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A growing epidemic

Photo: Flickr/awrose

Americans are larger than ever before. Two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly one-third of children and teenagers are currently obese or overweight.

The annual “F as in Fat” report, released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health, reveals that there were no decreases in obesity rates in any of the 50 U.S. states in 2010.

An obese person is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI of more than 30, which translates to about 30 pounds of excess weight on a 5’4” adult. Overweight adults have a BMI of 25 to 29.9.

The report’s findings continue recent trends. Twenty years ago, not one state had an obesity rate of more than 15 percent. Four years ago, only one state had an obesity rate of more than 30 percent. In 2010, 38 states reported obesity rates above 25 percent, and 12 over 30 percent. Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980.
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Five food safety myths — debunked!

Does the threat of being felled by a carnitas burrito at your local taquería or sidelined by the potato salad at your annual church picnic keep you up at night? Nope? Me neither! But, according to President Obama, the U.S. food system is a “hazard to public health,” and we should all be quivering in our urb-ag-chic Wellies. In January, he signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, authorizing $1.4 billion dollars to be poured into Food and Drug Administration prevention and enforcement activities. Great, except in the quest to fan public outrage, a few untruths have been (conveniently) perpetuated.

1. Food safety is worse than it used to be.

Food safety has actually improved since the mid-1990s when the Centers for Disease Control first began its national monitoring program, with net incidence of the major illnesses falling by 20 percent. On a disease-by-disease basis, that means 30 percent less campylobacter, 41 percent less toxin-producing E. coli and 10 percent less salmonella. In fact, the only increase — by 85 percent — has been in vibrio, contracted by eating raw shellfish. (You heard it, people, shuck and slurp and you’re on your own.) And even though the CDC recently tripled the number of major foodborne pathogens it monitors from 9 to 31, it reduced its estimate of annual illnesses from 76 to 48 million.

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AHA urges stricter guidelines for sodium, fat intake

How much salt and saturated fat is OK? According the American Heart Association, quite a lot less than the limits suggested by the USDA.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its “2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” The guidelines, first published in 1980 and updated every five years, play an important role in federal nutrition programs. But according to the American Heart Association, the new USDA guidelines’ recommendations on sodium and saturated fat intake represent a step backwards in the campaign to promote good health among Americans.

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The All-American sandwich: Fresh and natural? Anything but.

There’s one in every office. At noon, when the other cube warriors are ransacking the vending machines, texting orders to Manchu Wok or slipping off for a McDouble, she takes out a brown bag. She doesn’t say a word, but you can hear her thinking.

“Who was playing bumper carts at Kroger’s last night while everyone else was watching Modern Family? I was. Who stumbled into the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. while everyone else was burying their alarm clocks in a pile of dirty laundry? I did. And now who’s going to eat something wholesome at her desk — hi, boss! — while she dashes off a few more cranky-customer-placating emails? I—”

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A look at the long-awaited food safety bill

Photo: Flickr/Lou Bueno

In response to the approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year due to foodborne illnesses, the Senate finally passed the nation’s first food safety bill. The bill would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to stop outbreaks of sickness from unsafe foods before they arrive on kitchen tables. Currently the FDA can only order voluntary recalls, but under the new bill, the FDA would have the authority to require farmers and food processors to explain how they are working to keep their food safe at different stages of production and demand a recall if the food is tainted.

The $1.4 billion bill, which would also place stricter standards on imported foods, passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 25. The bill still needs to be approved by the House, which passed its own bill last year.

Although the bill would affect about 80 percent of the food supply, it does not apply to meat. Need to Know asked David Plunkett, senior staff attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), why meat was left out and other questions about the bill (S. 510). CSPI is a nonprofit consumer advocacy and education organization that focuses largely on food safety and nutrition issues. The group supported the bill.

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