Jen Thompson, MPH

You may have noticed that our department recently changed its name.  After much debate and brainstorming, we decided to retire our old name, “Obesity Prevention Program”, and call ourselves the Division of Chronic Disease Research Across the Lifespan (CoRAL). But what prompted us to make the change?


Peter James
, MHS, ScD

With the wide availability of wearable fitness trackers, people have been increasingly measuring the number of steps they take per day, striving to obtain those 10,000 steps. But what is the significance of 10,000 steps? And is counting steps really a good measure of physical activity? I recently attended the International Society for Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) Annual Meeting in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia where I was fortunate to gain more insight into the step counting phenomenon.


Jason Block

More than 40% of all food consumed in the United States is prepared, or ready-to-eatfood. Widespread policy change is underway, including calorie labeling and enhancements to the Nutrition Facts panel, to guide customers to healthier choices when dining in restaurants or buying prepared food. But convincing customers to make changes in fast-paced settings is difficult. Price and taste often quickly overtake health concerns. Why can’t we just change the default options to be healthier?


Sheryl Rifas-Shiman,

In the August 2017 issue of Pediatrics, several colleagues and I reported that mothers who consumed more sugary beverages – including sugary soda and fruit drinks – in mid-pregnancy had children with higher amounts of body fat in mid-childhood, even when we considered the children’s own intake of sugary beverages.  We also examined the effect of drinking water and 100% fruit juice during the same time period, and found no associations between these drinks and children’s later body fat.  We hypothesized that the second trimester of pregnancy may be a sensitive period with regards to children’s body fat deposits, and that avoiding high intake of sugary beverages during pregnancy may reduce the risk of childhood overweight and obesity.

Click on the Read More button for the Pediatrics’ press release…


Karen Switkowski,

Most parents, nutritionists and educators will agree that it’s not easy to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables, especially in school. In this earlier blog post, Dr. Jenn Woo explained the importance and effects of improved school meal standards, which have since been changed again by the Trump administration. It is well-established that providing nutritious, affordable school meals is important in controlling childhood obesity and there is broad support for this initiative from physicians, and former First Lady Michelle’s Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. However, the best way to implement improved standards is controversial. There’s also the important question, raised in Dr. Woo’s post, of whether kids will actually eat these healthier meals and learn to appreciate fresh, nutritious food.


Kristina Lewis, MD, MPH, SM

Despite a good run of over 50 years in the business, McDonald’s decided late in 2016 that the services of its friendly, funny clown, Ronald McDonald, were no longer required. The clown, it seems, had become a threat to public health. Why? Not because he was pushing trans fats on toddlers, selling sodas to six-year-olds, and hawking hamburgers to high-schoolers. Rather, this sudden call to action by McDonald’s execs was out of grave concern that Ronald might be.......scaring people (Gasp!!) After a series of creepy clown sightings across the United States last fall, it was felt that Ronald’s continued presence as a McDonald’s ambassador might be upsetting to children.


by Wei Perng, PhD

In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he laid out 12 Commandments for Serious Eaters. The first commandment is “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” This makes sense, given evidence that processed, hard-to-digest, chemical-ridden foods are a large contributor to our expanding waistlines and declining health. I’ve always thought that this was a good rule to follow. After all, it’s hard to argue with the fact that my grandmother, who eats lots of steamed veggies, fruits, and wild poultry, would likely not identify Cheetos, Hot Pockets, Power Bars, or Lunchables as food. As it turns out, there is yet another reason why we should eat what our grandparents eat: evolution!

A recent poll conducted by Truven Health Analytics and National Public Radio got press coverage for its finding that the majority of surveyed Americans characterized their eating habits as “good, very good or excellent”. This was surprising given that more objective measures of our diets are generally pretty poor - the average Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score for Americans 2 years and older is 59, out of a possible 100 points! That’s not great, and certainly not consistent with the way these survey respondents viewed their eating habits. What did not make the headlines, but is perhaps of greater interest to the nutrition science community, were poll responses that suggest that many Americans completely missed some of the major changes in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), despite the media hubbub that surrounded their publication.


by Amy Louer, EdM

I recently bought a hand-sewn bridesmaids dress online, created to my specifications to fit my body. Yet, like many aspects of a wedding, reality did not meet expectations. In fact, it ended with my bust, waist and hip measurements posted online for the world to see….but that’s a different post for a very different blog. I was sent three sets of instructions for obtaining the same body measurements. One told me to measure my waist circumference at my belly button, another identified my waist as the smallest portion of my torso, while the third indicated that waist measurements should be taken at the top of my hipbone. I don’t know about you, but my belly button is not located on my hipbones, nor is that the smallest part of my torso.

Considering that the company was providing very different instructions for measuring the same thing, I should NOT have been surprised when my dress came back 6 inches too short and two sizes too big. Two hundred dollars in alterations (and a visit to the Better Business Bureau) later, I was left wondering, if differences in measurement instructions can affect my apparel this dramatically, what is it doing to the quality of our research?

A friend recently told me that she gained 30 pounds during the first trimester of her pregnancy. Because I work in obesity research, she asked me if that sounded like too much. I suggested that she talk to her doctor, and she said “Well, if it was a problem, wouldn’t my doctor bring it up with me?”