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Jason Block
, MD, MPH

More than 40% of all food consumed in the United States is prepared, or ready-to-eatfood. Widespread policy change is underway, including calorie labeling and enhancements to the Nutrition Facts panel, to guide customers to healthier choices when dining in restaurants or buying prepared food. But convincing customers to make changes in fast-paced settings is difficult. Price and taste often quickly overtake health concerns. Why can’t we just change the default options to be healthier?

 
 
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Sheryl Rifas-Shiman,
MPH

In the August 2017 issue of Pediatrics, several colleagues and I reported that mothers who consumed more sugary beverages – including sugary soda and fruit drinks – in mid-pregnancy had children with higher amounts of body fat in mid-childhood, even when we considered the children’s own intake of sugary beverages.  We also examined the effect of drinking water and 100% fruit juice during the same time period, and found no associations between these drinks and children’s later body fat.  We hypothesized that the second trimester of pregnancy may be a sensitive period with regards to children’s body fat deposits, and that avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy may reduce the risk of childhood overweight and obesity.

Click on the Read More button for the Pediatrics’ press release…
 


 
 
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Kristina Lewis, MD, MPH, SM

Despite a good run of over 50 years in the business, McDonald’s decided late in 2016 that the services of its friendly, funny clown, Ronald McDonald, were no longer required. The clown, it seems, had become a threat to public health. Why? Not because he was pushing trans fats on toddlers, selling sodas to six-year-olds, and hawking hamburgers to high-schoolers. Rather, this sudden call to action by McDonald’s execs was out of grave concern that Ronald might be.......scaring people (Gasp!!) After a series of creepy clown sightings across the United States last fall, it was felt that Ronald’s continued presence as a McDonald’s ambassador might be upsetting to children.

 
 
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by Wei Perng, PhD

In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he laid out 12 Commandments for Serious Eaters. The first commandment is “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” This makes sense, given evidence that processed, hard-to-digest, chemical-ridden foods are a large contributor to our expanding waistlines and declining health. I’ve always thought that this was a good rule to follow. After all, it’s hard to argue with the fact that my grandmother, who eats lots of steamed veggies, fruits, and wild poultry, would likely not identify Cheetos, Hot Pockets, Power Bars, or Lunchables as food. As it turns out, there is yet another reason why we should eat what our grandparents eat: evolution!

 
 
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A recent poll conducted by Truven Health Analytics and National Public Radio got press coverage for its finding that the majority of surveyed Americans characterized their eating habits as “good, very good or excellent”. This was surprising given that more objective measures of our diets are generally pretty poor - the average Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score for Americans 2 years and older is 59, out of a possible 100 points! That’s not great, and certainly not consistent with the way these survey respondents viewed their eating habits. What did not make the headlines, but is perhaps of greater interest to the nutrition science community, were poll responses that suggest that many Americans completely missed some of the major changes in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), despite the media hubbub that surrounded their publication.


 
 
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A friend recently told me that she gained 30 pounds during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Because I work in obesity research, she asked me if that sounded like too much. I suggested that she talk to her doctor, and she said “Well, if it was a problem, wouldn’t my doctor bring it up with me?”

 
 
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If you ever dare to venture into the comments section of any article about weight, weight loss, obesity, exercise or health, eventually you’ll find someone who says some version of the following: “All people have to do is eat less and exercise more, and they’ll lose weight.”  In a broad sense, this is true; calories are energy, and our bodies use that energy to fuel our basic bodily functions, like circulation, respiration, digestion, and physical activity.  Excess calories are stored by the body as fat.  Yet it also grossly oversimplifies the complexity of our metabolisms.

 
 
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In our traffic-light food labeling study at Harvard dining halls, recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, I used several nutrition criteria to label foods as “green”, or most nutrient rich; “yellow”, or nutrient neutral; and “red", or least nutrient rich. The most challenging criteria to assess were “Whole Grain” vs. “Refined Starch,” and with the public’s general fear of all things carbohydrate, it’s important to know the difference between types of carbs. But since whole grains account for only 10-15% of grains available for sale in supermarkets, how do we find them? After labeling hundreds of foods and beverages, here’s what I learned.

 
 
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by Wei Perng, PhD


Last week, I met with a prospective Master’s student wrapping up her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences. She told me about her background in nutrition, her laboratory training, and her desire to conduct nutrition-related research in human populations. I asked her whether there was a particular focus area that piqued her interest and she said, “I feel as though there isn’t a lot known regarding what a healthy diet is supposed to look like for normal people. I’d like to look into that.”

 
 
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Harvard Medical School has removed nutrition education from its curriculum.

Last summer, I taught a section of the week-long HMS nutrition course for second year medical students, and there were rumblings of this possibility then. But at least to me, it still seemed likely that with nutrition-related diseases being of such overwhelming concern to the general public, HMS leadership would change its mind.