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Lessons from the Arabbers of Baltimore

Nov 28, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Maya M. Rockeymoore

Maya M. Rockeymoore, PhD, is president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments, and director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). On December 5, RWJF will hold its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

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When I think of the resilience of disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by health disparities, I think of the Arabbers of Baltimore, Md. They are not Arabic speaking people from the Middle East or North Africa, but scrappy African American entrepreneurs who started selling fresh foods in Baltimore’s underserved communities in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Maya Rockeymoore

Their relevance continued into the modern era as supermarkets divested from low-income neighborhoods, leaving struggling residents with few options aside from unhealthy fast food and carry-out restaurants. Driving horses with carts laden with colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, Arabbers sold their produce to residents literally starving for nutritious food.

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New School Year Means New Opportunities to Build Healthy Campuses

Oct 14, 2014, 5:14 PM, Posted by Ginny Ehrlich

RWJF Philadelphia Child Obesity

September always brings the promise of a fresh start, especially for school age kids and their parents. New teachers, new books, new supplies, new shoes. And hopefully, a renewed emphasis on healthy choices. This week is National School Lunch Week, a time to highlight the importance of serving healthy school meals to students throughout the U.S.

Making sure all children have access to healthy food and drinks is a key priority for RWJF. Schools are where kids spend the most amount of time outside of their homes, so it’s an ideal place to instill lessons about the importance of eating healthy and being active. That’s why we are leading a number of initiatives to highlight how healthy school food, as well as recess and physical education (PE), contribute to nationwide efforts to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity.

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Students Adjusting to Healthier School Lunches: Q&A with Lindsey Turner

Oct 8, 2014, 12:20 PM

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Cutting Calories: Good for Health, Good for Business

Sep 16, 2014, 12:58 PM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

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Four years ago, 16 companies, acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), announced an ambitious pledge—to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace by 2015. They wanted to help reduce obesity in America, especially childhood obesity. Research published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine confirms that the companies far exceeded their pledge, and are making a difference that’s helping families buy fewer calories.

Collectively, these companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than they did in 2007, which we announced in early 2014. What’s new in these studies tells us that, during that same pledge period, families with children bought fewer calories from packaged foods and beverages—and the biggest cuts were from major sources of excess calories in kids’ diets, such as sweets, snacks, and soft drinks.

Why is this pledge so important, and what’s the next step for industry leaders who want to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic? RWJF senior vice president Jim Marks and lead study author Barry Popkin, PhD, of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, share their views.

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Faces of Public Health: Lisel Loy, Bipartisan Policy Center

Jul 25, 2014, 11:54 AM

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Late last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a new white paper, Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medical School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care, that strongly recommends providing greater training in nutrition and physical activity  for medical students and physicians in order to help reduce U.S. obesity rates. The report was jointly published with the American College of Sports Medicine and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation as a response to the growing rate of childhood obesity. The report found that current training for medical professionals and students in nutrition and exercise is inadequate to cope with the nation’s obesity epidemic.

A survey conducted for the new report found that more than 75 percent of physicians felt they had received inadequate training to be able to counsel their patients on changing diet and increasing activity levels. It also found that while some schools have stepped up their performance, fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

“The health care marketplace needs to place greater value on preventive care,” said Jim Whitehead, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Doing so will provide medical schools with the incentive to train their students accordingly. And it will give medical professionals the leverage they need to address healthy lifestyles with their patients.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lisel Loy, director of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, about the report and about how to improve training for medical professionals on nutrition and exercise.

NPH: What was the idea that propelled you to look into making changing to medical school education?

Loy: Well, the technical launching pad was our June 2012 policy report called Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future. And in that, my four co-chairs recommended a suite of policy changes that would improve health outcomes and lower costs for families, communities, schools and work sites. Within that community context they called out the need to improve training for health professionals—not just physicians but health professionals much more broadly defined than that—in pursuit of the goal of reducing obesity and chronic disease and cutting costs.

So that’s sort of the technical answer to your question. The more philosophical answer is as we as a country shift toward more preventive care, they really saw a gap in the education and training of health professionals in terms of being able to best support improved health outcomes. So that’s how they determined that that belonged in our report as a policy recommendation, and since we put out that report we prioritized a handful of recommendations, one of which had to do with health professional training.

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From Flyers to Tweets to Apps, Food Programs are Looking for Hungry Kids this Summer

Jul 23, 2014, 11:38 AM

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While more than 30 million children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program during the school year, only about 3 million of those kids sign on for summer meals through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, according to agency statistics. While not all 30 million need the summer meals—many are enrolled in summer programs that offer food or have parents that are able to take responsibility for providing meals—USDA and hunger experts know that millions are going hungry each summer, impacting their day-to-day lives, the learning gains of the previous year and learning readiness for the next grade.

“Most of the reason eligible kids aren’t getting meals in the summer is simply because parents don’t know about them,” said Audrey Rowe, head of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which runs the meal programs.

Last year, USDA made increasing the number of kids getting summer meals (sites typically serve one meal and a snack or two meals) a top priority, according to a the report Summer Doesn’t Take a Vacation, published by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aimed at ending child hunger. According to the report, the summer of 2013 marked the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating sponsored summer meals in 10 years, and the program grew last year to serve nearly three million children, an increase of 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012. This represents the largest percentage increase since 2003.

To reach those increases, the USDA worked with organizations including FRAC, Feeding America, Share Our Strength, the YMCA and other national, state and local stakeholders to target states with high rates of poverty, food insecurity and low participation rates in summer food programs. Efforts ran from high-level conversations with state governors—some of whom had known nothing about summer meal programs—to dozens of webinars to teach officials and private partners the nuts and bolts of running the programs. For example, sites are eligible in communities where more than half the area children receive subsidized school meals. 

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Is Comfort Eating Actually Comforting?

Jul 9, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by A. Janet Tomiyama

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What’s your favorite comfort food? Ice cream, pizza, chocolate—everyone’s got a preference, whether they’re from Los Angeles, London, Sao Paolo, or Tokyo. Stress eating is as universal as eating itself; indeed, even Cervantes in his 1605 classic Don Quixote addressed the practice with the line, “All sorrows are less with bread.” Humans seem to reach for food as a way to soothe negative emotions, and that food is often high-fat, high-sugar, and high-calorie. That’s why comfort eating is often blamed as one reason stress is bad for health—because stress causes us to find comfort in a dozen cookies.

A. Janet Tomiyama

If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised but delighted to know it’s not just humans that engage in comfort eating! Eating high-fat, sugary foods in response to stress is a behavior that we see in non-human species like rodents and primates. Under chronic stress conditions, for example, rats will shift their food intake away from standard food pellets to the rodent version of “comfort food” (researchers often use Crisco mixed with sugar).

Even more amazing: it works. These comfort-eating rats showed dampened biological stress reactivity in a stress system called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. Sustained over-activity of the HPA axis is associated with poor health, and these studies suggest that comfort eating is playing an important role in managing an organism’s stress levels.

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Promoting A “Green” Culture of Health: Instead of Wasting Food, Getting it to Those Who Need It

Jun 25, 2014, 3:54 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Warehouse Trenton

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” goes an old slogan of the United Negro College Fund. Another terrible thing to waste is healthy food.

That’s especially true in a nation where 1 in 7 U.S. households are “food insecure”—that is, they lack consistent, dependable access, typically for financial reasons, to “enough food for active, healthy living,” as a U.S. Department of Agriculture report puts it. About 1 in 10 U.S. households have food-insecure children—an equally appalling reality in a country that wastes an estimated 30 to 40 percent of its food supply, or a whopping 133 billion pounds of food in 2010 alone.

In California’s Orange County, however, a solution is at hand—and there’s no reason it couldn’t take hold and spread nationwide. Since 2012, the Waste Not Orange County Coalition, a public-private partnership, has worked to boost donations to local food pantries of surplus healthy food from local restaurants, grocery stores and other facilities. The organization was formed out of the realization that enough food was tossed out every day to feed the nearly 380,000 local residents—almost half of them children—who are deemed food insecure.

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Closing the Gap on Child Obesity

May 22, 2014, 9:56 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

An elementary school student takes plastic cutlery for the meal he is holding.

Imagine a splashy, big bucks television commercial selling kids on the tantalizing deliciousness of eating ... carrots.          

Or a new course sandwiched into already packed middle-school and high school curricula: “Food Shopping and Cooking for a Healthy Life.”

Sound implausible? Maybe—but then again, such innovations could be a part of what is needed to make more progress in the war on child obesity.

These were some of the suggestions that emerged from a recent conference in Newark, where the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Grantmakers in Health sponsored a day-long summit entitled Closing the Gap: Childhood Obesity (and in which I was a participant). You can watch a video of the meeting here.

As RWJF CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey reminded the audience, the Foundation has set a goal of reversing the U.S. child obesity epidemic by 2015—and as that date approaches, she confessed, “I’m getting a little nervous.” (View Risa's remarks.)

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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Prince George’s County, Maryland

May 1, 2014, 2:19 PM

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The Prince George's County, Maryland Place Matters team is addressing food inequity by establishing a Food Policy Council and working with the county's recreation department to design and implement after-school healthy eating and active-living programs.

The project is beginning with the waterfront towns of Bladensburg, Colmar Manor, Cottage City and Edmonston, which have drafted a Community Action Plan with strategies on how to reduce chronic disease in Prince George's County. Partners on the Community Action Plan included Kaiser Permanente, the Consumer Health Foundation, United Way of the National Capital Area and the Meyer Foundation. Place Matters plans to replicate the initiative in other county municipalities.

Prince George's County is the most diverse in Maryland; 80 percent of the population is made up of minority groups. According to the 2010 Census, 8 percent of households live below the poverty line, but some of the towns have higher rates of poverty. Cottage City has a 21 percent poverty level, Bladensburg has a poverty level of 12 percent and Edmonston has a poverty rate of 9 percent.

Key Team Objectives:

  • Improve healthy food access and wellness for all through food policy and action.
  • Create reliable public transit, bike and pedestrian access to schools and recreational facilities.
  • Enhance community capacity to lead and support the Community Action Plan.

“What we decided to do was instead of trying to address the full county is to build a model which the county could replicate,” said team co-leader David Harrington. Harrington said the project, which started seven years ago, has “had some good success in helping to address some policy issues and system change issues.”

Place Matters is building a team around stakeholders called the Community Implementation Team and a countywide team called the Policy Development Team, which consists of the county agencies that influence policy and can provide support for help in doing the community work. They were engaged early in the conversation “so that they would consider administrative and other policies that will help them buttress the community work, and then the community work would help then influence their work, so this becomes a supportive concentric circle of activity that helps systems change, as well as change at the community level,” said Harrington.

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