Day 3 of APHA

APHA Annual Meeting’s Day 3 promised to be another full day of learning.  (As was Day 2 morning and afternoon, less so Day 1)

6:20am – Up and at ’em for another workout!  No better way to start the day.

8:30-10:00am – Food Environments: Economic, Social, and Geographic Influences

Healthy eating and food purchasing for residents of low income areas: Results from studying a new supermarket opening as a result of financial incentives, Brian Elbel, New York University

New York City has worked hard to develop their FRESH program to encourage fresh food retail in food deserts.  This is a relatively new way to go about improving access to food, and New York has really helped pave this path.  But does this plan work?  Not many folks get to do real evaluations of these kinds of projects, so hearing this introduction really perked me up!

Data on diet and shopping patterns were collected via street intercept surveys.  The results tell us that the addition of a new grocery store to a neighborhood did not change foods eaten, shopping at a grocery store, or availability of healthy foods.  They only evaluated nutrition related outcomes, which means we could be missing out on economic, psychological, quality of life, and other positive impacts.  For example, although folks did not report a change in whether or not they shopped at a grocery store, perhaps the new store shortened their travel time to a grocery store.

This kind of research is really important to conduct and pay attention to, given that food policy continues to move in this direction, including in my new hometown of Cincinnati.

Low-income residents’ perceptions of corner store owners: Implications for healthy store projects, Lara Jaskiewicz, Grand Valley State University

Lara worked with 10 municipalities and about 20 corner stores to better understand what low-income residents think about corner stores.  She learned that there were huge differences in the perspectives of Latino and African American residents.  African American respondents didn’t feel like they could trust the shop owners.  The Latino respondents had more positive views of their local corner store owners.

Realizing these underlying issues can help inform interventions.  If trust is the reason local residents don’t shop in a store, then it doesn’t matter how much fresh produce is brought in, or the education that we do in the store.

Food shopping patterns in rural Appalachia: The environmental context of dietary behavior, Mark Swanson, University of Kentucky

This research focused around one main question for Appalachian residents: Where do you buy your fruits and vegetables?  The researchers were interested in learning about the distance to the nearest store, the cost/quality, and the household demographics.

He learned that everyone wants fresh and affordable, that’s a given.  Where someone shopped largely came down to distance/travel time.  And it’s possible that the perception of the travel time is more important to consider than the reality of distance.

Street vendors’ contribution to urban food environments – Variation by weather, season, and neighborhood, Sean Lucan, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

This research was led by a physician from the Bronx.  He and I seemed to attend all of the same sessions, so I was intrigued to hear what he researched. Being a doctor from the Bronx, he is acutely aware that the Bronx has the worst healthy outcomes in all of New York City.

He was curious to explore the role of mobile food vendors on the food environment.  Traditional research usually focuses on grocery stores, corner stores, and fast food restaurants.  But especially in large cities, there is another, often ubiquitous, option for food on the go.

He discovered that most of the food options from mobile carts weren’t that great.  But some do sell fresh produce and healthier beverages.  During poor weather, fewer vendors are out selling, but those who do come out represent a larger proportion of healthier options compared to a good weather day.  This line of research is quite young, but points to some missing data in current food environment work in large cities.

10:30-12:00pm – From Boston to Botswana: The Private Sector and Healthy Food Systems

People, planet, or profit? The impact of food and beverages companies on the environment, human rights and public health, Raymond Offenheiser, Oxfam America

“We are living in a broken food system.  The symptoms are hunger, obesity, waste, and environmental degradation.”

Oxfam tweet

That statement was pretty huge for me.  It’s so true and sums up the big issues that food advocates are interested in in one simple statement.

Oxfam America’s GROW campaign aims to build a better food system.  Raymond spoke specifically about their work in ranking the major food producers on the new “food justice scorecard.”  Armed with this information, Oxfam targets specific issues and specific companies.  For example, Oxfam chose the treatment of women in chocolate industries for one campaign.  After building the internal dialogue and creating consumer interest, all of the major chocolate producers agreed to look at the conditions, listen to the women, and take action.

Their next goal is to tackle the land grabbing policies among sugar producers.  Let’s wish them luck!  You can do a little more by clicking the link above and signing their petition.

Foodopoly: Shifting food and farm policy to protect public health, Wenonah Hauter, Food and Water Watch

As the title of her talk (and her book) might indicate, Wenonah is concerned with the concentration of power in food production and the impact they can have on food policy.  She shared two specific examples:

1. In the poultry industry: industry leaders are pushing for policies to allow them to “self-regulate” their slaughterhouses.  They also want the freedom to process birds at 175 birds a minute.  175 BIRDS A MINUTE!  That’s crazy.  And as one audience member pointed out, not safe for the slaughterhouse workers.

2. Trade pacts: The Trans Pacific Trade Pact indirectly decides health, safety, and environmental protections based on what they allow to be traded in and out of the country.  The discussions around this new pact are currently happening quietly behind doors, safe from the scrutiny of those who will be impacted by these policies.  “We want congresspeople to debate and stand up and [have to] say they are trading away our health and safety protections.”Food and Water tweet

Chat and chew: Mario Batali’s head of sustainability talks Meatless Monday and how it has shaped the restaurant industry to the benefit of public health, Elizabeth Meltz, Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group

Loved this talk!  Elizabeth was so sweet and endearing.  Imagine Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats.

Elizabeth was with us to share how Mario Batali’s restaurants are all participating in Meatless Mondays, in addition to sharing all the gorgeous photos of the food.  Every restaurant creates at least 2 special vegetarian meals for Meatless Mondays.  An analysis of their sales records show that the special vegetarian dishes sell as well as, and sometimes better than, the restaurant staples.  Many restaurants also have vegetarian dishes on the regular menu that also sell incredibly well.

2:30-4:00pm – Food Marketing: Are We “Buying” It?

Live for now: Teens, soda marketing and consumer protection law, Cara Wilking, Northeastern University

Cara comes from the legal world and was interested in considering what, if any, legal action could be taken against soda companies in response to their blatant advertising toward teens.  She shared several internal industry communications that clearly state how they view teens as the most important sector to get invested in their brand.

We know that teens’ brains are not fully developed, especially the pre-frontal cortex which controls executive functions like decision making.  They are also searching for and experimenting with their social identity.  All of this makes them more susceptible to marketing.  We also know that every additional serving of sugar-sweetened beverage consumed per day increases a 12 year old’s risk of overweight or obesity by 60%.

Is this enough to claim deception or unfairness?  It would likely be hard.  Cara recommends that our first attack be to denormalize marketing sugar-sweetened beverages to teens to put pressure on soda companies to rethink their targeted campaign strategies.Daily soda tweet

Brand integration in advergames: Impact on children’s product preferences and nutritional beliefs, David Bickham, Boston Children’s Hospital

David did very interesting research on the impact that the advertising in advergames.  Advergames are games that companies create and offer for free on their websites to encourage kids to get engaged with their brand.  David created a simple game with advertisements for a Canadian snack cake and tested it with children in Boston.  He found that kids didn’t need to interact directly with the brand’s logos to be influenced by the game.

My takeaway?  Don’t let kids play advergames online.

Prevalence and extent of volume discounts in US fast-food restaurants, Leah Rimkus, University of Illinois at Chicago

Given the wide press Mayor Bloomberg got for pursuing legislation to limit the size of sugar sweetened beverages, this line of research should be interesting.  Leah wanted to find out if volume discounts for sugar sweetened beverages and fresh fries are linked to local demographics.  They collected the sizes and prices of the largest and smallest soda and french fries (if available). She discovered that the value of the volume discount was not strongly related to race/ethnicity or income levels.

Seeking help with weight loss and its association with use of nutrition facts labels to inform purchasing decisions, Jennifer Faith, Oregon State University

This research got really specific.  Jennifer wanted to know if within a random population, are those who are seeking help with weight loss more likely  to use the nutrition facts labels on food.  We know that reading labels can help consumers make more informed choices, so it would be a good idea to use nutrition facts labels if trying to lose weight.  And it turns out that (surprise, surprise) those who are trying to lose weight are more likely to report using nutrition facts labels.  Why do we care?  Well, if we know that folks are using the labels, health professionals can teach folks how to use them properly to make the best choices.

6:30-8:00pm – Food and Environment Working Group Networking Reception @Lucky’s Lounge

I made it for about 25 minutes.  Then the mild migraine that I had been attempting to will away won out and I went back to the hotel to sleep it off.  A noisy bar is not the best place for a migraine.  Lying down in an amazing hotel bed not moving and watching HGTV on low volume IS great for a migraine.

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