Pew study: Healthy snack policy varies in U.S. schools

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Obesity in America, Obesity in the News

Pew released a report about the sale of snack foods in public schools across the country. It’s based on CDC data and ranks the states on the degree to which they limited the availability of full-fat baked goods, salty snacks, chocolate and other types of candy in secondary schools, as well as the degree to which they offered fruits and vegetables in snack food venues, like school stores, snack bars, and vending machines.

(Pew also has an infographic, available at the right, showing the difference in calories between healthy and less-healthy snack foods.)

The findings:

  • Nationally, the availability of snack foods in secondary schools varies tremendously from state to state.
  • Under this patchwork of policies, the majority of our nation’s children live in states where less-healthy snack food choices are readily available.
  • Overall, the availability of healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables is limited
  • When states don’t differentiate between more- and less-healthy snacks, the overall snack food environment suffers.
  • While many secondary schools reduced the availability of less-healthy snack foods between 2002 and 2008,17 progress has since stalled.

And a few recommendations:

  • USDA should establish nutrition standards for all snack foods sold regularly on school grounds outside of the school meal programs.
  •  USDA should adopt policies and practices that ensure effective implementation of the standards.

Now to the stats for Georgia. These numbers represent the percentage of secondary schools that sell:

  • Fruits — Georgia is No. 33 at 25.1 percent, median is 28.2 percent
  • Non-fried vegetables — Georgia is No. 30 at 15.5 percent, median is 18.9
  • Cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, or other baked goods — Georgia is No. 48 and 51 percent, median is 32.3 percent
  • Salty snacks — Georgia is No. 49 at 50.5 percent, median is 26.8 percent
  • Chocolate candy — Georgia is No. 47 at 44.1 percent, median is 19.9 percent
  • Other kinds of candy — Georgia is No. 48 at 51.8 percent, median is 24.9 percent
  • Soda pop or fruit drinks — Georgia is No. 42 at 42.5 percent, median is 28.9 percent

Emory researchers test compound to fight obesity

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Obesity in the News

One of UGA’s neighbor universities is looking for ways to combat obesity as well. Could UGA scientists work with them on this? Check out this Gannett News Service story about the lab testing they’ve been doing on a compound that helps weight in female mice:

Professor Ye and his team have secured a patent on what he calls a “magical compound” that could potentially combat obesity.

“It took us a few years pin down and finalize this story and we’re really excited about these findings,” Ye explained.

The results are visible in their research mice. For a few months, one group consumed high fat diets with that critical compound. One group had a high fat diet without it.

“As you can tell they are much smaller compared to those girls,” Ye said while holding up mice that had consumed the compound and those that did not.

Professor Ye specified girls because the research is successful in female mice, but it had no positive impact in male mice.

And for those female mice where the compounded worked, they were 30-40 percent lighter than the female mice who did not consume the compound.

They found the compound when studying a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. Scientists say, in people, these hormones, which are released in the body after a person eats, “tell” the body to stop eating. During drug screening they found a compound that imitates that hormone. It’s called 7,8-Dihydroxyflavone. That’s Ye’s “magical compound”.

OI in the news: Participants needed for study on exercise habits

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Obesity & Exercise, Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA

Here’s another highlight of the exercise study being conducted by kinesiology professor Michael Schmidt and others. Check out today’s feature in Columns:

People trying to lose weight through increasing exercise in their daily routines often drop the new habit when they don’t see any changes on the scale.

Several UGA researchers believe this happens because people unconsciously compensate by increasing their food intake or decreasing physical activity outside of their new exercise regimen.

“When you look at some of these studies, people are only losing 30 percent of what you’d expect,” said Michael Schmidt, an assistant professor of  kinesiology  in the College of Education. “The other part is that there tends to be variability across individuals. Some lose a good bit of weight, others lose a little and others go in the opposite direction.”

Funded by a $408,375 federal grant over two years from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Schmidt and three other UGA professors are investigating why this happens. They’re seeking 120 women between the ages of 25-45 to participate in a walking study that will monitor nutrition and physical activity.

“People may respond to exercise by eating more as a reward, and many don’t have a good sense of the calories being burned versus how much they can ingest. It’s much easier to ingest calories than burn them,” said Schmidt, the study’s principal investigator.

Parents view themselves as responsible for childhood obesity, survey says

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity released a 40-page report about childhood obesity and how parents view their role in the process. The report titled “Food marketing to children and adolescents: What do parents think?” is based on a survey of 2,454 parents with
children ages 2-17 living at home in June-July of 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Some interesting thoughts in the report:

The surveyed parents ranked the food and beverage categories marketed most often to their children fairly accurately. Fast food restaurants, cereal, and soda/pop were at the top of their lists, while milk and fruits and vegetables were at the bottom. However, parents tended to underestimate the frequency of their children’s exposure to some highly advertised categories, such as other (i.e., not fast food) restaurants. They also overestimated the number of ads their children saw for the healthiest categories.

Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media. The surveyed parents were highly aware of the “pester power” of food marketing and its effects on their children’s food preferences. They were less likely to agree that food marketing affects their children’s diet or the products they buy. Parents believed that TV commercials, in-store promotions, and cartoon characters on packages had the most impact on their children’s eating habits.

Surveyed parents perceived a number of environmental obstacles to ensuring healthy eating habits for their children, including the expense of healthy foods, easy access to unhealthy foods, unhealthy food advertising, and children’s media usage. In addition, 69% rated the media as a negative influence on their children’s eating habits, followed by the food industry (61%), and the government (55%). However, they attributed 60% of the cause of increased childhood obesity to personal responsibility and 40% to the unhealthy food environment.

Ga. schools get grants to fight childhood obesity

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Georgia health officials have announced that 21 schools have gotten grants to help fight childhood obesity. Here’s info from the Associated Press, featured on the Atlanta CBS website:

The grants total $87,000 and come from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Governor’s SHAPE initiative. The schools include elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state.

Twelve schools got up to $5,000 to implement physical activity and nutrition plans, while nine others got $3,000 to develop plans. The money will also be used for training and technical assistance.

Health officials say children are more physically active if their schools schedule and promote physical activities. Georgia ranks third in the nation for overweight and obese children.

SHAPE is a statewide initiative that brings together the government, philanthropic, academic and business communities to fight childhood obesity in Georgia.

OI in the News: UGA researchers study diets and why people don’t lose more

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Back at it. Check my story in Georgia Health News about research being done by the Obesity & Exercise team about diets and exercise. Do compensatory behaviors make a difference?

The UGA researchers, led by Michael Schmidt, believe many dieters give up their new, healthier routines of eating right and exercising when they don’t see results on the scale.

But there’s more to it than that. The researchers think the needle on the scale may be slower to drop because people unconsciously compensate for added exercise by increasing their food intake, or by decreasing their physical activity outside their new exercise regimen.

Now the researchers are putting that theory to the test.

“People don’t lose as much as you’d expect them to based on the calories burned [during exercise]. They’re only losing 30 percent of what you’d expect,” said Schmidt, who is an assistant professor of kinesiology.

Schmidt and three other UGA professors are focusing on the compensatory behaviors, such as eating more after exercising, that might prevent the simple formula “eat right and exercise” from working.

UGA student researches obesity in UAE

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Check out this interesting story in The Red & Black about a student who spent his summer in the United Arab Emirates, studying obesity and fast food:

Faust, now a first-year graduate student in the University of Georgia Department of Communication Studies, traveled to the UAE to study obesity, the globalization of fast food and childhood obesity.

“I loved being able to see the different perspective on a problem that we face even here in the United States,” Faust said. “It was a very eye-opening and unifying experience to see that we are all going through these problems and working through these struggles together.”

The health of UAE citizens has been drastically affected by the nation’s rapid growth and consumer-driven culture. Not only are the UAE’s struggles similar to those in the United States, but Faust said several other industrialized nations deal with obesity due to a consumer-driven culture. In Dubai, where Faust focused his reporting, there has been a 200 percent increase in population, and the country is facing major changes.

Weight gain is a relatively new topic for the UAE, as fast food restaurants have begun to dominate the streets.

“It was interesting to see how their approach to this crisis is compared to how Americans deal with the fast food issues that we have here,” Faust said. “There were a lot of common ground and there were some differences.”

Gallup: Obesity up in nearly all age groups since 2008

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Nifty data from Gallup in the past few days. I had no idea that they conducted health polls like these.

Check the facts:

The prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults increased significantly between 2008 and 2012, and at least minimal increases occurred among nearly every four-year age group. However, not all age groups exhibited this to the same degree. Rather, Gallup-Healthways data indicate that middle-aged adults and advanced seniors were the most likely to see an increase in the percentage of people in that age group with higher obesity rates than four years ago.

The increase in obesity among middle-aged adults is particularly troubling, because it means these adults will face the health risks of maintaining an unhealthy weight for a longer period of time, resulting in a lower quality of life, more health problems, and a shorter lifespan. This will also add to the nation’s multi-billion dollar healthcare bill. The increase in obesity among the nation’s oldest adults may have fewer long-term implications, but serious short-term ones for this population’s daily wellbeing and quality of life. More effort should be put into helping seniors stay active and informed about their nutritional needs.

Here’s some good news for young people:

The minimal increase in obesity rates among the youngest age groups — those aged 18 to 23 years and 24 to 27 — is promising, because it may indicate that efforts to improve nutritional awareness and foster more exercise among the nation’s youth may be working. Alternatively, it could mean that obesity has reached a saturation point among the young. It will be important to see if these patterns continue.

Parental stress could cause chilhood obesity, researchers say

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Parents – chill out. It looks like your stress could be harming your kids in more than one way.

It’s an interesting thought and apparently not a new idea. Previous research shows a connection between parental stress and child obesity, but this new study covered a more diverse population, both ethnically and socioeconomically.

Check this post on Psych Central:

In the new study, investigators discovered parents with a high number of stressors in their lives are more likely to have obese children.

Specifically, researchers determined that when parents perceive themselves to be stressed, their children eat fast food more often, compared to children whose parents feel less stressed. Parental financial stress was also associated with lower levels of physical activity.

“Stress in parents may be an important risk factor for child obesity and related behaviors,” said Elizabeth Prout-Parks, M.D., the leader of a study recently published in journal Pediatrics. “The severity and number of stressors are important.”

Parental stressors linked to childhood obesity include poor physical and mental health, financial strain, and leading a single-parent household, Prout-Parks said.

An article in WebMD expanded on this study published in Pediatrics, with this helpful info:

Some families in the study were more vulnerable to the effect of stress on their weight. These “high-risk” groups include:

  • Black/Hispanic children
  • Children from single-parent households
  • Kids from families that are struggling financially

Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “We do see this in clinical practice,” she says. “Parents are often stressed and have a hard time providing healthy options.”

The easy defaults are unhealthy — namely high-fat fast foods.

“You have a hard day at work, and trying to get a nutritious meal on the table can be overwhelming and expensive,” she says. “It can be difficult to raise healthy kids without adequate resources.”

Fresh produce is pricey, but low-salt frozen and canned vegetables are less expensive alternatives.

Parents can also take time to de-stress, which will be beneficial for everyone, Mackey says.

Former Pres. Clinton says obesity threatens economy, launches fitness initiative

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Former President Bill Clinton spoke during a national forum on childhood obesity at the Peabody Little Rock hotel earlier this week, and he announced a new fitness program to help kids get moving.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story is behind a paywall, but the San Francisco Chronicle posted a brief about the keynote:

Clinton spoke in Little Rock on Sunday at a national forum on childhood obesity and said staying healthy would help Americans have more money in their pockets.

Clinton says U.S. residents spend almost 18 percent of their income on health care and that making healthy choices would drive that number down.

Clinton’s foundation and the American Heart Association founded the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which in 2006 launched the Healthy Schools Program to provide training and educational resources to schools.

A story on examiner.com gives a bit more detail about the announcement:

The Fit for a Healthier Generation campaign features pre-recorded, 3-5 minute physical activity breaks aimed at getting kids up, moving and having fun throughout the day. The fitness breaks DVDs were produced by Watch It Now Entertainment, a leader in fitness production. The fitness program BOKS, an initiative of the Reebok Foundation, will sponsor the distribution of the more than 30,000 DVDs to communities all across the country.

“Less than 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools provide opportunities for daily physical education,” said President Clinton, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation and co-founder of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, via release. “By bringing together some of the leading experts on physical activity in the country, we can show the benefits of living fit and help kids lead healthier lives.”