Recent Articles About Nutrition

Earlier this month, a group of registered dietitians (RDs) sent some unusual tweets. “How can a soda tax help Americans get healthier?” asked one, linking to an article on a website created by the American Beverage Association (ABA), a group that lobbies on behalf of beverage producers.

“I agree: food & beverage taxes are regressive. Here’s why,” said another, with a direct link to the ABA website.

Then, public health advocacy group Ninjas for Health connected the dots and reached a worrisome conclusion: the soda industry was paying dietitians to tweet against proposed soda taxes. Read more

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Here’s a scenario currently playing out across the country: A low-income family receives vouchers through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to help buy nutritious staple foods such as milk, fresh produce, and peanut butter. Under WIC, the family is eligible to receive these benefits until the child in the household turns five (when he presumably enters kindergarten). But, because of where his birthday falls in relation to the start of the school year, the child becomes ineligible to receive the benefits; the resulting gap in nutritional support can last up to a year. There’s also an increase in the likelihood that his family will have to seek emergency food relief, choose cheaper, less-nutritious (read: processed) foods, and in some cases, even skip meals.

According to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri (MU), this very real scenario affects an estimated 153,000 American children every year. The study, titled “the impact of aging out of WIC on food insecurity in households with children,” was published in a recent issue of Children and Youth Services Review. Its authors analyzed a nationally representative data set that encompassed 1,350 children between the ages of four-and-a-half and six.

“Lots of people have looked at food insecurity among WIC participants, but not at this drop-off point,” says Colleen Heflin, a professor in MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs and one of the study’s authors. She and her colleagues found that 30-day food insecurity (that is, a one-month reference period for measuring a household’s difficulty in obtaining enough food due to a lack of resources) increases by an estimated 5 to 11 percent for children who age-out of WIC at the age of 61 months, but are not yet able to start kindergarten.

“Many school districts are moving the age cut-off [for Kindergarten]” earlier and earlier” says Heflin. For example, some schools now require a child entering kindergarten to turn five by September 15 rather than December 31. “An unintended consequence of this educational policy is that it’s causing a larger gap” for some children in need, Heflin says.

Though the study does not address the immediate results of this aging out, Heflin notes that other research shows food insecure mothers will forego eating in order to provide for their kids. And that they will often turn to more drastic food procurement methods such as “shopping” at food banks (which tend to stock boxed and canned non-perishables), as well as applying for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—which are not nutritionally-targeted—and visiting soup kitchens.

WIC provides vouchers for 8.3 million at-risk pregnant women, mothers, and their children. And unlike food pantries and groceries bought with SNAP, the high-quality foods that WIC provides have been credited with lowering childhood obesity and diabetes, and helping to increase school readiness.

This is all hardly news to Georgia Machell, research and evaluation manager at the National WIC Association (NWA), WIC’s nonprofit education and advocacy arm. With the federal bill that encompasses the WIC program currently up for reauthorization before the House and Senate, the NWA was responsible for compiling a list of “asks,” with the input of national WIC directors and their staffs. Their recommendations included giving states the ability to expand WIC coverage to age six, or until the start of kindergarten.

“The need to fix [this gap] bubbled up from the community,” says Machell. But, hard data makes a stronger argument. “It’s useful to have research conclusions and statistical data that support the messages we’re trying to put out,” she says.

This past January, the Senate Agriculture Committee, led by Senator Pat Roberts (Republican-Kansas), passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act, which would allocate $20 billion to a variety of child nutrition programs—including WIC, with its proposal to expand to age six. (The bill still has to pass the full Senate, however, where it’s meeting resistance due to concerns about a school lunch provision).

And although “WIC to 6” was introduced in the House last June by Congresswomen Linda Sánchez (Democrat-California) and Rosa DeLauro (Democrat-Connecticut), and received strong support among Democrats, it was left off the House’s version of the bill. As of this writing, the bill remains stalled out in the House.

“There’s a contentious environment in the House, with [some] determined to stand squarely on the side of shrinking the federal government at whatever cost,” says NWA president Douglas Greenaway. While he knows that any reauthorization will come with tradeoffs, WIC to 6 is not one he’d be happy to make. Still, he remains optimistic about its potential future.

“There’s such keen interest in keeping children on the program that we hope there will be enthusiasm to make [WIC to 6] happen,” he says. Meanwhile, he continues to advocate for expanding the age of juvenile WIC recipients. “Anything that gives kids a healthy start is an enhancement to the economy in the long run,” he says.

Picture thousands of pounds of local, seasonal produce traveling by truck to a centralized location in New York City every day. Once there, the fruits and vegetables from upstate farms will get refrigerated, packed, and processed before being distributed to stores and institutions all across the five boroughs.

This is the vision behind the highly anticipated food hub that New York State governor Andrew Cuomo announced he was allocating $15 million toward building last month. The state-of-the-art hub is planned for the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, an area with a complex history of aggregating the city’s food.

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In the United States, kale has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years as consumers have discovered they enjoy the nutrient-dense green in many forms—stir-fried, in salads, in smoothies, even baked or fried into chips. Alain Cuerrier, botanist and adjunct professor in the University of Montreal’s biological sciences department, says we in the U.S. and Canada live among an under-tapped wealth of nutrients. Although kale is currently enjoying the spotlight, many other rock-star fruits and veggies—which are bursting with nutrients and, unlike kale, are native to this continent—deserve attention as well. Read more

It’s 10:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning in late July, and 15 families are lined up outside SnowCap Community Charities in the Rockwood neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Many have been waiting for over an hour in hopes that they’ll get first dibs at this food pantry, which is the largest in the state, serving over 9,000 people a month. The old model was that food pantries gave clients a pre-packed box of food. But SnowCap, like an increasing number of food pantries across the U.S., allows clients to “shop” or choose for themselves what they want to eat. There are limitations on some items, and generally speaking, the earlier they arrive, the better the pickings. Read more

The largest hunger-fighting organization in the nation’s capital has put food-donating retailers on notice: no more candy, sugary sodas, or sheet cakes. As key as donations are to the nonprofit’s bottom line, the Capital Area Food Bank recently told retailers that, beginning this fall, it won’t accept free food that comes at a cost to recipients—many of whom struggle with obesity and diabetes as much as hunger.

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Wendy Estrada-Perez hadn’t tried kale until she received some in a bag of free fruits and vegetables offered at her daughter’s school. “I had always heard about kale,” she says, “but we’re a Mexican family and we eat what we’ve been taught.” Now Estrada-Perez says the leafy green is a regular part of her family’s diet. Kiwi was another new food she was sure her daughter would reject. But when it arrived through a nonprofit called Brighter Bites, her daughter loved it. And she’s not alone. Read more