Exploring Nutrition in Our Community, Our City, and Beyond

LouiImagese Hill understands the challenges that low income individuals face when attempting to maintain a healthy, nutritional diet. Hill, a longtime volunteer worker with St. Athanasius parish in Philadelphia, says that it’s becoming more and more difficult for poor people to purchase nutritional foods. Most nutritional foods are expensive, and low income individuals simply can’t afford them.

“There’s a lot of people now that are out of work, food stamps have been cut, [and] people really need the food” Hill said.

That’s why St. Athanasius teamed up with La Salle University’s Exploring Nutrition program this spring. Exploring Nutrition, according to lgulasalle.org, is a program that “aims to aims to create a model by which urban universities can, in partnership with local businesses and community organizations, utilize collective resources and expertise to have a positive impact on their neighborhood’s health and nutritional well-being”.

The Exploring Nutrition program promotes “nutritional well-being” in several different ways, but the most direct and effective method that they utilize is food drives. By partnering with a local supermarket, called The Fresh Grocer, student volunteers from La Salle University are able to deliver an abundance of fresh food to several churches and community centers all across Northwest Philadelphia.Image

I witnessed an Exploring Nutrition food delivery at St. Athanasius parish on April 11th. A delivery truck arrived at the church rectory around 2pm. The truck was accompanied by a handful of student volunteers from La Salle University, who quickly began unloading the food and carrying into the rectory. After the unloading process was completed, volunteers from the church distributed the food to needy neighborhood residents. All of the food was gone in about 10 minutes.

The remarkably short distribution period underscores just how important programs like Exploring Nutrition are to people that can’t afford to buy expensive produce. Louise Hill said that St Athanasius’s partnership with La Salle is important, fruitful, and rewarding.

“There are so many people that are in need. And it makes you feel good [to help]” she said. She also praised The Fresh Grocer, saying that it’s good to have “a store that’s in the community that reaches out to help people in the community”.


Limited access to healthy eating options isn’t just an issue in Northwest Philadelphia. It’s an issue that concerns people all across Philadelphia and all across the country. Poor nutrition is causing all sorts of health problems for Americans. Since the 1990’s, obesity rates have skyrocketed all across the country. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 36% of U.S. adults and 17% of U.S. children are obese. Locally, about 32% of Philadelphia adults and 37% of Philadelphia children are classified as being “overweight” or “obese”. This bar graph shows how poor health rates for adults in Philadelphia have remained relatively high for the past six years

Clearly, unhealthy eating is posing a serious challenge to the entire nation. Medical professionals, activists, and politicians all have suggested various ways to alleviate this grave problem.

Dr. Edie Goldbacher, an Assistant Professor in La Salle University’s Department of Psychology, suggests that people become more self-aware of who they are and what unhealthy behaviors they are prone to. Goldbacher says that, when it comes to obesity, “genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger”. In other words, some people are genetically predisposed to obesity, but their condition worsens when their diet is limited to snacks and junk food.

In order to prevent obesity from spiraling out of control, Goldbacher says that people need to stop “mindless eating”, and that they have to make the most from what their environment offers. Mindless or overindulgent eating can be combated through several different psychological counseling techniques, such as self-monitoring, stimulus control, and relapse prevention. Goldbacher also suggested that people analyze nutrition labels on the foods that they eat, even if they appear to be unhealthy. This can assist people in getting a lot of nutritional mileage out of their diet, even when it isn’t comprised of the best foods.

On the other hand, some people believe that direct political activism and community outreach are the best tactics to use when confronting the obesity epidemic. Professor Jule Anne Henstenburg, the Director of the Didactic Program of Nutrition at La Salle University, says that government officials can take tangible and effective steps to eliminate “food insecurity” in the United States. Food insecurity refers to the inability to acquire adequate nutrition due to income level, disability, or geographic location. Henstenburg suggested that an increases to the minimum wage and food stamp funding would go a long way in helping poor people acquire healthy food.

“When you are food insecure and hungry, the health message doesn’t sell itself”. Henstenburg said. In other words, government officials need to do more to promote healthy eating to poor individuals.

The Obama Administration has made significant strides in this area. In February, the FDA and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign announced major changes to the nation’s food labeling system. The new improvements included changing serving sizes so that they better reflect how people eat, increasing the size of calorie labels, and indicating how many added sugars are in certain food products. President Obama and Congressional Democrats are also trying to increase the Federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, but Senate Republicans recently blocked an effort to pass a bill that would’ve made this a reality.

A lot of people have done a lot of great things to provide low income individuals with healthy food. However, a lot still needs to be done to fully eradicate both starvation and obesity in the United States. Exploring Nutrition is a successful, localized effort that other groups and organizations should mimic. That could go a long way in promoting healthy eating all across the nation.



Finding Nutrition in a “Food Desert”: A Difficult Proposition

ImageLast week, Professor Henstenburg discussed why food security is a growing concern that needs to be addressed. Henstenburg, a member of La Salle University’s Nursing and Health Sciences Faculty, has spent most of her academic career raising awareness about food-related issues. She plays a central role in several of La Salle’s nutritional programs, including the Didactic Program in Nutrition at La Salle and La Salle’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics. She is currently working on her doctorate in Health Policy at the University of the Sciences.

Henstenburg said that there two major problems that prevent poorer consumers from getting adequate nutrition: “food deserts” and a lack of access to financial aid. “Food deserts”, according to Henstenburg, are neighborhoods that lack a big grocery store.Typically, residents of these neighborhoods rely on corner stores to meet their nutritional needs. The problem with that is that many of those stores have a limited selection of healthy eating options. She also said that the neighborhood surrounding La Salle was once a food desert, but that things have improved since Fresh Grocer opened.

But the problem runs deeper than just access to food. Henstenburg says that the problem is also tied to economics. Poor people are unable to buy healthy food simply because they don’t have enough money to do so. The small amount of aid that is provided by SNAP, coupled with an inadequate federal minimum wage, perpetuates nutritional suffering in poorer communities. Henstenburg proposed that poor people would eat healthier if they received more SNAP benefits, and if the minimum wage was raised. In order for this to happen, she said that people needed to combat the various stigmas that are associated with receiving government aid to buy food. 

She presented a bold set of proposals that won’t be easy to enact. But they are worthwhile efforts to push for.

Healthy Eating: It’s a Mental Issue Too

Last Thursday, Dr. Edie Goldbacher talked to us about the unfortunate effects that eating disorders can have on people. Goldbacher, an assistant professor with La Salle University’s Department of Psychology, has done a lot of work relating to the prevention of eating disorders. She graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and she went on to get a doctorate degree in Clinical and Health psychology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007.  She has also completed various research projects that centered on alleviating underlying mental conditions that contribute to America’s obesity epidemic.

Dr. Goldbacher’s presentation discussed the various problems that the obesity epidemic presents. The statistical data in Goldbacher’s slideshow indicated that, over the last 10 years, obesity rates have skyrocketed all across the country. Goldbacher believes that there are two major contributing factors that perpetuate this problem. She said that “genetics load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger”. In other words, certain individuals are predisposed to become obese, but that only occurs if certain external conditions influence their diet. Stress, anxiety, and inattentiveness can cause people to overeat. Over time, this eating pattern can be very detrimental to one’s health.

Dr. Goldbacher offered several suggestions to correct mental issues that can lead to unhealthy eating. Self monitoring and stimulus control are the most effective ways to combat obesity. Once a person becomes aware of what they eat and why they eat it, they can develop a plan to lose weight. Goldbacher also endorsed counseling as an effective way to improve one’s eating lifestyle.

FDA Proposes Major Changes to Nation’s Nutritional Labels

Food labelLate last month, the FDA proposed the first major changes to food nutrition labels in over two decades. The changes, which are currently under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget, are meant to make nutrition labels easier to read and comprehend. If the proposals are approved, the new nutrition labels will put a stronger emphasis on a food’s calorie count. The text indicating the total amount of calories will be bigger, and the labels’ focus will shift from “calories from fat” to “total calories”. The new labels will also alter serving sizes so that they more closely reflect how people eat. For example, if most people eat a bag of candy in one serving, the new labels will provide nutritional information relating to one serving. As of right now, many bags of candy provide nutritional information for 2 or 3 servings.

Reaction to these proposed changes has been largely positive. First Lady Michele Obama, coordinator of the Let’s Move! nutritional program, said that “this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across the country”. And Laura Cipullo, a blogger for The Huffington Post, said that the larger calorie labels will be “helpful for many people”.

2014 Farm Bill Famishes SNAP Recipients

ImageThe 2014 farm bill, which was signed into law by President Obama last Friday, deals a devastating blow to food stamp recipients. The farm bill, which is enacted every five years, allocates federal dollars to various agricultural and food programs across the country. But this year’s bill unfairly favors food producing giants at the expense of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known more commonly by the acronym of SNAP. SNAP provides underprivileged Americans with food stamps so that they don’t go hungry. But the 2014 farm bill reduces SNAP’s funding by $8.7 billion over the next 10 years. At the same time, programs such as the subsidized crop insurance program, which benefit the farming industry, will see a $6 billion increase in funding.

Reaction to this news has been mixed. In an article for Takepart.org, Willy Blackmore lambasted the bill, saying that it threatens an already vulnerable population. Blackmore notes that SNAP recipients already had their benefits reduced by an average of $38 back in November, when stimulus funding for SNAP ended. He says that these new cuts in the farm bill will further reduce the average SNAP recipient’s benefits by an additional $90. He also criticizes the fact that 10% of farmers receive 75% of the new farming subsidies.

However, Bill Tomson of Politico says that this year’s farming bill doesn’t coddle the farming industry as much as it did in the past. Tomson says that about $5 billion used to be given to farmers, whether they really needed it or not. But this year’s bill will only allot money to farmers who struggle with a bad growing season or a drop in agricultural problems. He also notes that President Obama, while hesitant about the SNAP cuts, has endorsed the bill. During a speech at Michigan State University on Friday, Obama said that “[the bill] helps rural communities grow, gives farmers some certainty [and] puts in place important reforms.”

Locally, the farm bill could impact the nearly 700,000 SNAP recipients in Philadelphia. It also threatens “heat and eat” programs throughout Pennsylvania that offer extra SNAP benefits to those that need heating assistance.