Category: Nutrition

Soda Taxes Meet Calorie Counting

One of the most common ways people manage their health and weight is by calorie counting – a method of counting the calories in the food a person consumes in an effort to stay at or below a designated total of calorie intake per day. But a new study concerned about the effectiveness of current soda taxes brings forth a whole new idea to calorie counting.

In an effort to combat childhood and adult obesity in this country a number of states have made efforts to implement taxes on soda and other sugary drinks in hopes of curbing their consumption.

Currently, soda taxes are based on the number of ounces a drink contains, but a new study financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests a new taxing method that is a bit more complex: instead of using a tax based on a drink’s size, use a tax based on the amount of calories contained in a serving of the drink.

Consider this: under the current method of soda taxes, if you buy a 16oz drink that contains only 50 calories instead of a 12oz drink that contains 150 calories you are stuck paying more taxes for the larger drink even though the larger drink is healthier than the smaller drink. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? The only benefit behind this style of tax is its attempt to get you to buy a smaller sized drink, yet it has no regard for the sugar or calorie intake.

BUT, under the idea proposed by the recent study, you would pay taxes based on the calorie count – the drink with the more calories per serving would have a higher tax. Thus this new method aims at encouraging you to purchase the less sugary and ultimately healthier drink.

In the end, all of the soda taxes are focused on one central goal: reducing sugar intake in an effort to reduce obesity. The research suggests that calorie-counting based taxes would be more effective, but until the idea is successfully implemented and used it might just be an idea filled of sweet nothings…

To our readers: What are your thoughts on soda taxes? What are your thoughts and responses to this new idea of a soda tax based on calories?

Looking for some good soda tax humor? Check out this hilarious clip brought to us by Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation (shout-out to all of my fellow Hoosiers!).

Post source: “Study Examines Efficacy of Taxes on Sugary Drinks” by Stephanie Strom of The New York Times, published on June 2, 2014 at:

Yelp Help: Restaurant Reviews Help Health Officials Find Hundreds of Cases of Food Borne Illnesses

For many individuals looking for a new restaurant the famous online restaurant and business rating site, Yelp, can serve as a great aid in their search for a new place for dinner. But according to New York City health officials this social media site does more than tell a user how many stars people rank a restaurant.

Through the use of a pilot project conducted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Columbia University and Yelp, researchers analyzed 294,000 reviews posted by Yelp users to discover a total of 468 posts consistent with cases of recent food borne illnesses.

The project consisted of sifting through hundreds of thousands of reviews that were posted between July 2012 and March 2013 in search of words such as “sick,” “vomit” and “food poisoning.” What the researchers found was shocking – nearly 500 posts about cases of food borne illness when in reality only 15 of those cases had been independently reported to the health department.

Further research into these findings led the New York City health department to identify 16 specific cases of people made ill by dishes such as shrimp and lobster cannelloni and macaroni and cheese spring rolls due to health code violations such as improper cold food storage, bare-hand contact with the food, and even live roaches in the restaurant!

Ultimately, the researchers of the study reported that they believe their results indicate that online restaurant reviews could aid in identifying unreported food borne illness outbreaks and even restaurant food handling violations.

Much more work is to be done to refine the project, but in the meantime Yelp users should continue in their vigilant posting of both the good and the bad about local restaurants because it seems their word-of-mouth just might save someone from putting bad food in their mouth.


Post Source: “Yelp helped NYC health officials find hundreds of cases of food borne illness” by Fox News, posted on May 22, 2014 at:

Image source:


Fast Food is Going Mobile

The industry that is fast food has practically perfected itself – quick, easy, and cost effective food for hungry people on the go. What could be better? …Being able to order and purchase your food on your phone!

Yup, smartphone technology is at it again. Fast food venders, such as Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A are all working on new mobile phone applications that will allow customers to place their orders and pay for their meal on their phone.

But ordering and payments are not the only tricks these apps have. Taco Bell is currently testing a mobile application that will let a customer place an order, customize it to perfection, pay with a credit card or gift card AND once the customer selects a location to pick up the order a GPS locator will tell the selected kitchen the customer’s estimated time of arrival to ensure the meal is hot and fresh at pick up!

Sounds practically perfect, right? Not necessarily. While the use of mobile technology might be an ideal tool for customizing your meals and ensuring your food is freshly made, it won’t save you time.

The current state of the technology requires the customer to wait in line to collect their purchase, but there is hope. Some restaurants, such as California Pizza Kitchen, have applications that allow customers to describe their car in their order so the restaurant can bring the meal right out the moment the customers drive up.

Unfortunately, there’s another concern – the applications pose possible security risks. Having so many different companies using mobile ordering and mobile payments puts both customers and restaurants at risk for security breaches.

And what about the health concerns? Making an application for Taco Bell or McDonald’s doesn’t change the amount of calories or trans fats found in these foods, but by making the food all that much easier to order and purchase do we put ourselves at risk of eating these foods too much or too often?

As it stands now, making fast food mobile could really change the pace of the fast food industry. If 10 million people download the Taco Bell app that puts Taco Bell in the pockets of 10 million customers.

For now, only time will tell, but if you ever thought fast food couldn’t get any faster just wait and see what happens when fast food goes mobile.

To our readers: What do you think of fast food restaurants creating mobile apps? Do you think it will be adapted? Does it pose a health concern? What are your thoughts?


Post source: “Taco Bell Latest to Introduce Mobile App Ordering” by Dyanne Weiss, published on February 16, 2014. Retrieved from:

Image source:…1487.4283.0.4455.….0…1ac.1.38.img..6.14.1152.0xqwScIPtv8#q=mcdonalds+logo+and+smartphone&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=_&


A Small Victory as Obesity Rates Fall Among Young Children

A rare type of story hit headlines last week:  Public health success in the area of nutrition and obesity, as the rates of obesity for young children were found to have declined significantly over the past decade.

The report, published in JAMA, actually found no significant changes in the overall obesity prevalence in youth or adults. But, when the researchers looked at the rates among children between the ages of 2 and 5, they found a nearly 43% decline in obesity rates over the past ten years.

What has led to this decline, which seems against the odds in the face of skyrocketing iPad and technology use and less activity among the same demographic?  Theories include:

  • Less soda and juice – Children are consuming far fewer calories from sugary drinks than they were 10 years ago
  • More breastfeeding – More women are breastfeeding, which is found to lead to a healthier range of weight gain for young children
  • Less calories overall – The study found that children in this age group are consuming 4-7% less calories overall, but researches don’t think this would be a significant factor

There’s not yet any conclusive evidence as to the true reason or combination of reasons, but perhaps the public can be hopeful that the country’s focus on fighting the obesity epidemic is beginning to show some success, even on a small scale.

A separate report published last year by the CDC showed that the obesity rates were on the decline for low-income preschoolers in 18 states, and provide information for how state and community officials can continue to help create healthier communities.

But, as the JAMA report concludes, this is only one small victory for the fight against obesity.  A third of adults and 17% of youth are still obese.  With the high prevalence of obesity throughout the population, it is vital to continue in the fight against it.

What do you think is the most important thing the government and we, as members of the community (parents, children, siblings, friends, teachers), should be doing to help build healthier communities?


Photo credit:  Ian D. Keating

Your Forever Valentine: A Healthy Heart

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone.

Whether you were wrapped in the arms of a loved one or curled up with your favorite chick flick and chocolate, you probably thought about the holiday at least once (likely during your weekly errands when you walked by the massacre of red and pink candy that filled Target and grocery store aisles since a few days after Christmas.)

Valentine’s Day is all about the heart, and February is the official American Heart Month.  So this year, give your heart a break, and follow these 5 tips to make 2014 healthy for your heart.

  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke – Remind yourself why smoking is harmful, and make an(other) attempt to quit
  • Maintain a healthy weight – It will lowers health risks, raise self-esteem, and give you energy

Whether you hate or love the idea of Valentine’s Day, your heart deserves some love this year.

How will you improve your heart health this month?

Youth Health Hits the Minority Health Conference

On Friday, February 28th, the 35th Annual Minority Health Conference will take place at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This full-day event brings together scholars and practitioners who study and work on reducing health disparities for minority communities.

This year, the title is “Innovative Approaches to Youth Health: Engaging Youth in Creating Healthy Communities”, and will focus on enabling youth to make a difference in promoting healthy lifestyles to their peers and in their communities.

Keynote speakers include Dr. Gail C. Christopher, Vice President of Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Michael Yonas, Director or Research, Evaluation and Engagement at the Allegheny County Department of Health and Human Services.

There will be morning and afternoon breakout sessions on topics such as adolescent development, healthcare policy, hard-to-reach youth, and social media, among others.

The Minority Health Conference is the largest and longest running student-led health conference in the country. The conference aims to raise awareness around health disparities and mobilize students, academics, and community members to take action for change. The event was started in 1977 by the UNC Minority Student Caucus.

For more about the conference and the passion behind it, check out the conference video.

Click here to register for the 35th Annual Minority Health Conference.

Can’t make it to Chapel Hill?  Sign up for the free webcast of our keynote speaker:


*Note – Registration for the in-person event closes Friday, February 14th.


Why Your Sweet Tooth is Not So Sweet

Most of us love our sweets.  Chocolate, cookies, ice cream…our mouths water just thinking about them. Unfortunately, more and more research suggests how dangerous excess sugar is.

The past year especially has seen a lot of attacks on sugar, from New York City, trying to ban large sodas, to sugar being called the new fat, or even the “new tobacco”.

Most of us know the truth: sugar can lead to weight gain, which is bad for your heart…but do we know just how bad?

In the recent study, which looked at the sugar consumption of tens of thousands of people in the US as well as death rates from heart-related problems, there was a significant link between the amount of sugar consumed and heart risk.

The CDC researchers found that people who got a quarter or more of their daily calories from added sugar were more than 3x more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who consumed less sugar.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that added sugar should make up less than 10% of total calorie intake. This is about 70g for men and 50g for women.

Unfortunately, some of our favorite foods are packed with sugar.  A can of Coca-Cola has 7 teaspoons of sugar, a regular-sized milk chocolate bar between 5 and 7 teaspoons, and even Honey Nut Cheerios have 8.25 teaspoons of sugar per 100g.

How much sugar are you consuming?

Professor Naveed Sattar from the British Heart Foundation said there could be many reasons why people who eat lots of sugar became unhealthy.

“Of course, sugar per se is not harmful – we need it for the body’s energy needs – but when consumed in excess, it will contribute to weight gain and, in turn, may accelerate heart disease.”

Most adults and children in the US and the UK eat too much sugar, and need to cut back – Will you?


Photo Credit:  Teresa Boardman on Flickr

Peanut Allergy Be Gone!

In all our efforts to combat sickness and infections we’ve been told to wash our hands and cover our coughs, yet there’s still the age old theory that says to expose yourself to what makes you sick so your body can learn to fight it – makes sense, right? Well this idea of building tolerance made so much sense that it’s been applied by on a team of researchers working to combat peanut allergies in children and you know what? – It’s working!

According to an experiment held at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in the U.K. a group of 99 children, ages 7 to 16 who were known to be allergic to peanuts, consumed increasing small amounts of peanut flour with their food and after six months eighty percent of the children could safely consume peanuts.

Like the theory of exposing yourself to a cold to help your body fight off a cold, the experiment was by giving the kids small exposures to the peanut so that their immune systems would slowly build a tolerance. Interestingly, however, is that the objective of the experiment to eliminate the children’s allergy but to simply build a strong enough tolerance so that their reactions wouldn’t be so severe or life-threatening.

While we still lack a cure for allergies, experiments such as this are a great step in the right direction. For unknown reasons, though food allergies are on the rise in the United States, we really know how food allergies develop; one possible theory is that our food sanitation is making us “too clean,” causing our immune systems to be too weak to fight off common food and environment allergens.

So perhaps our food allergies should be like that of the Chicken Pox? – expose yourself early so your body can learn to fight it off, it might just save a life.

For our readers: If you have a food allergy, would you ever consider being a part of this research? Why or why not?


Post source and credit: “Cure your kids’ peanut allergies by feeding them peanuts” by Alexandra Sifferlin from TIME Health & Family, published on January 30, 2014 at:


A Dietary Dilemma in Developing Countries

We’ve known for some time that rates of overweight and obesity are on the rise in the world. Here in the United States it’s been on the top-of-mind, top of the news, and, all around.  The U.S. was deemed the fattest country for many years, until being passed by Mexico last year.

While high-income countries in North America and Europe are still the fattest, Mexico is the prime example of how many developing countries are quickly catching up.

The Overseas Development Institute, a public policy think tank in London, released a report showing that numbers of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has nearly quadrupled since 1980, reaching nearly one billion.

Southeast Asia has had the most rapid growth, from 7% in 1980 to now 22% of adults who are overweight or obese.

Obesity graphs

What are the causes of this sudden spike?

  • Higher incomes – leading to more choice in selecting foods
  • Higher availability of processed foods
  • More jobs are sedentary
  • Less physical activity overall

What can be done?

The report calls for policy intervention, which is a hot topic in most countries, including the U.S.  Many people don’t want the government to control, through taxes or bans, what they can eat or drink.

But with this growing public health issue and the potential for skyrocketing rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, the report says some type of government intervention is necessary.  Although the consumption of fat, sugar and salt is rising in most countries, the typical diets still vary greatly from country to country, and region to region.

The report notes that, due to varied diets, any public policy related to food will have to be very country or culture-specific

The question remains: Should the government have any influence in what we eat?


Photo Credit: CJ Plantinos


Resolutions > No Resolutions

How many New Years Resolutions have you made in your life?  How many of them have you actually kept?

Every year, losing weight and getting fit are in the top five resolutions that people in the United States make.  Unfortunately, exercise-related resolutions are usually the easiest ones not to keep, as things like lack of time, low motivation, and other barriers get in the way.

But there is good news for all of us who make these resolutions anyways.

Experts say that if you make a resolution to get in shape, you are more likely to actually follow through than those who make no resolutions at all.

According to researchers at the University of Scranton, about 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and about eight percent achieve their goal.

As most people who lead or participate in health programs know, good intentions are only half the battle, and even the best intentions are often not enough to bring about a lasting change.

Arizona-based wellness and weight management coach Lauve Metcalfe says that unrealistic expectations are why many people have a difficult time keeping New Year’s resolutions.  Some have even said that New Years resolutions can have a negative impact when they’re not met, lowering already-existing feelings of inadequacy and negative self-image.

So how do you make your resolutions, especially those about exercise, more realistic, and ultimately attainable?  Make them S.M.A.R.T.

Jacqueline Ratliff, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, borrows this acronym used for goal-setting in many workplaces, and says:

“With regard to New Year’s resolutions, it is important for people to make these goals S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound).”

So whether you’re already pressing the snooze button instead of hitting the gym in the morning, or you’re still trying to figure out which healthy resolutions you should be making this year, remember that making a resolutions is an important first step, and consider making your professional and personal goals S.M.A.R.T. this year.