Tag Archives: obesity

Does Calorie Labeling Influence Your Food Choices?

By Megan Kian

restaurant calorie labelingIn 2008, it was mandated that all fast-food restaurants in any borough in New York provide calorie labeling for the foods available for purchase. The point of calorie labeling was to make consumers think twice before making food choices. But has calorie labeling succeeded in creating a more health conscious society? Results of a new study from the NYU School of Medicine and Wagner School of Public Service shows that the calorie postings have not impacted the behavior of teenagers or their parents who come from low-income households. (A previous study by the same researcher showed similar conclusions for adult behavior.)

Although teens and their parents were aware of the calorie labels, they did not change their food orders and consumption. On average, teens purchased meals that contained about 725 calories and parents purchased meals that contained about 600 calories for their children. To the teens in the study, taste, price, and convenience were more important than calories when it came to choosing what to eat.

One reason that the calorie labels had no impact on teenagers and their parents may be that they don’t know how many calories they should actually be consuming per day. Once again this is an indication that nutrition education is needed to help inform the public how to make healthier food choices.

Has calorie labeling influenced your food choices?

How to Prevent and Manage Childhood Obesity

Childhood Obesity Awareness Blog Carnival

This article was written for inclusion in the blog carnival hosted by Littlestomaks to promote awareness of childhood obesity as part of the National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Please read to the end of this article to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
You’ve heard it before — we have an obesity epidemic going on, and it’s not only affecting adults, it’s hitting children too. Currently over 23 million U.S. children and teens ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese. If that statistic isn’t scary enough, read this: The prevalence of obesity among kids ages 6 to 11 has increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008, and among teens ages 12 to 19, the rates have increased from 5% to 18.1%.*

Instead of focusing on the possible causes of childhood obesity, I’d like to suggest ways to help prevent an increased prevalence and to help currently obese children. For younger children, most changes will occur with the help of parents, caregivers, teachers, and other adults in their lives. Here are some tips to help children:

  • Be a good role model. Children pick up on everything around them, and if you aren’t eating healthy, balanced meals and participating in daily activities, how can you expect them to?! Lead the way to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Get kids involved in the kitchen. No matter how young children are, there is a place for them in the kitchen. Whether they just hand you ingredients or help you stir them together, kids will learn that cooking is fun. If you order in or go out to dinner every night they’ll never learn the benefits of cooking at home.
  • Encourage activity. Instead of playing video games, children should be out on a field or in the backyard playing active games. Sign your children up for sports teams or go for a bike ride with them a few times a week. Again, if you’re active, they’ll be more inclined to get up and go!
  • Prepare balanced meals and snacks. Kids, just like adults, need a balanced plate of vegetables, lean protein, healthy carbs, and some healthy fat. Kid favorites like mac ‘n cheese can be made healthier by using whole wheat pasta, fresh cheese, and adding veggies and protein like broccoli and edamame.
  • Keep in mind that healthy doesn’t mean bland. Treats don’t have to be off the table completely and nutritious food can definitely be delicious. Remember this at all times!
  • Be supportive. Body image and weight issues start earlier than ever these days and kids need all the support they can get. Even if your child is overweight, it’s important to treat him or her the same as your other children and other kids. If you make changes to their diet, make changes to the diets of the rest of the household too. And if your child is being picked on because of his or her weight, don’t hesitate to go to the principal of the school to deal with the issue.

Childhood obesity is a complex issue and the above are only a handful of tips to help you and your family stay healthy. You can see some more tips in my childhood nutrition section. And find a registered dietitian in your area to help you and your family live a healthy, nutritious life.

*Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, Lamb MM, Flegal KM. Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007–2008. JAMA 2010;303(3):242–9.


Say NO to Childhood ObesityPlease take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

7 Things Parents Say That Cause Eating and Weight Problems in Kids Michelle May, Physician and author of Eat What You Love Love What You Eat, highlights a few things parents say which can have unintended consequences (@EatWhatYouLove)

Childhood Obesity Kia Robertson of Today I Ate a Rainbow suggests that prevention of childhood obesity should start with education and educating parents about basics of healthy eating by breaking it into achievable parts (@eatingarainbow)

Childhood Obesity: A Reality Check Dr Susan Rubin, founder of BSF, suggests we change our approach to looking at childhood obesity (@DrSuRu)

Childhood Obesity: Prevention Starts in Infancy Nutrition expert Sarah Fennel reminds us that prevention is the best cure and offers a few tips to raise healthy eaters (@FoodFunHealth)

Giving Our Children a Chance at Health Registered dietitian Susan Dopart offers tips to parents for taking charge of their child’s health in the world of over-processed “kid foods” (@smnutritionist)

Healthy School Campaigns Works on Creating Healthy Food Environments A report on Chicago’s Healthy School Campaigns (HFC), a non profit dedicated to creating a healthy food environment in schools

Lessons I have Learned as a Mom Registered dietitian Alysa Bajenaru shares some of the lessons she has learned that have helped her develop a good understanding of what it takes to feed her kids (@InspiredRD)

Looking for a New Trend in Childhood Obesity? Registered dietitian Elizabeth Rahavi of the IFIC brings the focus back on family in the debate about childhood obesity (@FoodInsight)

Losing Weight: It Starts in Your Head Registered dietitian Cindy Williams reminds us of the power of attitude and mindset in losing weight and controlling obesity (@nutritionchic)

Making the Grade Registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak evaluates her son’s school programs on healthy eating and physical activity (@RMNutrition)

Obesity and GERD: A Family Affair Jan Gambino, author of Reflux 101, writes about the link between overweight and GERD

Parents, Let’s Take a Positive Approach to Childhood Obesity Registered dietitian Ashley Rosales from the Dairy Council of California encourages parents to take a positive approach in helping their kids build healthy habits

Revolutionize the Way Your Kids Eat in Five Easy Steps Sociologist Dr Dina Rose suggests we shift our focus from nutrition to eating habits if we are serious about solving childhood obesity (@DrDrRose)

Surprising Easy Solution for Preventing Childhood Obesity Research shows benefits of extended breastfeeding in reducing risk of childhood obesity (@TwinToddlersDad)

The Problem Behind Childhood Obesity Ken Whitman, Publisher of Organic Connections, points out that our national priorities concerning childhood obesity are misplaced and calls for a renewed focus on the health of our nations kids.

Yoga Gets Kids Moving Registered dietitian Danielle Omar has an interesting suggestion for solving childhood obesity — get your kids into yoga! (@2eatwellRD)

Vitamin D Deficiency

On Monday I told you about why vitamin D has become such a hot topic over the past few years. One of the things I mentioned is that it is quite difficult to take in the amount of vitamin D that is now considered necessary for your health. This means that many people may be deficient in vitamin D, most of whom will not even know they are.

The main reason for deficiency is decreased exposure to the sun, the primary source of vitamin D (because sun leads to D synthesis in the body).  Other causes of vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Dark skin — the darker the skin, the less able the skin is to produce vitamin D from exposure to sunlight.
  • Older age (50+) — as people age their skin cannot make vitamin D as efficiently, plus they spend less time outdoors in the sun.
  • Fat malabsorption diseases — people with celiac disease, crohn’s disease, and liver disease have less fat in their gut, therefore it is harder for a fat-soluble vitamin like vitamin D to be absorbed.
  • Obesity — fat in the body holds onto vitamin D, making it less available to circulate in the body.

If any of the above causes is something you deal with, or if you have noticed notably weaker bones, you may want to get tested for vitamin D deficiency. It is becoming much more common for doctors to test for this deficiency, so don’t be surprised if your doctor suggests it even if you don’t think you are at risk.

If you are deficient, it is best to take a vitamin D supplement, because as I mentioned yesterday, it is difficult to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from food. When buying a supplement, look for vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, which is the more potent type of vitamin D. If you are deficient in vitamin D, you are likely deficient in calcium as well, since vitamin D helps calcium absorb. Therefore, you may want to consider taking a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D.

The Junk Food Tax

Several years ago when I was in graduate school getting my masters in nutrition and dietetics, I remember having a class discussion about taxing junk food. In theory the tax, similar to the tax on cigarettes, seemed like it would be a good idea, but my classmates and I all agreed that in reality it would never happen. How could the government possibly decide what is and is not considered “junk.” Each individual has his or her own thoughts on this matter. Since that class discussion I didn’t hear much about the junk food tax idea until this past week.

Two separate articles (one in The Economist, the other in The Washington Post) focused on the resurgence of the argument for a junk food tax. The statistics on obesity are there to support this measure: one in four American adults is obese, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate the costs of obesity and obesity-related ailments, such as diabetes, to be $147 billion in 2008, up from $78.5 billion in 1998.

For the most part, the thought has been to tax sugary drinks — mostly soft drinks sweetened with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. But there has also been some talk of taxing all fattening food of “little nutritional value.” The argument for the tax is that the money made from the tax will provide funding for public health initiatives to prevent obesity. Additionally, proponents of the tax think that taxing unhealthy food will discourage people from buying and eating that food. Sounds like it would be great, right?

While I agree that there needs to be a shift from treatment to prevention of obesity, and that the cost of healthful foods should be less than unhealthful ones, I don’t think this tax will get passed anytime soon. First of all, studies have shown that heavy users of cigarettes and alcohol are less influenced by increased prices than those who smoke and drink less. What makes anyone think heavy eaters of junk foods will be any different?

Secondly, what is considered “junk food”? Is it soda, candy bars, and chips? Or does it extend to white bread, fried chicken, and hot dogs? Undoubtedly the last three foods are unhealthy, providing refined carbohydrates, saturated fat, and nitrites. But they do provide nutritional value in the form of energy and protein.

Thirdly, where do we draw the line between holding people responsible for their actions (in this case buying unhealthy food) and government paternalism? People need to be motivated to make lifestyle changes, not forced into them because of lack of funds. Without motivation and an internal desire to change, people will resort to other measures to purchase junk food and continue other unhealthy behaviors as well.

Lastly, should those who enjoy an occasional sweet treat or salty snack be penalized for the poor choices others make?

As a dietitian, I myself am torn as to how I feel about a junk food tax.

What do you think?

Thin City

Yesterday news broke that Manhattan is the thinnest county in New York State, with 42% of Manhattanites overweight or obese as compared to 58-62% of the city’s outer boroughs. As a follow-up to this news, there’s an article in today’s NY Times about why people in Manhattan are thinner than the rest of the state. “Where Thin People Roam, and Sometimes Even Eat,” is full of interviews of elite NY City men and women (with their heights and weights attached) who are exercise fiends and graze on salads for lunch. Some quotes:

“I exercise so I can eat…If I feel fat, I can’t enjoy eating. This is unhealthy — that if I gain a few pounds, I’m not happy — but it’s the truth for me.”

“My mom always says, “The smaller the dress size, the larger the apartment.”

As a dietitian, I’m all for people exercising and eating healthfully — if I didn’t advocate for that I would be in the wrong profession! But what I’m not for is people who go to extremes, something that unfortunately a lot of New Yorkers do. Since I work with eating disorder patients, hearing people speak the way they do in this article is very upsetting. It perpetuates the eating disorders that already exist, and leads to them in people who are the same height but weigh more than those mentioned — even when their weights are in a healthy range.

Just as upsetting is that the outer boroughs have high obesity rates in large part because of lack of access to healthy, nutritious foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. One would think that in this day and age there would be enough fresh produce to go around; alas, there isn’t. Something needs to be done about that, and hopefully as a result of these findings something will.

What do you think about the health and weight discrepancies in the city? And what can be done?