Wellness programs spread to schools

178095373After being inundated with “wellness” messages at work, I started walking more and have lost a few pounds. But it seems to me that children need to hear these kinds of things just as much as adults do. What’s happening in schools? 

Your experience isn’t uncommon. More and more workplaces have instituted wellness programs not only to help employees improve their health, but also to cut costs.

A 2010 analysis published in Health Affairs compiled results from 36 studies of such programs. It found that for every dollar spent on workplace wellness programs, medical costs dropped by $3.27, and costs related to absenteeism dropped by $2.73. In hard numbers, the return on investment seems clear. It’s more difficult to quantify the benefits of such programs in terms of quality of life, but if your experience is any indication, wellness programs offer those benefits, too.

Still, you’re right: Employer-based wellness policies can only go so far. To reach children and teens, schools seem an obvious choice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012. Obesity rates for children and adolescents have tripled from just a generation ago.

Those are primary reasons why any school that participates in the National School Lunch Program or other federal child nutrition program is now required to establish a school wellness policy. A school wellness policy guides efforts regarding school nutrition and physical activity for students. Parents and other members of the public can provide input into the policies.

The CDC’s website offers a comprehensive overview of school wellness polices atwww.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/npao/wellness.htm. While there’s still much work to be done, evaluations indicate schools have been establishing environments that better support nutrition and physical activity. Examples include:

  • Restricting access to high-sugar beverages and other less-healthful foods from vending machines, school stores, cafeterias, fundraisers and in some cases even class parties.
  • Offering nutrition education at each grade level.
  • Offering physical education classes that promote a physically active lifestyle or focus on personal fitness.
  • Integrating physical activity throughout the school day, such as offering activity breaks in the classroom.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Eat better while spending less

480928155Every week, I wince at the cost when I go through the grocery store checkout line. How can I save money but still eat healthfully? 

It can seem like a challenge at times, but family and consumer science educators associated with Cooperative Extension and land-grant universities across the country offer tips to help, including:

  • Shop the sales. Look at grocery store fliers to see what’s being offered at a discount. They are often available online in advance to help you plan.
  • Shop on a full stomach. It’s true: You’ll tend to spend less than if you shop when you’re hungry.
  • Plan your meals based on sale items or items you already have on hand. Make a list according to your meal plan, and stick to the list when you shop — unless you see a cheaper alternative while you’re at the store.
  • These days you may find bargain prices on some items in the fresh produce aisle, but don’t forget frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. They are generally cheaper than buying fresh and have comparable nutrients. Try to incorporate more of these items in your meal planning.
  • Bypass convenience foods, such as preseasoned chicken breast and boxed or frozen dinners. Not only do you pay extra for them, but you can control the amount of salt and fat in foods when you prepare them yourself.
  • Check low and high shelves as you walk down the aisles: Often, that’s where you’ll find bargains.
  • Examine unit prices and check if there are lower-cost alternatives. Unit prices — the price per ounce, per pound or other unit — are often listed on the price tag on the store shelf. If not, you can do a quick calculation yourself by taking the price of the product and dividing it by the weight. Larger packages and store brands are normally cheaper than smaller packages and name brands, but not always, especially if there’s a sale or if you have a coupon.
  • That said, use coupons only when they make sense. Always check to see if you could save even more money by buying a store brand instead.
  • When you see an item that you often purchase offered at a significant discount, take advantage and stock up if it’s something that can be stored or frozen for later use.
  • Buying nonfood items at the grocery store can increase costs dramatically. See if you can buy them more cheaply at discount stores.

Need more ideas? Iowa State University Extension’s SpendSmart EatSmart website offers plenty:www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/. Or, see ideas from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at bit.ly/snapbudget.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

When good fruit goes bad

177423860When I hear about a recall involving fresh produce, how can I find out if the fruits and vegetables in my refrigerator are affected? If I buy organic produce, am I safe?

Information about recent recalls and food safety alerts are available on the front page of foodsafety.gov.

This listing contains information from both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees 80 percent of the nation’s food supply including produce, seafood and dairy, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of meat, poultry and processed egg products. For foods covered just by the FDA, see www.fda.gov/safety/recalls for recall information going back 60 days.

For recalled fresh produce check the FDA list. You can run a specific search by using the product name as a keyword. By clicking on the name of the product, you’ll see a description and the pictures of the product that was recalled and the retailers that sold the item.  Packaged products that have been recalled will have a date, and a production lot number to look for on the package. For bulk produce without a label, check with the store where you bought the product to find out if your items are part of the recall.

If you do have a product that’s been recalled, follow the FDA’s advice and don’t take any chances. Either throw it away or take it back to the store and ask for a refund.

To be on the safe side, the FDA recommends that you should also:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (count it out — it’s longer than you might think) with soap and warm water after handling the recalled items.
  • Wash any surface that the recalled items have touched, including refrigerator shelves or bins, countertops, bowls or plates, with soap and warm water.

Unfortunately, organic produce isn’t immune to food safety problems.  For example, one brand of organic mangos sold in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey and Texas was the subject of a recall in May due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. A more recent recall of peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots (a cross between a plum and an apricot) included both conventional and organic produce, because they were packed in the same facility where, again, Listeria was found.

Anyone can sign up to get automatic alerts about recalls by email or text. Just go tofoodsafety.gov/recalls/alerts to sign up.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Look beyond high fructose corn syrup

488655329What’s the difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup starts out as corn syrup. But food and beverage manufacturers alter the product for a number of reasons: High fructose corn syrup tastes sweeter than regular corn syrup. It also has good browning capabilities — a plus when making baked goods.

To really understand the science behind the sweetness, you need to know some background about the sugars sucrose, glucose and fructose.

Sucrose is table sugar. It’s usually made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Chemically, it is made up of one molecule each of glucose and fructose, bonded together. Even though both are types of sugar, fructose tastes sweeter than glucose.

Corn syrup is primarily glucose, so it’s not as sweet as table sugar. It’s made from corn, which is a lot cheaper than sugar cane or sugar beets. To get a product that’s as sweet as regular sugar, manufacturers add enzymes to regular corn syrup to convert some of the glucose to fructose, and that’s what we know as high fructose corn syrup.

The most common types of high fructose corn syrup used by food and beverage manufacturers contain either 42 percent fructose or, even sweeter, 55 percent fructose. That compares with 50 percent fructose in table sugar. Despite the differences, all of these sugars contribute the same 4 calories per gram to the diet.

High fructose corn syrup has gotten a bad rap since 2004, when a commentary published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested there could potentially be a link between its consumption and obesity. Other scientists questioned such a relationship, saying that high fructose corn syrup is no better or worse health-wise than other added sugars.

Studies are still being published in the scientific literature about how the body processes different sugars and if that makes a difference in health. However, the consensus today recommends that we focus our efforts on limiting all added sugars, not just high fructose corn syrup.

So, if you happen to see “No high fructose corn syrup” on the front of a label, be smart and look at the Nutrition Facts label for overall sugar content. Also look at the ingredients listing to see what other types of sweeteners the item might contain, such as agave, dextrose, maltose, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maple syrup, evaporated cane juice, crystalized fructose, honey or molasses. They’re all sugar.

For more about high fructose corn syrup from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, see http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm324856.htm.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Bridgette Kidd, Healthy People program specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.