Lets Garden!

Back in the 1970’s, Chicago was a leading city in promoting the idea of community gardens.  It was recognized that many households did not have the property to cultivate their own gardens, so by the sponsorship of municaple parks departments, local cooperative extension services, nonprofit organizations, schools, churches and many other groups, a national network of urban gardening programs was born.  However, during the 1980s, social service funding was severely cut back as, unfortunately, unemployment and food costs were simultaneously growing.  As the programs were unable to meet the growing demands of the population, many of the program leaders dove into politics, public relations and business administration.  An emergency meeting was organized, including members from A National Community Gardening Task Force, and together formed the American Community Gardening Association

The ACGA provides resources for developing gardens across the nation, workshops for program coordinators and much more.  This program is exciting for all varieties of gardeners.  By becoming a ACGA member, you are connected to other volunteers and are provided with the latest techniques and developments in gardening.  You are also supporting the developement and expansion of urban gardening.  The agency actively researches the impact which gardening has on the community, and supports other aspects of the environment such as urban forestry and the preservation of and management of open space. 

I find this organization exciting and growingly innovative.  You can be as involved as you want by becoming a member.  You can educate yourself on your own time by just reading their newsletter and viewing photos posted on their Facebook page, or you can become very active and attend trainings and conferences.  The community involvement not only promotes interacting with each other, and educating the public about gardening and sustainability, but it gives everyone an equal opportunity to provide for themselves and their family by being able to put fresh, nutritious food on the table.

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Obesity is Growing

How do the words obese and poverty belong in the same sentence?  They shouldn’t, and when we see those words together while talking about healthcare, red flags should fly.  The prevalence of obesity and its detrimental costs to not only those individuals but the entire population have grown enormously over the past two decades.   Obese people spent roughly 37% more on healthcare costs in 2001 than normal weight people did, an increase of 27% for overall healthcare costs since 1987.  Of these health costs, nearly 80% went towards diabetes or heart disease.  There are a variety of factors that are considered when you look at the increase in obesity, part of which stems from individual poor choices.  Researchers are also pointing out today’s environment of which is turning obesogenic, literally a toxic environment  which lacks opportunities for physical activity and the plethora of highly processed, highly caloric, low-nutrition foods are widely available.

 There are two main concerns here that really stick out to me, one being the number of children that are being raised obese.  Their primary source of life skills come from their parents or caretakers who teach them how and what to eat, and are setting them up to experience not only health problems but prejudice and discrimination, which leads to low self-esteem and depression.  My second main concern is the fact that the rest of the population has to pay for these people’s poor lifestyle choices.  The price of health care for anyone in the US population is astronomical, and is most certainly unaffordable to pay for directly.  

In order for the nation to get a grasp on the obesity epidemic and to start making the numbers decline, we need to work on preventative measures first and the support of federal and government agencies is crucial.  There are numerous ways one can attack this problem, and I think a highly affective way is to start by decreasing the availability of highly processed foods by subsidies and taxing.  This is a preventative measure in that it targets the whole population, but more importantly, children.  

Currently there are subsidies on sugars and fats, but none for fruits and veggies.  The nation could save a lot of money on health care costs if things like candies, sodas and fried foods were taxed and things like whole foods, fruits, veggies and grains were much more affordable for the average consumer.  Price control is a tool which the USDA needs to use more strongly.  Part of the responsibility of the USDA is to make sure that access to wholesome nutritious food is available for all Americans.  While increasing funding for technological advancement in food production sounds innovative, this funding should be aimed towards agriculture and farming practices, and should not go towards anything related to highly processed foods.  If we end up putting more money into the production of whole foods, there should be a significant payoff in health care savings.

Through all of the reading I have done, I notice that there is a lot of effort, time and money that goes into research and data collection.  There are many, many different agencies who conduct research, collect research, analyze research.  Is there a point at which we can gather enough research and analyze it earlier in the game, discern what we need to and act on it quicker?  It seems like over the past decade and a half, we have been talking about the increasing obesity, the increase in childhood obesity, the increase in health care costs related to obesity.  We see the problem increasing…do we need to keep putting all of these efforts into researching the increase, or can we act faster by using this time and energy in acting on the problem.  Why aren’t there taxes placed on processed foods yet if we know what they cause?  Why aren’t their subsidies placed on healthy whole foods yet if we know that they are extremely beneficial for one’s health?  Because the process of creating a bill and getting it passed by congress takes so long?  There has got to be an easier, faster way.  Humans have made things way too complicated and should focus on a more simple lifestyle.

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Policy and a Nutritious Community

Over the past half century, we have changed our health issue goals from preventing infectious diseases to now preventing chronic diseases that are brought on by the population itself.  However, the numerous issues which relate to health and nutrition such as hunger, food fortification, nutrition related research, sustainable farming, food imports/exports, cancer, etc. are too vast to be housed under one governing body.  Instead, nutrition policies are seen in food assistance programs, handling of food products, dietary guidelines, the Healthy People 2020 Initiative, and so on. 

Nutrition policy making involves a lot of research in many different arenas, a few being nutrition and etiology, content in foods, health education, and physiological effects of foods and supplements.  Nutrition policy making also involves nutrition monitoring which includes nutrition related health measurements, consumption, food composition, attitude and behavior assessments and food supply.  Tools used in monitoring include Nutrition Assessments, Monitoring, Screening and Surveillance. 

There are many programs and policies active today.  The NNMRRP (National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Program) conducts more than 50 surveillance activities which measure and evaluate the health/nutrition status in the United States.  The NHANES collects data by physical examination, lab and clinical tests from their target population, ages 1 – 74, measuring dietary intake and body composition among other things.  The NFNS (National Food and Nutrition Survey) in 2000 had been the most cost-effective survey for monitoring nutrition yet.  The DHKS, the Diet and Health Knowledge Survey measures peoples awareness of diet/health relationships and nutrient knowledge, how to read food labels and what food safety is.  The BRFSS (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) is active in all states and collects data on risk behaviors in the adult population such as tobacco/alcohol use, breast screening services, and weight control practices.

The collection of all of this data is then used to make policies and to direct the plan of research for tomorrow.  The BRFSS is a highly used source, allowing all the states across the nation to measure the effects of current interventions and to set priorities.  Congress also uses this data to analyze and measure the efficiency of current nutrition assistance programs.  The Food and Nutrition Board is set up to evaluate current strategies for promoting health and preventing disease by analyzing current knowledge about nutrition and diet and the relationship it has on preventing chronic disease.  The DRI is a good example of a policy that puts nutrition recommendations into action for the US population.  Non-profit organizations include The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. 

The former surgeon general Julius Richmond, a former assistant secretary for health commented, “Individuals have the right to make informed choices and the government has the responsibility to provide the best data for making good dietary decisions.”  I agree that the American public has the right to make their own decisions, however I fear with as much help and guidance that is available, the American lifestyle is not so easy to change.  We seem to thrive on busy schedules, fast paced and stressful agendas, and are somehow convincing ourselves that we don’t have time to sit down to a home cooked meal, to make our own lunches to bring to work, to fit in 30 minutes of exercise in our busy day.  Dietary guidelines can be laid out for us, although I feel the public needs to make the conscious effort and decision and to realize that it is a lifestyle change.  There are many policies and guidelines in place striving to alleviate hunger and food shortages, but the concern that I feel should be addressed more is educating the public, and, is it too far to say…refuse help to those who are educated and are still making the unhealthful choice?  Chronic obesity has reached it’s all time high, which I feel is due not only to the lack of education, but the stubbornness and refusal to change their lifestyle.  Is it right for them to continually make these lifestyle decisions and for the healthcare system and the rest of the population to pay the price?  Is it possible to severely cut back the production of such highly processed and poisonous foods, perhaps even deeming them illegal?

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Target Population

Gyms are exciting and motivating environments for a lot of people, as well as dreadful and intimidating environments for many others.  One of the target populations I can see myself working with in the future is the vast array of gym goers, particularly those who are attending gyms to drastically improve their wellbeing, rather than those who are “maintaining” or who are sufficiently fit and are satisfied with their overall fitness and health.  I would like to research the disparities between exercise habits and abilities vs “at home” eating habits and routines within an individual.  My target population is those who are motivated enough to go to the gym and exercise, but aren’t seeing the results they want.  Is this due to lack or absence of nutrition at home, and if so, why? 

The data that may already exist about this specific population may be residing in each members initial gym application, which includes a questionnaire regarding reasons for joining the gym, personal goals, what characteristics about the specific gym were intriguing, and what the member is expecting to gain from their gym experience.

In order to gather the information I need, and to accommodate the busy lives of the gym members, I would begin by posting an eye-catching notice at the entrance and at other often frequented locations, like next to water fountains and in locker rooms, regarding an online survey that the members are encouraged to take.  This survey would be targeting those who are interested in furthering their knowledge about nutrition.  It would include questions about the individuals overall health goals, why they attend the gym, and their lifestyle outside of the gym.  It would include questions regarding their overall level of education, their income and what their primary social groups are like.  After getting an overall picture about the foundation of the individuals lifestyle is, questions would lead to their overall attitudes and values regarding their food choices, what kind of stresses they endure, and any triggers they might encounter which influence their food choices.  The survey would then ask the individual to conduct a 24-hour recall, or use photography to record their dietary intake. 

In many cases, the gym invites you to join them and gives you their introduction survey about your interests and goals, but it seems to stop at exercise.  To become physically fit and healthy doesn’t stop at the gym, and I think many people are left confused and frustrated not seeing the results they want or expect because they don’t have the proper knowledge about nutrition, and the idea that it goes hand-in-hand with exercise.  

I would finish they survey by asking the participant if they might be interested in attending a set of nutrition classes at the gym, included in their membership fees.  The length of class and the regularity would be negotiated.  This could be a great attraction for others who are interested in joining a gym, and would allow the chance for better quicker results for each individual.

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The Online Training Partner

After reading an article from the consumer edition of American Fitness called “Intrisically Powered” I was intrigued by the program AFAA, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.  The article highlighted the disturbing statistics of childhood obesity and how children diagnosed as obese are given shorter life sentences than their own parents.  Childhood obesity has climbed 300% since 1980.  This rapidly growing nutrition related problem is one of many problems which the AFAA is trying to work against.  The AFAA has tackled not only the challenge of youth fitness, but the fitness of these kids’ parents, and for the whole population. 

The AFAA currently has a website which provides a wide variety of tools for those who want to become certified trainers, complete with proper licensing and mandatory training updates.  The new program which the AFAA is now offering is called Biggest Loser Live Training.  The participants of this program are eligable to work with clients in online and onsite settings.  The perameters for the clients who want to participate are simple.  You can simply just sign up online, and pay the monthly fee of $19.99 which is much less than a gym membership.  Data is collected about the individual at the beginning, including weight, height, gender and age.  By following the guidelines of how to eat, how to exercise, what to do and how often, the clients record what they do and eat onto their profile.  The data is analyzed and interpreted by producing graphs and charts showing the clients changing weight, body composition, clothing size, cholesterol levels, etc.  The population targeted is those who are overweight and want to take steps to change.  Certain priorities are set for each client, according to their body composition and ability level.  Criteria that the clients share individualizes their goals even more, such as their occupation, their own weight loss goals and their personal motivation.  The plan of action is to not only utilize the expert advice of the licensed trainers, but to customize each plan of action.  The system is designed to have goals that are approachable, not unreachable.  The workout/eating plan for each client is very flexible.  If the client doesn’t like the particular menu for that day, they can choose a different one.  If the client is having a hard to getting motivated, the buddy challenge is suggested – grab a friend and do it together, motivate each other.  I like how innovative this approach is not only because the client can do it in the privacy of their own home, but they can get online and be interactive with others using message boards to talk with other participants and trainers about fitness and weight loss topics, for support and for encouragement.

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Nutrition’s role

Community nutrition has a vital role in the overall health of the community.  In order to keep the community healthy, the community needs to know how to stay healthy.  The proper resources such as cooking classes, co-ops, low-cost foods, and knowledge about the nutrition basics needs to be provided to a community.  Many things can be implemented besides laws and policies such as onhand experience which may be volunteering at local gardens and farmers markets.  Having your own hand in creating something for your community creates a strong sense of family, of team, of working together for the greater good.  Some individuals/families need the extra guidance which can be found in classes, or information/pamphlets posted at local stores and co-ops.  Keeping the entire community healthy also involves providing for everyone.  Many families and individuals, especially in these hard times, cannot always afford to go to the grocery stores to fill their pantries and fridges, which is why food banks are such a vital resource.  There are many other ways to involve the community in promoting a healthy lifestyle, for example, the Turkey Run every November.  Not only does this provide an opportunity for people to come together to raise money for those in need, or to win their own turkey, but it also integrates physical fitness into ones overall health.  Physical activity is a key component to staying healthy, and it’s important that opportunities are provided.  These opportunities don’t need to be volunteering at fundraisers or buying expensive gym memberships.  It is important for the community to provide public areas including parks, bike lanes, walking trails, play grounds, etc for people and their families to use at no cost and at any time that works in their busy schedules.  Community health involves many corners, which I am eager to explore this semester.

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Hello food people,

My name is Marie Lightner and I am a Dietetics major at Montana State University.  I am returning to school after graduating in 2007 with a Liberal Studies major, now understanding what I want to do with my life.  I have experienced some of my own trials with health, the digestive tract in particular.  After dealing with numerous frustrating and emotional obstacles over a long period of time, I am now healthy and have learned a lot about the power of nutrients.  I am also devoted to physical fitness, and hope to incorporate these two fields in my career.  I would love to work with people (particularly athletes) who want to learn more about nutrition and how to incorporate it into their life, allowing them to be in the best health and shape of their life.  This blog is to allow me to discuss the many topics we will be reading about in our class Nutrition and Society.  I hope to explore the many ways in which nutrition is involved in our community, anywhere from health care policies to food handling policies and how to make the community more nutritious.

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