Friday, April 9, 2010

It's National Public Health Week!

This week we celebrate National Public Health Week, an annual observance led by the American Public Health Association.  The theme for 2010 is “A Healthier America: One Community at a Time.” Our nation’s health is in poor shape. Even though we spend more money on healthcare than any other country, about 46 million Americans do not have health insurance. Providing health insurance to all Americans is just one step to becoming a healthier nation.  Nearly 900,000 people die from preventable deaths each year. If we truly want to become the healthiest nation in one generation, we must invest in a long-term and comprehensive approach to prevention both at the clinical and community level.

We all must to commit to promoting good health in our communities to create the wave effect across the country.  It starts with small changes in our neighborhoods, schools, work places, and cities, but can create momentum to inspire others to take action until it spreads from coast to coast.  Start small, but think BIG.  DC Voices for MEAL Choices is committed to educating the people of the Washington, DC metro area about making healthy food choices both within and outside of the home.  We are committed to ensuring the community is aware of our right to know what is contained in the food we consume and the effects of proper nutrition on our long-term health.

Even though Congress recently passed national menu labeling within the health reform bill, this is just one small change in stopping the obesity epidemic and helping our nation become the healthiest in one generation.  DVMC will continue to advocate for comprehensive nutrition policies and community programs, including those promoting nutrition education, access to healthy food in schools and communities, and food safety.  We encourage you to join the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association and DVMC as we work to make our community safe and healthy for all.

Why not start by doing something easy?  Urge congress to improve the nutrition and wellness policies in our nation’s schools by visiting Tell your friends and family to do the same and share these videos to promote good health!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

DC Voices presents at MWPHA Annual Meeting

The DC Voices for MEAL Choices team had an opportunity to table and present about our work at the 2010 Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association's Annual Meeting- The Future of Public Health Leadership: Where Passion Meets Action.  We were on a panel with George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services Professor and Chair of the Health Promotion department Dr. Caroline Sparks, and members from other MWPHA advocacy teams Positive Places, Save Lives Free the Condoms, and Campuses for Clean Air.  

During the panel we discussed the history of the DC MEAL Act and advocacy activities of DVMC over the past three years.  We also had the chance to answer questions and talk about the national menu labeling mandate contained in the health reform bill.  It was exciting to see the energy around nutrition and obesity related issues, including menu labeling! 

Check out the pictures from this successful and inspiring meeting!  

Thursday, April 1, 2010

DC Voices for Meal Choices hits the streets

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, DC Voices accompanied other MWPHA members to do monthly health education outreach in Anacostia and neighboring Prince George’s County.  We had the opportunity to speak to local residents about the health reform bill, menu labeling and nutrition.  In addition to asking questions about nutrition and fast food, people played our “Guess the Calories” quiz game, and were surprised with some of the answers about the calorie content of menu items at popular chain restaurants.

Everyone we spoke with was familiar with and excited about the recent health reform bill President Obama signed into law.  While many people weren’t sure about the exact provisions within the bill, everyone felt positive about it.  Not everyone knew about the menu-labeling mandate, so we were able to engage in a casual discussion about what this would mean in terms of health.   Through our conversations, we discovered some people were not quite sure what a calorie was, or how many they should be consuming in a day.  Of the people who had basic nutrition knowledge, only a few people said listing the calories did not matter to them personally because they would eat what they want.  One man said he could eat the whole menu and not gain a pound, which prompted us to talk with him about some chronic diseases that can result from poor nutrition.  When we asked if he would let his young son order something high in calories, he responded, that he would not.  He would choose the food item lowest in calories.  Most of the people were enthusiastic about knowing the caloric content of their food, and are hopeful it will help improve health.

Based on our experience talking with people in the metro DC community, we feel there should be a nutrition education campaign that accompanies this legislation.  If people do not have understanding of what a calorie is, the provision will not be as effective as it could be.  Everyone should have access not only to nutrition information of everything they are consuming, but also access to basic nutrition education so they can understand what it means to their health.

Coming soon: A DC Voices for MEAL Choices video featuring interviews with some of the people we spoke with at Eastover Plaza! 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yes we can! National menu labeling in health reform bill

What an exciting week this has been for America!  On Tuesday, March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Health Care for America Act into law. Nestled in the hefty legislation, is Section 2572, which mandates chain restaurants with 20 or more locations display calories on menus, menu boards, and drive-through displays, as well as on vending machines. Temporary specials appearing on the menu for less than 60 days, condiments and test market foods are exempt. The Food and Drug Administration will establish the specific regulations and determine exactly when these changes go into effect. 

Menus will display calories in the context of a total daily diet (which is an average of 2,000 calories per day), so people will be able to make better assessments of their choices.  Many people do not understand what 500 calories means in their daily diet, so including some context with this calorie statement will be extremely helpful.  A study by the Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that people choose lower calorie food when their menus contained caloric information and a statement that explained the average person consumes 2,000 calories daily.

Unfortunately, the legislation only requires restaurants to post caloric content, when other information such as sodium and fat content, are critical information for preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.  However, the bill states that restaurants will have to provide additional nutrition information to consumers upon request. 

Additionally, the bill will preempt any local menu-labeling legislation, making the national bill the standard for the entire country.  While this is generally a win, it is concerning to DVMC because many of the laws already in place are more stringent and public health conscious.  The DVMC team will be investigating what the national law means for all of us in the nation’s capital, who want more specific nutrition information displayed on menus and menu boards.  Stay tuned for updates!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

MWPHA hosts a panel on food policy

On March 3, 2010,  the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association (MWPHA) hosted a panel discussion to raise awareness about nutrition and access to healthy and safe food. Tambra Stevenson, Chair of the MWPHA’s Food & the Environment Committee, convened the panel which included Carl Rollins of Common Good City Farm, and DC Voices for MEAL Choices own advocate Aileen Orlino.

The panel explored a wide range of issues, including the many aspects of our broken factory farm-focused food and the issues around the high supply of low-cost food that is lacking in nutritional value and high in sodium and sugar.  Carl Rollins described the conditions in which chickens and cattle are raised, the overuse of antibiotics and hormones and their impact on public health, and the effects of all of these elements on the environment.  Rollins supported the use of school garden programs and eventually large-scale urban agriculture as part of a multi-pronged solution to these health and food problems.   Aileen urged a paradigm shift in our culture where people spend a little bit greater proportion of their incomes on food (of higher quality) and become less accustomed to cheap food (and its allure, e.g. convenience).  There are ways to check our addiction to sugar and unhealthy foods. Once we have information, such as nutrition contents of food items on restaurant menus, we can start small and begin to make incremental changes in our diets.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Philly proves it’s a public health leader with menu-labeling policy

In early February, Philadelphia’s menu-labeling law went into effect, requiring chain restaurants to list caloric content of all food items on the menu boards.  Starting April 1, in addition to calories, both chain and sit-down restaurants will have to list saturated fats, trans fats, sodium and carbohydrates.

The menu-labeling law is a step in the right direction for the city’s growing obesity problem.  They City Council recognized the connection between listing extensive nutrition information and the city’s high obesity-related chronic disease rates.  About 13 percent of residents are diabetic and 36 percent have high blood pressure- both of which are above national rates and linked to diet and exercise.  Listing information about sodium and fat content, will help people at-risk for obesity-related chronic diseases choose healthier options when dining away from home.

Philly is the fourth city to implement menu-labeling legislation, making it a true leader in public health policy and the fight against obesity.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Menu labeling helps parents make healthier choices for their kids

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics online journal reveals that listing nutritional information on fast-food restaurant menus increases the chances that parents will choose lower calorie meals for their children.

The study used McDonald’s menus to survey 99 parents of children age three to six about fast food selection for their children.  Researchers found that when parents were provided with caloric information at the point of purchase, they chose about 100 calories less for their children than parents who did not have the caloric information.  If you think about it, 100 calories over a long period of time is a lot!  If kids could cut 100 calories off every fast food meal they eat, it would do major things for childhood obesity in the U.S.

According to the study report, the amount of food consumed by American children has tripled between1977 and 1996, while child obesity statistics have skyrocketed in recent decades. The study results suggest that if parents have nutrition information at the point they are purchasing fast food for their children they actually make lower calorie, healthier choices for their families.  Let’s get on it DC!  Our families deserve it!