Paving the Way for Healthier Schools Nationwide

shutterstock_152942660In 2012 Massachusetts was one of the first states to adopt ground-breaking nutrition standards in its public schools with the goal of reducing childhood obesity and promoting healthy growth and development. According to a new study led by Northeastern University in Boston, the Bay State has done an exemplary job of demonstrating how quickly others can adapt to health-driven initiatives.

The NOURISH Study (Nutrition Opportunities to Understand Reforms Involving Student Health) included nearly 75 schools in 37 districts across the state. Though the new standards have only been in effect for about a year, researchers noted significant improvements already in regulating unhealthy food and drink items. Compliance rates for the new standards increased from 13% to 69% in middle schools and from 28% to 80% in high schools.

Artificial sweeteners, white bread, and trans fats are among those items banned altogether in Massachusetts schools (fryolators are now prohibited), and additional restrictions have been placed on sodium, fat and sugar content. Perhaps most importantly, the new standards apply to so-called competitive foods—those foods and beverages sold in vending machines and school stores, or offered as à la carte items in lunchrooms.

In 2014 similar requirements went into effect for all U.S. schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (under the “Smart Snacks in School” regulation), but those requirements have been met with considerable resistance. Authors of this study hope their findings—published online this month in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—will help institutions across the country see how easy it can be to embrace healthier standards for children and teens.


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Can We Upgrade Our Gut Bacteria to Help Fight Disease?

bacteriaBetter, stronger, faster. Programming our gut bacteria to detect the early warning signs of disease and help keep us healthy may sound like science fiction, but researchers have already begun developing and testing the new technology—and the results look promising.

Building upon data from a previous study involving E. coli bacteria, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently created a genetically modified version of common type of bacteria found in the human gut called Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. They then tested the modified bacteria on mice.

The upgraded B. thetaiotaomicron bacteria were equipped with microscopic circuits and sensors, as well as a “genetic memory” to help them identify DNA patterns and send a signal when they encounter abnormalities such as inflammation or bleeding. Not only did the alterations allow the bacteria to function as a possible disease detector, but they also helped protect them from being killed by antimicrobial molecules in the gut.

Using food as a control method, the research team was able to activate certain genes within the bacteria and modify their response to their environment based on what the mice were fed. Their hope is that similar modified bacteria may one day be used to help detect and possibly alter the genes involved with certain diseases and conditions (including obesity) to ultimately improve treatment and health outcomes.

Knowing that each individual has a unique microbiome and this new technology may not be a “one size fits all” solution, researchers have already planned additional research to analyze how such modified bacteria may function in different environments.

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