A billboard caught my attention recently on my drive to Hartsfield-Jackson
International Airport in Atlanta. It read simply, "Unlearn Unhealthy."
It's a message from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta as part of its ongoing
Strong 4 Life campaign to provide families with solutions to improve their
I wondered what "unhealthy" means in this context. Too many soft drinks instead
of water? Too many cookies instead of carrots? Too much TV couch time instead of
Yup, you've got it. Strong 4 Life aims to turn those bad habits around.
I was on my way to Boston to attend the annual gathering of nutrition
researchers at the 2013 Experimental Biology, or EB, meeting, so I made it my
goal to see what they thought of the effectiveness of the negative phrasing of
A leading authority on obesity, Dr. Jim Hill, professor of pediatrics at the
University of Colorado, says, "People need to know what to do. You can't teach
by communicating the negative." Hill is co-founder of the National Weight
Control Registry, which keeps track of folks who've lost weight and kept it off
for more than five years. The healthy habits they share include walking and
eating breakfast every day, checking body weight at least once a week and
watching less than 10 hours of TV per week.
Young nutrition investigators presenting studies at the EB meeting are focused
on providing actionable advice, too.
Laura O'Connor, a senior studying nutrition at Purdue University, says, "I feel
the first approach would be to teach what's healthy. It's hard for people to
differentiate between healthy and unhealthy." To test positive messages to
inspire healthy behavior change, O'Connor and co-investigators conducted a study
using text messages sent to male and female college students.
"This population is always on the phone and texting." Seven weeks of seven
different nutrition messages taken from the USDA's MyPlate dietary guidance were
sent as texts. "We didn't want to annoy them, so we only sent them twice a
week," O'Connor says.
But apparently the texts were being read and resonated. The study found
significant increase in fruit consumption and a trend toward increased vegetable
consumption in the group receiving the nutrition tip texts.
Much of the research presented by members of the American Society for Nutrition
at EB this year focused on the benefits of foods and nutrients to eat more of,
Nutrition scientists are learning more about fiber's role in weight control.
Evidence on the disease prevention power of plant nutrients such as
antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols and carotenoids is so strong many believe
they need their own official nutrient category like vitamins and minerals.
What is there to figure out next? How much cranberry juice to drink or how many
blueberries to gobble to garner the healthy effects? What they do know is that
consuming more fruits, vegetables, healthy oils in fish and fiber in whole
grains keeps rising to the top of the "to-do" list.
That's a healthy start.
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