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Peter James
, MHS, ScD


With the wide availability of wearable fitness trackers, people have been increasingly measuring the number of steps they take per day, striving to obtain those 10,000 steps. But what is the significance of 10,000 steps? And is counting steps really a good measure of physical activity? I recently attended the International Society for Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) Annual Meeting in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia where I was fortunate to gain more insight into the step counting phenomenon.

 
 
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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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Karen Switkowski,
MPH, PhD


Most parents, nutritionists and educators will agree that it’s not easy to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables, especially in school. In this earlier blog post, Dr. Jenn Woo explained the importance and effects of improved school meal standards, which have since been changed again by the Trump administration. It is well-established that providing nutritious, affordable school meals is important in controlling childhood obesity and there is broad support for this initiative from physicians, and former First Lady Michelle’s Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. However, the best way to implement improved standards is controversial. There’s also the important question, raised in Dr. Woo’s post, of whether kids will actually eat these healthier meals and learn to appreciate fresh, nutritious food.


 
 
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by Amy Louer, EdM


I recently bought a hand-sewn bridesmaids dress online, created to my specifications to fit my body. Yet, like many aspects of a wedding, reality did not meet expectations. In fact, it ended with my bust, waist and hip measurements posted online for the world to see….but that’s a different post for a very different blog. I was sent three sets of instructions for obtaining the same body measurements. One told me to measure my waist circumference at my belly button, another identified my waist as the smallest portion of my torso, while the third indicated that waist measurements should be taken at the top of my hipbone. I don’t know about you, but my belly button is not located on my hipbones, nor is that the smallest part of my torso.

Considering that the company was providing very different instructions for measuring the same thing, I should NOT have been surprised when my dress came back 6 inches too short and two sizes too big. Two hundred dollars in alterations (and a visit to the Better Business Bureau) later, I was left wondering, if differences in measurement instructions can affect my apparel this dramatically, what is it doing to the quality of our research?

 
 
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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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by Jason Block, MD, MPH


Several months ago, I got into a twitter spat. In response to a blog post that decried how inadequately doctors were treating patients with obesity, I wrote in a series of tweets: “When will we stop blaming doctors for what they fail to do about obesity and accept that they cannot reverse the epidemic? Primary care docs have a role but not enough support or time to spend on obesity while treating myriad other issues. Reversing obesity is more of a policy and societal challenge than a health care matter. Surgery and drugs can only do so much.”  In response, the author of the original blog post wrote another piece, quoting me anonymously, lamenting that I thought there was nothing that doctors could do to treat obesity.

 
 
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Whatever your take on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Syrian refugee crisis, or the bailout of Wall Street, there is probably at least one area where we can (mostly) agree that the Obama Administration has earned high marks over the past 8 years – Obesity. Michelle Obama, with her “Let’s Move” campaign, has been a champion for healthful dietary choices and physical activity, with a strong focus on obesity prevention in children. As great as this has been for those of us who research, treat, or are generally passionate about obesity, the era is now coming to an end. Entering the heart of the 2016 presidential campaign, I often find myself wondering – how will Obama’s successor deal with this important issue? Will the nation’s current laser focus on health and wellness fade into the background as a new family, with new issues to promote, moves into the White House?