July Event!

Happy summer FPOP fans!

For the last few years, the Mailman School has hosted the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) young global leaders. This group is comprised of a cohort of future leaders under 40 years old from around the world who serve in the program for 6 years. The goal of the program is to give them the knowledge base and connections to look for and implement innovative solutions for problems solving. By being part of this program, the school introduces these young leaders to public health while usually honing in on one particular public health issue each year.

This year, the public health component will focus on obesity and physical activity. Over the course of the 2-week program, a few of our faculty – including Claire Wang, Andrew Rundle and Heather Greenlee – will lead sessions on these topics, looking at the environmental, social and other risk factors to this issue. The fellows, in turn, will develop proposals for how to address this epidemic. On Friday, July 17th, they will present their proposals to a panel for larger discussion. Included on the panel will be Dean Fried, Steven Newmark, Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sara Vernon Sterman, VP, Strategic Investments, the Reinvestment Fund, and Radha Agrawal, Founder and CEO, Super Sprowtz – a story-driven nutrition program, which uses entertainment and puppetry to educate kids about healthy eating habits.

WEF would very much like to invite members from our community, especially students, to listen to this discussion. The details for the event are below.

DATE // LOCATION // Friday, July 17 // Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive

10:45-12:15 // Pitches and presentations

RSVP here!
Maria O’Brien: Senior Director of Special Projects with the Dean’s Office // Email: mag177@columbia.edu

Local Roots NYC

Local Roots NYC: Buy Local Community Supported Agriculture!
Local Roots is committed to local food culture rooted in community, accessibility and innovation. By joining the CSA, Local Roots brings the farm to you! You can sign up for 12 weeks of organic, local produce of your choice and pick it up weekly at a site near you. It’s a great way to eat fresh, stay healthy, and support your local farmers.
Local Roots proudly serves: Harlem, South Street Seaport, Boerum Hill, Bushwick, Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, East Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Kips Bay, Ridgewood, South Slope, and Williamsburg. They also do home delivery!
For more information check out localrootsnyc.org or email Jacqui Cotton from FPOP at jnc2144@columbia.edu if you have any questions!
Join Local Roots for some pre-summer fun! The CSA is celebrating its 4th Anniversary with The Good Festival this Friday, April 24th at Tiny Montgomery at Threes Brewing in Brooklyn. Entry is only $5 for a night of live music, cooking demonstrations, and workshops with local food initiatives. Funds will be used to  create more educational material about sustainable cooking and to bring more classes to NYC schools regarding healthy eating choices and supporting a local food system.
Check out the event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1434771286821800/Local-Roots-NYC-The-Good-Festival-2015-poster-662x1024

Why Do We Get Fat? An Ongoing Debate


A post written by our very own Treasurer – Sarah Kunkle on tomorrow’s special lecture by Mr. Gary Taubes. Interested in hearing more about this controversial issue? Join us tomorrow April 21st at 4:00 pm at the P&S Faculty Club. RSVP to cu.fpop@gmail.com

Originally posted on Columbia Public Health: Student Voices:

By Students for Food Policy and Obesity Prevention

On Tuesday, April 21st at 4:00 pm, FPOP, OSA, GSA, SPIM, and the Department of Epidemiology will host science writer Gary Taubes for a special Public Health Fights Obesity Month lecture: Why We Get Fat: Adiposity 101 and an Alternative Hypothesis of Obesity. Mr. Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, is a co-founder of the non-profit Nutrition Science Initiative, a recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research, and a three-time winner of the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Journalism Award.


Mr. Taubes is also a controversial figure in the world of nutrition and dietary science, despite his best–selling status. Since his 2002 New York Times article, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,”…

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Recipes to Survive the Food Desert

Originally posted on Columbia Public Health: Student Voices:

by Vienna McLeod in the Department of Epidemiology and Co-Vice President of Communications for Students for Food Policy and Obesity Prevention (FPOP), MPH’ 16  

Inspired by Mailman’s Obesity Prevention Month (which started yesterday with a talk led by nutrition policy expert, Marion Nestle) I woke up this past Sunday morning, made myself a smoothie and then began to prep this week’s lunches, dinners, snacks, and fourth meals from three recipes I found on the New York Times website. All New Yorkers make decisions about how to spend their budget. I fall into a cohort of individuals who skip the apartment in Chelsea I can spend my dollars on the kind of food that feeds my body, mind, and soul. Even still, eating on a graduate student’s budget does not make this an easy task. Neither does living in what I would consider the food desert that is Washington Heights…

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Mailman’s FPOP Interviews Marion Nestle

FPOP is so thankful and proud to say we had the opportunity to interview Dr. Marion Nestle before she kicked off Public Health Fights Obesity, a month long initiative focused on the science of nutrition. Rife with lectures, symposiums, student lead activities, and campus wide events, this month will be focused on prevention and treatment of obesity and the specific role of Public Health in this pandemic.

We are thrilled to have had time to speak with Dr. Nestle last week! Find all the details of our interview in 3 great places:

1) our wordpress blog (https://columbiafpop.wordpress.com)
2) Dr. Nestle’s Food Politics blog (http://www.foodpolitics.com)
3) the Mailman School News page (http://www.mailman.columbia.edu/…/mailmans-fpop-interviews-…)

Food Policy Expert Marion Nestle on the Heinz-Kraft Deal, GMOs, and the Secret Ingredients to Healthy School Lunches

March 31, 2014—Years before the Reagan Administration decreed that ketchup was a vegetable, Marion Nestle saw the connections between the dinner table and politics. Nestle, the nation’s leading advocate for good nutrition, will address the Mailman School in a Grand Rounds talk tomorrow and kick-off Public Health Fights Obesity, a month-long series of lectures and special events, including an April 16 symposium on preventing childhood obesity.

Nestle, a professor and founder of the department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, is the author of acclaimed books, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, and most recently, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.

In anticipation of her Grand Rounds talk, the student group Food Policy and Obesity Prevention interviewed Nestle about everything from attempts to regulate Big Soda, GMO labeling, to school lunches done right.

The federal Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee recently published recommendations that for the first time considered issues of food sustainability. There has been a lot of controversy.    

The guidelines have always been controversial, but never anything like this. I think this is an example of how worried the food industry is about the pushback about diet and health in America. Sustainability is the “S word” in Washington. The guidelines committee is trying to do is what I’ve been advocating for a very long time, which is to bring agricultural policy in line with health policy. Right now the policies are completely divorced.

At the same time you have Heinz and Kraft joining forces.  

The food industry is in a defensive position because food and health advocates have been enormously successful in changing the market and changing people’s views. The fastest growing segment of the food industry is organics. The makers of processed foods are in retreat.  Warren Buffett must think there’s plenty of money to be made in selling junk foods.  I hope he’s wrong.

Is Big Food increasingly eyeing opportunities overseas? 

If you can’t sell it here, you sell it there. The best example of this is the soda industry, which is the subject of my next book. There has been a 10- to 15-year decline in sales of carbonated sweetened beverages in the United States. It’s one of the great successes of health advocacy. To compensate, Coke and Pepsi are increasingly focusing their efforts overseas. Expect obesity and its consequences to follow.

Speaking of global commerce, should we be concerned about trade agreements like the Transpacific Partnership?

Food and Water Watch called it “NAFTA on steroids.” It’s very hard to know what’s going on because the negotiations are being done in secret. People are worried that a lot of the protections we have against bad things in food will be taken away on the basis of violations of trade agreements.

Closer to home, here in New York we’ve heard a lot about attempts to legislate on soda with failed attempt to limit portion sizes. Other areas have had more luck—

Not luck—skill! The only place in the United States where a soda tax has been successful is Berkeley. They did everything about advocacy right. Instead of framing it as a health argument, they framed it as an argument against corporate power: Berkeley versus Big Soda. And there was an enormous grassroots effort to engage the entire community. Community organizing is classic public health. Nobody does it very often. But when it’s done, it works!

Another issue people have been talking about is GMO labeling.  

I was on the FDA food advisory committee in 1994 when they were in the process of approving GMOs. Those of us who were consumer representatives told the FDA that it had to require labeling. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for there to be a major national uproar. From the beginning, the question was: if they don’t want labels, what are companies like Monsanto trying to hide?

Speaking of Monsanto, there was news this week that a chemical in their Round Up herbicide is a likely a carcinogen. 

RoundUp also induces weed resistance, which has become an enormous problem for the industry. And most of it is used on GMOs. It’s a plant poison! Why would anyone think it would be good for health?

Are GMOs always bad?

The papaya that’s engineered to resist ring spot seems like a reasonable use of biotechnology to me. It saved the Hawaiian papaya industry. That’s the only example I can think of that’s beneficial. Most of the technology has been applied to commodity crops.

What about food insecurity? Can GMOs help? 

If you want to help food-insecure nations, you need to empower them to do their own agriculture. That agriculture needs to be sustainable. GMO crops are not sustainable.  They require seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides, every year.

According to a new Rudd Center study, more kids are eating fruit at school. At the same time, there’s a lot of pushback against healthy foods at school. 

In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. That was bipartisan. Today, bipartisan seems out of the question. The Republicans want to roll the Act back. There’s no question it’s working in most schools that have people committed to it. There are huge advances being made in school food that carry over to food outside school. Kids come home and they want different foods because they see that eating healthy foods is valued.

How much is this change tied to school leaders compared to funding?

More funding would help. But some of the poorest schools have cafeterias where you walk in and the food smells good. They’re making it happen by cooking onsite with USDA commodity foods, which are unprocessed and cheap. Someone who knows how to cook can turn USDA surpluses into good meals. But not every school does that. I’ve been in schools where the food was terrible, the kids weren’t eating it, and the plate-waste was astronomical.  If the food service workers know the names of the kids, it’s a good sign the food will be good too.

For students interested in food and health, what sectors offer the most opportunity? Government? Nonprofit? 

It depends on what you like. We need good people in government. It’s really important to have public health professionals work from within to make agencies like the FDA and Department of Agriculture do useful work. Everybody loves NGOs. It doesn’t matter which. Just do it!

Attend Marion Nestle’s Grand Rounds talk on April 1, 4:00-5:30 p.m., at Alumni Auditorium, 650 West 168th Street, or watch it on LiveStream.

April Food Events in NYC!

As promised, here is a list of upcoming foodie inspired events happening in NYC. We hope to see you there!

04/01/15 – A Taste of Fifth 2015
04/02/15 – “The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto” with Marc Vetri
04/02/15 – Book Discussion: “Inventing Baby Food” with Amy Bentley
04/02/15 – Book Cooks: A Food Book Series at Berg’n with Max & Eli Sussman authors of “The Classic Recipes for Modern People”
04/07/15 – Five Boroughs Food Talk: Street Food
04/07/15 – “Cookie Love — an Edgy New Take” with Mindy Segal
04/10-11/15 – Gotham on A Plate: Food & NYC
04/10-12/15 – Food Book Fair 2015
04/11/15 – NYC BBQ Cookoff
04/11-12/15 – New York Culinary Experience
04/12/15 – The Bloody Mary Festival – Brooklyn
04/16/15 – “Food Writing and Cookbooks — A Lifelong Love” with Diana Henry and Melissa Clark
04/20/15 – Book Cooks: A Food Book Series at Berg’n with April Bloomfield author of “A Girl and Her Greens”
04/21/15 – “Noshing In New York”: Jake Dell, Mark Federman, Avram Isaac, and Arthur Schwartz with Leonard Lopate
04/23/15 – Genius Recipes from Food52 with Kristen Miglore and Merrill Stubbs
04/24/15 – James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards Dinner
04/25/15 – NYC Chili Cookoff
04/25/15 – Bacon & Beer Classic
04/25-26/15 – 3rd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo
04/26/15 – Chocolate Fest: A Walk-Around Tasting at the 92nd St Y
04/27/15 – Whisky Guild’s NY Whisky Cruise – Whisky on the Hudson 2015
04/30/15 – An Evening of Practical Magic, a fundraiser for City Harvest

The Food Environment: A Fundamental Cause?

By Jacqui Cotton

The obesity epidemic has been framed and reframed by clinicians, policymakers, and the public: a disease of individual poor eating habits, a consequence of upbringing and family lifestyle, an addiction to food, a medicalized health condition. However, these perspectives ignore the salient impact of that which is external to the individual—the food environment. I believe the obesogenic food environment, is the most compelling reason for the massive increase in the rates of obesity in adults and particularly children in the past 30 years. A publication from the Harvard School of Public Health describes the food environment as lurking silently, and often unnoticed, in the background—“it plays a major role in the food choices people make, even for the most independent-minded consumer.”

I argue that the food environment can be conceptualized as a fundamental cause. It is part of the “social condition that provides access to resources” and it can prevent or promote negative health consequences. The USDA sites the following factors that interact and create the food environment: store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics. These factors contribute to an individual’s or a community’s external social condition, access to resources, and subsequently health. The idea has been promoted in other literature, notably in Kelly D. Brownell’s book Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, in which the term “toxic food environment” was coined. Brownell, too, believes that the root of obesity lies in the environment, specifically the social and cultural influences that contribute to over-eating and an over-abundance of food.

The food environment also meets the theoretical criteria of a fundamental cause as promoted by Link & Phelan. First, it can influence multiple disease outcomes, for example cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and potentially psychological conditions. Second, the environment affects disease outcomes through multiple risk factors, for example consumption of high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages, lack of access to fruits and vegetables, and landscape non-conducive to physical activity. Third, the food environment inherently involves access to resources which may help mitigate consequences of disease, or in the case of the toxic food environment, promote the disease condition. Lastly, the link between the food environment and obesity is reproduced over time despite numerous interventions such as personal diets, exercise regimens, prevention and education programs, and point-of-sale calorie counts, to name a few. Despite modifications to the causal pathway, this fundamental relationship between the food environment and obesity persists.

Although their position focuses on the link between SES and health, Fresse & Lutfey discuss several other metamechanisms that can contribute to what they refer to as an enduring narrative of the roots of health patterns, regardless of time and space. First, they discuss the notion of habitus, as described by Bourdieu, and synthesized by Cockerham as “a cognitive map or set of perceptions that routinely guides and evaluates a person’s choices and options.” In fact, eating has been categorized as an “automatic behavior” by Cohen & Farley, and it falls squarely within the habitus framework: it is quite routine, our choices are usually habitual, and our options are relatively standard within our typical environments. It is very easy—even mindless—

to over-eat or to make poor dietary choices, but the process of resisting food or consciously making healthier decisions is indeed very challenging and a more difficult behavior to maintain. Accordingly, the idea of habitus follows that while it is possible to modify one’s patterns, it is often a difficult and very deliberate process requiring purposive action in spite of external forces. Cockerham further conceptualizes habitus as the interplay between one’s agency and structure, and in this case, a diet that causes obesity is at the intersection of individual food choices which are both limited and reinforced by an obesogenic food environment. Thus, while an individual’s dietary autonomy clearly plays a role as a proximate cause of obesity, I would argue that the fundamental cause, upstream of one’s agency, is the toxic food environment.

Another metamechanism discussed is spillover within social networks, which connect individuals and have the power to impact their health in attitudinal or actionable ways. In the case of the food environment, this mechanism is extremely apt, because individuals in close social proximity to each other are likely to interact with and navigate their environment in similar ways. Families and neighbors are embedded in the same food environments and thus spillover effects (whether positive or negative) are likely to occur. For example, if the food environment includes access to a local farmers’ market, and most neighbors on the block frequent it, this behavior is likely to confer, or spill over, to other families and individuals in the area.

The last metamechanism described is institutional agency, and how the dynamic actions of institutions can play a role in health pathways. In relation to the food environment, I see the food industry as a major institutional player in individual health outcomes. Food advertising and marketing, packaging and labeling, and geographic distribution of food vendors play a crucial role is shaping food environments and thus affect how individuals can and do eat, which ultimately impacts their waistlines and health. There are boundless criticisms of the pervasive, highly influential nature of the food industry and how it strategically impacts individual’s purchasing, consumption, and health patterns. These mechanisms combine to propagate the toxic food environment which fundamentally leads to obesity.