most effective and efficient way of promoting positive health behaviors that promote a healthy weight. I believe mass media campaigns could serve as a solution to the problem. Health professionals can use mass media to improve the dietary habits of populations through multimedia-based communication efforts.

Over the past ten years, we have seen considerable changes in mass media communication largely due to increased use of mobile technology, especially social media. As access to mobile technology increases and people use smart-technology at increasing rates, health professionals have increased opportunities to address the importance of nutrition and physical activity. I believe that no other intervention approach has the potential for as wide a reach as mass media. Mass media campaigns that target individual dietary behaviors like increasing vegetable intake or reducing sodium are effective at promoting those behaviors (1). The “5-A-Day” campaign was successful in its efforts to increase fruit and vegetable intake. It was associated with a significant increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and increased awareness of health benefits associated with consuming fruits and vegetables. The success of mass communication in campaigns and interventions is not exclusive to increasing fruit and vegetable intake. This method has also proven effective at promoting folic acid supplementation and the maintenance of weight loss The Community Guide (2). I believe mass media campaigns advance nutrition efforts to reduce overweight and obesity rates because of the extent to which media is incorporated into people’s daily lives. Mobile technology gives health professionals a chance to engage in dialogue with individuals outside of clinical settings. I believe engaging with individuals in spaces they already visit may help people feel more comfortable and make them more receptive to adopting health-promoting behaviors.

Cultural Challenges with the DASH Eating Plan

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States contributing to over 633,000 deaths annually. Like most chronic diseases, individuals can reduce their risk of developing this condition with proper diet and exercise. When someone is at extremely high risk of developing heart disease, nutrition professions suggest a few things: exercise, stop smoking, eat nutrient dense foods and reducing sodium intake with the DASH eating plan. While these modifications are proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, the DASH eating plan can be problematic for communities of color.

DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a proven eating plan for lowering blood pressure without the use of medication. The reason blood pressure is so important is that it is one of many factors that contribute to heart disease. DASH recommends the following:

1. Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
2. Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products
3. Consume fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
4. Limiting foods high in saturated fat
5. Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets

This diet is excellent for promoting a healthy diet; however, for communities of color which suffer in greater numbers from lactose intolerance DASH’s promotion of dairy products can cause discomfort. Lactose intolerance results in symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, flatulence and fatty stool after consuming lactose, a sugar found in dairy. The premise behind increasing dairy consumption is its higher calcium content which is associated with reducing blood pressure. The eating plan fails to acknowledge that there are other excellent sources of calcium like broccoli, calcium-fortified real fruit juices, beans, almonds, and sardines. In doing so, DASH recommends a diet that may lower hypertension, but that also makes people sick. This could diminish its credibility in communities of color. By including non-dairy sources of calcium, our healthcare systems and dietary recommendations could acknowledge and accommodate all people instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach to health.

Health Literacy: The final healthcare barrier?

How can health professionals support and serve our most vulnerable populations? When discussing access to health care, income and location are generally agreed upon barriers to access. Populations who live just above the poverty line often do not qualify for government assistance; however, without it, they often cannot afford coverage. Similarly, populations that live in rural areas often have less lack access to health services. One barrier that accompanies these and is often overlooked is health literacy.

Literacy is not only an education issue it affects access to healthcare as well. When populations have difficulty reading, they may misunderstand health brochures or worse take medication incorrectly. According to Kelly Warnock, Program Manager at the Durham County Health Department, health professionals have a responsibility to reach populations where they are. After working for over 10 years with lower-income, low literacy populations, Ms. Warnock believes that it is possible to increase all communities’ access to healthcare and health information. For health professionals, that means being creative with communication techniques organizing information clearly, using visuals, and non-technical language. If you’re interested in learning more about health literacy and communication, check out this resource from the Food Research and Action Center.

Photo: https://communicatehealth.com/2014/07/frequently-asked-question-can-i-measure-a-patients-health-literacy/

Updates on Food Labeling in the US

Along with household chores and laundry, grocery shopping is a part of my weekly routine. (Welcome to adulthood!) Meal planning saves me a lot of time and keeps me organized with my busy graduate school schedule. I don’t have to worry about what I’m eating on a daily basis because I planned ahead.  When planning meals and grocery shopping, I’m always sure to look for low-sodium and lower fat options that taste good and keep my body health. (If you haven’t tried Skinny Pop, you’re missing out!) Food labels make finding healthy options a lot easier because I can simply flip a box over to find the sodium, fat and calorie content along with vitamins and minerals. Easy access to information makes it simple to make healthy choices, but this could all change.

In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration unveiled new food labeling requirements. These requirements are meant to give food shoppers, even more, access to information. The new labels will include details about added sugars and serving sizes that reflect what people generally eat instead of recommended serving sizes. The initial implementation date was set for 2018 but was extended to 2021 after organizations like the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute petitioned for an extension. These organizations represent some of the largest trade organizations within the food industry. They are currently encouraging the use of SmartLabel, an online database that lists ingredient and nutrition information. While at first glance this initiative seems like a one-stop shop for desired food information, it’s not that simple. Check out what the Environmental Working Group has to say about these not so smart labels and let us know what you think in the comments below.

The Health Impact of Natural Disaster

This week I was reminded of the things I take for granted on a daily basis. This week I considered the luxuries I expect access to and consider a right. This week marks the second week that many citizens of the US territory of Puerto Rico lack access to clean drinking water and food.

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico in devastation.  Before the category 4 storm hit on September 20th, the governor, Ricardo Rossello, knew that disaster was imminent releasing this video just 5 hours before impact. What no one knew, was the severity of the damage this storm would cause. Generally, after a natural disaster, the public hears about breakdowns in infrastructure and property damage. What is often missing from the conversation is a focus on health. Today, many Puerto Ricans endure the stress of not knowing from where their next meal will come. Although aid has made it to the Puerto Rican shores, many supplies remain undistributed because of damaged roads and a lack of fuel. Fuel is very important in the aftermath of natural disasters because it is needed to distribute food and medical supplies. It also allows medical staff to reach hospitals to deliver much-needed care to those in need.

It is important to consider how natural disasters affect health outcomes. Food, water, and fuel are essential for survival. The citizens of Puerto Rico are devastated but not in despair. Hope remains high and citizens are determined to rebuild.

Could food stamps cause low test scores?

Going without food has serious implications on your health, mood, and if you’re someone who gets hangry, you know that combination of hungry and angry, your social interactions. Research from the University of South Carolina (USC) has recently shown that the effects of hunger might not end there. It could also play a role in the academic performance of students from low-income communities who receive food assistance.

In the state of South Carolina, families receive government food assistance once per month. These benefits are administered in the first ten days of the month. This means that many families can run out of benefits towards the end of the month. When researchers from USC examined math scores of students from families who receive food assistance, they found something interesting. When students take exams on a date far away from when their family received benefits, their test scores are significantly lower than when exams are administered toward the beginning of the month. This can also mean that a child who is tested earlier in the month generally performs better than a child tested toward the end of the month.

It is unclear if this relationship is because of hunger or some third factor; however, we clearly need to give more attention to supporting families with inadequate access to food and resources.

 

Source: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/21/552530614/researchers-examine-links-between-academic-performance-and-food-stamps

THAT SHIP HAS SAILED: Why the US should stop shipping American-grown food abroad

The development of the Food for Peace program was the US’s first program for fighting international hunger. This program focuses heavily on donating commodities to vulnerable populations abroad. Most donated goods are grown domestically and shipped to developing countries where over three billion people have received assistance since its inception. It is estimated that another eight to twelve million people could receive help by reforming US food aid policies. A major barrier to expanding reach is the shipment of US agricultural goods abroad. This is a practice that should be eliminated because it is harmful in the following ways:

1. It is time-consuming.

Shipping US grown goods abroad takes on average 126 days. In emergency situations, people are only able to survive for 12 days without foods. In many instances, waiting for US commodities to ship is deadly.

2. It wastes money on transportation fees.

Between 2003 and 2012, the US spent close to $18 billion on food aid. Over half of this money was used on international transportation fees. Money that could be used to feed millions was used to support US-based shipping companies and the transport of good.

3. It cripples international agricultural sectors.

US grown food is sold at a much lower cost than food sold by local farmers. This can put local farmers out of business if they are unable to compete with the sale of US products. Resultantly, communities become completely dependent on aid.

We should discontinue the practice of shipping US commodities abroad and instead support international agricultural ventures. Learn more about FY 2016 reform proposals here.

Fall for Healthy Options this Season

Ladies and Gentlemen: Fall is upon us! Well, next Friday it is anyway. As the season changes and the leaves along with it, you can unbox those fall scarves and cute booties. You can also expect a few new items on the menu at coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants, and if you’re anything like me, these new menu items are always a highlight. (Pumpkin spiced latte anyone?) They’re a wonderful seasonal treat and hard to resist, but too many can mean excess weight gain and upping your chances of an unexpected visit to the dentist.

If you’re looking to indulge in the fall harvest without any unwanted physical results, check out a few of the recipes below. They’re delicious, comforting and you’re sure to sneak in a veggie or two.

Sweet Potato Cornbread This new twist on an old classic provides all the indulgence of sweet potatoes with the added promise of fragrant spices.

Ratatouille Veggie-loaded and flavor-filled = best of both worlds. What more could you ask for? This dish is a key to guilt-free, wholesome eating.

Butternut Squash Gratin You won’t find boring potatoes here. This creamy dish is a perfect for a luxury weekend or for a workday wind down. For a low-calorie option, try it with low-fat milk.

Happy Eating!

Are you accepting toxic food advice?

If you’re a health junkie or on social media at all, you’ve probably seen these terms: registered dietitian, nutritionist, nutrition coach, food guru, etc.. With so much information flying around there’s a lot of confusion over what it all means and who to listen to when it comes to nutrition advice. My answer? It all depends! All of these titles embody a love of food but there are some big differences in who to look to for food advice. Let’s set the record straight.

Registered Dietitian

Registered dietitians (RDs), also called registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), are recognized as experts of food and nutrition in the medical field. This is largely because of the many years these professionals spend studying the science behind food and how it affects the body. The government has regulations on who can call themselves a “registered dietitian”. This is to protect the public from people who present themselves as nutrition experts, but who have no formal training. For example, if someone with diabetes accepts nutrition advice from a nutritionist and it hurts them the nutritionist can not be held accountable. Registered dietitians, on the other hand, can lose their license or suffer fines for providing poor nutrition advice.  This is because RDs go through extensive training before they can practice. As of 2017, RDs are required to complete the following:

  • a bachelor’s or advanced degree in food science or human nutrition
  • supervised training and internships
  • pass the RD exam

After RDs are certified, they also have to complete annual training to maintain their credentials. This is my field of study and the past two years I’ve spent work toward a masters in this field has not been easy, but I’m so close to the finish line! From my studies, it seems RDs are excellent in a number of areas. They really understand how to help manage medical conditions and weight loss. They also can point out what diet trends are completely bogus with science.

Nutritionists/Nutrition Coach/Food Guru

Terms like nutritionist, nutrition coach and the like are not regulated. Anyone can use these labels. This isn’t to say they don’t have valuable nutrition knowledge. Many nutritionists have a wealth of nutrition knowledge from experience and self-study. Some of my favorite nutritionist on Facebook and Instagram provide excellent recipe ideas and encourage their followers to make healthy choices with amazing food photography. On the other hand, following nutrition advice from individuals not formally trained in food science can be dangerous. A nutritionist might not fully understand nutrition information or they may be misinformed. This can be dangerous if a nutritionist misinforms a large number of individuals, especially through social media platforms. Misinformation is particularly harmful when individuals are looking to receive information around serious medical conditions like diabetes and weight loss.

The next time you’re in search of food advice think about what you need! If you have a medical condition or you’re looking for advice on how to lose weight in a healthy way, you might want to look for advice from an RD. If you’re looking for meal prepping tips or fitness inspiration, a nutritionist can certainly help. There’s space for both in this food lovers community.

Organic by any other name: 2017 Dirty Dozen

You have two sets of potatoes in the grocery store.  One is $0.99/lb.  The other is $1.50/lb and has an organic sticker on it.  If you’re like me you sit there thinking, “Why would I pay more for a little sticker?  I’ll pay a little less and save the change.”  Now, let’s find out if we made the right choice.

Organic basically means that products including lotions, oils and produce are made with fewer chemicals.  (Note that I say fewer we’ll address this in a minute.)  This word is regulated by the USDA which means, unlike terms like cage-free and natural, not just anyone can slap the word organic on something to sell products.  There is a strict list of chemicals and pesticides that the USDA has approved for use on organic produce.  So, while organic isn’t always 100% chemical free, organic farmers do use a lot fewer chemicals than traditional farmers.  When it comes to produce, there is a huge difference in the chemical content.  A lot of food grown in our country is essentially doused in chemicals to keep rodents, fungus, and bugs at bay.  A list comes out every year noting the foods most heavily laden with harsh chemicals.  Allow me to introduce this year’s “dirty dozen”:

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Nectarines

4. Apples

5. Peaches

6. Pears

7. Cherries

8. Grapes

9. Celery

10. Tomatoes

11. Sweet bell peppers

12. Potatoes

(Source: www.ewg.org)

I can already hear people saying “What’s the point if chemicals could still be present?  “There are chemicals in everything so what’s the point of organic?”  Sure, but what if I told you some people have noted over 20 different pesticides on strawberries?  And that some of the pesticides used by traditional farmers are things like DDT, a chemical linked to cancer and reproductive issues. Other pesticides are linked to brain damage, birth defects and Parkinson’s.  Consumers have to look out for their own best interests.  We have to take responsibility for our own health by paying close attention to what we put in our bodies. Next time you’re out shopping, consider picking up the organic potatoes.  Selecting some organic items could help you live a longer more healthy life.