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Study: Ecosystem alterations leading to widespread human health impacts

Research consortium proposes systematic assessment approach

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In Belize, agricultural runoff is changing lowland wetlands to favor a proliferation of mosquitoes that are efficient malaria vectors. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The accelerating pace of human-caused changes to natural systems may threaten the Earth’s ability to sustain a growing population at a fundamental level, a team of researchers said in a new paper published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper describes a new branch of environmental health that focuses on the public health risks of human-caused changes to Earth’s natural systems. Researchers contributing to the paper work with the Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages consortium.

The approach differs from the classic discipline of environmental health, which focuses on micro-level impacts — for example, how changes in the home environment can affect the health of an individual or a family, said Dr. Samuel Myers, a research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health. Continue reading

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Health: Building a better pizza

A made-from-scratch Napoli-style pizza, with anchovies and black olives.

A made-from-scratch Napoli-style pizza, with anchovies and black olives.

Scottish researchers go back to pizza’s roots to find a healthy recipe

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It turns out the secret to a better pizza might not be a double-stuffed cheese crust — all it takes is a little bit of seaweed and some whole grain flour, according to nutritionists with the School of Medicine at the University of Glasgow.

“Traditional pizza should be a low-fat meal containing at least one portion of vegetables, so mainly made from ingredients associated with better cardiovascular health,” said Professor Mike Lean.

“However, to enhance shelf-life, commercial pizza recipes today include much more fat and salt than desirable. Until now, nobody has stopped to notice that many essential vitamins and minerals are very low or even completely absent. From a nutrition and health perspective, they are hazardous junk,” Lean said. “Pizzas are widely consumed and regarded as meals in themselves, and yet their impact on human nutrition does not seem to have been studied,” he added.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Historically, pizzas were made from a few humble ingredients: Bread, tomatoes and a little cheese, combined to form a traditional, healthy meal. Continue reading

Health: Bite-size fruit a better bet for school meals

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Kids at school are more likely to eat fruit if it’s pre-sliced, a new study shows.

Study shows dramatic increase in consumption when fruit is sliced

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Most parents know that kids coming home from school are more likely to eat fruit that’s been cut into bite-sized pieces. That same technique might encourage youngsters to eat more healthy foods as part of their school lunch, according to new research from Cornell University who tested the idea in eigh elementary schools.

Previous studies and surveys have shown that kids love to eat fruit in ready-to-eat bite-sized pieces, yet in most school settings, the fruit is served whole, which could be the reason children are taking fruits but not eating them.

Most people believe that children avoid fruit because of the taste and allure of alternative packaged snacks. A study by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers Brian Wansink, David Just, Andrew Hanks, and Laura Smith decided to get to the bottom of why children were avoiding their fruit. Continue reading

Health: Tackling the obesity epidemic

Good, but not so healthy.

Mix of policy options needed to discourage junk food consumption and encourage healthy lifestyles

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With obesity rates still on the rise in North America, governments are under pressure to take stronger regulatory steps to curb rising health-care costs for maladies such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

A recently published series of papers from the University of Alberta examines some of the options available for policy makers seeking to promote healthier eating, including zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants, mandatory menu labels, higher taxes on junk food or even incentive-based approaches for pursuing a healthier lifestyle.

“Since eating and physical activity behavior are complex and influenced by many factors, a single policy measure on its own is not going to be the magic bullet,” said Nola Ries, of the university’s Faculty of Law’s Health Law and Science Policy Group. “Measures at multiple levels — directed at the food and beverage industry, at individuals, at those who educate and those who restrict — must work together to be effective.” Continue reading

Health: Pizza-as-vegetable battle heats up again

Colorado Congressman Polis seeks to restore common sense to school nutrition policy

Pizza may be good, but it’s not a vegetable, according to Congressman Jared Polis. IMAGE VIA WIKIPEDIA AND THE CREATIVE COMMONS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado Congressman Jared Polis squarely aimed his political guns at agribusinesses this week, unveiling a bill that would roll back last year’s “absurd decision” by Congress to define pizza as a vegetable in school meals.

At issue are U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines issued last year that would have prevented pizza from being counted as a vegetable in school meals. But after intense lobbying by the frozen food industry, Congress backed down and decided that the smear of tomato paste on a slice of pizza qualifies as a “vegetable.” Continue reading

Health: Polis seeks to end the school-lunch pizza loophole

Pizza pie! PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Bill to be introduced next week

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — There’s nothing wrong with a good slice of pizza every now and then, but nutrition advocates draw the line at defining the popular Italian food as a vegetable. But that’s exactly what Congress did last November, when they carved a set of far-reaching loopholes into a new set of nutritional standards for school lunches.

Of course nobody actually believes pizza should be classified as a vegetable, and there was a lot winking and nudging going on last year, as food industry lobbyists cozied up with their Congressional counterparts to pass the exemptions.

Deep-pocketed companies like ConAgra Foods, Inc, and Schwan Food Co,  as well as French fry makers McCain Foods Ltd and J.R. Simplot Co all cashed in their political chips to weaken government proposals for voluntary food marketing guidelines to children. Continue reading

Summit County: Shopping with the Mobile Chef

Local food expert finds the best grocery store deals

It's apple season, and there's nothing like a piece of warm apple pie on a cool autumn evening. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN. Click on the pic for a quick and fail-safe apple pie recipe.

By Tom Castrigno

The leaves have fallen and only the hardiest mountain birds remain behind for the next 6 months. No doubt they have food stashes to help them through. It is a quiet time of year that lends itself to stocking up the larder, just as our avian friends have done …

Try a cauliflower mash for a nutritious and low-carb vegetable side dish.

This week’s prime pick is cauliflower, on sale for $.99 per pound at City Market. It makes a great side dish steamed, or you can go one step farther and whip it with a bit of butter and sour cream for a change of pace. This oft-ignored veggie comes to life when curried, roasted, or even served with tomato sauce (Muir Glen organic $2.50). Cauliflower and almond soup is low carb and freezes great for a take-along lunch or afternoon snack.

Apples are rolling in and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Find golden delicious, braeburn, and granny smith at Uncle John’s farm stand in Frisco. A five-pound bag of gala apples is only $3.99 at City Market and organic Fuji apples are $.99 per pound. Apples are perfect for the lunch box, as a post-workout snack with almond butter, or simply cored and baked. Continue reading

School cafeteria Tater Tots safe for now, thanks to Udall

An amendment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture appropriations bill will ban a proposed limit on starchy vegetables in federally funded school lunches. PHOTO VIA WIKIMEDIA AND THE CREATIVE COMMONS.

Colorado senator blocks USDA rules that would have limited starchy foods in federally funded school lunch programs

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Children everywhere are breathing a deep sigh of relief, after Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), passed legislation ensuring that school cafeterias will continue to be a safe haven for tater tots for the foreseeable future.

An amendment to the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill co-sponsored by the two lawmakers would prevent the department from implementing new rules aimed at stemming the rising tide of childhood obesity. Continue reading

Health: Feds push to ban junk food ads aimed at kids

Will Froot Loops now come in plain brown box?

Set of voluntary nutrition and advertising guidelines up for public comment

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — As childhood obesity becomes an increasingly widespread problem, three federal agencies have teamed up with food manufacturers to develop a set of voluntary advertising and nutritional guidelines that would dramatically change the way snack foods are presented to children 17 or younger. Many of the products currently advertised to kids would not meet the new guidelines.

The guidelines would affect both television advertising as well the increasingly common ads on social media networks like Facebook and MySpace. Basically, the Obama administration, backed by Congress, wants food companies to cut back on aggressively advertising junk food to youngsters. At this point, the agencies have issued a draft proposal outlining several options and wants public feedback.

The upward spiral of obesity rates has slowed in the past few years, but still, nearly one in three American children are overweight, as defined by Center for Disease Control standards. According to the latest figures available (from 2007-2008), 10.4 of U.S. children aged 2 to 5 are obese, 19.6 percent of 6-11 year olds are obese and 18.1 percent of 12-19 year olds are obese. Continue reading

Fast-food nutrition labels deemed ineffective

Detailed nutrition information of fast-food menus doesn't have much effect on consumer choices, according to one study done in King County, Washington.

Researchers suggest simple graphic information on menus showing healthier choices may be more useful to consumers

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Detailed nutrition labeling on fast food menus had no measurable effect on consumer choices at a group of Taco Time restaurants in King County, Washington, according to a study by health researchers from Duke University and the  National University of Singapore.

The county, which includes Seattle, enacted mandatory labeling in January 2009 on all restaurant chains with 15 or more locations. The law is aimed at trying  curb obesity, seen as a serious public health issue across the country. Restaurants had to disclose calorie information at the point of purchase.

The study showed that purchasing decisions at stores with the nutritional information was identical to stores where the menu boards were unchanged. The total number of sales and average calories per transaction were unaffected by the menu labeling. Continue reading

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