childhood obesity


New C.D.C. Chief Saw Coca-Cola as Ally in Obesity Fight

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald wrote an opinion piece for the Coca-Cola Journey website.

Using Coca-Cola’s money to solve obesity….

When she was health commissioner of Georgia, the state with one of the highest rates of child obesity, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald faced two enormous challenges: How to get children to slim down and how to pay for it.

Her answer to the first was Power Up for 30, a program pushing schools to give children 30 minutes more exercise each day, part of a statewide initiative called Georgia Shape. The answer to the second was Coca-Cola, the soft drink company and philanthropic powerhouse, which has paid for almost the entire Power Up program.

Read on at The New York Times.

NYC Councilman Proposes Banning Toys From Unhealthy Kids’ Meals



Councilman Ben Kallos is set to introduce a bill Thursday that would set stricter nutrition standards for kids’ meals that come with toys.

The proposed legislation would bar fast-food joints from offering free toys, coupons and other incentives with a kids’ meal if the food served contains more than 500 calories and more than 600 mg of sodium.

They want to require the meal to also contain at least half a cup of fruit, vegetables or a serving of whole-grain products.

Read the rest on New York Daily News. Image via Food Republic.

Italian Food in Crisis? Italians, Their Food, and the Foreign Press

Over the past few days, a couple of pieces in the American press — later translated in Italian media — have drawn attention to some of the least glamorous aspects of the culinary trend “Made in Italy.” In The New York Times, a graphic piece by Nicholas Blechman entitled “Extra Virgin Suicide: The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil” illustrates some of the systemic and long-lasting issues in the extra virgin olive oil commodity chain. The other, “The Death of Italian Cuisine? Kids in Rome are eating just as much junk as kids in America,” appeared on Slate.com. Signed by Jeannie Marshall, the article is an excerpt of her book The Lost Art of Feeding Kids: What Italy Taught Me about Why Children Need Real Food.

The titles are self-explanatory, and both pieces decry the loss of tradition, genuineness, and quality of what Italians produce, sell, and eat. The exposé on olive oil has touched a raw nerve among producers and consumers in Italy. That the sector needs reforms is clear to most, as proved by a new law safeguarding the quality of olive oil that was passed in January 2013, though the EU temporarily suspended its application. However, producers of high quality oil pointed out that general accusations actually hurt those who work well and make sure to distribute only high-quality products, such as the olive oils that carry the IGP mark (indicazione geografica protetta). This was, for instance, the position of Coldiretti Toscana, from the association of agricultural producers in Tuscany. Some Italian readers lamented how the illustration singles Naples out as the main port where the counterfeiting takes place, while others have interpreted the piece as an assault against “Made in Italy” products. If the food blog Dissapore admits that the attack is somehow well deserved, its readers have expressed more varied positions: anger at accusations coming from a country that many Italians feel has nothing to teach them about food; commiseration about corruption and politics in Italy; and critique of the EU policies that allow the place of bottling (rather than the origin of the olives) to be featured on labels.

The inspiration for Marshall’s Slate article is a visit to a pizzeria in Roma, where a waiter asked the writer’s son if he wanted Coke with his pizza, startling his mother and causing some family drama. Many readers — including myself and food historian Simone Cinotto, who commented on the Facebook page of the Association for the Study of Food and Society — found the article slightly passé as we all remember that we already drank Coke with our pizza when we were children, back in the 1960s. Italy has felt the effects of globalization on its food system from the early 20th century, but the arrival of many foreign — in particular American — products intensified during the economic miracle of the 1960s. Marshall states, “There’s an innocence here when it comes to these sugary drinks that reminds me of North America in the 1970s… In Italy sweet soft drinks are perceived as children’s drinks, and there’s an implicit trust that no one would make something for children that was actually bad for them.” Why should Italy be different from other post-industrial societies? I am afraid Italians have lost that innocence quite some time ago; children’s consumption of packaged, mass-produced snacks instead of homemade treats or fruits dates back to the 1970s. Most people are well aware that those foods have limited nutritional qualities and debates about changes in the Mediterranean diet and childhood obesity, which affects the population differently according to class, gender, age, and location, are frequent and far-reaching.

Food habits are changing in Italy for a variety of reasons, partly as a consequence of globalization, and partly as the result of inadequacies in the food system, often connected with the political and economic crisis in Italian society. A few days ago, the police closed 23 restaurants in Rome that were revealed to be money-laundering fronts for the camorra. Noted food writer Stefano Bonilli observed how the news did not seem to particularly upset the restaurant world, especially in the upper segment, which he considers a sign that resignation about the troubles with Italian food is now prevalent.

Not everybody is ready to surrender, though. For instance, Itchefs-GVCI, Virtual Group of Italian Chefs, has proclaimed January 17th as the International Day of Italian Cuisines, which started “as a reaction against the systematic forgery of Italian cuisine and products.” Italian culinary traditions are very popular worldwide. Attention to quality will be necessary to maintain this position in the future, but less sensationalist information would help to maintain a more accurate perception of Italian food.

Teenagers Are Getting More Exercise and Vegetables

Teenagers are exercising more, consuming less sugar and eating more fruits and vegetables, a trend that may be contributing to a leveling off of obesity rates, a new study shows. The findings suggest that aggressive anti-obesity messages aimed at children may be starting to make a difference, albeit a small one. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

Read more at The New York Times.

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Children and Food | The New School for Public Engagement

The Food Studies program at The New School in New York City draws on a range of disciplines to explore the connections between food and the environment, politics, history, and culture. Food Studies |http://www.newschool.edu/ce/foodstudies

As public debate about childhood obesity rages, the complex relationship between children and food is in danger of being obscured by sound bites. This panel explores the importance of school meals, new approaches to children’s eating and nutrition, and the political and cultural issues that influence school meal plans.

The Inquisitive Eater (New School Food) | http://www.inquisitiveeater.com

Panelists include Lynn Fredericks, founder of FamilyCook Productions; Lisa Sasson, nutrition consultant for Nickelodeon and two children’s cookbooks; Stefania Patinella, Director of Food and Nutrition Programs at The Children’s Aid Society; Janet Poppendieck, Hunter College professor and author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America; and Phil Gutensohn, Executive Director of The International Culinary Center’s Future Cooks Initiative.

Moderated by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, assistant professor of education studies at Eugene Lang College.

THE NEW SCHOOL FOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT |http://www.newschool.edu/public-engagement

Sponsored by the Food Studies program of The New School for Public Engagement.

Food Justice Comes to New York


Republished from The New School Free Press

At a Goodwill in the South Bronx, Heidi Hynes and her 8-year-old daughter deliver two bags filled with carrots, onions, potatoes, lettuce, and other produce to a man in the neighborhood. The area has quite a few fast food places are in the area, but no full-scale grocery stores. The man owes her some cash for previous grocery deliveries, but she gives him the produce anyway. One of the weekly grocery drop-off sites for La Canasta, a Crotona, Bronx-based group, is in the neighborhood.

Heidi Hynes, the head of La Canasta, delivering fresh produce to the Goodwill on East 148th; one of the many locations she delivers to in the Bronx. (Henry Miller)

La Canasta, a food-buying group in which members pay weekly for fresh produce, was founded out of the Family Health Challenge at the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, an organization that attempts to improve quality of life for families and youth in the South Bronx.

The program’s goal is to help families make healthier choices and have access to more nutritious food while targeting the high rate of childhood diabetes and obesity in the Bronx — among the highest in the nation.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, nearly one in four public elementary school students in the South Bronx is obese, and nearly one in six public high school students is obese. The adult rate of obesity in South Bronx is one in four, and two in three are overweight or obese.

While the reasons behind these health issues vary from household to household, some concerns remain the same for many in the area: financial and geographic accessibility to nutritious food — and freedom of choice.

“We don’t live in a food desert, we live in a food swamp,” said Heidi Hynes, executive director of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center and founder of La Canasta. “It’s just got too much food that is not good, so there’s a lot of processed food, which is not healthy. But on top of that, the fruits and vegetables are such low quality that it’s hard to encourage people to eat them.”

The South Bronx is no stranger to complaints about food availability. For the last 10 years, experts have labeled the area a ‘food desert’, an area where access to fresh food is limited. The lack of variety has led to a recent growth of a local, national and global movement of awareness and activism: food justice.

The aim of food justice is to build a fair and just system, which provides equal access for all citizens to nutritious, fresh and natural, unmodified food. Food justice concerns include knowledge of where and how food grows, fair wages for farm workers, affordability, and access.

On a global level, food justice also calls attention to “land grabs” — where companies purchase large plots of land in developing countries, sometimes resulting in raising local prices and kicking people off their land. As reported by Oxfam International on September 22, 2011, more than 20,000 people of the Mubende and Kiboga districts in Uganda were evicted from their land by the New Forests Company.

“Up until about 10 years ago, I had never heard of the term ‘food justice,’” said Bill Ayres, executive director of WhyHunger, a national organization based in New York City that supports grassroots efforts to end hunger and poverty.

“But now, it’s catching on quite quickly,” he said. “I think that’s because it’s an idea that people all over the country and world can identify with. After all, we humans need food, and we also need justice. To have these two words come together really brings strength to what we do.”


Hynes’ program, La Canasta, addresses the issue of access through her grocery delivery program. Since April 2011, Hynes has sold grocery bags filled with produce and drops them off at areas in the Bronx, such as St. Simon Stock Parish, The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Refuge House, and Concourse House — who provide transitional housing to prevent homelessness.

La Canasta runs much like a community supported agriculture, or CSA — a program where individuals pay a share towards a local farm and receive periodic deliveries of produce.

While CSAs provide produce through a specific regional farmer, La Canasta sources its groceries at a farmers market in Hunts Point. The price ends up costing less than others, some that reach triple digit prices. One bag of La Canasta groceries costs $25 and contains four types of fruit, some sort of salad vegetable, two different green vegetables, and a grain product.

“Our interest is in helping families who are really not food snobs, foodies at all,” said Hynes. “They’re people who just have really bad choices, so we want to help make an intermediate choice.”

The Family Health Challenge, the program that inspired La Canasta, encourages kids and families to make a healthy change in their diet and behavior for six weeks. It received a grant from the Simon Bolivar Foundation to help start and initially fund La Canasta.

La Canasta does not have a website, and spreads purely by word of mouth.


Other non-profit organizations, urban farms, and grassroots programs similar to La Canasta exist around the city, many of which are volunteer-run.

One group that helps gather and organize volunteers for these grassroots efforts is the Brooklyn Food Coalition. Nancy Romer, general coordinator for the Coalition and a psychology professor at Brooklyn College, formed the coalition in 2009.

The Coalition’s function is to support grassroots efforts that promote affordable and healthy food, sustainable agriculture, and justice with food workers. It helps gather volunteers to work on various urban farms, helps people start their own community farms or gardens, works with organizations that to school food organizing, and tries to get people to shop at local farmers markets, among other functions.

Romer says access to healthy and fresh food is a middle class privilege, unable to be found in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, Brownsville and East New York.

“If you go to a low-income community, you see people struggling with all this weight and it’s not just because they make bad choices,” Romer said. “If you’re someone who feels pretty defeated about your life, it’s very unlikely for you to be going miles out of your way to find fresh fruits and vegetables.”


The rise of the food justice movement is not, of course, a New York City phenomenon. Neither are the issues of it seeks to amend, those involved with the field say.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2009-2010, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years are obese.

Heidi Hynes, the head of La Canasta, delivering fresh produce to the Goodwill on East 148th; one of the many locations she delivers to in the Bronx. (Henry Miller)

A report conducted in September 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture showed that 14.5 percent of households were “food insecure,” or lacking stable food accessibility, in 2010 — the highest ever recorded in the U.S.

While the Brooklyn Food Coalition focuses on supporting local organizations, some groups, such as Ayre’s WhyHunger, do similar work on a global scale.

Ayres co-founded WhyHunger in 1975 with the late Harry Chapin, and currently serves as the executive director. WhyHunger began as a response to Ayres’ initial question — “Why is it that we are the richest country in the world, and yet poverty and powerlessness plague our citizens?”

The organization supports, connects and works with more than 8,000 organizations nationally and globally. In addition to grassroots connections, it runs programs including the National Hunger Clearinghouse hotline, where food-insecure people are directed to food pantries; soup kitchens; government programs and emergency food supplies.

For WhyHunger, the Brooklyn Food Coalition and La Canasta, although their methods and definitions of food justice may vary, the end goal remains the same: improving the food system.

“I would love to imagine a world without hunger and poverty,” Ayres said. “I do it everyday. That dream inspires everything we do.”

Reporting by Danielle Balbi, Harrison Golden & Brianna Lyle