The former First Lady Michelle Obama revealed her “Let’s Move!” campaign in February of 2010 with the intent of curbing the childhood obesity epidemic. The initiative included a modification to the nutrition standards of the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs which provide 32 million meals to children daily. The principle legislation effecting these standards is the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 which has been touted as the first major reform to school lunch and breakfast in nearly 30 years.

In accordance with recommendations from the Institute of Medicine report “Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools: Leading the Way toward Healthier Youth” and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the HHFKA informs the nutrition guidelines that schools must follow in order to be eligible for reimbursement under the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act. Various standards resulting from the HHFKA went into effect in 2012, requiring schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, limit sodium, increase the whole grain composition of foods, and increase low-fat and non-fat options. To be more precise, all grains must be 50% whole grain by weight (or have whole grains as the first ingredient), food items can’t have more than 35% of total calories coming from fat, and only 10% of total calories can come from saturated fat. Many exceptions to these regulations exist and are enumerated in the final rule, which codifies the Act. For example, a high-fat food like peanut butter can be served if it is paired with a vegetable or fruit.

A 2014 study evaluated the initial implementation of the HHFKA in a cohort of students at four elementary schools in Washington State. The new guidelines were adhered to by 2013, and compared to the prior year, there was a decrease in average caloric intake by students across each individual macronutrient. Ingestion of key nutrients such as calcium and vitamin C decreased compared to the meals consumed under the old guidelines. Fiber was the only nutrient that was significantly increased. Despite the general dietary improvements that resulted, only about 1,000 meals in total were examined in this study. Following the implementation of these guidelines, childhood obesity rates have remained rather stable, but extrapolating the impact of this program on obesity rates over such a short time interval would not be sensible.

The new secretary of the USDA, Sonny Perdue, announced this past week that schools will be given “greater flexibility in their nutrition requirements for school meal programs in order to make food choices both healthful and appealing to students”. Schools have been facing increased financial burdens by adhering to the HHFKA regulations alongside a decline in school lunch participation, further exacerbating financial strain. Though students may be foregoing school lunches more often, the levels of food waste have not significantly changed compared to pre-implementation. Secretary Perdue acknowledged that 99% of the schools are partially compliant with the HHFKA standards, but noted that this metric is not indicative of program success. The temporary flexibility granted by Secretary Perdue includes a sodium target that is less rigorous, an exemption of the required 51% whole-grain composition, and the ability to serve 1% flavored milk rather than strictly non-fat flavored milks.

Dr. Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, expressed disconcert with Secretary Perdue’s regulatory roll back, stating that “ninety percent of American kids eat too much sodium every day” and that “schools have been moving in the right direction, so it makes no sense to freeze that progress in its tracks.” Conversely, the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit with 57,000 members, applauded this reform in a press release citing the HHFKA regulations as “overly prescriptive and having resulted in unintended consequences including reduced student participation, high costs, and food waste.” The new flexibility emphasizes the authority granted to localities to bolster the requirements of their own school nutrition and physical activity through the use of local “wellness policies.” The temporary deregulation of the HHFKA lowers the proverbial “floor” set by the federal government, giving the states an opportunity to have a direct impact in fighting the obesity epidemic.

References
https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/healthy-hunger-free-kids-act
https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2012/01/26/2012-1010/nutrition-standards-in-the-national-school-lunch-and-school-breakfast-programs
https://schoolnutrition.org/uploadedFiles/About_School_Meals/What_We_Do/Nutrition%20Standards%20for%20School%20Meals.pdf
https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html
http://stateofobesity.org/childhood-obesity-trends
https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2017/05/01/ag-secretary-perdue-moves-make-school-meals-great-again
https://schoolnutrition.org/news-publications/press-releases/sna-commends-usda-supporting-practical-flexibility-benefit-school-meal-programs/
https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/npao/wellness.htm
https://cspinet.org/news/trump-administration-undermining-school-meals-menu-labeling-20170501
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24650841

Ways to combat impostor syndrome and advance your professional skill set were brought to life during the ASN Student Interest Group and Early Career Nutrition Interest Group symposium on “Thriving, Not Just Surviving: Skills Essential to Leveraging Your Scientific Career” during ASN’s Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting.

Phyllis Rippey, University of Ottawa, opened the session with her talk on impostor syndrome. Surprisingly, she talked about an upside to impostor syndrome: those who experience it are less likely to cheat on exams. However, the cons outweigh the benefits since the persistent feeling that one’s successes are undeserved can be detrimental to self-confidence and taking career risks.

“I was just in the right place at the right time.”

“If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

These seemingly harmless remarks appear all too frequently, but they represent a pattern of explaining away accomplishments. Rippey wanted us to know that we’re not alone when we feel this way. Reaching out to others and getting help is a good thing. She says, “Confidence isn’t about knowing everything, it’s about knowing how to use the resources to get the job done.” Rippey talked about how focusing on learning and improvement instead of knowing everything and being perfect helped overcome pressure in her career. The room was silent and attentive when she announced, “The goal should be to be good enough most of the time.” She recommended keeping an accomplishment inventory, so we can remember our successes, even in times when it feels impossible.

The next speaker was Ellen Fung, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, who spoke about the secrets to getting great mentorship. She taught us that mentorship has four basic topic areas: 1) professional development; 2) scientific method/project input development; 3) emotional support/community/accountability; and 4) networking. Fung recommended seeking out a mentor, who is not only knowledgeable and passionate about the specific field you’re interested in, but also interested in being a mentor. Most importantly, a mentor should be someone who you are able to communicate well with, since the mentor/mentee relationship thrives off of mutual respect and trust. Mentees drive this relationship, so it’s important to know yourself and your goals before approaching a new mentor. Fung also warned us of common ways mentees damage this mentorship relationship, such as by not providing the mentor with a plan, disrespect, disregarding all advice, and not using your mentor’s time wisely. She concluded her talk by sharing, “You will have a variety of mentors, some good, some bad, and you will learn something from them all.”

Michelle Braun, DuPont Nutrition and Health, took the podium next to share tips for successful networking. She revealed that most people perceive networking as an event with barriers. However, she recommends on planning to be uncomfortable, preparing for the worst, not automatically saying “no,” and giving yourself time to recover after the event (i.e. unwind with a hot cup of tea and a good book). Networking is an exchange of information, where you learn about the other person and share about yourself. Her simple steps to make networking an enjoyable experience are:

  • Find meeting places and networking events
  • Have an opening line ready that encourages a share
  • Be ready with your elevator pitch (30 second introduction and ending with a question about the other person)
  • Identify who you want to meet
  • Pace yourself and make choices
  • Collect business cards
  • Follow-up: LinkedIn, email, social media platforms; give yourself a deadline so time doesn’t get away from you

Braun shared her secret tips for meeting someone new: simply sit somewhere new, make eye contact with others, and be open to interactions. The room almost became a giant game of musical chairs, as attendees smiled and looked around the room. We were then given a break to practice networking and the room was filled with chatter, laughter, and positive energy.

Christina Sherry, Abbott Nutrition, was the next speaker and spoke about the transition from mentee to mentor. She recommends taking the time to listen to your colleagues about challenges they may face and sharing your own experiences if you have been in similar circumstances. Your colleagues may pinpoint you as a problem solver. However, it’s important to respect confidentiality in this circumstance. You can also tell a relatable story about what you did that may or may not have worked. Sherry recommends sticking to a neutral tone to come across as more objective, rather than preachy. She suggests getting involved in organizational activities to help develop your skills and meet others. Sherry voiced that we are moving into a more collaborative scientific world, so don’t let titles hold you back since we can all learn from each other. Sherry has found that being transparent and vulnerable helped open doors for better communication.

Barbara Schneeman, University of California, Davis, then talked about team management and leadership. She revealed that the difference between the two roles comes down to a shift in perspective. As a team participant, you focus on what resources are available to support you and whether you have access to mentors. As a team leader, you focus on balancing the competing demands on time and achieving success for each team member, as well as the team as a whole. As a leader, you have to motivate and communicate with each team member amidst differing personalities. Schneeman pinpoints that responsiveness is important to a team. Leaders must know how to assess a situation, problem solve, and respond, while also motivating and inspiring team members to problem solve on their own. She recommends strategic planning, such as conducting a SWOT analysis or planning framework. Schneeman revealed five competencies associated with leadership that she recommends working on: 1) dealing with ambiguity; 2) active listening; 3) negotiating; 4) being politically savvy; and 5) priority setting. She ended with a quote from Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

The last speaker was Shelly McGuire, Washington State University, who spoke about a topic near and dear to graduate students and those in the workforce alike: prioritizing your time and learning to say “no.” In fact, McGuire turned it around and told us that learning to say “yes” is way more important than learning to say “no.” McGuire shared the wisdom she learned over the years from being a career woman and raising a family: you have to put in energy (i.e. effort) to avoid the crazy. She revealed that successful people put the time and energy into the values and roles that are important to them, rather than the things that they don’t value or roles with no meaning. Oftentimes when you don’t feel happy, it’s because you’re not honoring your values. She encouraged us to think about our core values. Once we identify these, we can then put a plan in place to uphold our values. McGuire then turned the conversation to effectiveness versus efficiency. Effectiveness is the degree to which your objectives are achieved, whereas efficiency is doing something well with the least amount of effort/time–these are not the same thing! She prompted us to consider the following the next time we are asked to do something:

  1. Does this task fit with my values? If not, walk away.
  2. Does it nurture or advance one of my main roles? Does it contribute to your effectiveness?
  3. Do you actually have the time to do it? If not, can you shift your time or commitments to accommodate it?

The wisdom and advice shared throughout the symposium appeared to motivate the audience to go out there, put away the impostor syndrome, and be successful.

With the rise in technology, information is at our fingertips–literally. Concurrent with the technology boom, more and more people are paying attention to their health and food. This combination has led to mass food movements, changes in food policy, and more. But, who exactly is driving this push for change? What role can nutrition experts play in food movements? This is what the International Food Information Council (IFIC) addressed during their session “Restoring Relevancy of Nutrition Expertise in the Current Food Movement,” which was hosted by the ASN Nutrition Translation RIS and supported by Tate and Lyle.

Kris Sollid, RD, Senior Director of Nutrition Communications at IFIC, began by presenting findings about food trends and the key drivers of consumer’s food and beverage choices from IFIC’s annual Food and Health Survey. One main finding was that consumers want more transparency. However, recent data from Pew Research Center found that many Americans turn to social media for their news. This means many look to social media platforms when seeking information about food. Intuitively, the nutrition experts should be the ones driving the ship when it comes to key food issues. Alarmingly, according to an ASN member survey, many nutrition experts and researchers felt it was actually the media and television personalities driving the food conversation. This opening set the stage for the session, which focused on encouraging us, as nutrition experts, to get out in the field and use our expertise to steer the food movement using evidence-based research.

Melissa Kinch, Partner and Director, Ketchum West, took the stage next to use her expertise in public relations to teach us how to reach the public. As scientists, we’re taught to gather the data and facts, build a case, and share the findings. In today’s age, we should work on drawing people in with a “hot start” and then use analogies and visuals to make it relatable. Then, wrap up with sharing the data and facts as support. Kinch says, “Digestible science simplifies without talking down.” Her key recommendations were to avoid using jargon and technical terms, listen and embrace, and to show empathy to consumers. Then, work to find common ground, include visuals, analogies, metaphors, and examples, share personal stories, and show your passion. Kinch voices that we need science and technology to drive the future of food to solve our problems, but there’s a growing narrative of fearing science and food that we have to work to overcome.

Mark Haub, PhD, Professor and Department Head at Kansas State University, and Kavin Senapathy, freelance science writer and public speaker, were brought to the stage to share their experiences with science and the media and then partake in a panel discussion. Haub was the subject of a class project gone wrong when the media approached him after they got wind of his “junk food diet.” Haub followed his “junk food diet” for 10 weeks and lost weight due to the calorie deficit. However, the media twisted the story and he became known as the “twinkie doctor” and headlines appeared touting that you can eat junk and still lose weight. He wanted us to learn from his experience with the media and offered invaluable advice for how to effectively work with the media. Haub encouraged us to think about the media’s goal (click bait) and our goal (to educate) and told us “If you want to drive your message, you have to be the leader, otherwise people will take it for you.”

Kavin Senapthy shared her extensive expertise with bridging the information gap between the science and public, working with the press, and using social media. Senapthy urged us to integrate information within the context of social content and values to resonate with the public. Misinformation is often shared across social media, and usually it’s from people with good intentions. She reiterated that when you see something inflammatory on social media, it’s important to keep the middle ground in mind. People are so used to arguing with “trolls” on the Internet that it’s easy to forget there’s reasonable people simply observing the social interaction, which they may then use to base their decision-making process. She told us, “It’s important to be aware of context, your overall message, and who you’re communicating with.”

Megan Meyer, PhD, Director of Science Communications at IFIC, concluded the session by talking about ways to communicate science effectively. She expressed, “Values and social networks play a key role in influencing behavior change.” This is why credentialed experts need to become the trusted and influential source. IFIC has been working on projects to disseminate credible science to the public. One recent project was a compilation of memes that are “thank you notes to food science” that coincided with the March for Science. IFIC also maintains a “Fast Take” blog series where current studies getting a lot of media attention are written in a consumer-friendly way while staying true to the science. Their “Sound Science” blog series provides information about new, credible studies that may not have gotten as much media attention. We are living in the cornerstone for the intersection between technology and scientific communication and there is much more to come.

Key Takeaways:

  • Take advantage of media training opportunities
  • Harness your elevator pitch
  • Get on social media (including ASN Nutrilink!) and interact with others; follow others with differing opinions
  • Pay attention to pop culture and food trends
  • Have a content focus
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, everything will be okay
  • Have as many conversations as you can with people that aren’t science-based
  • Practice!

Sunday morning at ASN’s 2017 Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting began with the “Nutrigenomics and Personalized Nutrition” session hosted by the ASN Nutrient-Gene Interactions RIS. The presentations that followed addressed aspects of the question: how do genes and nutrition interact?

Silvia Berciano, Tufts University, opened the session with her presentation on “Behavior related genes, dietary preferences and anthropometric traits.” She explored how genes involved in behavioral and psychological traits influence dietary habits, which then subsequently affect physical traits. Data was used from the Genetics and Lipid Lowering Drugs and Diet Network (GOLDN) Study to investigate how behavioral candidate genes, food preferences, and anthropometric traits interacted. Her study found multiple genes were associated with various dietary components, such as chocolate intake was linked to a variation at the OXTR locus, which was associated with waist circumference. Her results support that mapping genes could lead to a better understanding of how to personalize nutrition.

Krittikan Chanpaisaeng, Purdue University, next presented on “Femoral and L5 Spine Trabecular Bone Are Differentially Influenced by Dietary Calcium Restriction and Genetics in Growing Mice.” Her study explored site-specific effects of dietary calcium intake on the trabecular bone mass in the right femur and L5 vertebrae using genetically distinct mouse lines randomized to receive adequate or low-calcium intake. She found the low-calcium intake had a negative effect on trabecular bone mass, but this was especially seen on the structural integrity of the femoral, as compared to L5 vertebrae. This suggests the low-calcium intake has a differential effect on trabecular bone mass. Further, there was large phenotypic diversity among the mouse population for all femur and spine parameters, which shows genetics may be a major regulator of trabecular bone mass. These findings demonstrate that genetic mapping can help classify sites that could be more susceptible to bone loss. This information could be used to identify those that may then be more vulnerable to osteoporosis.

From the same research group, James Fleet, (below image) Purdue University, shared his talk, “Multi-Trait Genetic Mapping Reveals Novel Loci Responsible for Genetic and Genetic-by-Diet Interactions Affecting Bone, Vitamin D, and Calcium Metabolism.” Fleet used multi-trait analysis to examine interactions between bone mass, calcium, and vitamin D phenotypes. He used Principle Components Analysis to look for patterns and relationships between phenotypes. This approach found loci not identifiable on a single-trait map, which can be employed to establish a framework for understanding how genetic variation can interact with calcium intake to affect the development for components of bone mass.

Maxwell Barffour, (below image) University of California Davis, then presented his findings on “Hemoglobinopathies and Child Feeding Practices as Predictors of Anemia in Rural Laotian Children: Evidence from the Lao Zinc Study.” Anemia tends to peak around complementary feeding due to inadequate feeding practices. He examined how Hemoglobin E-trait (HbE), a common structural hemoglobin variant in Southeast Asia, was associated with risk for anemia. Children, aged 6-23 months from the Lao Zinc randomized controlled trial, were genetically mapped to see if they had the normal trait (HbAA), were heterozygote (HbEA), or homozygote (HbEE). Feeding practices were assessed using a 24-hr dietary recall administered to the parents. His study found homozygotes had more than triple the risk for anemia and heterozygotes had a 40% greater risk for anemia. His findings support that among breastfed children, consumption of iron-rich foods and especially food diversification, may reduce anemia risk in this population.

Riva Sorkin, University of Toronto, examined how salivary amylase may influence consumption of a high starch diet in her presentation, “Genetic variation in the AMY1 gene is associated with dietary carbohydrate and starch intake in a young adult population.” Salivary amylase is encoded by the AMY1 gene, which has high copy number variation, meaning that large regions of the genome are duplicated or deleted on chromosomes. Single nucleotide polymorphisms by the amylase genes have been shown to be associated with AMY1 copy number. Sorkin used data from an ethno-culturally diverse population from the Toronto Nutrigenomics and Health Study and genotyped the participants for AMY1 single nucleotide polymorphisms. Participants also completed questionnaires about their health, lifestyle, and physical activity. She found that polymorphisms in the AMY1 gene were linked to dietary intake patterns, such as carriers for the minor allele in rs1999478 in East Asians had significantly higher total energy and sugar intakes. Her study suggests there are unknown mechanisms, including genetic polymorphisms, that affect satiety and appetite regulation that should continue to be explored.

M. Elizabeth Tejero, INMEGEN, discussed how response to a fish oil supplementation trial in Mexicans (aged 18-40 years) was influenced by genetics during her talk on “Differences in the transcriptome of responders and non-responders on glucose metabolism markers after fish oil supplementation.” Participants were given fish oil pills (DHA and EPA) for 6 weeks. Participants with the largest reduction or increase in fasting insulin were then pair-matched by age, sex, change in omega-3 index, and BMI. Between these two groups, there was no difference in gene expression before the study. However, after the trial there were changes in genes related to inflammatory response and glucose metabolism. Participants with the largest reduction in fasting insulin exhibited more changes in these genes, as compared to participants with the largest increase in fasting insulin. Her findings support that dietary intake can influence gene expression.

Next, Tolunay Aydemir, (below image) University of Florida, presented her talk, “Zip14-Mediated Zinc Transport Contributes to Regulation of Glucose Homeostasis in Intestine, Pancreas and Liver.” Her study used a ZIP14 knockout mouse model to support findings that ZIP14 is vital for regulating signaling events for glucose homeostasis and inflammation. The knockout mice were found to have impaired zinc-dependent insulin degrading proteases, insulin degrading enzyme, and cathepsin D, which increased the activity of the insulin receptor. These mice also displayed greater hepatic glycogen synthesis and impaired gluconeogenesis and glycolysis linked to reduced cytosolic zinc levels. Her study showed that ZIP14-mediated zinc transport is related to intestinal barrier function, biosynthesis and secretion of insulin, insulin receptor activity, and glucose homeostasis in the liver. This suggests ZIP14 could be a new target for treating diabetes and other glucose-related disorders.

Qiaozhu Su, (below image) University of Nebraska-Lincoln, ended the session with her presentation on “MicroRNAs in the Pathogenesis of Lipogenic Diet Induced Hyperlipidemia and Insulin Resistance.” Her study investigated how micro RNAs could regulate the development of hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance induced by a high-fructose diet. Illumina small RNA sequencing was used to identify micro RNAs that were altered in response to a high-fructose diet in mouse livers. Su found that genetic depletion of one type of micro RNA protected the mice from fructose-induced insulin resistance, while overexpression of another type of micro RNA led to inflammatory stress in the liver. These findings suggest there may be potential to manipulate these micro RNAs to prevent the development of high-fructose diet induced hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance.

May 2017 Member Highlight Interview for ASN Nutrition Notes eNewsletter:

Interview with Laura E Murray-Kolb, Professor at Pennsylvania State University and Chair of the ASN Membership Committee

Dr. Murray Kolb is Associate Professor and Professor-in-Charge of the Graduate Program of the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State University, where she has been since 2010. Previously, she was Assistant Professor in the Department of International Health, Program in Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she continues to hold an adjunct faculty position. Recently, she was the 2016 recipient of the American Society for Nutrition’s Norman Kretchmer Memorial Award in Nutrition and Development, given to a young investigator for a substantial body of independent research in the field of nutrition and development with potential relevance to improving child health. Dr. Murray-Kolb was honored for her innovative studies on the influence of iron deficiency on mother/child interactions and subsequent child development.

1. How did you first get involved in nutrition research? What made you interested in the field of nutrition science?

Ever since high school, I was interested in finding ways to improve health with good nutrition, to enhance athletic performance, to show how eating nutritious foods could lead to better health. My goal was to become a surgeon, and I took a couple of nutrition courses. I delayed medical school and got my Master’s Degree in nutrition, as I felt it was important to have a strong foundation in nutrition in order to become a good doctor. During my early years in graduate school, I became passionate about nutrition research, thanks to the mentorship of John Beard. His enthusiasm for research was almost contagious! I went on to get my PhD in Nutrition as I wanted to pursue a career where I had the opportunity to explore questions not yet answered, and to work with brilliant scientists who are also looking for those answers. I have the good fortune to be active in the field, looking for ways to improve health with good nutrition, especially for mothers and children.

2. When and why did you first join ASN? What convinced you to join the organization?

Like many members I joined ASN as a student, getting ready to present my abstract at the 2004 ASN meeting at EB. My mentor encouraged me to join and to become active in ASN. At EB, I became exposed to the wonderful science I now get to practice. I felt (and still feel) proud to be a part of the premier global organization in nutrition science, to be witness to the latest scientific findings, and to help influence nutrition policy worldwide.

3. What aspects of ASN membership have you found most useful, professionally? What other aspects of your membership do you find useful as your career has progressed?

Having access to the leading journals in the field is a key membership benefit for me. Penn State also has access to ASN journals, but my personal access has been huge professionally to keep current with the latest research while on the road. I like the feeling of ASN as a home with my professional family, where I can reach out to other members with questions, to look for answers from scientists and researchers who may have experience in those areas. I also find networking opportunities at ASN as a huge benefit, feeling confident that ASN members have received the quality training I’m looking for, to get their opinions and perspectives. I’m excited to see the use of networking tools like ASN NutriLink to get the conversation started about topics of interest by the community. I also feel I can trust the opinions of other ASN members.

4. What aspects of your research do you foresee being most important for ASN members?

After my formal training in nutrition, as a postdoc, I had the opportunity to gain advanced training in psychology and child development. While those fields were very different than mine, I now have an understanding of best practices in the fields of nutrition, psychology, and child development. I learned about processes and techniques from psychology and have been able to marry them with those used in nutrition in order to conduct research which furthers our understanding of the association between micronutrient levels and cognitive outcomes. I think that multidisciplinary techniques need to be employed to examine the complex problems that we are trying to understand today and I’d like to see more ASN members incorporate best practices and findings from related fields in their research. My hope is that our research findings will help to improve global health for everyone. Solid, evidence-based, scientific discoveries will be a catalyst for shaping health policies globally.

5. Can you tell us more about your current position and the research activities in which you are involved?

I work as Associate Professor, which entails research, teaching, and service–as s a land grant institution, Penn State is committed to service. I teach both undergrad and graduate courses in Advanced Nutrition and Metabolism, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology, and Global Health. I also help train graduate students in the lab, with a large undergrad group of students in honors classes and volunteers. My research activities are both overseas and in the US. While most of my field research is overseas, mechanistic studies are primarily at Penn States, where we have state of the art equipment to help identify what’s going on in the brain. The majority of my research work is with iron deficiencies, either with the mom or child, and on behavior and cognitive development. My geographic research areas are Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.

6. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing nutrition researchers today? Are there any areas where you would like to see more research?

Because nutrition is an interdisciplinary field, the main challenge is with regard to funding at all levels, thus we need to ensure that funders understand the importance of nutrition research. Another challenge is that people from all sorts of backgrounds claim to be nutrition experts and they don’t necessarily convey evidence-based nutrition, thus confusing the message about what is good nutrition.
The microbiome is an area ripe for research, where there’s a lot of promise. There’s a particular rising interest in the gut-brain axis. However, we should be cautious about interpretation of research findings. Change is not necessarily bad; we need more research before we can properly characterize the changes that we observe in the microbiome under various experimental conditions. There is so much to learn.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to tell ASN members, especially students and postdocs?

My biggest piece of advice is for everyone, especially young scientists, to be rigorous about research; don’t take shortcuts. We need to do good science–do your homework, don’t be in a hurry, take your time, slow down, and read the literature. We must be rigorous about what we do and follow the scientific method. Our findings will have a lifelong impact on health. We need to learn from the past to keep moving forward, despite challenges from people claiming to be “nutrition experts”. I encourage students and postdocs to get involved, and to volunteer with ASN, and not be afraid to ask questions. Being active in the society will help you to make connections and learn from those who have experience. Pass it on, learn from others and give back to help those behind you!

Dr. Murray-Kolb’s research interests include micronutrient deficiencies (assessment, causes, neurocognitive/neurophysiological/behavioral consequences, prevention), maternal and child interactions, child development, cognition and affect, biofortification, iron, anemia, and international health.

For many generations parenting books and gurus alike have heralded the importance of routine. Beginning in infancy, children are scheduled to eat, sleep and play, and busy moms often follow this schedule to assure their youngest children are happy, healthy and well socialized. But, as is always the case, children grow older and become involved in more activities making it difficult to stick with rigid schedules established in infancy.

Recent evidence however has shown that regular mealtimes, bedtimes and limits on television at age 3 were all linked to children having better emotional self-regulation later in life. Self-regulation has two distinct domains, emotional and cognitive. Together, these domains help children control their attention. While these two domains have traditionally been studied together it is important to examine them independently as emotional self-regulation is tied to subcortical structures in the brain while cognitive self-regulation is based in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is known to mature later in development continuing its maturity until the early 20’s so outcomes based on these two domains must be distinct.

Anderson and colleagues (2017) tackled these questions in their recent publication accepted in the Journal of Obesity. Using a prospective study they examined how both domains of self-regulation and routine can impact obesity later in childhood (although only until age 11). The Millennium Cohort Study gathered data from 19,244 families recruited in the UK from 2000-2002. Data was collected beginning at 9 months with follow-ups at ages 3, 5, 7 and 11. Child Social Behavior Questionnaires were used at age 3 to determine self-regulation, while height/weight was used at age 11 to determine BMI and obesity status. A series of logistic regressions were used to understand how self-regulation and routine related to risk for obesity at age 11.

Results showed that having a “sometimes-regular bedtime” or “inconsistent bedtimes” were both associated with elevated risk for obesity at age 11. High television/video viewing time was initially associated with higher obesity rates but the result was not significant after controlling for other routines, a result that could be explained by the imprecise measurements used to quantify time spent. Surprisingly, children with mealtimes that varied considerably were found to be less likely to be obese at age 11. While this study agrees with previous literature in terms of bedtime, the results for mealtime were unexpected and need to be considered in the context of the study which was observational and based on parent self-report. Overall, emotional self-regulation and household routines were independent predictors of obesity at age 11 and those children with regular bedtimes, mealtimes, and limits on television/video displayed enhanced emotional self-regulation.

While this study demonstrates the importance of routine, it is important to understand that many factors could not be controlled for, leaving the study with multiple limitations. Still, if putting the kids to bed at the same time could be protective, maybe those rigid schedules shouldn’t be abandoned just yet.

 

References:

Anderson, S. E., et al. “Self-regulation and household routines at age three and obesity at age eleven: Longitudinal analysis of the UK Millennium cohort study.” International journal of obesity (2005) (2017).

Sowell, Elizabeth R., et al. “Mapping cortical change across the human life span.” Nature neuroscience 6.3 (2003): 309-315.