Category: Nutrition

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.

It’s all in the name: Can labels influence eating behavior?

While cruising nutrition-related headlines, I stumbled across “Call a Snack a Meal, and You’re Less Apt to Overeat”. Hmmm, this sounds easy enough and therefore worthy of a click to learn more. The consumer news piece summarized that those participants asked to eat pasta as a snack (eaten standing up from a plastic pot with a plastic fork) ate “much more” during a subsequent taste test than those who had been asked to eat pasta as a meal (eaten seated at a table from a ceramic plate with a metal fork).

The title and content of the article seemed disconnected, so I decided to do a quick review of the peer-reviewed publication. Turns out the seemingly simple advice that caught my eye – prevent overeating by changing how you label a meal or snack – is in fact too good to be true, at least based on the evidence from this study.

The study’s actual intention was to look at the independent and combined effects of labeling the pasta dish (meal or snack) and the location of eating the pasta dish (standing with plasticware or sitting with silverware). There were actually no differences detected in changes in hunger, fullness, or motivation to eat across the four study groups. While there were statistically significant results for increased food intake during the subsequent taste test (sweet and savory snacks), this was limited to those participants who received instructions to eat the snack while standing, not those instructed to eat the snack while sitting. Thus, simply calling something a snack did not prevent overeating.

Another important note is the final quote offered by the study author – “To overcome this, we should call our food a meal and eat it as meal, helping make us more aware of what we are eating so that we don’t overeat later on,” – may have been reported out of context and overly generalized. The study included mostly college students in the United Kingdom who are considered to have a normal body mass index, which does not represent a majority of the population.

Picking apart results of nutrition research and missreporting those results is a disservice to consumers. The bottom line: don’t believe everything you read, and if you have questions or need support for lifestyle changes, seek guidance from trained professionals.



Ogden J, Wood C, Payne E, Fouracre H, Lammyman F. ‘Snack’ versus ‘meal’: The impact of label and place on food intake. Appetite. 2018 Jan 1; 120:666-672. Doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.10.026.

Preidt, R. University of Surrey, news release, Oct. 30, 2017. Call a Snack a Meal, and You’re Less Apt to Overeat. HealthDay News.

A Toast to the Fall Roast

Hey there,

Happy Fall! Just here to give a quick plug for a hearty fall roast as a delicious and nutritious, easy-to-make-a-vegetarian’s day option. The best part? It’s seasonal and local-find friendly.  Whether you’re at the store or a farmer’s market, go ahead and pick out:

  • the best lookin’ squash you see (be warned–as I recently discovered, a butternut squash is much easier to cut than an acorn squash–and a spaghetti squash may be better suited for other Fall meals given it’s stringy texture once cooked)
  • Complement that rich squash flavor with a sweet potato or two, rich in anti-oxidants, and plenty filling
  • See any fresh beets? Doubling up on antioxidant power and also vitamin-rich (particularly Vit C, Vit B6, iron, and folate) plus you get a gorgeous, deep purple to balance your fall colors–remember, you eat with your eyes first. Bonus–you can use beet leaves and another leafy green of your choice for a quick side salad!
  • No beets? No sweat! See any carrots calling to you? Maybe a red bell pepper? Cauliflower steak, anyone?
  • Chickpeas/beans of choice. Adding a can of beans to your roast is a quick way to add in a hearty amount of protein and a welcome contrast in texture
  • Seasoning is always in season! A little salt helps accentuate flavors, but you really don’t need too much to let these veggies sing. I like to add a generous amount of a fresh herb if you can find some (loving rosemary right now)

Nothing like letting the scent of roasting vegetables and fresh herbs envelop your kitchen and living room 🙂 Happy roasting!


A Different Type of Stress Eating

Exercise has long been prescribed as a remedy to anxiety and stress. Are there certain nutrients that may help as well?

Vitamin B1: Prevents the production of excess lactic acid (often recognized as a biochemical factor in triggering anxiety).

Vitamin B6: Helps make mood-influencing neurotransmitters including serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine.

Vitamin B9: Maintains homocysteine levels (high levels linked to anxiety) by converting into mood-stabilizing S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) and antioxidant glutathione.

Vitamin B12: Serves in production of methionine, precursor of SAMe, necessary for myelin sheath and nerve function.

Magnesium: Reduces lactic acid levels, binds to and stimulates GABA receptors, and can regulate the stress response by suppressing stress hormones.

Zinc: Stimulates enzymes necessary in the synthesis of serotonin and GABA.

Tryptophan: Acts as the amino acid precursor to serotonin.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Decreases proinflammatory cytokins, small proteins that interfere with the regulation of glutamate (a neurotransmitter that is associated with anxiety).

Vitamin C: Moderates the release of stress hormones like cortisol.

Check back next week for a post on what foods are a good source of these nutrients!


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.

Garlic: bad breath, good health?

Yesterday was Halloween, and I hope y’all aren’t feeling too much like zombies after walking Franklin Street. See any vampire costumes?

Garlic is in the onion family. The separate sections that comprise the garlic bulb are cloves, and most of the health benefits come from when a clove is crushed or chewed when raw. This produces a sulfur compound, allicin.

In addition to allicin, garlic seems to be a nutrient powerhouse. Three cloves (9g) contain manganese (8% DV), Vitamin B6 (6%), Vitamin C (5%), calcium, selenium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, copper, and zinc.

Research has shown that garlic may:

  • Boost immune system
  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Lower LDL cholesterol
  • Fight oxidants
  • Protect against heavy metal toxicity

Okay, but why the connection with vampires? Perhaps since garlic has been used as a known mosquito repellent, the connection between the bloodsuckers was made. Some also believe the legend of vampires possibly had its fangs in porphyria, and garlic exacerbates the symptoms of this disease.

Though unlikely you’ll need garlic for folkloric purposes, it may still be beneficial to add it to your diet!


Halloween Candy and the crux of Added Sugars

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays: with the costumes, fascination with the occult, the wonderful fall weather and fall themed foods, and one of my favorite vices being the candy. While I would argue that it’s the chocolate that I love, my sweet tooth cravings are most likely for sugar.

According to the American Heart Association, adult males are recommended not to consume more than 36 grams of sugar per day, while the recommendations for adult females is 25 grams. With that in mind, where does that leave some of our favorite Halloween Candy?

According to a recent study by FiveThirtyEight, the most popular Halloween Candy in the U.S. is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, with the top five being rounded out by Reese’s Miniatures, Twix, Kit Kat, and Snickers. Below are the sugar content in grams for each of the top 5 candies in the fun-size portions, except where otherwise noted:

Candy Sugar Content
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups 10.5 grams
Reese’s Miniatures (3 pieces) 10 grams
Twix 8.5 grams
Kit Kat 7 grams
Snickers 8.5 grams


The key here is that we should enjoy our Halloween Candy in Moderation. Often for myself, Halloween starts the downward spiral of unhealthy eating that lasts into the new year. In order to combat this, I am going to (attempt) to cut out added sugar from my diet for the three weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving. While skipping the half-priced post Halloween candy deals will be difficult, I am hoping to use this time to become more aware of the amount of added sugar I consume on a daily basis (just don’t ask me how many mini snickers I ate yesterday). For anyone who is interested in this, I have included a link in the sources below to a guide to a sugar detox. Happy Halloween!



American Heart Association: Added Sugars –

FiveThirtyEight: The Ultimate Halloween Candy Power Ranking –

Daily Burn: Sugar Detox Diet –


You’ve probably seen front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labeling systems.

From ASPE Policy Research for Front of Package Nutrition Labeling: Environmental Scan and Literature Review

Next time you stroll through the grocery store, count how many different labeling systems you see in a single aisle. To summarize, the different systems are:

  • Nutrient-specific – to display select nutrients from the Nutrition Facts Panel
  • Summary indicator – to offer a single symbol or score to summarize the nutritional value
  • Food group information – to offer symbols based on the presence of a food group or ingredient

In spite of the different looks, the modified labeling systems have similar intentions, which include:

  • Providing consumers select nutrition information for nutrients to limit (e.g., sodium or added sugars) or nutrients to increase (e.g., vitamin D or calcium)
  • Making it easier to compare similar foods
  • Giving an overall impression about the nutritional value or food group composition of a food

While each type of system has demonstrated success in altering purchase patterns, no system has been deemed superior to another. A major assumption about these systems is that consumers receive and understand the information they are receiving. Although data show this is not the case, there is evidence that simple labeling systems can be effective, including for consumers who have low literacy and may be at nutritional risk.

The committee assembled by the Institute of Medicine was charged with reviewing evidence and providing recommendations for a system redesign that will encourage healthier food choices and purchase behaviors. Highlights include:

  • Develop a single, standardized system that translates information from the Nutrition Facts label
  • Display calories in common household measure serving sizes and 0-3 “points” for nutrients to limit
  • Appear on all grocery products and in consistent locations across products
  • Providing a nonproprietary, transparent translation of nutrition information into health meaning

More information is not always better, and the committee references the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s Energy Star® program as a successful model that has altered consumer purchase patterns for household appliances and electronics.

What are your thoughts about FOP labeling systems? Are they helpful? Confusing? What do you want to know from looking at the front of a package?

front-of-package labeling for-the-win (FOP-FTW)


Institute of Medicine. 2012. Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Nutrition Facts Numbers: Helpful or Harmful?

While cruising nutrition headlines, I stumbled across – Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism. In addition to showing the commute time from one destination to the next, Google Maps beta tested including how many calories would be burned if one walked and, in some instances, even equated the number of calories burned to calories in food.

This feature was met with mixed reviews – some valued the information and felt it could encourage healthier decisions (#digitalhealth), while others found it particularly alarming and potentially dangerous for people with eating disorders. Ultimately the feature was removed, but this reignites an important conversation about the transparency and promotion of nutrition facts information.

Should caloric information be prominent? The Affordable Care Act includes requirements for certain restaurants and vending machines to display or have nutrition information readily available. And according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, Americans want access to nutrition label information, even if they don’t use it. Information can be powerful for positive change but also negative consequences, so how can we best communicate information in a way that avoids causing harm?

How are people using this information, if at all? About half of adults state they read nutrition facts labels “always” or “most of the time”. People look at labels and packaging for various reasons, ranging from specific nutrients or ingredients for health purposes to helping decide which brand of a food to buy.

Is more (numbers and data) better? A majority of people want to have access to information, and about half of people look at the information, but the same survey shows that people largely ignore labels because they are too difficult to understand (59%) or it takes too much time (75%).

While the intentions of transparency of information are good, the information may be overly-complicated to interpret and likely misses the mark of making nutrition information digestible (pun intended). We might be better served to offer simplified approaches for communicating nutrition information about food. Stay tuned for examples of this.

In the meantime, how do you feel about access to nutrition information – whether calories, nutrients, or specific health claims? Do you want it or need it? How confident are you that you can interpret the available information?

Jordan Lin C-T, Zhang Y, Carlton ED, Lo SC. 2014 FDA Health and Diet Survey. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration. May 6, 2016.

Prentice C & Kahn C. Americans want required food labels even if they don’t read them. Reuters. October 2, 2017.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Menu and Vending Machines Labeling Requirements. May 1, 2017.

Victor D. Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism. The New York Times. October 17, 2017.

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.


Prevalence of Obesity among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016. (2017, October). Retrieved from

Nutrition and Weight Status. (2017, October 13). Retrieved from

Eat Right. (N.d.). Retrieved from

Be Physically Active. (N.d.) Retrieved from