Sodium Shakedown

By Allison Mikita

The Institute of Medicine has just released a 280-page report on population-based sodium reduction strategies.  The New York City Department of Health is coordinating a National Salt Reduction Initiative to allow public control of the saltshaker.  Kraft Foods has committed to reduce the sodium content of all its American products by an average of 10% over the next two years. Sodium, tagged “the deadliest ingredient in the food supply” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is once again a hot issue among policy makers, food manufacturers, and nutrition and public health professionals.  For over forty-years, sodium cutbacks have been attempted through public health initiatives and national dietary recommendations without success, but with new voluntary industry regulations and globe-spanning policy initiatives, will the reductions stick?

Sodium Low-Down

The call for sodium reduction is fueled by the growing prevalence of hypertension, increasing consumer sodium intake, and changing demographics of the US.  Hypertension affects 32% of the adult population and is linked to chronic heart disease (CHD), stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.  In 2009 alone, hypertension was estimated to cost 73.4 billion dollars in direct and indirect costs.  Despite the dietary guidelines, about 87% of Americans consume more sodium than the recommended maximum of 2300 mg per day. Currently, the guidelines recommend that adults over age 40, African Americans, and individuals with high blood pressure consume no more than 1500 mg of sodium daily.  Two out of three adults in the US now fall into these subpopulations.

Sodium Reduction Challenges

Reducing sodium is not as easy as putting down the shaker.  Americans consume 77% of sodium intake through processed and restaurant foods, while only 6% is consumed through added table salt. The ubiquity of sodium in our foods makes sodium reduction interventions extremely difficult.  The IOM states, “Without an overall reduction in the level of sodium in the food supply…the current focus on instructing consumers to select reduced-sodium “niche” products cannot result in intakes consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The greatest challenge inherent to sodium reduction is the taste preference for salt.  As taste is king, reducing salt is challenging for food manufacturers and restaurants, who fear that a label touting “Lower in Sodium” or a change in product taste will result in a drop in sales.  Some manufacturers have reduced sodium in their products silently and gradually for years to address the Dietary Guidelines on sodium.  Parke Wilde, PhD, of the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program at Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, further explains that “the food industry has limits on how much it can do voluntarily or they run the risk of undermining each other.  When one company reduces salt, the others can use it to their advantage.”  IOM recognizes this difficulty in their report, calling for a coordinated reduction of salt in foods across the board by all manufacturers and foodservice/restaurant operations to achieve a level playing field while avoiding consumer dissatisfaction.  The report also suggests that such coordinated action can mute the taste preference for salt, if reduction efforts are approached in a gradual and systematic step-wise process.

Critics of the sodium reduction issue argue that salt regulation is overreaching into personal choice  Alice Lichtenstein, Senior Scientist and Director, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory,
Jean Mayer USDA HNRCA at Tufts University, addresses the issue, “I always think: what’s the default option? If the default option is the lower salt item and if you choose to add salt and you have to go out of your way to do it, so be it, but most people do not go that extra step.  The problem now is that the high salt option is the default option and you don’t have the option of taking it out.  That is the fundamental issue.”

Proposed Regulations

The IOM specifically recommends addressing reduction through the FDA and USDA regulations, which would change the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status of sodium and revise nutrition labeling.  Revoking the GRAS status of sodium would require food manufacturers to petition for approval prior to marketing foods and would allow FDA to regulate the quantity of sodium added.  IOM also recommends that the food industry voluntarily act to lower sodium before mandatory standards are implemented.

Food giants have already voluntarily committed to sodium reductions over the past few years. Kraft will reduce sodium by 10% across its North American portfolio, which will remove 10 million pounds of salt from some of America’s most popular foods.  Unilever committed to reduce salt content across its global range of 22,000 products, according to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 5 g of salt per day.  PepsiCo has also committed to a reduction, aiming to reduce the average amount of sodium per serving in its products by 25% in five years.  In addition, sixteen companies have committed to The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), led by the New York City Department of Public Health.  The NRSI aims to trim sodium content in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% across categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food by 2014.

Sodium reduction is one issue among many in the American diet and US food supply. However, in a time of increasing regulation of the food industry and nationwide awareness of nutrition’s relationship to disease prevention, long-awaited sodium reduction efforts may finally come to fruition.

Advertisements

Insomnia: The Grad Student’s Disorder

By Jessica Hochstadt

For graduate students, a cup of coffee and blood-shot eyes are like a school uniform. These accessories make a statement; they say “I got no sleep last night!” Without these, people might question your status as a grad student, because everyone knows, grad students don’t sleep.

Grad students have readings to complete, seminars to attend, group meetings to schedule, and exams to to take. They have papers to write, jobs to do, and futures to worry about. At the end of the day (or start of the morning), a grad student might hit the hay, but this does not guarantee he/she will fall asleep.

Depending on the time of year, any number of the following thoughts will keep a graduate student awake: finding an internship, securing a job, leasing an apartment (I could continue, but I’m starting to get anxious). I wish I could say that these sleep patterns will change after graduation, but there is no guarantee that they will.

The following is a brief understanding of insomnia, the types and causes. Included is a highlight of the importance of sleep and much needed ways to improve it.

Insomnia

Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep. 30-40% of American adults report symptoms of insomnia in any given year. Insomnia can be a disorder on its own, but it is sometimes the symptom of another disease or condition, like stress or chronic pain. The best measure of insomnia is whether or not you feel rested during the day. It is important to understand your insomnia in order to appropriately treat it, as insomnia is not the same for everyone. Here are different facts that you should know before beginning or seeking treatment for insomnia.

Types and Causes

There are different types and causes of insomnia. Insomnia that lasts anywhere between one to several nights is classified as acute insomnia. This can be related to stress, changes in daily routines, type of food or drink consumed, or too much sleep the night before or during the day (naps). Chronic insomnia can occur over a period of months to years. This type of insomnia can be related to chronic disease or certain medicines like stimulants, asthma medications, allergy medications, or birth control pills.

The Purpose of Sleep

During sleep, the body builds bone, muscle, and tissue, as well as protects against illness. The amount of sleep a person needs depends on the individual.  Children often need more sleep than adults. Whatever the appropriate amount of sleep, too little of it can affect you throughout the day. Consequences of little sleep include: difficulty remembering, inability to use the brain to its maximum potential, depression, increased risk of getting sick (lowered immune response), and poor judgment.

Ways to Improve Sleep

There are a number of ways to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Consider the following remedies before speaking with your doctor about prescription drugs. (Be advised that prescription therapy is often costly and can have side effects with other drugs. If you do seek a doctor’s advice, ask him/her for a remedy that would best suit you.)

  • Improve your diet: Consume more fruits and vegetables and fewer junk foods or caffeinated drinks (sodas and coffee).
  • Be physically activity: Play sports regularly, walk to work, and/or take the stairs.
  • Create a sleep-inducing environment: Turn off the TV before bed, shut off the lights, make sure you have enough blankets to keep you warm).
  • Designate a “sleep zone”: Use your bed and bedroom only for sleep, not work or studying.
  • Establish a routine: Use an alarm clock to establish a regular bed-time routine and waking schedule that works for you.
  • Set some limits: Limit alcohol, nicotine, and other drug consumption.

The Food, the Whole Food, and Nothing But the Food: A Report from the Food-front of the War on Cancer

By Caroline Carney

With summer around the corner, we will soon be basking in the sun, sipping cocktails at backyard cookouts, and scarfing down char-grilled delicacies. These summer rituals are tasty and enjoyable, but it also means our systems will be exposed to more carcinogens: sun, alcohol, and even that delicious char from the grill.  Scientists suspect these carcinogens contribute to an overall assault on the body that may increase the risk of developing cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that nearly 40% of cancers can be prevented by lifestyle and dietary choices. Eating a diet of whole foods – fruits and vegetables packed with cancer fighting compounds – can help prevent cancer.

Good news, right? Suddenly the waters are muddied again: a recent study threatens to refute the assertion that the intake of fresh fruit and vegetables decreases cancer risk.  This study, published in the April issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, tracked the fruit and vegetable consumption of nearly 500,000 Europeans and found that produce does not significantly reduce cancer risk. Science is complicated: competing voices, contradictory findings – all in an unfamiliar language. As nutrition students, one of our roles is to clarify science for the public.

To get to the bottom of this thorny issue, I sat down with Dr. Xiang-Dong Wang, Director and Senior Scientist in the Nutrition and Cancer Biology Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. A veteran cancer researcher, Dr. Wang has been studying food and cancer prevention for over twenty years. We discussed this new article from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the larger issue of how to accurately translate scientific findings from the research bench to the public.

Lost in Translation

Dr. Wang believes the skills we’re acquiring as nutrition students are incredibly valuable. He says he and his colleagues are immersed in “data, data, data and we need someone to translate the science for the public.” He can cite many instances when research was either not translated at all or translated so poorly that it caused confusion among the public. The Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET), a landmark intervention study published in 1996 looking at the effect of beta-carotene on cancer risk among smokers, found that the high dosage actually increased the risk of lung cancer in smokers. People took this to mean that smokers who ate a lot of carrots would actually increase their risk of cancer. Not long after the CARET study was published, Dr. Wang received a call from a concerned young woman who claimed to eat a pound of carrots every day. She asked if she should stop eating carrots because she had read that beta-carotene could cause cancer.

Dr.Wang stresses the importance of knowing who the study population is. In the abovementioned CARET study, beta-carotene was given as a high dosage supplement to smokers. Because smokers are already subject to carcinogens and pro-oxidants (chemicals that cause cell damage either by creating reactive oxygen species or inhibiting antioxidants), the high amounts of beta-carotene actually resulted in an abnormal metabolite (substance produced from metabolism) that intensifies the effects of the carcinogens and inhibit the antioxidant power of the normal beta-carotene metabolites.  Dr. Wang confirmed that woman who called her wasn’t a smoker and wasn’t taking a supplement, and then told her she could safely continue her carrot binge.

This story illustrates how easily science can be misinterpreted. The recent fruit and vegetable study that concludes vegetable consumption does not reduce cancer risk is another case of the science getting lost in translation. Dr. Wang explained, “This [finding] is not new. Two years ago a similar paper was published by Walter Willet out of Harvard.”  Dr. Wang recalled speaking with Dr. Willet about the findings, and they both agreed that two key points were lost on the press and public.  First, the study looked at all cancer types; second, it did not look at specific populations. “When you mix all cancer types and populations together it is very hard to see the difference,” clarified Dr. Wang. This does not necessarily mean that the study is flawed or its findings incorrect, however the results must be framed in the proper context. When The New York Times website has an article on the recent study entitled “Eating Vegetables Doesn’t Stop Cancer,” one can imagine that readers might misinterpret the study.

The Myth of a Silver Bullet

Dr. Wang believes “in an anti-cancer diet” based on whole foods, not supplements. He said “there is no silver bullet,” and no one nutrient that can stop cancer in its tracks. Nutrition research often focuses on the association between single nutrients and cancer prevention. Although helpful in understanding mechanisms of interaction, these studies lack the holistic diet perspective that is needed for behavior change.

Dr. Wang stressed the importance of the “antioxidant network” or how nutrients within a given food interact. This network can be overlooked during clinical trials that look at just one nutrient. Researchers do not always know how this network functions in the body, but it is clear that more forces are at play in carrots, for example, than just vitamin A.

The question of whole food versus single nutrient has recently taken center stage regarding the prevention and treatment of an inflammatory disease: steatohepatitis. Steatohepatitits, a disease usually seen in alcoholics, results from the accumulation of excess fat in liver cells, leading to liver inflammation.  Over time, an inflamed liver may scar, harden, and result in liver cancer. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is liver inflammation not linked to alcohol. Along with the rise in obesity, there has also been an increase in NASH. The high fat diet associated with obesity can lead to a fatty liver, a barrage of inflammatory cytokines (proteins secreted by immune system cells), and ultimately NASH.

Dr. Wang predicts that “in 20 years we will see a rise in liver cancer.” When many of the children who are obese today become obese adults suffering from NASH, they will be at a greatly heightened risk for this cancer.

Health professionals must take action today to prevent this tragedy. Dr. Wang recently published a study investigating the effect of lycopene, an anti-inflammatory compound, compared to tomato extract on cancer risk among obese participants with NASH. He proudly reports that the tomato extract proved to be significantly more effective at reducing liver cancer risk, while lycopene barely made a difference. The whole food, tomato extract, with its lycopene and thousands of other compounds was the victor.  Perhaps this should mean tomato salads as a part of every school lunch!

So what should we eat?

Despite the null findings published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the body of evidence supporting the anti-cancer properties of fruits and vegetables is extensive. A review of more than 150 studies of cancer and diet found a statistically significant protective effect of fruit and vegetable consumption in 80% of the studies. People with low fruit and vegetable intake had nearly double the risk of developing cancer compared with those with high intake, after control for confounding factors. A review of over 200 epidemiological studies looking at cancer and fruit and vegetable consumption found protective effects of allium genus vegetables (garlic, onions, leeks), carrots, green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and tomatoes.

As we bring our summer clothes out of storage and start filling our calendars with outdoor festivities, let’s remember to protect the health of our cells by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. As nutrition students, we also must try to educate others on the benefits of these whole foods. There is a lot of good research out there, it just needs a spokesperson.

Graduation Checklist

By Jessica Hochstadt

May is a bittersweet month for Boston graduate students. The dreary snow and rain has ended, finals are almost over, and Sam Adams Summer Ale is finally on store shelves. Yet, we find ourselves scrambling to enjoy this month, as we spend most of our time looking for jobs, housing, internships, and, for those of us who are graduating, responding to Lori Ioannone’s “Graduation Checklist” emails.

As “Pomp and Circumstance” plays in my mental soundtrack, I find myself reviewing these emails with dread. Have I purchased my cap and gown? Completed the internship form? Filled out the appropriate class exemption forms? Finished all the class requirements for my degree?

Is this how anyone wants to remember their last few weeks as a student? Not me.

I propose a better graduation checklist than the one filling your inbox. The following is a list of activities for graduate students, Boston students, and Jumbos to complete before graduating.

Graduate Students: There are a number of perks to being a grad student that undergraduates do not get to enjoy: calling your professor by his/her first name, more flexibility with assignment deadlines, and a plethora of research opportunities. Most of these benefits continue well beyond graduation. Others are fleeting. Take the opportunity to complete the following before putting on that graduation cap:

  1. Student discounts: Boston is an academic mecca; many of its venues cater to students by offering discounted rates for certain events. The Boston Ballet (www.bostonballet.org) is known for excellent shows with affordable student rates. Many museums waive their entrance fees for students. And of course, school seminars are free and you can choose from a number of illustrious universities to attend.
  2. Check-ups: Many students have health insurance through their respective universities. Others are still covered under their parents’ policies. Regardless of which insurance route you take, the road is quickly coming to an end. Before it does, take the opportunity to get that last check-up, final tooth filling, and finish up with your therapist. Because who knows when you will find that perfect job and your health benefits with resume?
  3. Free gym: Gym memberships in Boston cost anywhere between $10 to $150 a month. Personal trainers are equally as expensive. Most schools have free gyms for students. Tufts has two gyms—in the basement of Sackler and on the Medford campus—which offer great exercise classes for little or no cost. The classes range from relaxing yoga to kick-ass cardio. While our graduation gowns certainly hide extra bulge, eventually you’ll want to take it off (both the gown and the bulge). Get in shape now and try to maintain it until you can afford to join a gym again.

Boston Students: I remember getting my undergraduate acceptance letter from Tufts in the spring of 2004 and feeling so lucky to move to Boston and leave Miami Beach behind. I have since realized the error of my ways. Wherever the future takes us, Boston certainly has much to offer that other cities lack. Take the opportunity to complete the following before putting on that graduation gown:

  1. Salem: In the 1600’s, the women (and some men) of Salem, Mass. were executed for suspicions of practicing witchcraft. Today, we know that having a pet cat doesn’t make a person a witch (having green skin, though, does). Since the infamous Witch Trials, the town of Salem has morphed into a memorial for those who were burned at the stake. It hosts of number of historical museums recounting the events of that fateful period in history, as well as some less factual, exhibits: Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, vampire and pirate museums, villain wax museums, etc. While Halloween is certainly the best time to visit Salem, any gloomy day there will still give you the creeps.
  2. Samuel Adams Brewery Tour: Samuel Adams is an award-winning beer that is native to Boston. The brewery opens their doors daily to visitors who want a tour of their facility. There, you can learn about the brewing process, taste beer, and even leave with a small Samuel Adams tasting glass. The best part of the tour— it’s free! Few breweries are as candid as Samuel Adams, and even less offer tours of their facilities.
  3. Picnic at Boston Common: Boston Common is a rare beauty among the hustle and bustle tourist traps of downtown Boston. Consider it the Central Park of Boston, with less filth and easier to navigate. The history of Boston Common is an interesting one—it used to be the hanging site for criminals in the colonial days of Boston. In fact, when construction began on the underground train station, workers reported finding remains of hundreds of bodies. Today, Boston Common is an open green space where many come to study, play sports, or ice-skate in the winter. As long as you try not to think about the fact that you might be sitting on the bones of dead criminals, a picnic in Boston Common makes for quite an enjoyable afternoon. Whatever you do, don’t walk through the park at night; criminals (live ones) still hang there… figuratively speaking.

Tufts Students: As a Double Jumbo (for those of you who still don’t know, Jumbo is our mascot), I have spent six years at Tufts. This has provided me with ample opportunity to fulfill my duties as a Jumbo, and get into all sorts of trouble doing it. Some Tufts traditions are specific to the season, like the Naked Quad Run before finals and sledding down the President’s lawn in the winter. Unfortunately, running around campus in the buff is something that is only acceptable once a year, and the time has passed. Fortunately, there are other Tufts traditions that can be fulfilled year-round, and don’t require supervision from law enforcement. Take the opportunity to complete the following before moving that tassel from one side of your cap to the other:

  1. Painting the Cannon: The cannon has been a fixture on the Tufts campus since 1956. Not accidentally, it points towards Harvard. For decades, Tufts students have participated in the tradition of painting the cannon to promote school events, express their artistic talents, or embarrass a good friend. The catch is, you have to guard it all night lest someone else should come and paint over your work. Don’t have a full night to spare? No problem. Painting the cannon has become such an important part of Tufts that people can do it virtually (http://www.paintthecannon.com/).
  2. Pennies for Jumbo: If you have never been on the Medford campus, then you have never seen the life-size statue of an elephant by Barnum Hall. Before this statue existed, the actual stuffed carcass of Jumbo the elephant (star of P.T. Barnum’s circus, and a personal favorite to the Tufts trustee and benefactor before it was killed by an oncoming train in Ontario) was on display in what was at the time the Barnum Museum. Students adopted Jumbo as their mascot, put pennies on his trunk, and pulled his tail for good luck before athletic events and exams. The tradition continued even after Barnum Hall burned down, and with it, the Jumbo pachyderm. Today, students put pennies on the statue of Jumbo, like they did years ago. (And it still works!)
  3. A Kiss on the Library Roof: Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but the romance is still alive. At least, on the Tisch Library roof in Medford.  Students go there to enjoy the best view of the Boston skyline. And when it is too dark to do that, they find other ways to enjoy the library roof. It has long been a tradition to have a kiss on the library roof. For those of you with a significant other, head to the library roof for a quick peck. (Nothing too inappropriate please, there will be other people there.) If you find yourself single at the moment, the library roof is a great place to meet people! And since you will already be there…

Done and Done

For those of you who are not graduating this May, consider this a “To Do” list. Put it on your cork board and check off each completed activity. For the rest of you, you have 23 days to complete these tasks. In the meantime, save “Pomp and Circumstance” for May 23rd. Until then, I recommend Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on repeat.

Vitamin D – The Sequel

By Marina Komarovsky

The sun is beginning to feel warm on your skin, the desire to do coursework seems to be on a downturn, and you keep hearing about the films that are coming out – some are new, and some are sequels, which of course won’t be as good as the originals. Every year, this is how summer arrives. But this summer there is a new spotlight on vitamin D. Although vitamin D didn’t make the Hollywood line-up, it did make the online home page of the New York Times last February and even scored an appearance on Oprah.

Summer is always the season when vitamin D status is highest – alongside dietary sources, vitamin D is made in the skin upon exposure to UV rays. But this summer, the spotlight is warranted because new research on the health benefits of vitamin D keeps coming in, and accordingly, the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) is due to release new Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamin D by the end of the season. Surprisingly, the vitamin D sequel may even be better than the original.

The old plotline goes like this: Vitamin D was officially discovered in 1922 by E.V. McCollum. The vitamin really saved the day because at that time, many children were suffering from rickets, a deficiency disease of the bones. It was quickly decided that vitamin D should be added to milk to ensure that it gets into the diet in adequate quantities. As a result, rickets was essentially eliminated in the U.S. Acting to increase calcium absorption, vitamin D has a substantial effect on bone and scientists caught on that it can help prevent osteoporosis and resulting fractures as well as rickets. Everyone was happy, and the original film had a great ending.

Now, the sequel. Unlike most sequels, this isn’t just an artificial attempt to recreate the hype. Vitamin D has been implicated in the immune response – as Sarah Olliges explained in her February article “Vitamin D: Use it to Ward Off the Winter Blues and Flues” – by modulating T cell function, and emerging science shows links to reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer as well as improving muscular strength.

But this is quite a large number of potential outcomes to consider, so as might be expected, the research is spread thin. Not only do studies address a plethora of outcomes, but predictors also vary. The idea that vitamin D may have a beneficial effect on diabetes risk, for instance, really came to fruition when higher dietary intake of vitamin D was associated with reduced rates of type II diabetes among white Americans in the epidemiological study conducted as part of the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Now, scientists are looking to show causation by means of clinical trials. However, the experimental conditions vary across trials because there is argument about how much vitamin D needs to be given to study participants.

With such a range of research endeavors, it’s hard to predict where all of this will go. Regardless, some exciting conclusions may be in sight. “I think what will be learned,” expresses Dr. Susan Harris from the Bone Metabolism Lab of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRC), “is that vitamin D has these effects on processes – like inflammation and cell differentiation – that play a role in the etiology of lots of different diseases.”

Harris is conducting a clinical trial in an attempt to understand at least a part of this complex picture. She and her team are looking at the effect of a large daily dose of vitamin D – 4,000 IU or ten times the current recommendation, to be exact – on markers of diabetes risk including insulin secretion, insulin sensitivity, and glucose control over a 12-week period. Her study focuses on adults ages forty and older and explores this association among African Americans in particular. Vitamin D is unique, Harris points out, in that diet is not the only environmental factor influencing status. Exposure to sunlight is another, and individuals with darker skin – those who are less prone to the deleterious effects of sunlight – are also less amenable to its benefits. Because darker skin does not absorb as much UV, smaller quantities of vitamin D are produced. Harris asks, can this lower baseline level – in a population that is at greater risk for type II diabetes – be sufficiently enhanced to prevent this condition?

The inconsistencies in status among different populations may certainly be stump the Institute of Medicine’s FNB as it struggles to wrap up the report. Typically, DRIs are listed for men and women of every age group, but here the factors of race as well as region of residence and – interestingly enough – BMI also come into play. The FNB aims to make recommendations for people in the U.S. and Canada, but the UV index in Florida strays far from that in northern Saskatchewan. To complicate matters further, it has been determined that obesity is a predictor of low vitamin D status. The high prevalence of this condition dictates that this information is another aspect of the issue that must be addressed.

Meanwhile, the pressure is on. After nearly two years of literature searches and discussions, the Food and Nutrition Board is due to release its report on vitamin D at the end of the summer.  The hope is that the new recommendations will lead to improvements in vitamin D status in the 50% of the U.S. population that is considered to have lower than ideal vitamin D levels; help the 10% of children who are categorized as clinically deficient; and curb the rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes. While dramatic changes may be wishful thinking, they have captured the imagination of the public – which is eager to start popping supplements, the minds of food manufacturers – who are already devising ways to incorporate vitamin D into every food imaginable, and the heads of supplement manufacturers – who feel bolstered by the 127% increase in U.S. supplement sales in 2007 and a subsequent 117% increase in just the first quarter of 2008. Everyone is in suspense, awaiting the FNB’s verdict.

“The excitement about … the health potential [of vitamin D supplements] is still far ahead of the science,” writes Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times. Meanwhile among supplement manufacturers, “there is growing frustration that the governing rules,” or the recommendations and regulatory mechanisms, “are not keeping pace with the science,” confers Shane Starling of nutraingredients.com. This does create a film-worthy image: the manufacturers are chasing the policy makers and demanding some statements, the policy-makers are chasing the scientists begging for more concrete evidence, and the scientists are chasing after the public and yelling after them not to get so carried away quite yet. With a lot of drama and a number of potential positive health outcomes, the vitamin D sequel may be a good one.

Plan for Success with the American Planning Commission’s (APA) Annual Conference

By Amy Scheuerman

If you’re interested in agriculture and food and planning, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Applications for the dual degree in Urban and Environmental Planning and Agriculture, Food, and Environment have been creeping upward over the past few years.  Trendsetters like Marisol Pierce-Quinonez, 2011, and Molly McCullagh, 2012, are making it easier for new students to make careers out of planning healthy and sustainable food systems.  But even they are following in the footsteps of Tufts alums who attended the school well before the phrase “food systems” existed.

Where do these like-minded foodie planners meet?  At the American Planning Association’s annual conference of course.  This year the conference was held in beautiful New Orleans and offered much to interest Friedman students.  The APA has a Food Systems Interest Group (irresistibly nicknamed FIG), which is run by Friedman alumnus Kimberly Hodgson, MS RD.  When the APA starts hiring Registered Dietitians you see the connection between planning and food.

Many of the people involved in FIG discussed starting a spin-off group for people interested in public health.  With the conference being held in New Orleans I found this to have a kind of a backwards charm.  The city is frequently cited as being the most obese in the nation (although Jamie Oliver appears to have hedged his bets in West Virginia) and between the beniets, po’boys, and cochon de lait you can see why.

However, it’s hard to deny that food, ag, planning, and health are interconnected.  It’s hard to address any one of these issues without having to discuss the others.  Consider food deserts, an issue Parke Wilde has eloquently blogged and written about.  And the connection between public transportation and meeting the physical activity requirements set out in the Healthy People 2010 Guidelines.  There’s an undeniable synergy here.

And this is what made the APA conference so exciting.  Here were people who understand the challenges of building cities, and care about the issues of food and health enough to include them in their already full job descriptions.  There were talks by Tufts alumnus Julia Freedgood of American Farmland Trust, Angie Tagtow who is an environmental consultant with the Food and Society Fellow Program, and Alex Hinds who is the interim director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Sonoma State University in California.

And if this isn’t enough to interest you, here are a few more teasers: The APA accepts poster and presentation abstracts from students.  This year Mari Quinonez submitted an abstract and was invited to present a poster on farmland preservation in Massachusetts.  This year the APA had four sections addressing food systems, three on healthy communities, two on urban agriculture, and two incorporating rural planning and farmland preservation.  Next year it plans to have more because of high demand.  To top it all off– next year’s conference is going to be held right here in Boston.

Oh, and did I mention that there are student discounts?

Friedman Goes to DC: The 3rd Annual Friedman School Alumni-Student Networking Trip

By Kelly A. Dumke

Spring break!! Good times!  For some, spring break means an adventure to warmer climates for much-needed R & R, for others it means a week of downtime free from the daily grad school grind…and for twenty-plus Friedman students it means a venture down to the nation’s capitol on the 3rd Annual Friedman School Alumni-Student Networking Trip.

The trip consisted of two days chock full of alumni presentations, career opportunities, alumni networking, and a brief introduction to life on “the Hill”.  Organized by the office of Alumni Affairs, and hosted and supported by gracious Friedman alums, the 3rd annual Friedman School Washington DC networking trip took students from the streets of Boston to Capitol Hill.

Here’s a recap of the who’s, where’s, and what’s along the way, plus some tips from DC-based alums.

Stop #1:

Who: Britt Lundgren N06, AFE

Where: Environmental Defense

What: Britt Lundgren works at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as an Agriculture Policy Specialist for EDF’s Land, Water, & Wildlife Program.  She started at EDF as a fellow working on Farm Bill programs such as commodity farming, nutrition programs, and reform conservation funding.  In her current position, Lundgren focuses on expanding and improving USDA conservation programs that offer incentives to farmers, ranchers, and other private landowners to address environmental issues in agricultural production.  In addition, her work examines biofuels, climate change, nitrogen levels, and how to influence policy for environmental change.

Alumni Advice: Lundgren advises students to work on critical thinking skills and develop the ability to examine an issue from a “scientific lens” and policy perspective. Salaries in DC-based organizations start around $45,000 to $50,000 with some ability to negotiate (usually 5-10%).  However, she cautions that certain jobs on “the Hill” have no room for salary negotiation, and it is best to do your salary research ahead of time.

Stop #2:

Who: Kristen Cashin N02, FPAN

Where: FANTA II – Academy for Educational Development (AED)

What: AED is a nonprofit organization working internationally to improve education, health, civil society, and economic development.  AED runs more than 250 programs serving communities in all 50 states and in more than 150 countries.   Krisiten Cashin works for the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance II Project (FANTA II), a five-year follow-up USAID grant project continuing the work and evaluation of the 10-year FANTA Project.  The FANTA Project seeks to integrate nutrition into strategic planning; provide analysis for food security and nutrition policy; and share information and knowledge with partners.  The program focuses on improving the health and wellbeing of women and children through global leadership and field support.  Friedman faculty Jenny Coates and Bea Rogers are both integral members of the project’s development.  Cashin’s work focuses on capacity building – working with NGOs to strengthen programs and agencies delivering aid and services.

Alumni Advice:  Cashin’s advice for Friedman students: think critically, go to lectures, and know what’s going on in the nutrition field.  “You never know where you may find an interest.”  Additionally, technical skills such as STATA, SAS, and SPSS are extremely useful in capacity building settings.   Finally, she recommends taking advantage of internships and informational interviews.  For internships, “Be flexible, but make sure your work is clear.” Informational interviews are excellent ways to learn about careers and get your foot in the door. “Come prepared,” and who knows what opportunities will come your way.

Stop #3:

Who: Kelly Horton N05, FPAN, Simmons DPD Program

Where: American Political Science Association (APSA) & Connect Nutrition

What: Kelly Horton has a diverse background including business management and dietetics.  After receiving her RD and graduating from Friedman, Horton founded Connect Nutrition, a consulting organization specializing in public policy and advocacy, community food security, sustainable food systems, and environmental nutrition program planning. Horton is a 2009-2010 Health and Aging Policy Fellow/American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow.  As a fellow, she works in the USDA Food and Nutrition Services’ (FNS) Office of Strategic Initiatives, Partnerships, and Outreach (OSIPO) focusing on FNS policy initiatives for the Obama administration.  Horton works closely with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiatives.

Alumni Advice: Horton’s advice for current students is to seek out multiple part-time jobs that teach tangible skill sets, such as lab, survey, statistical, and data entry skills. She recommends students consider fellowships as an excellent way to start a career, especially in DC.  The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) offers various fellowships that often end with job offers.  Take a chance and apply, you never know when your background will lend something new to a fellowship opportunity.

Stop #4:

Who: Kimberley Hodgson N04, FPAN, Simmons RD Program, MS Urban and Regional Planning

Where: American Planning Association (APA)

What: Kimberly Hodgson is the manager of the APA’s Planning and Community Health Research Center.  Her unique background combines policy, nutritional science, and planning to promote public health. Hodgson works with planning, health, and food policy researchers, organizations, and institutions to develop healthy, sustainable communities. She manages several research projects and engages in multiple outreach and education activities, which focus on the integration of community health issues into contemporary urban and regional planning practice. The Planning and community Health Research Center is growing with projects targeting food systems urban agriculture, and corporate and educational partnerships.

Alumni Advice: Hodgson’s advice to current Friedman students is to take a planning course, like those offered at Tufts Urban and Environmental Planning School.  Planning is key to public, social, economical, and environmental health with large potential to reach state, regional, and local levels.  She advises students to attain grant writing, critical thinking, and negotiation skills.  For example, when interviewing for a position and negotiating salaries/benefits, consider asking for more money or comparably, more time off.

Stop #5:

Who: Andrew Shao NG00, BMN

Where: Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN)

What: Dr. Andrew Shao is the Senior Vice President for Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a dietary supplement industry trade group in Washington, DC.  With an undergraduate degree in biology and a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry, Dr. Shao earned an undergraduate degree in Biology from Brandeis; he has a broad background in nutrition science and policy with work experience in industry, research and development, ingredient manufacturing, and retail.  Currently, Dr. Shao’s position at CRN focuses on the development of position statements for government regulations and analysis of emerging dietary supplement science.  In addition, Dr. Shao leads industry-based committees; peer reviews publications, and writes trade publication articles.  Specific accomplishments at CRN include the establishment of CRN’s Senior Scientific Advisory Council.

Alumni Advice: Dr. Shao invites students to remain engaged with the Friedman School after graduation.  Join the Alumni Association to stay connected, learn about job opportunities, and impact the nutrition field.

Stop #6:

Who: Lucy Basset N08

Where: World Bank

What: Lucy Basset is a Social Protection Specialist in the Latin America and Caribbean Region at the World Bank.  Her job focuses on conditional cash transfer and nutrition programs in Haiti, Guatemala, and Panama.  Basset is a Double Jumbo with graduate degrees from both the Fletcher and Friedman schools.  Her career started at the think tank organization International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) before she moved to World Bank.   Currently, her position at the World Bank involves lots of writing, teamwork, contact with UN agencies, traveling, and project management.

Alumni Advice: Basset’s advice for students interested in international work and the World Bank include acquiring international experience, language skills, analytical and statistical skills, and writing experience.  World Bank offers an internship program, but the key is to get the most out of your experience at any internship.

Stop #7:

Who: Aimee Witteman N06, AFE

Where: Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

What: Aimee Witteman is the Executive Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a nonprofit that represents grassroots farm, rural, and conservation groups from across the country.  Witteman works closely with Dr. Kathleen Merrigan on implementation of farm bill programs. She was also a recent Food and Society Policy Fellow.  Witteman’s writing on federal farm policy has appeared in the Argus Leader, Iowa Farmer Today, Edible Portland, Edible Chesapeake and Grist.

Alumni Advice: Witteman recommends that current students “build a good reputation and jobs will follow.”  She suggests learning to network by doing real-world projects.  “Connect with organizations through directed studies and make the most of your internship,” Witteman advises.  Consider, especially if you have pertinent experience, pitching a new position to a NGO,  laying out your own job description and funding plan for this position.

Stop #8:

Who: Nina Schlossman J75, NG86

Where: Global Food and Nutrition

What: Dr. Nina Schlossman has experience in a range of food and nutrition programs and policies, both scientific research and market analysis.  She currently serves as the President of Global Food and Nutrition, which provides consulting services on global food and nutrition issues, markets, programs, and policy. She directs overall strategy and provides technical assistance, research, evaluation, marketing, and training services to private and public sector clients. Dr. Schlossman holds a Doctorate in International Nutrition from the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy and a Master’s of Science in Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism and in International Food and Nutrition Policy from MIT.

Alumni Advice: : Borron advises students to take more skills-based classes like financial management, statistics, planning and policy courses.  Harvard agribusiness classes are great and other Boston schools offer courses for free or small cross-registration fees.  Learn computer-based schools such as Excel and PowerPoint.  She advises student interns to come out of the experience with their name on something.   Establish contacts and maintain relationships, and share your resume with intern employers.

Stop #9:

Who: Kate Houston N99

Where: Cargill, Inc.

What: Kate Houstin is the Director of Federal Government Relations for Cargill, Inc.  Cargill is a producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial, and industrial products.  Houston has been at Cargill for one year and previously worked for the USDA, specifically on SNAP and WIC packages.  Her transition from the public to private sector has included a job focus shift to food safety, nutrition and health promotion, healthcare, and environmental impact from an industry point of view.  Cargill is a great company to work for because it “can make doing the right thing a competitive advantage.”

Alumni Advice: Houston advises students to be flexible and consider the advantages of different types of careers, both private and public.

Stop #10:

Who: Marguerite Evans Klein N84,

Where: Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), NIH

What: Prior to joining the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), Marguerite Klein worked for 15 years in cardiovascular disease prevention and 9 years in complementary and alternative medicine research. She has developed and managed national education campaigns of cholesterol and blood pressure reduction for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the NIH and the American Heart Association.

She transferred to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative

Medicine (NCCAM) of the NIH.  Currently, she is expanding the ODS Analytical Methods and Reference Materials Program, directing the ODS botanical centers program.

Alumni Advice: Klein recommends taking positions that interest you, even if they are different from your previous experience. She has had a diverse career path, and has learned a lot from every position.

Stop #11:

Who: Sarah Borron N07, AFE

Where: Food and Water Watch

What: Sarah Borron has a background in environmental studies, and has worked as a Congressional Hunger Fellow, and interned with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome. After Friedman, she started her career at the Las Vegas Food Bank and then moved to DC to work for Food and Water Watch, a watchdog organization.  Food and Water Watch is dedicated to working on behalf of the public to assert and lobby for effective government standards and oversight.  The organization also organizes the public to take action and educates the public and the media on these basic issues.

Alumni Advice: Sarah recommends students take skill-based classes such as financial management and agribusiness, learn as much s they can about excel and power point, and take chances.  She also recommends students come out of their internships with their name on something, either a project you worked on or a report.  Finally, Sarah advises students to be flexible when it comes to finding a job, “You may not land your dream job right away.”

Stop #12:

Who: Rose Craigue N05,  FPAN; Carrie Hubbell Melgarejo N00, FPAN; & Kathryn Lockwood N99, M.A. Humanitarian Assistance

Where: World Vision

What: Carrie Hubbell Melgarejo (N00) is a public health nutritionist with ten years of domestic and international, NGO and business experience in program designing, planning, budgeting, managing, implementing, and monitoring and evaluation; forging and nurturing partnerships with public and private institutions.  Melgarejo recently returned to World Vision, where she serves as the Design and Development Officer on World Vision’s Integrated Food and Nutrition team, coordinating proposal preparation largely for U.S. Government grants.

Rose Craigue also works for World Vision providing technical expertise to emergency operations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean regions. In her seven years with World Vision, she has managed large relief programs in Kenya, South Sudan and Eastern Congo. Craigue also served with Catholic Relief Services in Ethiopia and managed tsunami programs in Indonesia and Sri Lanka for Lutheran World Relief. Craigue holds a Master’s of Arts in Humanitarian Assistance from the Fletcher and Friedman Schools.

Kathryn Lockwood is currently the Nutrition Specialist for World Vision and has over 12 years of experience in technically supporting and managing international nutrition and health projects. Lockwood has directly overseen the technical design and implementation of nutrition components for many US Government, UN and Foundation grants and has contributed to several technical and policy publications.   Currently with World Vision, Lockwood reviews research protocols for new nutrition products, such as new ready-to-use foods, and programming approaches, such as timed and targeted counseling for infant and young child feeding practices and the integration of agriculture and livelihoods programming with nutrition.  She provides capacity-building support to the World Vision partnership in nutrition, behavior change programming, and integrated

program models.  As Co-Chair for the Nutrition Working Group with CORE, she organizes technical nutrition events and discussions for the US PVO community.

Alumni Advice: Lockwood recommends that students work with professors on grants, gain experience with research projects with NGOs, and develop technical skills. Experience with grant writing, overseas organizations, assessment skills, and budgeting are all important for careers in humanitarian aid.  World Vision looks for individuals with a passion for development, a multi-lingual background, and great communication skills.

.

Stop #13:

Who: Gabrielle Serra N05, FPAN

Where: House Committee on Education and Labor Nutrition programs

What: Gabrielle Serra is a policy advisor with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.  She joined the Committee in June 2009 from the Food and Nutrition Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  She is responsible for advising on food and nutrition policy issues under the jurisdiction of the Committee, including the Child Nutrition Programs and the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Serra worked for the USDA Food and Nutrition Services since 2003, with a focus on the school meal programs.  She also served on detail assignment in 2008 as the Policy Advisor to the Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, which is the federal agency responsible for administering the domestic nutrition assistance programs.

Alumni Advice: Serra recommends students get acquainted with policy.  She advises students to be flexible if they want to work in DC.  There are many roles from communication to policy design, but students need to be flexible when first breaking into the job world.

Stop #14:

Who: Sara Wilson N06, Nutrition Communication

Where: Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC) at the National Agriculture Library

What: Sara Wilson is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Information Specialist at the Food and Nutrition Information Center (FNIC) at the National Agricultural Library where she helps to develop and maintain both the FNIC and Nutrition.gov websites, in addition to other duties including fielding reference questions for consumers, educators, and health professionals. She previously worked as a registered dietitian.

Alumni Advice: Wilson advises students to consider various opportunities when it comes to jobs.  There are a lot of opportunities to work for government, such as the USDA, in a variety of different fields.  She recommends that students check government job websites because new postings are always added.  Wilson also suggests students take advantage of their time at Friedman by learning both practical and analytical skills.