Article Content



Child Well-being


Homocysteine and Alzheimer's Disease


Biotic Meats



Homocysteine and Alzheimer's Disease

High levels of the amino acid homocysteine, a normal dietary by-product, may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at Boston University and Tufts University in a study published on Valentine's Day in the New England Journal of Medicine. Looking at 1,092 patients from the Framingham Heart Study over 8 years, researchers found that those whose homocysteine levels were greater than 14 [mu]mol/L had twice the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. It is less clear whether this link has any relationship with diet. A high animal protein diet would provide high homocysteine levels, and increasing fruit and vegetable intake helps lower this by providing vitamins and other nutrients that convert homocysteine to other amino acids. Homocysteine is known to damage blood vessels and nerves and has been linked to strokes and heart attacks. Dr Sudha Seshadri, a Boston University neurologist and a director of the study, concludes that more research is needed to determine if homocysteine plays any causative role in Alzheimer's disease or vice versa, or if the two are independently driven by some other underlying process.


Pigments for Sight

Foods that contain the bright yellow pigments lutein and zeaxanthin may help maintain lutein and zeaxanthin levels in the macular lutea, that part of the eye within the retina that registers central vision, report researchers in age-related macular degeneration (AMF). AMF is linked to sun and smoke damage and is the most common cause of vision loss in people aged 60 years and older. Several studies lead doctors and nutritionists to wonder if low dietary levels of foods containing these pigments might be another risk factor for AMF. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in yellow squash, corn, tangerines, persimmons, spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, lettuce, peas, and rhubarb. (Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2002).


The Senior Connection

Dietetic students rank clients aged 65 years and older as the group they least prefer to work with, according to a study by Danielle Kaempfer, MS, RD, and coworkers, published in the February 2002 Journal of the American Dietetic Association. This is concerning, especially because of the rising age of the American population, the importance of nutrition in healthy aging, and the vital role of good trust and rapport in effective nutrition counseling. The researchers recommend that internships include more positive experiences with older adults in the field and more didactic instruction on aging.


Consumers Divided Over Genetically Modified Foods

The American public is evenly divided over whether genetically modified foods (GMF) and other biotech products help or hurt the environment, according to a recent poll of more than 1,600 adults by Zogby International, as part of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. The poll not only asked questions but also provided risk- benefit information. According to Michael Rodemeyer, Executive Director of the Initiative, researchers found that "Initially people tend to feel slightly more strongly about the risks of technology, but react more positively when additional information is presented to them. Simply put, it looks like the jury is still out.'' Copies of the poll are available at http://www. pewagbiotechnorg/ research/ survey1-02.pdf.


Biotic Meats

Recent fears concerning bioterrorism have brought to the headlines the use of antibiotics in livestock, especially their potential role in the development of drug-resistant bacterial infections in humans. A February 7, 2002, New England Journal of Medicine study reported high levels of fluoroquinolone-resistant salmonella linked to antibiotics in feed for pigs. Health and Medicine Week in early February reported a Kansas State University study that claimed adding 3% dried plum extract to ground meat was "over 90% effective in suppressing the growth of major food-borne pathogens'' (http://just., February 8, 2002). The benefits of dried fruit aside, is this really a solution? Chicken producers, for whom antibiotic-supplemented feed has for so long been a staple, are taking a proactive step in addressing this issue. The National Chicken Council says Americans eat an average of 78 lbs of chicken each year. Recently 3 major chicken companies-Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms, and Foster Farms-reported that they are voluntarily removing all or most antibiotics from healthy chicken feed. Yet farmers are not required to report antibiotic use in animals. The only way consumers can be sure that their meats are antibiotic free is to purchase meats labeled antibiotic-free, or organic.


Child Well-being

Magazine From the US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service Examines the Well-being of America's Children

The Economic Research Service (ERS), a research agency of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), disseminates timely food-related research to a nontechnical audience through its magazine, FoodReview. Published 3 times a year, FoodReview analyzes trends in food consumption and spending, food assistance, nutrition, food product development, food safety, international food trade, and federal policies and programs affecting food. In the May-August 2001 issue (24:2), ERS demographers, economists, and nutritionists looked at America's most precious resource-its children. Their well-being-their family experiences, their educational opportunities, their access to medical care, and their nutritional health-is critical to the country's future.


Recent trends in social and economic well-being for children and their families have been mixed. Trends such as higher levels of parental education, later marriage, and smaller families are generally positive for children. Poverty among children has declined greatly since the early 1960s when 27.3% of children were poor. In 1999, 16.2% of US children-11.5 million children under 18-were poor. However, many children today can expect to live in a single-parent family at some point in their lives. Children living in mother-only families have a greater chance of being poor than children living with two parents.


One way this country tries to enhance the well-being of poor children is through food assistance programs. Benefits from USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and free and reduced-price lunches from the National School Lunch Program go to low-income families (or expectant mothers), as do about 80% of food stamp benefits. ERS looked at how participation in the Food Stamp Program, WIC, the National School Lunch Program, and the major cash assistance program for families changed during the second half of the 1990s. ERS economists found that participation by low-income households with children in the Food Stamp Program and cash assistance program declined, and these families relied more heavily on free lunches and WIC benefits.


For some children, too many calories or the wrong mix of nutrients puts them at a risk of obesity and other health problems. ERS used data from the 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) and its companion survey, the Diet and Health Knowledge Survey, to explore how parental nutrition knowledge and attitudes are related to a child's probability of being overweight. ERS found that parents with greater knowledge about and interest in nutrition are less likely to have overweight children. A parent's own weight status, and his or her perception of that status, can also affect a child's weight condition.


Two recent medical studies suggest that breast-feeding reduces the risk of children becoming overweight. Other benefits of breast-feeding include its role in reducing the incidence of several diseases that afflict infants and young children. ERS examined the incidence rates of 3 of these diseases and found that raising the prevalence of exclusive breast-feeding from current to recommended levels would save a minimum of $3.6 billion in medical costs, wages lost by parents caring for an ill child, and premature deaths.


ERS also examined incidence data for 5 food-borne illnesses. Children have a relatively higher risk of food-borne illnesses than other age groups because their immune systems are not fully developed. Also, a child's lower weight means that it takes a smaller amount of pathogens to make a child sick than it does a healthy adult. ERS estimates that children under 10 years 0ld account for $2.3 billion in medical costs, lost productivity, and premature deaths-about one third of the total annual US costs-resulting from the 5 illnesses.


In other research, ERS analyzed food consumption surveys that span 20 years and found that many children's diets are too high in fat and sodium and low in calcium and fiber. ERS found that overall dietary quality tends to decline as children get older. Teenage girls, despite having the greatest needs for iron and calcium, obtain the least amounts of these nutrients in their diets. Teenage boys are the most likely group to have excessive intakes of cholesterol and sodium. An increase in eating out may be one factor in the age-related decline in diet quality.


The May-August 2001 issue of FoodReview, Examining the Well-Being of Children, can be accessed through ERS's Web site at may2001/. Printed copies can be purchased by calling 800-999-6779 or by mail from ERS-NASS, 5285 Port Royal Rd, Springfield, VA 22161.


For this Newsbreak, we thank Rosanna Morrison, Food Review editor, and Joanne Guthrie of the USDA-ERS.