Rootstohealth's Blog

Fun fact: Food and the Poverty Line
October 28, 2013, 7:27 pm
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Fun fact: Food and the Poverty Line

Did you know that the federal poverty line was defined in the 1960s by economist Mollie Orshansky? She looked at the cost for the amount of calories deemed necessary for survival in the USDA’s “thrifty” diet plan, and multiplied by three (because at that time, Americans were spending approximately one third of their income on food). The crazy bit? Beside for inflation, this number hasn’t been updated since, despite the very different world we live in than the 1960s! Food is integral to our definition of poverty in this country. 


Listen to this awesome planet money podcast for more.


What would a polypill mean for public policy?
October 28, 2013, 7:21 pm
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in The Jouranal of Epidemiology and Community Health,  Drs. Holmes and Bhala (2013; 67:897-902 doi:10.1136/jech-2013-202690) lay out a cogent and interesting argument for the allocation of a polypill to the general adult population – one that includes low doses of drugs against cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and potentially Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer (were appropriate and effective drugs for prevention made available). Though I appreciated many of the arguments, for example, that a polypill would reduce risk of diseases in all people uniformly, addressing genetic and environmental causes of diseases, that a polypill has similarities to vaccine programs and certainly to food supplementation programs, which rely on herd immunity or are used to benefit only a small proportion of the population, I found myself wondering about critical societal factors which are important determinants of the chronic diseases which would be addressed by a polypill.


Vaccination programs or micronutrient supplementation is employed because there is no other way for the government or society to intervene on the causes of these diseases. Indeed, efforts to reduce infectious diseases like cholera or influenza begin with environmental changes – cleaning the water supply or quarantining individuals – in conjunction with vaccination.


While governmental efforts to reduce chronic diseases have been established (Eat Smart, Move More for obesity, or dietary guidelines for sodium reduction for hypertension), there has not been the large-scale shift towards physical infrastructure, food system, or health system change needed to significantly reduce the burden of these diseases in the population. Until the government efforts to lower the risk of these diseases reaches businesses and their own strategies, rather than relying on recommendations to individuals, it does not seem that we have done enough to warrant a polypill as the most viable strategy.

Nature vs Nurture
October 17, 2013, 9:32 am
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Reblogged from my tumblr

We do a lot of studies in nutrition epidemiology about gene environment interactions, the general hypothesis that some individuals have a genetic predisposition towards a certain health outcome, but that certain behaviors may enhance or diminish the effects of this genetic disposition (and thus, are good targets for public health policy).

I’ve been reading Health Wars by Richard Horton, which is full of beautiful gems and new thoughts about health issues that I had taken for granted as fixed and known. He includes a discussion of our approach to genetic research, and he mentions an interesting book by scientist Matthew Ridley called Nature via Nurture, saying

“he argues that…it is nurture that is less amenable to change than nature….it is our environment that governs which genes are switched on and when, and so ‘genes are at the mercy of our behavior’. They exist simply to extract information from our surroundings.”

In a world that love quick fixes and easy answers, we want to believe that we are not in control of our destiny, that we are fighting an impossible fight, and we allay our fears by convincing ourselves that a doctor or science will be able to provide a quick fix. Thus far, genetic answers to complex diseases have not come. Obviously, it would be great to find genetic explanations for diseases, but we also seem to find it easier to address issues of biology than to address issues related to environment, social structure, nutrition, infrastructure.

The biologic and social sciences are both needed, but competitive quests to find social solutions to health issues are not popularized and publicized on the scale of the excitement surrounding the Human Genome Project. Sometimes  I wonder if our social environment may actually be more complex than our genome.

Proteomics and Micronutrient Deficiencies
October 16, 2013, 7:49 pm
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Proteomics and Micronutrient Deficiencies

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Robert Cole, et al., used proteomics to examine the use of protein biomarkers for micronutrient deficiencies. The authors themselves comment that it is a “proof of concept” paper, but better ways of assessing micronutrient levels would drastically alter nutrition epidemiology for the better. Micronutrients are much harder than macronutrients to assess in a population study – within-person variability in intake is much larger than that of macronutrients, meaning that we have to measure the diet in more costly ways and for a longer period of time in order to get an accurate measure of a person’s true level of intake. Further, each apple or piece of broccoli can have variable levels of micronutrients depending on where it’s grown. Complex biochemistry in our bodies means that complementary and competing micronutrients can enhance or hinder absorption of these nutrients. And lastly, populations where it is particularly difficult to obtain accurate dietary data – namely, young children and in populations with low literacy, are precisely the subgroups where we would expect the greatest rates of micronutrient deficiency.

Therefore, the approach the authors take in this study – to examine levels of specific proteins known to be necessary for the metabolism of certain micronutrients, is an innovative way to bypass all of these issues and get down to the fact of the matter: what is the circulating level of a macronutrient in your body, and is it sufficient for its associated bodily functions to work properly?

The promise of proteomics and metabolomics for nutrition epidemiology is huge. Such work help explain discrepancies in response to treatment, allow us to understand underlying physiology, and assess adherence to nutrition interventions. Most importantly for the setting discussed in the article, it can help us accurately assess and divert resources to those at greatest risk of micronutrient deficiency-related comorbidities.

(via SciDev)

Full text of the article is here:


Surveys of opin…
October 16, 2013, 7:35 pm
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Surveys of opinions, of the prevalence of disease, of habits or of environmental exposures may be informative, but they are not science in the same way that causal studies about how nature operates are science.

Ken Rothman, JE Gallacher, and EE Hatch in “Why representativeness should be avoided” Int J Epidemiology (2013) 42(4): 1012-1014

E. Coli grows where??
January 26, 2010, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Beef, Corn, Food Safety, Grass-Fed, Labeling, Organic

I read some articles in the last few days that compared grass-fed beef to feed-lot raised cows. The articles, such as this one in Slate a few days ago state that grass-fed beef supporters say the E. Coli doesn’t actually grow in the stomachs of grass-fed beef. I was under the impression, and perhaps I was mistaken, that the connection between E. Coli and grass-fed beef was that the bacteria was much less likely to be found in grass-fed beef because the cows are given more space and are in generally cleaner conditions than those in feed lots, and because their feed is more closely regulated than feed lot beef. Just to get the clear picture out there… E. Coli CAN grow and live in any cow’s stomach! HThere’s always going to be some bacteria. It’s part of life. The problem is that in feed lot cattle, the living conditions are facilitating E. Coli growth by generally mistreating the cows. E. Coli will happen, but steps should still be taken to prevent their growth (and by more ways than inoculating them). There is an expectation for us to eat germ-free food…it’s never going to happen. The problem is when these germs are in foods they definitely should not be in (i.e., cookie dough…) or when we are exacerbating the problem by the way we actually raise farm animals in this country.

Just like you don’t eat an organic apple for it’s “higher nutrient content,” but rather for the environmental methods by which it’s produced, grass-fed cattle is there to alleviate many worries about feed-lot cattle, not just E. Coli and other food safety issues.

Long story short (can you tell I can get worked up about this??), eating grass-fed beef does not give 100% certainty that you won’t get sick from E. Coli. But your odds probably are a lot higher, and you can at least know that you’re doing better on many other fronts (keeping your Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios down, letting the cows eat what they want and are meant to eat, have beef that is free from antibiotics, cows that are eating VEGETARIAN!! (as they should be….), not supporting a very large corn industry, happy farms, happy people, this list goes on…). So eat your grass-fed burger with a little less trepidation than your feedlot burger tonight.

Sprouts reborn
January 24, 2010, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Doing Well at Home, Sprouted Grains/Seeds, Sprouts

I promise, the last post about sprouts in a while. Wheat sprouts were successful!! And so delicious!! Once again, a light saute and some salt make a delicious accompaniment for any meal!

Lastly, I leave you with a good link to a last weekend’s Living on Earth. It featured Will Allen, who founded Growing Power, an urban farm and education center in Milwaukee. He’s a pretty cool dude, and so is this program, which dealt with our food system past, present and future.