Monday December 9, 2019

Americans Addicted to Snacks, Food Experts Paying Closer Attention to What that Might Mean for Health

In the late 1970s, about 40 percent of American adults said they didn’t have any snacks during the day. By 2007, that figure was just 10 percent

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Americans, Addicted, Snacks
This Sept. 7, 2019 photo shows items in a vending machine in New York. Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity. VOA

Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity.

Eating habits in the U.S. have changed significantly in recent decades, and packaged bars, chips and sweets have spread into every corner of life. In the late 1970s, about 40 percent of American adults said they didn’t have any snacks during the day. By 2007, that figure was just 10 percent.

To get a better handle on the implications of differing eating patterns, U.S. health officials are reviewing scientific research on how eating frequency affects health, including weight gain and obesity. The analysis is intended to gauge the broader spectrum of possibilities, including fasting. But snacking, grazing and “mini meals” are likely to be among the factors considered, given how they have upended the three-meals-a-day model.

Findings could potentially be reflected in the government’s updated dietary guidelines next year, though any definitive recommendations are unlikely.

Americans, Addicted, Snacks
Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity. Pixabay

For public health officials, part of the challenge is that snacking is a broad term that can mean a 100-calorie apple or a 500-calorie Frappuccino. How people adjust what they eat the rest of the day also varies. Snacks may help reduce hunger and overeating at meals, but they can also just push up the total calories someone consumes.

While there’s nothing wrong with snacks per se, they have become much more accessible. It also has become more socially acceptable to snack more places: at work meetings and while walking, driving or shopping for clothes.

“We live in a 24/7 food culture now,” said Dana Hunnes, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center.

To encourage better choices as global obesity rates climb, public health officials have increasingly considered government interventions, including “junk food” taxes.

Also Read- Suicide Every Year Takes Lives of Estimated 800,000 People

In Mexico, which has among the highest obesity rates in the world, special taxes on sugary drinks and other foods including some snacks and candies went into effect in 2014.

Last week, a study in the medical journal BMJ said taxing sugary snacks in the United Kingdom could have a bigger impact on obesity rates than a tax on sugary drinks that went into effect last year. While sugary drinks account for 2 percent of average calories in the United Kingdom, sugary snacks like cakes and cookies account for 12 percent, the study said.

Complicating matters, snack options are also continuing to broaden beyond the standard chips and cookies.

“Manufacturers have tried to tap into Americans’ concern for health,” said Paula Johnson, curator of food history at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Americans, Addicted, Snacks
Eating habits in the U.S. have changed significantly in recent decades, and packaged bars, chips and sweets have spread into every corner of life. Pixabay

Beyond nutrition, health officials should also consider what emotional or mental health benefits might be lost when people move away from meals, said Sophie Egan, who writes about American food culture. Meals can be a time for socially connectivity, she said, while snacks are usually eaten alone. She also noted the growth in snacking may be fueled by the stress of busier lives.

“Who knows how much food is a Band-Aid for those issues,” Egan said.

For their part, food companies have moved to capitalize on Americans’ love of snacks and stretched the definition of the word. Dunkin Donuts’ former CEO has said the chain’s sandwiches should be considered snacks, not lunch. When Hershey bought a meat jerky company, the candy company said it wanted to expand its offerings across the ”snacking continuum ” to include more nutritious options.

Health experts’ recommendations on snacking vary. Children may need more snacks and to eat more frequently. For adults, many dietitians saying what works for one person might not for another.

Also Read- Tech Giant Apple Set to Reinvent the iPhones: Report

Hunnes, the UCLA dietitian, recommends sticking to minimally processed options like fruit or nuts when snacking. But she acknowledged the advice could sound like it’s coming from an ivory tower, given the prevalence of packaged snacks.

“They’re just there, and they have a great shelf life,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Tech Giant Google Secretly Gathering Health Information of Millions of US Citizens

According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing

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Google, smart compose
The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

Google is reportedly gathering health information of millions of US citizens — without informing them or their doctors — to design an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven software, the media reported.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “Google is engaged with one of the US’s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states” and at least 150 Google staffers may have access to the data.

St. Louis-based faith-based healthcare organisation Ascension is sharing lab results, diagnoses and hospitalisation records — as well as health histories complete with patient names and dates of birth — with Google, the report claimed.

“The initiative, code-named ‘Project Nightingale,’ appears to be the biggest effort yet by a Silicon Valley giant to gain a toehold in the health-care industry through the handling of patients medical data,” the report said.

The crunching of health data is the next big frontier for tech giants as Apple to Amazon and Microsoft are aiming big to infuse data findings into their devices and solutions in the burgeoning healthcare space.

The New York Times later wrote that “dozens of Google employees” may have access to sensitive patient data and some may have downloaded that data too.

As part of “Project Nightingale”, Ascension uploaded patient data to Google’s Cloud servers.

In a blog post, Google tried to clarify its partnership with Ascension.

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FILE -Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 7, 2019. VOA

“All of Google’s work with Ascension adheres to industry-wide regulations regarding patient data, and come with strict guidance on data privacy, security and usage,” said Tariq Shaukat, President, Industry Products and Solutions, Google Cloud.

Google said it has a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with Ascension, which governs access to Protected Health Information (PHI) for the purpose of helping providers support patient care.

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data,” said the company.

Ascension also issued a statement, saying it is working with Google to optimise the health and wellness of individuals and communities, and deliver a comprehensive portfolio of digital capabilities that enhance the experience of Ascension consumers, patients and clinical providers across the continuum of care.

“All work related to Ascension’s engagement with Google is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant and underpinned by a robust data security and protection effort and adherence to Ascension’s strict requirements for data handling,” said the healthcare company.

Also Read: Microsoft to Implement California’s Digital Privacy Law Throughout the US

According to Google, some of the solutions it is working on with Ascension are not yet in active clinical deployment, but rather are in early testing.

“This is one of the reasons we used a code name for the work — in this case, Nightingale,” it added.

However, neither Google nor Ascension directly replied to the WSJ report.

In 2017, Google partnered with the University of Chicago Medical Centre to develop machine learning tools capable of “accurately predicting medical events — such as whether patients will be hospitalised, how long they will stay, and whether their health is deteriorating despite treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia, or heart failure.” (IANS)