Category Archives: Healthy Food Access

Oct 8 2014
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Students Adjusting to Healthier School Lunches: Q&A with Lindsey Turner

A recently published research brief finds that six months after updated U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for healthier meals were implemented in public schools, elementary and high school students are buying—and eating—the healthier meals.

The brief published by Bridging the Gap, a national research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), shows that 70 percent of elementary school principals and school food directors said that students generally liked the healthier school lunches that began being served in the fall of 2012. Similarly, 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students also like the meals. These are the first national studies to examine students’ reactions to the healthier meals.

“The updated meals standards are resulting in healthier meals for tens of millions of kids,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the elementary school study, and a co-investigator for Bridging the Gap. “Our studies show that kids are OK with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.”

The survey responders were asked about students’ initial reaction to the meals in fall 2012, and how things were progressing a few months afterwards. Findings included:

  • About half of the responders from elementary schools (56 percent) reported that students complained at first, but by spring 2013 64 percent of responders said few students were complaining.
  • In middle schools, the percentage of students complaining dropped from 44 percent in fall 2012 to 11 percent in spring 2013. High schools saw similar declines, from 53 percent to 18 percent.
  • Eighty-four percent of elementary school responders said approximately the same number of students (or more) were purchasing lunch this school year as did the previous year.
  • Seventy percent of responders said middle-school students generally liked the new lunches, as did 63 percent of responders from high schools.

“The updated meal standards are a landmark achievement—they make schools healthier places for our nation’s children and are a critical step toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and building a Culture of Health nationwide,” said Tina Kauh, program officer at RWJF. “Policymakers at all levels should be encouraged by these findings and should continue to support schools’ efforts to provide students with healthy meals and snacks.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lindsey Turner about the study findings.

NewPublicHealth: News reports from about a year back seemed to indicate some kids were not happy with the healthier lunches. But your studies show that for the most part school lunches are being well-received.

Lindsey Turner: Many of those news stories were early on soon after the lunches had been changed. They’re also based on fairly small numbers of schools or case reports, and so one challenge with that is that it may not necessarily be representative of schools in general across the country. One of the strengths of our study is that we were able to get data from a fairly large number of schools from all across the country, which presents a little bit more of a balanced picture of what’s actually going on.

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Sep 24 2014
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Webinar Today, 2-3 p.m.: CEOs of RWJF and PepsiCo to Discuss Calorie-Cutting Efforts

Sixteen major food and beverage companies acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in the United States in 2012 than they did in 2007, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The companies collectively pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015.

An independent evaluation funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that the companies have already exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent.

Today, at 2 p.m. ET, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of RWJF, and Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and chair of the HWCF, will discuss the findings and efforts in an online event. PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff will moderate.

You can watch the livecast of the event here and join the online conversation using the hashtag #caloriecutback.

Jul 25 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Lisel Loy, Bipartisan Policy Center

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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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Jul 23 2014
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From Flyers to Tweets to Apps, Food Programs are Looking for Hungry Kids this Summer

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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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May 1 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Prince George’s County, Maryland

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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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Apr 15 2014
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Recommended Reading: Where Teens Spend Their Time

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A new article from The Atlantic Cities reports on a recent study that finds that restaurants are shifting to become the predominant teen hang-out spot, rather than the malls of the past. According to a recent report on teen behavior, teenagers now spend more money on food and events than on clothes. And while an increase in mall closings may be driving younger people to eateries, the report finds that a greater interest in hanging out at restaurants also drove some of the drop in mall traffic—along with competition from the Internet.

The report doesn’t say what the teens are eating while they mingle, but the trend comes at a good time for them to access information on healthier diets, as under the Affordable Care Act many restaurants must now post nutrition information. Though studies have been mixed about the results of menu labeling, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that, overall, public health studies may be beginning to show that menu labeling may influence consumers to choose healthier options. And while many food outlets have chosen to share that information online rather than on walls, digital-savvy teens may already have the tools to find it—though they may need a push from social media or other educational outreach channels to do so.

Read the article from The Atlantic Cities.

Apr 10 2014
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National Public Health Week: Healthy Eating—There’s an App for That

Eat well. That’s today’s theme for National Public Health Week—and it’s good advice. After all, according to the American Public Health Association, Americans are now eating 31 percent more calories than we did 40 years ago, including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year today than in 1970. 

There are new food-oriented websites and smartphone apps (many free) that can help people keep track of what foods they’re eating and what’s in those foods.

At the Milk Street Café in Boston, for example, the restaurant’s ordering site lets you filter the full menu into just the categories you want. Click low “fat” and the tailored breakfast menu leaves off the breakfast pastries and zooms in on the yogurt parfaits.

Other recent apps include:

  • Locavore, which points to farmers’ markets and produce stands in your neighborhood.
  • Harvest, which offers tips for choosing ripe produce.
  • Fooducate, a food database on your smartphone that includes basic nutrient and calorie information, plus high points of each food such as the fiber quantify of crackers.
  • Substitutions, an app finds alternatives when you can’t use the ingredient in the original recipe because of an allergy or other dietary restriction. Popular tip: Swap in fat-free yogurt when the recipe calls for fat-free sour cream to save calories.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosts the Food Access Research Atlas, which presents a spatial overview of food access indicators for low-income and other census tracts using different measures of supermarket accessibility. The app is valuable for community planning and research.
Mar 11 2014
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Why Chipotle’s Guacamole Scare Really Matters

Lost in the late night guffaws over Chipotle’s report to investors last week that future weather changes could impact the price of avocados—and in turn the availability of guacamole—is that those changes may impact far more than just chips and dips.

The Chipotle annual report told investors that “Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients...[and] we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas...”

The chain’s concern comes from scientists’ predictions for hotter temperatures and less rainfall in upcoming decades, which could reduce the yields of crops such as avocados. But a drop in rainfall impacts so much more than guacamole. Several times this year multiple communities in California, which has faced a severe drought, issued water restrictions as stringent as how frequently people could flush their toilets.

Recently The Atlantic Cities published an online quiz about how much water it takes for common activities such as showers and laundry. The quiz was developed by an Indiana University professor who was surprised by the many wrong answers he got from the thousand people he surveyed.

Do you know how much water it takes to water the lawn? Check out the quiz here.

Mar 3 2014
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Public Health: The Food Issue

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This month the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a special issue of its magazine devoted to food. There weren’t any recipes, unless you count “recipes” for a healthier planet, which can be reached by following some of the recommendations in the supplement.

“Changing what we eat is more complex than it sounds,” writes the school’s dean, Michael Klag, MD, MPH. “It involves not just personal choice but also changing methods of food production and delivery systems so that the right choice becomes the default choice. A new ‘Green Revolution’ that relies on sustainable methods of food production will require partnerships of farmers, agronomists, development agencies and policymakers. Interventions to change the norms of what we eat must be culturally appropriate, and take into account the context of nutritional needs within the population. Such interventions will require partners who understand human and plant biology, behavior, economics and policy. This type of multidisciplinary, population-based effort is a centerpiece of public health...”

Key features of the issue include:

Read the Special Food Issue of the Magazine of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Feb 27 2014
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This App Will Lead You to Water and Let You Drink

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Much of the country is still facing at least a few more weeks of winter weather, so harbingers of spring are especially welcome. In Washington, D.C., one of those signs is an increase in the number of “TapIt” posters on the city’s metro system letting city dwellers and visitors know where they can get clean drinking water throughout the area for their reusable water bottles. TapIt is a six-year-old national network of cafes, coffee shops and some retail stores that offer free drinking water to anyone who asks and brings their own vessel to fill and drink from. Partners that have helped with costs often include local water utility companies.

"This network protects the environment, as well as people’s wallets," said TapIt Campaign Director Will Schwartz in a recent release. "In fact, users could save up to $700 per year if they were to use TapIt instead of buying a bottle of water each day."

Other reasons to actively look for easy access to water in the community include:

  • A 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing sugary drinks with water resulted in a 2 to 2.5 percent weight loss for study participants during a six month clinical trial.
  • In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a parents advisory urging them to make water the primary form of hydration for kids.
  • A 2013 survey published in the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention’s journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that low drinking water intake is common and associated with known unhealthful behaviors such as insufficient physical activity and unhealthy eating.

Local TapIt apps, available via the internet or on Android and iPhone smartphone platforms, fix on a user’s location and display a map of nearby outlets that offer water. Users click on map markers for names of locations, addresses and distances. Information includes beverage specifics such as whether the offered water is filtered, chilled, self-serve, or needs to be requested. For example, at the Birchwood Café in Minneapolis, Minn. consumers help themselves to chilled, filtered tap water from the soda dispenser, while at the Village Bean Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, water drinkers must ask wait staff for water and will be offered room-temperature, non-filtered tap water.

National outlets welcoming TapIt users include REI outdoor clothing retail stores and Whole Food supermarkets.

Also, if you don’t have a computer or smartphone at the ready, many of the water partners post TapIt stickers on storefront windows or doors to let people know they’re invited in for a drink.

>>Bonus Link: Read an FAQ on the TapIt program.