Author: Casey Evans

Can The Media Solve Climbing Obesity Rates? part 3

Marketing regulations, in addition to mass communication campaigns that promote healthy dietary habits, have the potential to reduce overweight/obesity drastically. Restricting product marketing has been cited as a highly cost-effective method of reducing chronic disease globally (citation) because it involves implementing government-based restrictions on food manufacturers and advertisers. I believe this method has the potential to be highly effective because marketers succeed in convincing populations to desire and purchase their products (be them healthy or unhealthy). They do this though audience targeting strategies like giving celebrities endorsements, using dialects specific to populations an advertisement will be run in and by using popular cartoons on ads that target children. In particular, I believe that when companies advertise to children and caregivers purchase the unhealthy foods they desire, companies play a role in shaping children’s taste preferences. These preferences can follow children into adulthood and place them at a greater risk for overweight/obesity. Marketing regulations could potentially decrease the awareness about and desirability of unhealthy food by limiting the use of certain strategies.

As societies become more Westernized, overweight and obesity rates rise [1].  This association could exist for a number of reasons, but I believe marketing and mass communication play a large role. Food manufacturers invest millions of dollars into marketing unhealthy food products to populations at large, and there are not enough public health initiatives that promote healthy dietary behaviors using mass communication. We, as public health nutrition professionals, understand the relationship between diet and weight, but to make changes, there must be efforts to reach populations where they are. From what I have observed, people are spending more and more time with the media (especially social media), and this presents an opportunity to communicate with populations about diet innovatively and engagingly. Why not promote healthy dietary behaviors through mediums audiences are currently using?

 

Can The Media Solve Climbing Obesity Rates? part 2

Mass media campaigns can be used to improve populations’ dietary habits and promote health. Opportunities to utilize mass media, which includes any form of communication that reaches populations (i.e., television, print media, social media), have increased in recent years. We have seen changes and improvements in mass media communication largely due to the increased use of social media and mobile technology. As access to mobile technology and populations’ use of smartphones and social media increase, health communicators have increased opportunities to reach populations through these mass communication mediums. I believe that no other intervention approach to decrease obesity rates has the potential for as wide a reach as mass media, and the literature supports its efficacy. Mass media campaigns that target individual dietary behaviors like increasing vegetable intake or reducing sodium are effective at promoting those behaviors [1]. The 1990s “5-A-Day” campaign, a well-known nutrition education campaign that promoted increasing fruit and vegetable intake to at least five servings per day, used television, radio, and print materials to reach its target audience. This initiative was successful in its efforts. 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 proven effective at promoting folic acid supplementation and the maintenance of weight loss The Community Guide. I believe mass media campaigns advance global nutrition efforts to reduce overweight and obesity rates because of the extent to which media is incorporated into people’s daily lives. Much like mass media campaigns, regulations on marketing through mass communication could also advance global nutrition.

Can The Media Solve Climbing Obesity Rates? part 1

Hunger and malnutrition are major global nutrition issues that affect the health and development of populations. These states can arise from financial disparities as well as natural disasters. For example, when countries experience severe droughts that wipe out crops, famine can result and greatly affect populations at large.  While food aid exists to help alleviate the burden associated with these situations, malnutrition is still a serious public health issue, particularly in overpopulated, low-income and low-resource countries. It is estimated that international hunger rates are rising and that children are largely affected with over 155 million children suffering from stunting [1]. Paradoxically, while malnutrition still exists in many countries, international rates of overweight/obesity are skyrocketing. In 2016, the World Health Organization reported that roughly 39% of adults over the age of 17 were overweight [2]. About 13% of the population is obese. These findings leave public health professionals with two challenges: 1) increasing food access among populations at risk for malnutrition and 2) promoting weight management at a populations level. In addition to these problems, public health professionals encounter the challenge of creating a substantial impact on large populations with limited financial capital and resources. Public health professionals must be intentional about choosing the best approaches to public health issues. I believe the most effective strategy for reducing overweight/obesity involves using media to promoting healthy dietary choices and behaviors. In particular, mass media campaigns and marketing regulations can be used to influence populations’ nutritional behaviors and food purchasing patterns.

Could the Mediterranean Diet Delay Alzheimer’s?

In recent years, the news has constantly covered the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, a diet characterized by meals that use lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is back in the news after a recent study found that it has the potential to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The study involved two groups of 70 participants. Half highly adhered to the Mediterranean diet for three years and the other participants adhered to a lower extent. After three years, the high adherers presented with fewer Alzheimer’s biomarkers. The researchers estimated that these changes would translate into a delay in Alzheimer’s onset by 1.5 to 3.5 years. These findings could indicate that a large part of Alzheimer’s development is diet-related. Since diet is largely in an individual’s control, we may be able to curtail disease development and help individuals age in a healthy manner through the promotion of a healthful diet.

No assistance here: drug testing for food assistance

Illegal drug use has been a major topic of concern throughout the 21st century.  In the mid-1980s, we saw an emergence of harsh federal penalties for illegal drug users and strong war-on-drugs messaging. Today, we are seeing increased attention given to illegal opioid use as a public health concern.  While today’s efforts largely focus on helping illicit drug users overcome addiction, drug testing is now being considered as a requirement for participation in food assistance programs.

The Associated Pressed announced earlier this month that the Trump administration “is considering a plan that would allow states to require certain food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing.” These plans could require a negative drug test before receiving aid through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program which provided food assistance to over 40 million people in January 2018 alone (1). While a war-on-drugs approach has been used to criminalize individuals who suffer from addiction, states, including SC, GA, AL, and FL, have consistently ruled that drug testing as a requirement for participation in assistance programs unconstitutional. In Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families, the state established that the government does not have bases for suspicionless drug testing among recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and that such requirements are unconstitutional.

In my opinion, this requirement would unnecessarily portray welfare recipients as drug abusers who are undeserving of assistance. I am curious to learn more about this current administrations’ cause for the drug testing requirement. Would testing encourage drug users who need assistance to stop using drugs? Is the requirement meant to reduce federal spending? How will drug test be funded when programs such as SNAP cost over $64 billion in 2017 alone (2)? Would assistance programs offer resources to people who fail drug tests?

Reference: 1) https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/datastatistics/january-performance-report-2018.pdf

(2) https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/Reaching2015.pdf

Supplement to Save Lives

“Having a baby changes everything.” Most parents can relate to this once popular Johnson and Johnson montage; however, no one quite understands the changes that take place as much as mothers.  During pregnancy, women undergo both physical and cognitive changes.  Elevated prolactin levels promote lactation and memory disturbances do in fact occur [1]. To facilitate these changes while promoting the growth and development of infants, expecting mothers’ actions are strictly monitored.  Women are expected to visit the doctor frequently and their diets are drastically altered.  One dietary change that is vital for fetal maturation is the incorporation of folic acid supplements.

Folic acid is a vitamin that promotes healthy nervous system development. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or might become pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Forgoing this recommendation can result in serious birth defects including spina bifida and anencephaly which can increase infant mortality [2].  Folic acid naturally occurs in various fruits and vegetables, and in the United States, many cereal and bread products are fortified with folic acid.  Although we practice measures to prevent neural tube defects many populations are still at risk particularly Hispanic women [3]. Findings such as these highlight the importance of increased efforts to decrease NTDs in populations of greater need.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4839972/

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/recommendations.html

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/features/folicacid-prevents-ntds.html

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.