A short primer on the HNRCA

Research

The Student Research Conference promises a wide range of fascinating work in both the social and biological sciences. In addition to faculty members at Friedman, students often cite as their inspiration the Jean Myer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, or HNRCA for short.

More than 49 students and post-docs are currently working on cutting edge research or providing support for ongoing projects, according to the center’s communications specialist Deb Dutcher.

Recent findings from HNRCA researchers that made news include:

  • The ability to breed mice without a gene that some refer to as “the obesity gene.” Without it, it turns out that mice can eat a high-fat diet without getting fat.
  • Evidence that eating the main meal of the day earlier in the day helps with weight loss efforts. (See accompanying story.)
  • Workplace-based weight loss programs that include lunch-hour counseling along with advice on healthy eating habits can make a difference in efforts to shed the pounds.

HNRCA is a collection of 20 laboratories focused in four distinct “clusters:” cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammation/immunity/infectious diseases, and obesity. More than a dozen of the labs have “nutrition” or “metabolism” in their names. It is one of six such human nutrition research cites in America supported by Agriculture Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 15-story nondescript building at the corner of Kneeland and Washington streets that houses the labs gives away little about the  work that takes place inside. Here is a sampling of some of the projects currently underway:

  • The development of a stable isotope method to better detect frailty in the elderly, by the Body Composition lab.
  • The effects of plant-based diets on healthy aging in the Nutritional Epidemiology lab.
  • The role of gender in adipose tissue metabolism and metabolic disorders in the Obesity Metabolism lab.
  • A better understanding of how dietary vitamin K is converted for use in certain tissues by the Vitamin K lab.
  • An assessment of the potential usefulness of the glycemic index and glycemic load when giving dietary guidance to the public by the Cardiovascular Nutrition lab.
  • A deeper look at the long-term effect of vitamin D plus calcium on physical function and the risk of falling in older adults by the Bone Metabolism lab.
The HNRCA recently acquired a new mass spectrometer called the QTOF, or quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Tens of thousands of compounds can be pulled out of a single sample with this machine. Photo courtesy of HNRCA.

The HNRCA recently acquired a new mass spectrometer called the QTOF, or quadruple time-of-flight mass spectrometer. Tens of thousands of compounds can be pulled out of a single sample with this machine. Photo courtesy of HNRCA.

Behind the scenes at HNRCA is a great deal of support work to ensure that studies are conducted in a systematic way. Franciel Dawes, a second year DI/MS student, was kind enough to give us some insight into her work-study duties with the Dietary Assessment Unit at HNRCA, where she provides support to researchers in many different labs. While her daily tasks may not garner headlines, they are critical to studies involving analysis of the human diet. She assists with dietary data collection and entry, often helping older adult participants over the phone or in person to recall their meals and snacks over the course of the prior 24 hours. She has even developed recipes for use by study participants and says she’s learned a lot about attention to detail while working at the unit. “I thought of myself as more of a policy person. This job [and a prior internship] has shown me that I can do research too.”

Students interested in learning more about current and recent laboratory projects can visit the HNRCA website and follow links to each lab. A warm re-telling of the research center’s history can be found in this Journal of Nutrition article. You can also visit the HNRCA on Facebook.

-       Compiled by M.E. Malone

Golden rice study inquiry continues

Update

A research study probing the potential benefits of so-called golden rice, which sparked controversy last year, remains under review by Tufts, according to a spokeswoman for the university. The 2008 study, conducted in China by HNRCA scientists and colleagues, tested the efficacy of using the genetically modified rice to boost levels of vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A deficiencies affect more than 250 million children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

After results of the study  were published last summer in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Greenpeace International alleged that the parents of children who participated in the study in China were not fully informed about the GM rice product. Greenpeace actively campaigns against the inclusion of GM products in the food system.

In the months following the allegation, reviews of the study protocol and activities were launched by Chinese public health officials as well as officials at Tufts. In December, three individuals in China associated with the study lost their jobs. Friedman students received a letter from Simin Meydani, director of USDA-HNRCA and professor of nutrition and immunology at Friedman, acknowledging the actions in China, but reiterating that Tufts was committed to a review by a 5-member panel that includes “distinguished academics from leading universities in the United States.” Dr. Meydani’s correspondence noted that the panel has two charges: “to determine whether the study was in compliance with Chinese, U.S. and Tufts University requirements for scientific research,” as well as to “examine Tufts’ institutional policies and practices to determine if they are appropriate to ensure full compliance with the laws and regulations of other countries in which we are engaged in research.”

When asked for an update on Tufts’ investigation of the matter, Andrea Grossman, assistant director of public relations for the university, provided a written statement. “When questions were raised about whether the study adhered to all appropriate scientific protocols, Tufts University initiated a full review to determine whether proper study procedures were followed. Our process, which includes an external review panel and an inquiry by the Tufts Medical Center and Tufts University Health Sciences Institutional Review Board followed by deliberations, is ongoing. We are unable to provide additional information or comment at this time.” The statement also reiterated the university’s commitment “to the highest ethical and scientific standards in research.”

 – M.E. Malone

NEJM takes on weight loss myths

By Katie Fesler

There is a set of beliefs around the origin, nature, and treatment of obesity and weight loss that guides the thinking, research, policy making, and counseling of both nutrition professionals and the public. These pervasive beliefs are generally accepted as evidence-based.  But do they hold up under scrutiny? Is there truly enough research behind these claims to permit them to infiltrate all aspects of nutrition? An article published this January in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) explores this question.

The NEJM article examined seven myths and six presumptions. Myths were classified as having evidence against them; presumptions were considered those beliefs that do not have enough evidence to say whether they were true or false. So what are these myths? Could their lack of support have implications? We will examine the first six myths presented.

Source: Fox News

Source: Fox News

Myth #1: “Small sustained changes in energy intake or expenditure will produce large, long-term weight changes”

Yes, it is true that exercising to burn more calories (if not negated by increased calorie intake) will lead to weight loss. It is also true that there is a benefit from sustaining these changes. The issue is how health guidelines and popular websites and magazines interpret this myth. These sources lead individuals to believe that a small change will have indefinite impact on weight. However, a small, sustained change will ultimately max out its impact. You will not continue to progressively lose weight because of decreases in energy requirements.

Does that mean this myth can be ignored? Should those small changes be abandoned once you stop losing weight? Absolutely not! This is where the sustained change comes in. It is still important that these small changes are permanent changes to help ensure that the weight that came off, stays off.

Myth #2: “Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important, because otherwise patients will become frustrated and lose less weight.”

The article calls this statement a myth because the literature search did not find significant evidence that realistic goals are more successful than large goals. In fact, it found evidence that large goals are more successful for some. So where did this myth come from?

It is based on the goal-setting theory that states, “unattainable goals impair performance and discourage goal-attaining behavior.” For many, this myth still holds. However, it is important to realize that not all people will respond best to small goals; some need larger goals to strive for. This myth is a reminder that each patient, and situation, is different.

Myth #3: “Large, rapid weight loss is associated with poorer long-term weight-loss outcomes, as compared with slow, gradual weight loss.”

With this myth, there is evidence to support both sides. For some, rapid weight-loss at the beginning results in greater success. For others, smaller weight loss at the beginning proved more successful. So why is this one called a myth? The authors argue that recommending only slow weight-loss may interfere with the success of weight-loss efforts – especially if the individual is more likely to be successful with a strong start.

On the other, recommending large weight loss can be dangerous if not carefully moderated. It is important that if rapid weight loss is recommended, people do not attempt to achieve this with a very low calorie diet.

Myth #4: “It is important to assess the stage of change or diet readiness in order to help patients who request weight loss treatment.”

Number 4 reflects the belief that only when patients feel ready to lose weight are they likely to make the required lifestyle changes. It is not an unrealistic claim. However, there are trials that specifically examined varying magnitudes of weight-loss success based on how ready the patient was to make changes. They found little difference among participants. Keeping this in mind, it should not dispel the idea that patients need to be ready to make changes for successful weight-loss. The article points out that it is likely that those willing to sign up for a weight loss program are ready to make changes.

So if people in a weight loss program are going to be ready anyways, what is the harm of this myth? The issue is that this myth encourages the practitioner to make a judgment about the patient’s readiness. They may inaccurately believe that the patient is not ready and alter the course of action, harming the patient’s success. Additionally, more effort may be spent evaluating a person’s readiness to change rather than on the intervention.

Myth #5: “Physical-education classes, in their current form, play an important role in preventing childhood obesity.”

This myth is already on its way towards being unraveled. Research shows that even with increased time spent in physical education, children’s BMIs do not significantly change. The frequency, intensity, or duration of activity must increase for there to be an impact from these classes. More research is being done to determine what that level of activity is and how it can become part of the physical education classes.

Myth #6: “Breast-feeding is protective against obesity.”

This belief has been around for an extensive amount of time. However, upon investigating, the article reports that there are more studies that show breast-feeding does not have a protective effect against obesity than studies showing that it does. The tricky part is that correcting this myth can have larger negative effects than allowing it to persist. The fact that breast-feeding may not have a protective effect against obesity does not mean the other benefits are also not true. Breast-feeding is still beneficial to both mom and baby. Discussions of the connection to obesity must be careful to get the message across that breast-feeding is still a beneficial, and recommended, practice.

While these myths may not be entirely true as stated, there are truthful aspects to them and each must be considered in context. As always, it is important to remember that new research is published continuously. What is considered a myth today may have scientific backing tomorrow. This article reminds us to keep up with and critically access the research. It is a reminder to be willing to change our way of thinking if sufficient research directs us to do so.

Katie Fesler is a first-year Nutrition Communications student.

Do overweight people really live longer? By Natalie Obermeyer

Early this year the Journal of the American Medical Association published a meta-analysis with a rather controversial finding: overweight people live longer than normal weight individuals. But before we use this study as an excuse to pack on a few extra pounds (or just keep the pounds on), we need to dig into the science a bit more.

Source: CarryFitness.com

Source: CarryFitness.com

For the meta-analysis, Dr. Flegal and Dr. Kit, along with other researchers, searched the PubMed database for studies examining the relationship between body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of the relation of body weight and height, and lifespan. The researchers then combined 97 eligible studies to examine the relationship between BMI and longevity for over 2.8 million study participants. Researchers felt that such a large study was bound to find an association between weight status and longevity if there really was one.

After controlling for age, sex, and smoking, the researchers concluded that overweight people (defined by having a BMI between 25 and 29.9) had a 6% decreased risk of death from all causes compared to people of a normal weight status (BMI 18.5-24.9). Obese people in general (BMI over 30) had an 18% increased risk of death. However, when examined more closely, the risk for all-cause death among mod

erately obese people (BMI 30-34.9) did not significantly differ from those with normal weight status. In contrast, obese people with a BMI over 35 had a 29% increased risk of death. Thus, from this study, it appears that some, but not too much, extra weight is associated with longer lives.

Should we be surprised by these findings? No. The phenomenon that overweight people live longer has been well documented in other meta-analyses, and it even has its own name: “the obesity paradox.” Some potential explanations for the paradox and the benefits of extra fat include that it supplies energy during wasting-associated illnesses and provides extra cushioning for traumatic injuries.

However, just because being overweight is associated with living longer does not mean being overweight causes one to live longer. According to the CDC, being overweight increases one’s risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, many cancers, stroke, liver disease, sleep apnea, arthritis, impotence, and infertility. But, if being overweight increases the risk of all of these diseases, how is it that studies associate being overweight with longer life spans?  One explanation is that these studies do not exclude data from people with pre-existing diseases that have ca

used them to lose weight. For example, alcoholism, anxiety, depression, autoimmune diseases, drug addiction, digestive disorders, and cancer can result in both unintentional weight loss and shorter life spans. While the researchers in this meta-analysis controlled for age, sex, and smoking, they did not control for any other diseases. Thus, if a significant portion of people in the normal weight category had these diseases, it could help explain why normal weight status is associated with shorter life spans. Indeed, the prevalence of these diseases is rather high in the United States:

  • Alcoholism: 12.5%
  • Anxiety disorders: 18%
  • Depression: 8%
  • Autoimmune disorders: 8%
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: 10%

Additionally, as with any study using the body mass index, it is important to recognize that BMI is not the best measure of body fat since it is merely a measure of the relationship between body weight and height. Tissues other than fat can increase BMI, and muscular individuals (such as trained athletes) may technically have high BMIs and considered to be in the “overweight” category even though they have low

levels of body fat. For example, an active basketball player with 10% body fat can have a higher BMI than someone who leads a sedentary lifest

yle with 30% body fat. Additionally, the distribution of the fat is even more important, as the fat that accumulates around one’s middle is much more dangerous than fat deposited in the thighs.

Over 40% of adult men and 30% of adult women are overweight in the United States. Even more disturbing, over 36% of Amer

icans are considered obese. Thus, we need researchers like Dr. Flegel to study the consequences of extra

weight; however, we must keep in mind that meta-analyses like the one published merely measure association rather than causation. We must take care to not extrapolate the findings too far. Perhaps

being overweight may not be as harmful as some claim, but I would not use this study as an excuse to overindulge.

Natalie Obermeyer is a first year student in the Nutrition Communication and Masters of Public Health programs. When she is not studying, reading, or writing, she loves to run, hike, ski, play outdoors in the sunshine, and experiment in the kitchen.

 

Are omega-3 fatty acids old news? By Katie Fesler

Omega-3 fatty acids have garnered a lot of positive press over the years. They’ve been said to improve diseases ranging from heart disease to rheumatoid arthritis. However, research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has challenged the assumptions about this supposed nutrition powerhouse.

Researchers were interested in the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on heart disease related deaths, heart attacks, strokes, and sudden deaths. In this systematic review, published in September, findings from 20 randomized clinical trials evaluating omega-3 fatty-acid supplementation outcomes were pooled. Only studies with at least 1-year follow up made the cut.  They found no clear association between increased omega-3 fatty acid intake and improved outcome for heart and stroke related disease and mortality.

Source: National Pharmacy Technician Association

Source: National Pharmacy Technician Association

Does this mean you can tune out the doctor’s advice to increase cold-water fish consumption?

Maybe. However, there are probably too many questions about the results from this meta-analysis to disobey doctor’s orders just yet.

Are the study’s results true for all omega-3 fatty acids?

It is hard to say. Fatty acids are diverse; they fit into more categories than the well-known saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats. In fact, even the omega-3 fatty acid category can be broken down into smaller categories: ALA, EPA, and DHA. While they share many functions, there are small differences in how each of these omega-3 fatty acids works in the body. Therefore, it is possible that one type of omega-3 fatty acid has no effect on heart diseases and strokes, while another has a significant effect. The study did not look at each variety individually.

Would it make a difference when omega-3 fatty acid therapy began?

There have been many studies to examine the impacts of omega-3 on heart and stroke health. Each study began increasing an individual’s omega-3 fatty acid intake at different times; in some cases before onset of any health issues and, in others, immediately following a heart attack or several years after a stroke. These studies indicate that the sooner the increased consumption begins the bigger impact it has. It’s possible, however, that more decisive conclusions could have been drawn had the JAMA analysis looked at studies in which therapy began at similar stages of health or disease.

Is there a difference between omega-3 fatty acids from food and from supplements?

This certainly is a concern, and the researchers knew this. The systematic review looked at omega-3 intake from foods separately from intake from supplements. It found the same results in each group. In food or pill form, it makes no measurable difference to an individual’s risk of heart disease related deaths, heart attacks, strokes, and sudden deaths.

What about the other diseases and conditions omega-3 fatty acids may benefit?

Omega-3 fatty acids are not just associated with improved heart health. They are important to brain development and learning. There is evidence that increased consumption of these fatty acids may slow the effects of aging on the brain. There have even been studies linking omega-3 intake to reduced pain associated with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. However, this study did not address these conditions.

Were there enough similarities in the studies to ensure valid results?

Systematic reviews are no stranger to this question.  On the one hand, they are useful for pooling results from multiple, equivalent studies. The combination creates a larger sample size, and increases the results’ reliability. However, critics frequently point out that it can be difficult to find studies that are close enough in design and execution to draw meaningful conclusions. This is certainly an area of concern for this review. In some cases, researchers were able to compensate for differences among the studies. However, not all differences can be accounted for and could have contributed to the study’s novel findings.

Questions about the health benefits of omega -3 fatty acids are not new. Countless studies have looked at their effects on heart, brain, and overall health. It may be too soon to discount them completely. However, it is important that future research look into the many concerns raised before a final verdict can be reached. In the meantime, discuss any decisions about omega-3 fatty acid supplements – as with all supplements – with your doctor.

Katie Fesler is a first-year Nutrition Communications student with a personal interest in staying heart healthy.

Body Image: Feeling Blue in Your Skinny Jeans? Perhaps, Blame Your Skinny Genes by Kari G. Kempf

Which factors come to mind when you think about what dictates body image? More often than not, the pervasive mass media, pressure from society, Western standards of beauty, obsession with thinness, comparison to others, and perceived pressure from family or peers have been the long-standing influences. These standbys are also usually the first to blame for those times you look in the mirror and aren’t exactly over the moon about what you see, or how you feel in a pair of jeans (especially the fluorescent or printed ones that seem to be everywhere lately). Such is an example of the nature of negative body image that pervades us as a society today. The continual reinforcement of these ideals by the media—magazines, television, movies, advertisements, and glorification of celebrities—further compounds the problem. But questions remain: Why do only some people feel discomfort in their own skins? How do others seem entirely unconcerned? The answer to the varying feelings towards jeans may actually lie in our genes. Recent research has turned the spotlight to other factors that may be at play. Rather than focusing on the environmental factors that have long been recognized, a group of researchers supported by the National Institute of Mental Health took a look in the other direction, at the potential for an underlying genetic influence on thin idealization.

The pioneering study, published online in early October 2012 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, was the first to look at whether genes influence body image, an unprecedented feat in itself, but these researchers took it up a notch by conducting a twin study, observing both identical and fraternal twins. They looked at the similarities and differences in body image in sets of twins raised both in the same and in different environments. More than 350 females participated in the study, ranging in age from 12 to 22, and were gauged on their desire to look like celebrities and other individuals commonly featured in magazines, television and movies using a detailed set of questionnaires. The major finding of the study indicated that identical twins were more likely than fraternal twins to have similar levels of thin idealization. Since identical twins are genetically identical and fraternal twins only share half of the same genes, differences between identical twins indicate an environmental factor at play, whereas similar results amongst identical twins points towards a genetic influence.
According to the study’s results, genetic influence on thin idealization is significant. This means that some people may be genetically predisposed to what the researchers refer to as “thin-ideal internalization,” which is simply a strong desire to attain thinness. The study estimates that this trait has a heritability estimate of 40%, a telling number, as it is closely aligned to the known heritability of disordered eating patterns, also hovering about 40%. The importance of this finding suggests that the thin-ideal internalization could be just as likely to develop as the serious and potentially devastating eating disorders that negative body image is sometimes known to preface. So how does this fit in with the vast array of information about how the environment impacts body image?

A concept known as the Tripartite Model proposes three general factors to be responsible for thin-ideal internalization that begins from outside influence: the media, parents and peers. The model explains that the quest for thinness and the tendency to make social comparisons serve as gateways to more serious consequences, namely disordered eating patterns and body dissatisfaction. The support behind the use of the model is substantial, with much research showing that if the desire for thinness is decreased, body image will improve to a similar degree. Essentially, this model and many others are established in the field, and account only for the “nurture” factors of the nature versus nurture paradigm. The next challenge will be to determine where these potential genetic factors fit into the environmental models used today to assess self-image.

Is it possible that these genetic predispositions are really personality traits manifesting themselves in different ways? There has long been a link between perfectionism and eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, as well as the somewhat newer concept of ‘orthorexia,’ which is distinguished by a somewhat-manic desire to maintain a perfectly healthful diet. Certain personality traits, including perfectionism, are known to have a genetic link, meaning that the genetic factors responsible for personality may have a significant relationship with those in the study tentatively associated with thin-ideal internalization.

The bottom line is that a case has been made for nature in the ever-present argument of nature versus nurture except rather than one or the other, these two influences seem to exist in a synergistic balance. It is critical that more research is conducted on body image, especially at a time when the drastically skewed standards of thinness exalted by the media are inherently incorrect or unattainable. The continued study of body image will complement our understanding of the intricacies at play between genes and environment. Finally, focusing on strategies to defend positive body image, happiness and health against the onslaught of the media’s distorted images will ensure a better environment, less capable of damaging fragile self-images. Although these findings come from a single study that is the first of its kind, the strength of the data is promising for the path of future research on the influence genes may have on how we look and feel in our jeans and in our everyday lives.

*Sources available upon request

Kari Kempf is a first-year Friedman student in the Nutrition Communication program, aspiring to attain RD status. In her free time, she enjoys a balance of pumpkin pie and cycling/spinning, exploring her new New England home, and listening to Christmas music in October.

Organics: Bang for your Buck? By Amy Elvidge

Why would anyone in his or her right mind choose to pay nearly double for an organic apple versus a conventional one?  Many consumers believe that organic foods are more nutritious and healthful than conventional foods; a recent study by Stanford University scientists sought to find whether the pricey “perks” of organic foods are all they are cracked up to be.  Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of the existing literature regarding conventional and organic farming, finding that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”  Despite all the hype from the media, the study uncovered no new science and no new experiments were conducted.  Granted, meta-analyses can be informative and interesting, but they have the caveat of potentially being significantly biased, especially in an evolving field like organics where limited research has been done.  In fact, according to Jody Biergiel, the Director of Handler Certification for CCOF, “there have been relatively few studies on the relative healthfulness of organic foods.”

The sensationalized issue in the news regarding organic versus conventional is, in fact, a largely manufactured controversy by the media, drawing broad conclusions from the narrow findings of the Stanford study.  Roger Cohen, columnist at the New York Times and one of the controversy’s leaders, stated that organics are “a fable of the pampered parts of the planet” and that we should be focusing on the challenge of feeding an ever-increasing population.  However, Cohen does admit that, “even if it’s not better for you, organic farming is probably better for the environment because less soil, flora and fauna are contaminated by chemicals.”

In discussing the limitations of their work, researchers admitted that specific organic practices are able to yield a safer product of higher nutritional quality than non-organic products.  Crystal Smith-Spangler, an instructor in Stanford’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and leader of the study, noted that, “there’s a lot of variation between farming practices; it appears that there are a lot of different factors that are important in predicting nutritional quality and harms.”  Researchers did discover that “consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”  The study concluded that organic foods have a risk difference of 30%, compared to non organic foods, which was noted by lower levels of pesticide residues in urine from sample populations.  According to Jim Riddle, the Organic Outreach Coordinator for the University of Minnesota, the metric for calculating risk difference can be seriously flawed and easily misinterpreted.  “The Stanford team found that non organic foods are likely to contain pesticide residues 37% of the time and organic foods 7% of the time. Given those percentages, the risk of exposure to pesticides increases by 81% when someone chooses to consume nonorganic vs organic foods (37-7/37=81%). The risk of exposure to pesticide residues increases by 81%, not 30%.”  In addition to pesticide residue findings, organic milk was found to provide significantly higher levels of nutrients and organic meat appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Whether or not the presence of pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is harmful to human health was not covered in the study.

Tim Griffin, the director of Friedman’s Agriculture, Food and Environment program believes that the study’s findings on pesticide load differences between organic and conventional products are accurate. “These effects are very much in line with the major differences between organic and conventional production systems – pesticide use is much lower in organic systems, as is antibiotic use.”

Biergiel also noted that the main finding of the study – that organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional foods – might be somewhat irrelevant. “One of the key conclusions of the Stanford study was that organic consumers primarily buy organic food for its higher nutrition content. However, this is not what market research indicates. Consumers buy organic food because they care about the environment, and because they want to avoid exposure to synthetic pesticides and GMO ingredients. Organic food is the best choice in the grocery store to meet these consumer goals.”

After speaking with numerous Friedman students, it became clear that many of us buy organic for lots of reasons aside from nutritional values. Tristan Kaiser, a Friedman FPAN student, believes that organic food and agriculture are about long term payoffs regarding his own health and the health of the environment.  “So what if there is no nutrient difference? The pesticide use and environmental degradation alone are enough to justify avoiding conventionally grown foods.   Organic meat and vegetables just taste better, a couple bucks for a better meal is a better investment than years of medical care.”  Organic consumers may be concerned about pesticide, chemical and bacteria exposure and overall food safety, concern for animal welfare, a desire to support local farmers, and the impact of organic versus conventional farming on the environment and flavor and freshness of their food.

Regardless of the study’s findings about the nutritional differences between organic and conventional foods, the study was effective in bringing attention to the value of organics and human health.  There is a broad consensus that current industrialized agriculture is harming our environment and the public’s health and that it will not be sustainable in meeting the needs of a growing population.

Conventional industrial farming pollutes our water and land with pesticides and other agricultural byproducts and significantly contributes to greenhouse gas production.  Industrial agriculture can pose occupation-related hazards from exposure to pesticides and other agro-chemicals for farm workers and their families.  The rise of big farms and conventional farming methods in this country has added to economic, social and health challenges in rural farming communities.  And industrial agriculture is notorious for its inhumane treatment of animals with implications for the public’s health due to routine use of antibiotics and the spread of disease between animals and people (a la swine flu).

If buying organic products can feed us without the negative impacts that industrialized agriculture has on our environment and the public’s health, then count me in dollar for dollar.

Amy Elvidge is beginning her first year as an AFE student.  You can find her mingling with vendors at the Monday Farmers Market near her home in Central Square. 

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