Category: Nutrition

Recent Data on Obesity Prevalence in the U.S.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently released a data brief on recent estimates for obesity prevalence in the United States. These estimates are from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2015-2016. Some key survey findings showed that in 2015-2016, obesity prevalence was 39.8% among adults and 18.5% among youth in the U.S. Additionally, obesity prevalence was found to be 13.9% for children aged 2-5 years, 18.4% for children aged 6-11 years, and 20.6% for children aged 12-19 years.

While there was not a significant change in obesity prevalence among U.S. adults and youth between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, obesity continues to remain an important public health concern.

Obesity prevalence rates in the U.S. do not currently meet national weight status objectives set forth in Healthy People 2020, a 10-year national agenda for improving public health in the U.S. These objectives are to reduce the proportion of U.S. adults that are obese to 30.5%, as well as reduce the proportion of U.S. children aged 2-5 years, 6-11 years, and 12-19 years that are obese to 9.4%, 15.7%, and 16.1%, respectively, by the year 2020.

Obesity can lead to serious health effects, such as: high blood pressure, heart disease, and even type 2 diabetes. However, maintaining a healthy weight through eating right and staying physically active can prevent these negative health outcomes.

References

Prevalence of Obesity among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016. (2017, October). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf

Nutrition and Weight Status. (2017, October 13). Retrieved from https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/nutrition-and-weight-status/objectives

Eat Right. (N.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/index.htm

Be Physically Active. (N.d.) Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/physical.htm

What Exactly is Coconut Water?

Coconut water seemed to be a fad brought about by celebrities (as most fads are). Besides providing a unique tasting alternative to plain water, what do we know from a nutritional standpoint?

Despite the name, coconuts are considered a fruit. The juice at the center forms the white coconut meat as it ripens and the half-cup to cup of liquid that remains in the middle is the coconut water. And this liquid is made up of 94% water. A cup of coconut water contains:

  • Carbs: 9 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin C: 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
  • Magnesium: 15% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 17% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 17% of the RDI
  • Sodium: 11% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 6% of the RDI

The nutrients and antioxidants present may even decrease blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol, all while replenishing electrolytes and providing hydration. More research is needed but coconut water seems to be a pretty satisfying drink.

Source: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-coconut-water-benefits#section8

Do meta-analyses really offer a bottom line?

For any particular health behavior or condition, the number of research studies is ever-growing. The expansive literature makes it nearly impossible for health practitioners, and even researchers, to stay up-to-date.

Meta-analyses are a type of systematic review that allow for the combination of findings from individual studies in a way that increases statistical power and may thus generate evidence-based ‘bottom lines’ for practice. However, a recent viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Misuse of Meta-Analysis in Nutrition Research, leaves us wondering whether meta-analyses do more harm than good.

Some of the most common flaws discussed in this viewpoint include:

  • The people. Individual studies may include a range in demographic characteristics, like age, sex, race, and ethnicity. While it is typically a good thing to include a variety of people in a single study, trying to compare different study populations can make it more challenging to identify real effects. Think: comparing a study that looked at egg consumption and cholesterol levels in men aged 65 and older to a study looking at women aged 20 – 40 years – there are many other factors that could explain the observed effects.
  • The study design. Although studies may be looking at the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, they may have used different tools to measure saturated fat intake over varying periods or time or different measures related to heart disease. In addition, some trials may have randomly assigned participants to a group while others followed their natural behaviors over time. This is like trying to compare apples and oranges, although they are both fruit, they are in fact different and it may not be appropriate to try and interpret them together.

Results of meta-analyses matter because they can influence health care policy – either by providing an evidence base for decision-making and/or media headlines prompting public conversation that elevates the priority of a specific condition or behavior. Barnard and colleagues suggest the peer-review process should and could be improved by:

  1. Having content expert editors as well as editors with expertise in meta-analysis techniques
  2. Having authors of the review confirm the appropriateness of the representation of the data with authors of the original report
  3. Having transparent methods and data so that others may reproduce the analysis
  4. Pooling original primary data and not published summary data

 

Sources:                     

Meta-Analysis. Study Design 101. https://himmelfarb.gwu.edu/tutorials/studydesign101/metaanalyses.html

Barnard ND, Willett WC, Ding EL. The Misuse of Meta-analysis in Nutrition Research. JAMA. Published online September 18, 2017. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.12083

The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Meta-analyses in nutrition research: sources of insight or confusion?

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.

Superfood Spotlight: Chia Seeds

A member of the mint family, chia seeds are a nutrition-packed superfood. These tiny black seeds are a great source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that help to support digestion and blood sugar management. In just 1 ounce of chia seeds you can find a hefty 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids! Not to mention, chia seeds are also rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Chia seeds can be eaten raw or they can be added to other dishes, such as soups, salads, and even baked goods. They can also be soaked in water where they form a gel-like texture that resembles that of tapioca. Because of this, one of my favorite uses for chia seeds is making chia pudding. While both nutritious and delicious, chia pudding is also super easy to make! I often prepare it at night so that I have it ready to eat for breakfast in the morning. Here is a delicious recipe for chia pudding (courtesy of MinimalistBaker.com).

Check out the following resources for more information about chia seeds:

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds | MedlinePlus

National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference | USDA

References:

Basic Report: 12006, Seeds, chia seeds, dried. (2016, May). Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3610

Gunnars, K. 11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds. (2017, May 30). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds#section7

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000727.htm

Lewin, J. (2017, April 27). The health benefits of chia seeds. Retrieved from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-chia-seeds

Weil, A. What is Chia? (2006, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/what-is-chia/

Wolfram, T. (2017, June 1). What are Chia Seeds? Retrieved fromhttp://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/what-are-chia-seeds

Teal Pumpkin Project: Promoting fun and safe Halloween treats for all

As my little one tries new foods, I pay close attention for any strange reactions that might indicate a food allergy. Food allergies are the result of an immune response to proteins found in food. The immune response can cause mild symptoms such as redness on the skin or an itchy mouth. Or it can cause more serious, life threatening symptoms, known as anaphylaxis, like trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness.

While more than 170 foods have been identified to cause allergic reactions, eight allergens are responsible for the majority, and the most severe, reactions in the United States. The ‘big’ eight include: egg, milk, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

It is estimated that upwards of 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, and that number is on the rise. A Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report states there is increasing prevalence of food allergies among children, and a recent media headline shared that insurance claims for anaphylactic (severe) food reactions are going up in adults too.

Although the reason(s) or cause(s) for these increases is unknown, what is known is that food allergies impact quality of life. Holidays can be a particularly challenging time for people with food allergies, but Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has initiated a worldwide movement to create a safer, happier Halloween for all. To support the movement, all you have to do is offer non-food treats, like bubbles or stickers, and place a teal pumpkin on your doorstep as a way to let families know you are safe for children with food allergies or other health concerns.

If Halloween is one of your favorite celebrations during the year, think about how a small change in what you hand out can allow others to experience the fun and tradition of trick-or-treating.

The TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT and the Teal Pumpkin Image are trademarks of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE)

 

Sources:                     

NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010; 126(6):S1-58

Jackson KD, Howie LD, Akinbami LJ. Trends in allergic conditions among children: United States, 1997-2011. NCHS data brief, no 121. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db121.htm.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health. Report of the NIH Expert Panel on Food Allergy Research. 2006. Retrieved from www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodallergy/research/pages/reportfoodallergy.aspx

United States Census Bureau Quick Facts (2015 estimates).

Shemesh E, Annunziato RA, Ambrose MA, Ravid NL, Mullarkey C, Rubes M, Chuang K, Sicherer M, Sicherer S. Child and parental reports of bullying in a consecutive sample of children with food allergy. Pediatrics 2013; 131:e10-e17.

Herbert L, Shemesh E, Bender B. Clinical management of psychosocial concerns related to food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2016; 4(2):205-213.

Bollinger ME; Dahlquist LM, Mudd K; Sonntag C, Dillinger L, McKenna K. The impact of food allergy on the daily activities of children and their families. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006; 96:415-421.

Food Allergy Research & Education. Teal Pumpkin Project. https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project

Pumpkin Spice: What Makes It So Nice?

Pumpkin spice conjures images of fall and fall is now upon us! The smell alone triggers nostalgia and comfort, and memories of pumpkin pie with the family. Interestingly, about 80% of our experience of taste comes from smell. Clever marketing, most notably of the pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, has further conditioned us to associate this scent and flavor with the cozy season. But what exactly is pumpkin spice?

It’s usually not pumpkin—a natural mixture may combine ground cinnamon, nutmeg, dry ginger and clove or allspice. Spices are derived from plants, offering a good source of phytochemicals. And for those specialty lattes, a synthetic flavoring is often used that evokes the aroma of butter browning with sugar. Sweeteners are, of course, aplenty in these syrups and additives.

The physiological effects of feel-good sugar paired with comforting pumpkin spice really make for a serious seasonal craving.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/13/health/pumpkin-spice-ingredients-science-explainer/index.html

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

Improving the Nutrition Profile of Food Donations

Hunger impacts one in seven people in the United States. Children, older adults, and those who are homeless are particularly susceptible to the impact of stress and inadequate nutrition for healthy growth and development and/or disease management that accompanies hunger.

The Feeding America Network includes 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that aim to get nourishing food to people in need. In fact, they serve more than 46 million people each year. To serve all of these individuals, Feeding America relies on donations from individuals and corporations. The great news is that donating food is easy. In fact, more people donate to food drives each year than watch the Super Bowl.

The less than great news is that many of the items donated are high in sodium and/or sugar, which could be particularly harmful for growing children and adults managing chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. Fortunately, this trend is starting to change. NPR’s WNYC provides a positive example of how Washington D.C.’s Capital Area Food Bank has significantly reduced (by 84%) the amount of junk food it supplies by being more clear in their requests for the types of foods they want to be able to offer.

The #GiveHealthy Movement is also changing how and what people donate. The #GiveHealthy movement uses technology to allow hunger relief organizations to specify the types of healthy food items they desire. For example, this may include fresh fruit, vegetables, or other healthy food items. Food drive organizers can then connect with and share specific hunger organizations’ wish lists. Donors can purchase identified items and everything will be delivered, at no cost, to the organization.

What we eat matters. What we donate matters. And there is finally support to change the nutrition profile of what we offer to support those in need. I challenge you to #GiveHealthy and to support others to as well.

 

Sources:             

Feeding America. http://www.feedingamerica.org/research/hunger-in-america/facts-and-faces/

#GiveHealthy. Hunger is a Health Issue. http://givehealthy.org/index.php/givehealthy-food-drive-2017/hunger-is-a-health-issue/

WNYC. NPR. One of America’s Biggest Food Banks Just Cut Junk Food By 84 Percent in a Year. http://www.wnyc.org/story/one-of-americas-biggest-food-banks-just-cut-junk-food-by-84-percent-in-a-year/

Farm Health and Safety Awareness

September 17-23 marks National Farm Health and Safety Week 2017. As someone who grew up on a Dairy and Crop Farm, I am all too familiar with the dangers that come along with a life in agriculture. From close calls, to the injuries of family members, to the tragic passing and near death experiences of neighbors and others in the community, the risk of injury and death was always in the back of my mind. My parents still operate our family farm together, juggling the responsibilities of keeping the farm going, raising grandchildren, and navigating health issues that someone who has grandchildren often begin to deal with (sorry mom and dad!).

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety uses each day this week to highlight a different issue that faces those who work in the agricultural industry, and today marks farmer health. Where I’m from in the Thumb of Michigan, many of the local farms are operated by an aging population, who along with the risks involved with a farming lifestyle, are also coping with diseases associated with aging, such as arthritis and cancer. I encourage you to take the time to learn more about the Health of Farmers, and to appreciate the unique challenges that accompany the large scale agricultural work, and the impact that farming has on a national and global scale. More information is sourced below!

 

Sources –

National Education Center for Agricultural Safety National Farm Health and Safety Week 2017 – http://www.necasag.org/nationalfarmsafetyandhealthweek/