Author: Casey Evans

Curbing Food Waste in Schools

Perhaps one of the best-known pieces of legislation that the Obama administration passed was the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act [1]. This set of laws which increased the number of children who were eligible for free and reduced lunch also modified the nutrition standards for meals served by schools that receive federal reimbursement for school lunches. The food requirements include providing whole grains, fruit, vegetable, protein, and dairy at every meal. There are also restrictions on trans fat, sugar and calorie content.

While this act has reduced the risk of hunger among vulnerable children and provided children with healthier options, it is not without scrutiny. In recent years, both this legislation and the National School Lunch Program have been criticized for their association with food waste. Many say that when children are forced to take standard food items, they may simply throw the foods they don’t like away. Some believe that the required fruits and vegetables that school meals must now include could end up in the trash. This issue could highlight challenges in our efforts to make school lunches healthier, but they could also highlight a larger issue in this country surrounding food waste.

In the US, it is estimated that 31% of all food is wasted. This applies to school lunches, grocery stores, etc. Food items are found in the trash due to spoilage before consumption, dislike for the products among many other reasons. According to new research from Ohio State University, the secret to reducing food waste could be eating at home and choosing your own food items.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that individuals waste less food when they eat at home. This could be due to increased control over food choices and the amount of food that makes it to their plates. This is not the case in restaurants and school environments where many foods and amounts served come standardized for everyone regardless of age, need, or personal preference.

Perhaps the key to reducing food waste and helping children eat healthier at school involves allowing them more interaction with food production processes at an early age. Children might be more likely to select fruits and vegetables if they have opportunities to see where their foods come from and see the adults they look up to eating them. While serving healthier lunch might be part of the solution to increasing obesity rates in our country, we must also teach children to make healthy choices. Only then will they have learned the necessary tools that will last into adulthood.

Raw Water: from the wellspring of life or death?

While most people struggle to drink enough water, there is now the added challenge of knowing what water is safe to drink.  This is due to a growing raw water trend that is drenching the nation.  Unprocessed, “raw”, water refers to water that has not been filtered, sterilized or treated.  Drinking raw water is equivalent to drinking rainwater or water from creeks, rivers, and streams, but today you may also find it in your local grocery store.

Raw water, which fits right in with the larger natural food movement, is applauded by many as more healthy than traditional tap and bottled water. Many say that its health profile beats treated water because of its natural properties.

Let’s review a couple.

More Vitamins and Mineral

Lovers of raw water claim that it is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals because processing has not filtered out these beneficial components. While unfiltered water may contain more vitamins and minerals, more is not always better. People in our country generally consume all the vitamins and minerals that they need and it is possible to consume too much of a good thing. Excess iron for example can cause nausea, vomiting and death in extreme cases. Our government is required to remove harmful compounds from drinking water and to add beneficial elements that keep us healthy. This includes elements like fluoride, which keeps our teeth cavity free.

Essential Probiotics

Raw water is said to contain probiotics, gut bacteria that support intestinal health. These microorganisms are often found in fermented drinks and yogurt. While raw water could contain probiotics, in many places it also contains harmful bacteria like Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, and Shigella dysenteriae. These bacteria can cause conditions like cholera and dysentery which result in extreme vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Proper hygiene and water sanitation are effective ways of preventing these conditions. In other words, drink treated water.

Final Thoughts

The damaging properties of raw water far outweigh the possibility of benefits. Unfiltered water retains many harmful elements. The U.S. Geological Survey found that in some parts of the United States unfiltered water contains mercury and dioxin. These compounds are toxic to humans and often accumulate in our bodies over time resulting in conditions like cancer and infertility [1]. When given the option of filtered or unfiltered, opt for filtered water and let’s hope this trend is on the way out.

Additional References:

[1] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/

Bare cupboards and full bellies: Food Purchasing patterns change over time

Food purchasing patterns are a pretty good indicator of what people eat on a regular basis.  If you purchase healthy food, it’s presumed that you eat healthy food.  Recently, research from the United States Department of Agriculture revealed that food purchasing habits are changing over time. The grocery carts of younger food shoppers’ look vastly different than previous generations’. According to one report, they may even be empty.

Millennials, anyone born between 1981 and 1996, tend to purchase more premade meals and eat away from home more than older generations [1].  Restaurants have become more popular among youth and time spent preparing meals at home is decreasing.  Overall, older generations consume food in restaurants and bars about 70 percent less than millennials. Millennials spend a large portion of their income on pasta, sugar/sweets, and prepared foods, and as they acquire more disposable income they purchase more vegetables to prepare at home.  These findings could indicate that although millennials are more likely to eat out as they move farther into their careers and acquire more household income, they could gravitate toward purchasing more fruits and vegetables.

While millennials gravitate toward healthier foods, we should pay attention to nutritious food options and the food available to lower-income millennials.  Foods prepared by restaurants and bars and premade foods are often high in sodium and sugar.  Fast food restaurants are notorious for these types of foods (think cheeseburgers, deep-fried French fries, milkshakes, and slushies) and found more often in lower-income communities.  These foods put people at risk for hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.

Nutritionists could encourage eating and cooking at home more often because hello it’s cheaper, made just the way you like, and you know what’s going into your meals that’s not always feasible with busy schedules.  We can, however, consider the following tips for healthier meals away from home:

  1. Choose less processed foods. Foods that are less processed often have less sodium and sugar added. If you can choose between apple slices and an apple turnover, the apple is always a better option. Less sugar. More fiber.
  2. The more fruits and vegetables the better. Fruits and vegetables add a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to a diet. They also provide fiber, fill you up without so many calories and help you hydrate.
  3. Ask for nutrition facts. Nutrition labels which include sodium, calories, sugar, vitamins, etc let you know exactly what’s in your food.  If you need to cut back on sugar intake, you’ll know exactly how much you are getting.

References:

[1] https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/86401/eib-186.pdf?v=43097

The air up there: air quality for long-term health

As development and industrialization occurred, international and domestic societies became increasingly dependent on mass-produced products and, unknowingly, the chemicals used in their development. Chemicals are used in the production of everything from household products to organic foods, and many of these man-made compounds have detrimental effects on human, environmental and ecological health. One chemical exposure of greatest significance to human health is ambient and indoor particulate matter. These elements are often overlooked; however, a human health risk assessment can be used to determine the severity of their harm.

Particulate matter (PM) is defined as all hazardous particles (including solids and liquids) that are suspended in the air [1]. These pollutants are generally less than ten µg in diameter and include course, fine and ultrafine elements. PM has many detrimental affects on human health because it is so easily encountered and can be deeply inhaled. PM is known to elicit cardiopulmonary responses and is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. Atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and cardiac arrhythmias are just a few cardiovascular disease states with which PM is associated [2]. PM inhalation is also associated with cancer – the second leading cause of death globally.

All people are exposed to particulate matter because it is dispensed into the air we breathe. There are various sources, including aerosols, mist, and all forms of combustion, that emit particulate matter into the atmosphere many of which individuals encounter frequently throughout the day. To protect oneself from these harmful chemicals, it is important that people engage in protective behaviors. Below are a few that could help you improve your long-term health:

1. Use an air purifier in your home.
2. Avoid using aerosols.
3. Check for proper ventilation and air filtration when using a fireplace.
4. Avoid burning incense.
5. Avoid second-hand smoke and stop smoking.

References:

[1] “Ambient Air Pollution.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

[2] Du, Yixing, Xiaohan Xu, Ming Chu, Yan Guo, and Junhong Wang. “Air Particulate Matter and Cardiovascular Disease: The Epidemiological, Biomedical and Clinical Evidence.” Journal of Thoracic Disease. AME Publishing Company, Jan. 2016. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.

Teaching Old Recipes New Tricks

As the weather makes some serious changes here in North Carolina, I’m always looking for rich, comfort food that incorporates nutrient-dense vegetables. This week I came across an amazing recipe that not only boasts low-calorie options; it’s packed with flavor! Registered Dietitian Andrea Mathis features a beautiful Kale, Tomato, & Mushroom Egg White Frittata. This new spin on a historically Italian dish is the way to go if you’re looking for a healthy option that makes meal prepping a breeze. Get the directions here.

 

It’s icing on the cake…and calories

Smaller portions equate to fewer calories. But what sized portions are you serving? If you’re like most people, your portions may be determined by images on food packaging, not by nutrition labels. Most individuals who consider calories while serving food do not take into account added ingredients. Packages may display multiple ingredients, like frosting and the enclosed cake, but often frosting and other added ingredients are not mentioned in the nutrition facts. This means that the nutrition facts denoting 200 calories in a slice of cake fail to mention the additional 200 calories of icing covering the slice. When people understand that nutrition labels do not include added ingredients, they eat smaller portions to account for the increase in calories. Next time you’re buying cake mix you might want to consider what frosting adds outside of taste. It could help you cut a smaller piece.

Brand, J., Wansink, B., & Cohen, A. (2016). Frosting on the cake: pictures on food packaging bias serving size. Public health nutrition, 19(12), 2128-2134.

Masters of Disguise: How artificial sweeteners make it past consumers

Viewed by consumers as a healthier alternative to sugary drinks, artificially sweetened beverages are becoming increasingly popular. These drinks include most diet sodas and juices, energy drinks, and flavored water. The shift away from drinks sweetened with sugar came after research showed the relationship between sugar intake and excess weight, obesity, and diabetes. Artificially sweetened beverages have little-to-no calories; however, the medical community has not supported any of their proposed health benefits. In fact, many scientists believe that artificially sweetened drinks lead to overeating and encourage sweet cravings. They could be an alternative route to health problems. Researchers are still looking into these associations, but for now, water is always a safe choice. Check out this article for tasty ways of sprucing up your water.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17712114

Image: https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/is-diet-coke-bad-for-you-what-about-artificial-sweeteners/

 

#FreeCyntoiaBrown

“If I can keep one child from going down the path that I went down, it will be worth it.” Words spoken by twenty-nine-year-old Cyntoia Brown. The path she embarked on as a child was not one she chose. Brown was forced into prostitution as a child during which time she was abused and raped until the age of 16 when she was arrested for murdering one of her solicitors.

Brown’s story has garnered a lot of media attention recently with a number of high profile celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian sharing her story on social media outlets and calling for her release from a life prison sentence. Brown has served 13 years thus far and is ineligible for until she has served at least 53 years.

Cyntoia Brown’s story brings to light both the legal and health-related problems associated with sex trafficking. After having their human rights violated, victims who comply with their abusers’ demands are often jailed for prostitution. Those who fight back against their violators often face legal prosecution and serve jail sentences. Is this how we should treat victims of human trafficking?

Not only do victims face legal ramifications they also endure health consequences of their physical and emotional abuse. Women are often subjected to unwanted, unplanned pregnancies because they do not have access to birth control methods including condoms (1). This also places them at risk for gynecological problems including sexually transmitted diseases and infections. According to Stop Violence Against Women, rates of abortion, infertility, and sterilization are higher among female prostitutes. Victims are also subject to long-term mental health issues including depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brown’s story is not unique. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2015 over 5,500 cases of human trafficking were reported (2). This number rose in the following year. Over 7,600 cases were reported in 2016. The challenges that victims of human trafficking face need our attention. Their struggles with physical and emotional abuse do not belong only to themselves. They are public health issues that affect us all.

(1) http://www.stopvaw.org/health_consequences_of_trafficking

(2) https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states

Image: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/human-trafficking-prevention-month-raising-awareness-of-a-devastating-crime

 

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.