All posts by liannemccluskeynutritionexplorer

I am a senior at La Salle University studying communication with a concentration in journalism. As a student-athlete, nutrition is an important part of my daily routine, using food as my fuel for competitive swimming. This blog will track and analyze nutrition options in the Germantown area. I enjoy being active (swimming, running, biking, hiking). My home will always be along the coast of Maine, where the mountains meet the sea.

Where can we access nutritious food in Germantown?

Louise Hill sits in the kitchen at St. Anthanasius Parish. Her petite figure sits up over the dining table as she explains the impact the Easter food drive has on the community she lives in. “I think it’s important, because there’s a lot of people who are out of work, food stamps have been cut, people really need the food. So it’s important that we try to come out and help other people who are in need.”

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Exploring Nutrition students from La Salle University unload groceries at St. Anthanasius Parish.

Hill stutters for a moment, tears welling up in her eyes. “And it’s work, but it’s fun. You get to hear different stories. Sometimes the people come in, and we only serve what we get in. I really think it’s a good thing that we can serve the community… there is so many people. I know we are not the poorest, but there is so many people that are in need. And it makes you feel good.”

Fresh Grocer teamed up with La Salle University’s Exploring Nutrition initiative to deliver food for Easter food drives to churches such as St. Anthanasius, which is located at 2050 E Walnut Lane. Hill expressed the significance of having a grocery store that is willing to help the people in its community, and how helpful it is.

The food was delivered for the food pantry to open at 2:00 PM. Within ten minutes, the food was gone.

The Germantown community was once considered a food desert. Until grocery stores such as Fresh Grocer and Bottom Dollar Foods was established along Chew Avenue, there was very limited access to fresh produce in the community.

Walking into a “Deli Grocery” corner store, I wonder how much fresh “grocery” supplies are inside. Lining the two aisles inside are shelves filled with canned goods and processed foods. The only fresh produce to be seen are the limited amounts of tomatoes and lettuce behind the deli counter in the back, and a bin of potatoes hidden in a corner of the store.

According to Dr. Henstenburg, Director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition at La Salle, food insecurity is a crucial issue in areas such as Germantown.

“The definition involves people having physical and economic status to food… whether or not you can bring enough food into the house to feed your family comfortably and in a culturally appropriate way,” said Henstenburg.

The food drive is a step in the right direction. Barbara Roberts, director of Family and Social Services, explained the struggles people face in a diverse neighborhood such as Germantown. Roberts stated that the neighborhood is mixed- senior citizens, people who receive food stamps, working mother’s who are ineligible for food stamps, single middle-aged men who are unemployed. The food pantries at churches save them by allowing people to come in and pick up bags of food.

Barbara Roberts shows us some of the food stored at the church.
Barbara Roberts shows us some of the food stored at the church.

Roberts said the food pantry provides dry goods, canned goods, and meat. “We aren’t able to get and give out fresh food. When Fresh Grocer called and asked if we wanted to be involved [with the food drive], we jumped on it because of how successful it was last year,” said Roberts.

According to Community Health Database, people who live in the 19138 and 19141 area codes of Philadelphia are not getting enough access to fruits and vegetables. Sixty-one percent of citizens in the neighborhood eat 0-2 servings of fruits and vegetables.

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“In my personal opinion as a nutritionist, this is a big problem,” said Henstenburg. “We are not doing enough for people, they don’t know how to eat; the fact of the matter is, there are some people who are interested no doubt, but it’s one person at a time learning this stuff. It takes a lot of energy to eat right.”

 

This lack of access to proper nutritious food in the neighborhood leads to the issues involving obesity and overall health. “Genetics loads the gun, Environment pulls the trigger,” said Dr. Dr. Edie Goldbacher, a professor of psychology at La Salle University. Goldbacher’s research interests have focused on weight- and eating-related concerns. In particular, she is interested in the construct of emotional eating and its association with weight change and psychological well-being.

How has the community provided feedback for food drives through St. Anthanasius?
“It’s a big help, they say. They’re pretty appreciative. One year we did Thanksgiving baskets, and it helped one family. The woman who came in really appreciated it- her job had closed, and her benefits from unemployment hadn’t started yet. She was thankful for that, because they would be able to have a good dinner.”

The food drives during the holidays indicate the need in Germantown. With limited options and lower class families in the area, the Exploring Nutrition project is continuing to find ways to bring fresh food to the neighborhood, and teach people the importance of proper nutrition.

“It’s hard to decrease caloric intake when you are constantly surrounded by these types of foods,” said Goldbacher. It’s not really about willpower it’s about so many other factors: mindless eating, not having the time, not having the resources. So part of what we do is help people make different choices and make the most of the environment in which they are presented.”

Here is a video following the Exploring Nutrition project efforts to bring fresh produce to the Germantown community.

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Nutrition: Henstenburg explains hunger and food insecurity

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Dr. Jule Anne Henstenburg has been Director of the Didactic Program in Nutrition at La Salle since the start of the Program in 1999 and was Founding Director of La Salle’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics in 2003. Her research interests focus on the use of qualitative methods for the study of food access in low income, urban neighborhoods.

A food desert, which is what Germantown was before Fresh Grocer and Bottom Dollar Foods opened, is an area where fresh healthy food is not readily available.

Henstenburg explained how nutritionists are more and more in school systems and supermarkets in various areas, helping people in the community make healthier food choices.

“People who eat more fruit and vegetables are much healthier,” said Henstenburg.

“The first step is to give communities access to better foods. There is a big push to build supermarkets in food desert areas. The area around La Salle was previously considered a food desert. Now they have better access.”

The issue is centered food security and hunger.

What is food security?
“The definition involves people having physical and economic status to food… whether or not you can bring enough food into the house to feed your family comfortably and in a culturally appropriate way,” said Henstenburg.

Thus, food insecurity is when people do not have economic or physical access to food; people cannot meet their daily food needs.

This leads to culturally inappropriate ways to get food, such as “dumpster diving” for left over food or stealing. Hunger goes together with food insecurity; hunger is a physiologic issue, the feeling of painful sensations from lack of food.

“In my personal opinion as a nutritionist, this is a big problem,” said Henstenburg.

“We are not doing enough for people, they don’t know how to eat; the fact of the matter is, there are some people who are interested no doubt, but it’s one person at a time learning this stuff. It takes a lot of energy to eat right.”

It’s not that our government does not try. As a result of the Great Depression, the FOOD STAMPS Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) started in the 1930s. The Farm Bill is also a massive piece of legislation that deals with farming in the United States. However, the problem is in the amount of benefits people receive through the SNAP program.

The average SNAP benefit for people in the United States (4 person family) gets $32/month (dropped since November 2013).
“It’s enough to buy milk and bread for the month. It gets us into why it’s hard to buy fruits and vegetables. It’s a matter of asking, how can we best spend these food dollars?”

Lack of access is the primary cause, but a solution that has come up frequently is that people need to make more money or there needs to be cheaper healthy produce. If the minimum wage is raised to ten dollars, it will give people the ability to afford healthy food, health care, and proper living.

Another solution is to support local farmers. Henstenburg said that Farmer’s Markets are very popular in finding good quality, fresh produce.

“It’s a small step that can take us really far,” said Henstenburg.

Goldbacher helps fight the nutrition battle in Germantown

Dr. Goldbacher presents on weight loss.
Dr. Goldbacher presents on weight loss.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, many people argue over the real causes of obesity. La Salle University’s Community Psychological Services is striving to help people in the Germantown community get on the right track towards healthy, nutritious living.

Dr. Edie Goldbacher, a professor of psychology at La Salle University, is helping the clinic tackle the issue. She emphasizes the debate of what causes obesity, and how it is a battle of nature vs. nurture.

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Dr. Edie Goldbacher

“Genetics loads the gun, Environment pulls the trigger,” said Goldbacher, who’s research interests have focused on weight- and eating-related concerns. In particular, she is interested in the construct of emotional eating and its association with weight change and psychological well-being. 

“A lot of times people blame the individual but it’s not really an individual problem. It’s a combination of genes and environment.”

Goldbacher supervises a clinic team in the doctoral program which focuses on weight management and disordered eating. The clinic is held in St. Benilde Tower at La Salle University, and is open to the community.

“Where La Salle is located, a food desert with very few fresh places to buy food, is often susceptible to these environmental factors,” said Goldbacher. “With mostly corner stores and fast food places are in the area, it is more reasonable for residents to choose cheap, unhealthy options.”

Are these conscious choices that people are making?

“It’s hard to decrease caloric intake when you are constantly surrounded by these types of foods. It’s not really about willpower it’s about so many other factors: mindless eating, not having the time, not having the resources. So part of what we do is help people make different choices and make the most of the environment in which they are presented.”

Many factors in people’s lives affect the nutrition and weight issue. “They usually have a lot of other stressers and/or are experiencing depression, anxiety, social stress… it’s this confluence of factors that make it difficult for people to implement the changes that they know they should make, but they can’t quite figure out how to make it stick.”

In a publication written by Theodore K. Kyle and Rebecca M. Puhl titled, “Putting People First in Obesity,” they explain how bias and discrimination against people with obesity creates obstacles. “Obese is an identity. Obesity is a disease. By addressing the disease separately from the person-and doing it consistently-we can pursue this disease while fully respecting the people affected.”

Goldbacher and the clinic at La Salle are demonstrating that: helping others overcome the struggle of obesity and malnutrition.

To enter the program, people interested in changing their eating habits interview a student clinician to learn more about what difficulties they’re having. They then transition into working with someone individually who will help them change their eating patterns.

The goal is to change the way people thing about eating, and psychology helps understand the source of the problem. Goldbacher stated that approximately 1-5% of the population binge eat.

La Salle University’s Community Psychological Services: Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight Clinic is low cost, sliding scale services. They provide individualized services concerning eating difficulties, and strive to improve treatment options, availability and outcomes.

To learn more about obesity, nutrition, and other health and wight related issues, visit http://yaleruddcenter.org/ where you can find many publications on the issue.

Food Labels Changing for the Better

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One of the proposed nutrition labels.

In a proposal released on February 27, 2014 by the Food and Drug Administration, updates will be made to nutrition labeling on food packages for the first time in over two decades.

Americans may be in for a shock when they see what they are consuming. On labels, what is considered a serving size will be larger, the type used to display calories will get bolder and added sugars will have to be listed on about 700,000 consumer products.

Michelle Obama is passionate about the need for this change.  In her nutrition label announcement on behalf of the Obama Administration, she emphasized the significance of this change to the American people. “This is a huge deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families across this country.”

It is hoped the new nutrition labels will be put into effect  over the next two years, giving food companies time to adopt the new food labels.

One of the most significant changes in the proposal will be changing the serving sizes listed on nutrition facts. Since people eat more than what is considered one serving on current labels, portions will be larger to indicate the greater amount of calories being consumed.
This is a controversial issue, and expected to rile up the food industry. According to an article published on Politico’s website, “Industry groups already are looking at a long list of food changes from the Obama administration, including a proposed trans fat ban, major new food-safety regulations and forthcoming restaurant menu-labeling requirements. The FDA estimates the Nutrition Facts overhaul alone will cost the industry about $2 billion.”
However, this clearly is a necessary wake up call for Americans, and will help conquer obesity throughout the nation.

For more information and to hear Michelle Obama’s announcement, visit the article on Politico: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/02/michelle-obama-nutrition-label-changes-food-policy-fda-obama-administration-104023.html

Cuts in food stamp program: is it fair?

If the U.S. Senate approves and the president signs an agriculture bill that further trips food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will cut $8 billion over 10 years.

According to an article published in the Allentown Morning News called “Putting the squeeze on food banks,” The Lehigh Valley’s food banks already have higher demands for service. 

Congressman Charlie Den, a Republican, feels the cuts are necessary, while Congressman Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, is against the farm bill. 

Dent feels that people are “gaming” the system through the Heat & Eat program, linking the low income heating assistance program to eligibility for food stamps. In contrast, Cartwright stated on his Facebook page, “I did not come to Congress to kick the most vulnerable Americans off of food assistance.” 

Advocates of cutting the SNAP subsidy have argued charities can fill the gaps, however the Coalition Against Hunger disagrees. Food banks and other charities have already struggled to supply enough food, and it is fairing much worse in bigger cities such as New York City.

Germantown has often been viewed as a food desert. In October, Bottom Dollar Food was opened along Chew Avenue, which has been a blessing for many of the people who live in the community. However, many people still struggle to afford a meal, and with the cuts in the food stamp program, Pennsylvania will most likely see a serious impact, especially in Philadelphia.

What do you think? Is the benefit to cut food stamps of greater importance than how it will impact low-income citizens?