Tag Archives: nutrition

What can reporters learn from the chocolate diet study hoax?

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr

Photo: BlueRidgeKitties via Flickr

You’ve been fooled. You thought eating chocolate while dieting could help you shed the pounds faster because a study supposedly said so, and outlets all over the place covered it – but it was based on an intentionally faulty, hyped study.

At least, that’s the story that journalist John Bohannon, who was the first author, partial architect and promoter of the study, told in a viral io9 piece. The story exploded in social media as readers, journalists, scientists, ethicists and others argued over what he really proved, whether he should have done it and what lessons can be gleaned from the stunt. Continue reading

Critically assessing nutritional arguments based on evidence: One journalist’s case study

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: eddie welker via Flickr

Photo: eddie welker via Flickr

Few areas of medical research are as challenging to study as nutrition. Randomized controlled nutrition trials are very difficult to conduct, and individual variation among participants can be much greater than in other areas. Add to that the urgency of the “obesity epidemic” and the multibillion dollar industry of diets, supplements and other weight-loss schemes, and it becomes clear how competing ideologies make it tough to parse the evidence. Continue reading

Native American tribe wields sales tax to promote healthier eating

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Image by  Mike Licht via flickr.

Image by Mike Licht via flickr.

Hoping to encourage healthier eating habits, leaders of the Navajo Nation have imposed a potentially precedent-setting tax on junk food and sodas.

The 27,000-square-mile territory, which extends into Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, as of April 1 added a 2-cent sales tax to an existing 5-cent sales tax on most goods sold there, Eliza Barclay reported for National Public Radio’s food blog, The Salt. Fresh fruits and vegetables sold on the reservation have been tax-free since October as part of the tribe’s healthy eating initiative. Continue reading

How does food labeling affect consumer choice?

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

If you’ve ever wondered about the real impact of those little black-and-white nutrition labels, or felt that perhaps food labeling could be more meaningful, consider the results of a new study, published recently in The American Journal of Public Health.

Image by Tojosan via flickr.

Image by Tojosan via flickr.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health wanted to know what makes people change their habits – specifically, low-income black adolescents. In 2012 – the most recent year of CDC data – obesity was more prevalent among both African-Americans and low-income groups than the general population. (But remember that the relationship between income and obesity varies by poverty level, gender and race is a complicated one.)

Continue reading

Food deserts: Just one facet of an obesogenic world

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Image by kardboard604 via flickr.

Image by kardboard604 via flickr.

It seems pretty far-fetched that bringing a supermarket to a disadvantaged neighborhood could, in a matter of months, turn back the tide of obesity.

So I wasn’t exactly shocked by the study in Health Affairs (AHCJ members have free access) this week finding that the addition of a supermarket made little impact on nearby residents’ diet or weight gain. The authors compared two demographically similar Philadelphia neighborhoods. Both were considered food deserts, but one received a new 41,000-square-foot-supermarket in 2009. Six months later, the authors found no significant difference in body mass index or daily fruit and vegetable intake between residents of the two neighborhoods. (In the neighborhood with the new supermarket, most residents didn’t even adopt it as their main store.)

The link between food deserts and obesity has always been somewhat tenuous. For instance, having a nearby supermarket or grocery made no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate or the overall quality of their diets in one of the largest observational studies to date. More recently, researchers analyzed data from 97,678 adults in the California Health Interview Survey and found “no strong evidence that food outlets near homes are associated with dietary intake or BMI.” They figured it’s because most people go by car and don’t limit their shopping to nearby stores.

News outlets tended to cast the latest study as a policy fail for the Obama administration. Obama’s $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative is based on the idea that making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible in underserved neighborhoods will help reverse diet-related health problems.

I’m not sure that a six-month pilot study on a single store is the final word. In a thorough report by Sarah Corapi at The News Hour, study author Steven Cummins says he remains convinced that better food stores are needed in many disadvantaged neighborhoods: Continue reading

Health care quality study: Good news, bad news and in between

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by thor_mark via flickr.

Image by thor_mark via flickr.

Health plans had poor results last year on reducing the use of antibiotics and on ensuring that chemically dependent patients received recommended and timely follow-up care, according to the State of Health Care Quality Report 2013 from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) released last week.

Health plans had good results last year on getting more children to have their body mass index (BMI) measured and get referrals for nutrition counseling, NCQA reported.

By showing trends in how managed care plans deliver care, this annual report is a rich source of data for health care journalists. Continue reading

Pa. bill would require disclosure of food stamp purchases

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is a member of AHCJ's board of directors, serving as vice chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a medical writer for The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

Food stamps

Photo by cosmocatalano via Flickr

A Pennsylvania congressman last week filed a bill that would require retailers to report which items are bought with food stamps.

The proposed “SNAP Transparency Act,” sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Marino, would require the secretary of agriculture to establish a uniform reporting system under which retailers would track “the complete range, identities, sizes, quantities, and costs of particular food items” purchased with benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

If passed, the legislation could give journalists and advocates access to long-sought information about the food purchases of SNAP recipients, at a time of growing concern about their access to healthy foods and about obesity and related health problems among the poor. Currently the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have the authority to collect such information.

The act would address one of two issues raised in a recent letter to Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack from AHCJ and six other organizations representing journalists and open-government advocates. Continue reading

Experts stress lifestyle changes as prevention, treatment for diabetes #ahcj13

Diabetes is prevalent in the United States, and the numbers continue to balloon.

In a Health Journalism 2013 session focusing on type 2 diabetes, a panel of experts discussed the threats of the disease, its growth and possible treatment. The panel was moderated by Tennesseean reporter Tom Wilemon. Continue reading

Reuters explains Big Food’s remarkable lobbying success

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Investigating for Reuters, Duff Wilson and Janet Roberts analyzed lobbying records and found that, in the past few years, the food industry has dramatically stepped up its spending in Washington and, they write, “largely dominated policymaking – pledging voluntary action while defeating government proposals aimed at changing the nation’s diet.” They give examples.


After aggressive lobbying, Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children.

And during the past two years, each of the 24 states and five cities that considered “soda taxes” to discourage consumption of sugary drinks has seen the efforts dropped or defeated.

At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity.

That success has come through what the authors imply is a sort of big-tobacco model, in which the industry combines promises of self-regulation with huge amounts of money, and thus creates an irresistible package for lawmakers. For a blow-by-blow on how the lobbying muscle swayed the decision-makers in recent battles, I strongly recommend you read the full piece, which draws heavily from both data and extensive interviews. Particularly interesting? The examples of how the Citizens United decision has impacted far more than just election politics.

Battle against childhood obesity is complicated

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Maureen O’Hagan and her colleagues at The Seattle Times have put together a sprawling package of stories on the fight against childhood obesity in their new series, “Feeling the Weight.” We’ll break it down story-by-story.

Kids battle the lure of junk food
Local agencies are spending millions to provide healthy alternatives to Seattle-area youth, but they — to say nothing of the youth themselves — are faced with a seemingly insurmountable deluge of tasty treats that tempt teens at every turn.

State still seeks winning strategy against childhood obesity
For a decade, Washington’s anti-obesity strategy has focused on providing kids with access to health alternatives.

So far, the results are discouraging. A push to put more fresh produce in poor neighborhoods’ corner stores, for instance, is struggling. And recent studies suggest the proliferation of farmers markets has done little to change diets or behavior. The number of overweight and obese kids continues to climb.

In other words, we might be spending a whole lot of money on efforts that miss the mark.

How to help your kids lose weight healthfully
The trick, she writes, is to focus on healthy behavior rather than on weight loss.

Parents stand between kids and junk food
O’Hagan’s profiles of parents of obese children shatter a few stereotypes and illustrate just how complex the issue is.

What readers had to say about childhood-obesity topic
Readers weighed in with advice, criticism, observations and more.

Related

Covering Obesity: A Guide for Reporters

Covering ObesityThe prospect of covering such a broad, engaging and important topic as obesity can be overwhelming. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is designed to help journalists cover a wide range of stories, whether writing on deadline or researching a multipart series. It offers assistance on calculating body mass index, finding obesity statistics on the state level, gauging the quality of school district wellness policies, finding innovative school nutrition policies and much more.