Education Vital Signs: Food & Nutrition

The old “plate lunch” that many of us remember from elementary school has gotten a makeover. Or, more precisely: a complete rethinking. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC reports that in 1980, 6.5 percent of children aged six to 11 were obese, but by 2008 that figure had climbed to 19.6 percent. School nutritionists have responded to this epidemic by cutting fat and sugar from school lunches and increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables. Many districts are trying to get more fresh produce as well, much of it locally grown. At the same time, school vending machines are offering healthier alternatives to sugary soft drinks and salty snacks. Schools can’t solve the obesity problem by themselves, but they have can have a major impact on what has become a national health crisis.

Preschool obesity declines
An analysis of data from the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that from 2003-10 the rate of obesity among disadvantaged 4-year-olds dropped from 15.2 percent to 14.9 percent, a small but significant decrease. Rates of extreme obesity in the same population also decreased slightly, from 2.22 percent in 2003 to 2.07 percent in 2010. The report’s authors credit breast-feeding and a decrease in sugar in children’s cereals for the drop in obesity in this population.
December 2012

Obesity greater risk to kids than hunger
The Global Burden of Disease 2010,” recently published in the Lancet, has found that except for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, obesity has grown by 82 percent globally over the past 20 years. In the Middle East, obesity has grown by 100 percent since 1990. The health issues caused by obesity now far outweigh the health issues caused by hunger. While deaths from heart disease have decreased by 70 percent worldwide, the incidence of its diagnosis has skyrocketed. While adults are living more than 10 additional years worldwide, on average, they live the last 14 years of their lives in pain, disability, and illness.
December 2012

Mercury in tuna
American children eat more tuna than any other seafood product. Canned tuna is inexpensive and nutritious, and is served in many school lunch programs as well as subsidized by the USDA’s Child Nutrition Program. It is also the largest source of methylmercury in the U.S. diet. "Tuna Surprise," a new study of canned tuna from the Mercury Policy Project, recommends that, due to methylmercury levels, children never eat albacore tuna, that small children only eat light tuna once a month, and that older children only eat it twice a month. The study also recommends that schools avoid buying tuna from Ecuador and other Latin American countries as samples of tuna from these countries had the highest mercury levels.
August 2012

Red meat and mortality
A study of 120,000 men and women shows that an increase in red meat consumption of one serving per day elevated participants’ risk of total mortality by 12 percent for all red meat, and by 20 percent for processed red meat. Consumption of bacon and hot dogs -- a public school lunchroom staple -- posed the highest risk. The study also found that men and women in the study with higher intakes of red meat were more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and have higher body mass indices. The results, “Red Meat Consumption and Mortality,” were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
March 2012

Sugar consumption
A new data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Consumption of Added Sugar Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2005-2008," says that added sugars make up 16 percent of children’s and adolescents’ total caloric intake at all income levels. More of these calories come from foods rather than beverages, and most of these calories are consumed at home. Boys consume more added sugars than girls in all age groups, and non-Hispanic white children and adolescents consume the most added sugars.
February 2012

Improving food selection
According to a research brief from Salud America!, "Improving Food Purchasing Selection among Low-Income Spanish-Speaking Latinos," the percentage of overweight Latino youth in the U.S. has doubled over the past decade, and half of all Latino children born in 2000 or after are projected to develop diabetes at some point in their lifetimes. The study of 20 low-income Spanish-speaking Latino families with children younger than 18 found that the families spent 33 percent of their income on food that is low in fiber; calorie-dense; and high in fat, carbohydrates, and salt.
December 2011 

Where’s the Sodium?

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publication, "Where’s the Sodium?," reports that 90 percent of Americans eat 1,000 mg of sodium more than we need each day. Most of the 3,300 mg we eat comes from processed foods (65 percent), and many of these foods highest in sodium are school lunch program standbys. A single slice of pizza can have as many as 760 mg of sodium. A turkey breast sandwich has at least 610 mg, and perhaps as many as 1,150 mg of sodium, without condiments.

February 2012

Sugar in Children’s Cereals 

Three of the most popular children’s cereals contain more sugar per serving than a Twinkie. The worst offender, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, is 56 percent sugar by weight. Forty-four other children’s cereals have more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies. Many of the cereals studied in the Environmental Working Groups’ new report, "Sugar in Children’s Cereals," were also too high in sodium and fat or did not meet federal recommendations for whole grain.

December 2011

F as in Fat

A new report by the Trust For America’s Health, "F as in Fat," finds that more than 33 percent of U.S. children ages 10 to 17 are obese or overweight. Oregon has the lowest rate of childhood obesity/overweight (9.6 percent), and Mississippi has the highest rate (21.9 percent), followed closely by Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia, all of which have rates in excess of 20 percent. Nine out of the 10 states with the highest incidence of childhood obesity and overweight are in the South.

July 2011

Fast Food Restaurants and Food Stores

A new analysis of data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study challenges the widely held belief that “food deserts”—areas that have no grocery stores selling healthy foods at reasonable cost—are the primary cause of obesity in lower income neighborhoods. The analysis, "Fast Food Restaurants and Food Stores," finds that the strongest link exists between obesity and fast food availability—especially among men who have fast food restaurants near their homes.

July 2011

Beverage Consumption Among High School Students

While U.S. high school students drink water (72.4 percent), milk (42 percent), and fruit juice (30.2 percent) every day, almost 25 percent of them also drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage such as soda every day. A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Beverage Consumption Among High School Students," claims that these beverages are the largest source of added sugar in their diets, leading to weight gains that contribute to our obesity problem. Male students and black students are most likely to drink one or more of these sugary drinks a day and are therefore most at risk, according to the study.

June 2011

Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds a strong link between the consumption of potatoes—especially potato chips—and weight gain. "Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men" found that, over a four-year period, daily consumption of potato chips led participants to gain an average of 1.69 lbs, daily consumption of potatoes led to an extra 1.28 lbs, and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages every day added 1 lb. Participants who ate yogurt every day lost 0.82 lbs.

June 2011

Maternal Employment, Work Schedules, and Children’s Body Mass Index
A new study shows a link between the amount of time mothers worked in their child’s lifetime and an increase in the child’s body mass index (BMI). The study found that for every 5.3 months a mother was employed, there was an increase in her child’s BMI of 10 percent of a standard deviation, or nearly 1 pound every 5 months beyond what is typically gained by a child of average height as he or she ages.
February 2011

2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey
Key findings from the American Dietetic Association’s "2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey" show that breakfast is sometimes skipped by 42 percent of white and Latino children, and 59 percent of black children. Dinner is sometimes skipped by 22 percent of white children, 34 percent of black children, and 38 percent of Latino children. Snacks often replace these meals, with 23 percent of white children, 30 percent of black children, and 24 percent of Latino children eating in front of their televisions.
December 2010

Key findings from the American Dietetic Association’s "2010 Family Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey" show that breakfast is sometimes skipped by 42 percent of white and Latino children, and 59 percent of black children. Dinner is sometimes skipped by 22 percent of white children, 34 percent of black children, and 38 percent of Latino children. Snacks often replace these meals, with 23 percent of white children, 30 percent of black children, and 24 percent of Latino children eating in front of their televisions.December 2010

Childhood Obesity Consequences
Results of a new study, Midlife Health and Socioeconomic Consequences of Persistent Overweight Across Early Adulthood, show that, compared with others in the study who had moderately increasing body mass index to age 35, those who were in the persistently overweight class from age 19 to 35 were more likely, at 40, to have a chronic health problem, to have no more than a high school diploma, and to be receiving welfare or unemployment compensation.
July 2010

Negative Nutritional Impact of Removing Chocolate Milk
Kids aren’t the only ones who don’t want chocolate milk banned from school: 93 percent of school nutrition directors surveyed by the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP) agree. Nearly 70 percent of milk sold in schools is flavored, and MilkPEP’s new study shows that when only white milk is offered, milk consumption drops 35 percent. Replacing those lost nutrients adds back more fat and calories than found in flavored milk, plus $2,200 to $4,600 spent per 100 students annually.
July 2010

Feeding Opportunity
A new paper from the Center for American Progress, "Feeding Opportunity," says that child hunger costs the U.S. $28 billion per year because hungry children perform less well in school and have more long-term health problems. The report recommends expanding access to school breakfasts, improving and expanding access to other school meal programs, and reducing the paperwork necessary for students to participate in them, and rewarding states that reduce child hunger with cash grants.
May 2010

Doing What Works to End U.S. Hunger: Federal Food Programs are Effective, but Can Work Even Better
Federal school meals programs could be run even more efficiently if combined with 15 other federal nutrition assistance programs into one streamlined entitlement program. Currently, each of the federal nutrition programs has its own application procedures and eligibility requirements, creating bureaucracies and opening the door to fraud. This new report from the Center for American Progress describes the federal nutrition “safety net” as a confusing array of programs in desperate those of need of reform.
March 2010 

Barriers to Obesity Prevention in Head Start
One-third of the nearly one million low-income children who enter the federal Head Start program are overweight or obese. Young children increasingly spend more time in out-of-home settings, and these settings could offer a perfect opportunity for childhood obesity intervention. But a new study from researchers at Temple University and Mathematica Policy Research, "Barriers to Obesity Prevention in Head Start," finds that Head Start’s program directors lack the time, money, and knowledge they need to intervene. The study also found that staff sometimes shared parents’ cultural belief that heavier children were healthier children. The study’s authors recommend that additional federal resources be allotted to Head Start for healthy meals and snacks, training, technical assistance, and staff wellness programs designed to help teachers change their behaviors so that they can serve as positive role models.

Marketing Foods and Beverages in Schools: The Effects of School Food Policy on Students’ Overweight Measures
Children consume 19 percent of their daily caloric intake at school during the school year, and low-income children consume 50 percent of their daily caloric intake at school, from foods made available during school meal times. A study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "Marketing Foods and Beverages in Schools: The Effects of School Food Policy on Students’ Overweight Measures," finds that prohibiting a la carte junk food sales during school meals could reduce student obesity 18 percent.
2010  (“Healthy Tools to Help All Schools”), a project of the Food, Family, Farming Foundation, offers 80 scalable recipes; nutritional and cost analyses; budget, inventory, and procurement models and templates; food safety, handling, and hazard analysis; critical control points tools and counsel; and training videos to school nutrition officials, free of charge.

Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2005 to 2007
"Feeding America’s Child Food Insecurity in the United States: 2005 to 2007" states that 3.5 million children under the age of 6 in the U.S. are “food insecure.” Among young children, the rate is 33 percent higher than in adults. Data indicate a dramatic increase in food insecurity among children of all ages within the past five years in many states. The report includes a state-by-state analysis of early childhood hunger.

Food Environment Atlas
The Food Environment Atlas, a new Web-based mapping tool from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, allows users to assemble county-level statistics on food choices, health and well-being, and community characteristics across America. The atlas includes 90 indicators of the food environment and provides statistics on topics such as food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, store and restaurant proximity, diabetes rates, physical activity levels, demographic composition, income, and poverty.

F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2008
Adult obesity rates increased in 23 states and did not decrease in a single state in the past year, according to "F as in Fat," a report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In addition, the percentage of children who are obese or overweight is 30 percent or higher in 30 states. Four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia) now have adult obesity rates above 30 percent, and the number now exceeds 25 percent in 31 states.
August 2008

A Policy-Based School Intervention to Prevent Overweight and Obesity
A two-year experiment to improve nutrition choices at five Philadelphia schools helped improve obesity rates among elementary-age children, according to a study published in the April issue of Pediatrics. The schools replaced sodas with fruit juice, banished candy, held raffles for smart food choices, and provided learning opportunities for students, parents, and teachers about good nutrition. The result was a 50 percent improvement over schools that did not take part in the initiative.
April 2008 

From Cupcakes to Carrots: Local Wellness Policies One Year Later
A report on the one-year anniversary of school wellness policies shows that finding affordable products that met standards as well as acceptance by students were challenges for schools trying to put these policies in place. The report, "From Cupcakes to Carrots: Local Wellness Policies One Year Later," from the School Nutrition Association also showed that the policy is having a positive influence, with 83 percent of schools saying that they had increased healthy food options in the cafeteria as the result of the policy. Some of the new healthy items being offered included: whole-wheat, reduced-fat cheese pizza; a variety of fruits and vegetables including jicama salad and kiwi; humus and pita bread; fat-free flavored milk; and low-fat yogurt.
September 2007

Gender, Obesity, and Education
Obese female high school students are about half as likely to attend college than their normal-weight peers, according to a study published in the July issue of Sociology of Education by University of Texas-Austin sociologist Robert Crosnoe. Obese girls were even less likely to enroll in college if they attended a high school where most of the population was of normal weight. Obese boys, however, were just as likely as their peers to attend college.

Efficacy of Maintenance Treatment Approaches for Childhood Overweight
Children who lose weight likely will keep it off by participating in a weight-maintenance treatment program, but the effects of the program decline over a two-year period, according to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study looked at 150 7- to 12-year-olds who took part in a weight-loss program in San Diego from 1999 to 2004 for five months. Children who did not participate in a treatment program after their original loss regained the weight they had lost, as well as an additional 2.6 percent of their original weight.