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Food Studies: Rethinking obesity, from Chris Christie to Catherine of Siena

Food Studies features the voices of 11 volunteer student bloggers from a variety of different food- and agriculture-related programs at universities around the world. You can explore the full series here. I don't mean to brag, but this week, I had a particularly awesome reply to the inevitable question about what you actually study in a Food Studies program: "Well, this week, I graphed and analyzed data on organic livestock in New Jersey from 2000 to 2008, read and discussed the history of anorexia nervosa, and styled and photographed an Oktoberfest editorial." Of those three, though, it has been reading …

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You shouldn’t be able to buy soda with food stamps

Feel free to stock up -- there's nothing stopping you.Photo: Matthew C. WrightOn Friday, the USDA rejected New York City's proposal to restrict the use of food stamps to buy soda. According to The New York Times, there was much rejoicing: The decision was a victory for the soft-drink industry, which had lobbied against the proposal, and for advocates for the poor and underfed, who had argued that the government should not stigmatize them by taking away their right to shop like other consumers. The food-selling industry also contended that it would be too complicated for stores to have to …

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Cheap Twix: Junk food offers more calories for your cash

In 2004, University of Washington obesity researcher Adam Drewnowski discovered that consumers on a fixed budget can buy a lot more calories from processed foods and soft drinks than they can from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. He found that a single dollar could purchase 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips, but only 250 calories of carrots. One dollar could buy 875 calories of soft drink but only 170 calories of orange juice. Research suggests that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese. To further examine the economic and calorie choices consumers face at …

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McChange doesn't come easy

Photo: roadsidepicturesUnder intense pressure from health advocates, and with the kind of fanfare that only a gazillion dollar multinational company can muster, McDonald's has announced that it will soon include apple slices and a significantly smaller serving of French fries in its Happy Meal. The fast food giant will also cut sodium by 15 percent in all of its food by 2015. While most Americans may find this about as scintillating as cleaning out the cat litter box, the media and public health community clearly found it fascinating based on the number of published articles and blog posts, and the …

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Is it enough to tax junk food and subsidize good food?

In The New York Times, Mark Bittman offers us this thought: "Bad Food? Tax It and Subsidize Vegetables." The idea is to link taxes on unhealthy "hyperprocessed" foods like soda, French fries, and doughnuts directly to healthy food subsidies -- i.e. one pays for the other. It's not a bad concept -- it's well-established that Americans tend to prefer "earmarked" taxes that are devoted to particular programs. As Bittman puts it: Putting all of those elements together could create a national program that would make progress on a half-dozen problems at once -- disease, budget, health care, environment, food access …

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The Bike Factor: Disability and the ability to ride a bicycle

Cyndi Sutter's trike helped her to feel free again after a brain injury.Photo: Elly BluePeople with disabilities need cars to get around. I can't count the number of times I've been told this. At events, in blog comments, from friends and strangers in conversation. Sometimes I hear it from people who have direct experience with disability. More often the point is produced as part of an argument against making cities bike-friendly. For many people with disabilities, cars don't just symbolize independence and freedom, they make those things possible. But this isn't universally true, and it isn't always so simple. Disability …

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Is your shampoo making you fat?

This OnEarth column was written by Laura Fraser. We all know that Americans -- leading the way for the rest of the developed world -- are getting fatter. We hear about the "obesity epidemic" on the TV news, with footage of people depicted from the waist down shuffling around in XXL sweatpants and carrying supersized sodas. The majority of us are overweight, complaining about how our jeans are getting tighter and wondering why, despite all our efforts to diet and go to the gym, the number on the scale keeps edging higher. For years, the explanation for weight gain was …

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How to fight obesity and climate change at the same time

In Louisville, Ky., projects that might normally pitched as good for the planet are being funded because they're good for people, too. Money from private and public investors is going towards building bike lanes, funding community gardens, and increasingly walkability in low income neighborhoods. The motivation behind the investments is not to reduce carbon emissions, but to increase community health. In the Louisville area, more than six in ten people are overweight, and Kentucky, which has the 7th highest obesity rate in the nation, recently had to fend back lobbyists who wanted the state to allow food stamps to be …

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High-fat diet may damage the brain, study finds

There have been many disturbing studies on the effects of a high-fat diet on the brain. I'm thinking in particular of the 2009 study that suggested the American diet can be as addictive to the brain as heroin. But a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society is even more concerning -- and may provide a "missing link" in our understanding of the obesity epidemic. Researchers led by Joshua Thaler of the University of Washington fed an American-style high-fat diet to lab rats over the course of eight months. They discovered that the diet not only …

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Fat city: The way your neighborhood is built could be killing you

Road to ruin.Photo: Alfonso SurrocaCrappy urban development isn't just ugly and noisy and dirty. It is turning out to be lethal. One Toronto study looked at how the quality of a community's streets can affect people's health, factoring into drastically reduced life expectancy. It's the focus of an article in The Globe and Mail that discusses how Toronto and other cities are segregated not just by race and income, but also by the quality of the built environment -- and what that division means for residents' health. People living in less walkable, outlying parts of the city, with less access …