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   A new study says nearly 3 out of 4 U.S. children and young adults consume at least some caffeine.
   For most, it comes from soda, tea and coffee. The rate didn't budge much over a decade, although soda use declined and energy drinks became an increasingly common source.
   That's according to a government analysis of national health surveys from 1999 through 2010.
   The research shows even most preschoolers consume some caffeine-containing products. But their average was the amount found in half a can of soda, and young kids' overall caffeine intake fell during the decade.
   The analysis is the first to examine recent national trends in caffeine among children and young adults.
   The results were published online Monday in Pediatrics.
 
Published in Health & Fitness
Friday, 24 January 2014 04:23

FDA to revise nutrition facts label

WASHINGTON (AP) — Those nutrition labels on the back of food packages may soon become easier to read.
 
The Food and Drug Administration says knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years, and the labels need to reflect that.
 
As the agency considers revisions, nutritionists and other health experts have their own wish list of desired changes.
 
The number of calories should be more prominent, they say, and the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat in the food should be included. They also want more clarity on how serving sizes are defined.
 
"There's a feeling that nutrition labels haven't been as effective as they should be," says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren't intuitively familiar with."
 
For example, he says, most of the nutrients are listed in grams, the metric system's basic unit of mass. Jacobson says people don't really understand what a gram is.
 
Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, says 20 years ago "there was a big focus on fat, and fat undifferentiated." Since then, health providers have focused more on calories and warned people away from saturated and trans fats more than all fats. Trans fats were separated out on the label in 2006.
 
The nutrition facts label "is now 20 years old, the food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed," says Taylor, who was at the agency in the early 1990s when the FDA first introduced the label at the behest of Congress. "It's important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn't become a relic."
 
The FDA has sent guidelines for the new labels to the White House, but Taylor would not estimate when they might be released. The FDA has been working on the issue for a decade, he said.
 
There's evidence that more people are reading the labels in recent years.
 
According to an Agriculture Department study released this month, a greater percentage of adults reported using the nutrition facts panel and other claims on food packages "always or most of the time" in 2009 and 2010 compared with two years earlier.
 
The USDA study said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, up from 34 percent. Older adults used it 57 percent of the time during that period, up from 51 percent.
 
One expected change in the label is to make the calorie listing more prominent, and Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association said that could be useful to consumers. Her group represents the nation's largest food companies.
 
Hildwine said FDA also has suggested that it may be appropriate to remove the "calories from fat" declaration on the label.
 
It's not yet clear what other changes the FDA could decide on. Nutrition advocates are hoping the agency adds a line for sugars and syrups that are not naturally occurring in foods and drinks and are added when they are processed or prepared. Right now, some sugars are listed separately among the ingredients and some are not.
 
It may be difficult for the FDA to figure out how to calculate added sugars, however. Food manufacturers are adding naturally occurring sugars to their products so they can label them as natural — but the nutrition content is no different.
 
Other suggestions from health advocates:
 
— Add the percentage of whole wheat to the label. Many manufacturers will label products "whole wheat" when there is really only a small percentage of it in the food.
 
— Clearer measurements. Jacobson of CSPI and others have suggested that the FDA use teaspoons, as well as grams, for added sugars, since consumers can envision a teaspoon.
 
— Serving sizes that make sense. There's no easy answer, but health experts say that single-size servings that are clearly meant to be eaten in one sitting will often list two or three servings on the label, making the calorie and other nutrient information deceptive. FDA said last year that it may add another column to the labels, listing nutrition information per serving and per container. The agency may also adjust recommended serving sizes for some foods.
 
— Package-front labeling. Beyond the panel on the back, nutrition experts have pushed for labels on the package front for certain nutrients so consumers can see them more easily. The FDA said several years ago it would issue guidelines for front of pack labeling, but later said it would hold off to see whether the industry could create its own labels.
 
Tracy Fox, a Washington-based nutrition consultant, says clearer information is needed to balance the billions of dollars a year that the food industry spends on food marketing.
 
"There's a lot of information there, it's messy," she says. "There may be a way to call out certain things and put them in context."
Published in Health & Fitness

   ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Jacob Quick is a fat and happy 4 month old with a big and expensive appetite. Like millions of other poor women, Jacob's mother relies on the federal Women, Infants and Children program to pay for infant formula — aid that is now jeopardized by the government shutdown.

   Pennsylvania and other states say they can operate WIC at least through the end of October, easing fears among officials that it would run out of money within days. But advocates and others worry what will happen if the shutdown drags on beyond that.

   "What's going to happen to my baby?" asked Jacob's mother, Cierra Schoeneberger, as she fed him a bottle of formula bought with her WIC voucher. "Am I going to have to feed him regular milk, or am I going to have to scrounge up the little bit of change I do have for formula or even baby food?"

   WIC serves nearly 9 million mothers and young children, providing what advocates say is vital nutrition that poor families might otherwise be unable to afford.

   Schoenberger, for example, said her son goes through about $40 worth of formula a week. "It's like a car payment," said the unemployed mother of three.

   The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — better known as WIC — supplies low-income women with checks or debit cards that can be used for infant formula and cereal, fruits and vegetables, dairy items and other healthy food. WIC also provides breast-feeding support and nutrition classes. Poor women with children under 5 are eligible.

   Just before the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had warned that states would run out of WIC cash after a "week or so." Now the agency says WIC should be able to provide benefits through late October, with states using $100 million in federal contingency money released Wednesday and $280 million in unspent funds from the last budget year.

   If the aid dries up, desperate moms will probably dilute their babies' formula with water to make it last longer, or simply give them water or milk, said the Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, head of the National WIC Association, an advocacy group. Pediatricians say children under 1 shouldn't drink cow's milk because they can develop iron deficiency anemia.

   "These mothers have trust and confidence in this program, and that trust and confidence has been shaken by Congress," Greenaway said. "This is just unconscionable."

   Danyelle Brents, 22, a single mother of three, receives about $200 a month in vouchers for food and formula for her two children and baby. She is being hit doubly hard by the shutdown: She is a contract worker for the Federal Aviation Administration who catalogs records for aircraft certification, and is furloughed. Now, with her baby going through 10 cans of formula a month, she might lose key help with her grocery bill.

   "That's a lot of money, $15 a can," she said. "Now that I'm out of work, WIC is how I support my family. ... I'm scared at this point to go buy anything extra."

   Groups that fight hunger say they are also concerned about the confusion that needy mothers may be feeling. Though most WIC offices are open, many mothers mistakenly assumed that benefits were cut off.

   Advocates are also worried that there will be a cumulative effect as other, smaller government feeding programs run out of money.

   Adding to the uncertainty: While USDA has said that food stamps are guaranteed to continue through October, it is unclear what will happen after that.

   In Pennsylvania, whose $208 million WIC program supports 250,000 women and children, all local WIC offices remain open and benefits are being dispensed as usual. The state Health Department said it has $25.5 million on hand to continue operating the program through October. Ohio said it has enough money to last through the second week of November.

   "Ohio WIC is open for business!" proclaimed the headline on a state website.

   Utah's WIC program, though, immediately closed its doors Tuesday in the wake of the government shutdown, meaning that families who hadn't already received their October vouchers were out of luck and new applications couldn't be processed. The state got $2.5 million in USDA funding on Thursday, and WIC offices throughout the state planned to reopen by noon Friday.

   Charitable groups were already filling the void. A Facebook group called "The People's WIC — Utah" was launched hours after WIC offices closed, matching up families in need with those able to donate formula and other food.

   In Layton, about 25 miles north of Salt Lake City, a donation drive was planned for Saturday, with organizers asking for fresh fruits and vegetables, unopened baby formula and other necessities.

   Food banks, meanwhile, are bracing for a surge in requests for help if WIC runs out of money.

   Linda Zimmerman, executive director of Neighbors In Need, which runs 11 food banks in Massachusetts, said her organization already provides a lot of baby formula to its clients, most of whom get WIC aid as well.

   "I think they're truly nervous," Zimmerman said. "We're going to have to be doing a lot of work to make sure we can keep up with need for infant formula."

   In some places, grocery stores refused to honor WIC vouchers, assuming they wouldn't get paid. Terry Bryce, director of Oklahoma's WIC program, said WIC officials called and emailed grocers to assure them the program is still funded.

   In New Jersey, Patricia Jones said she is worried about losing her WIC assistance.

   "You're affecting families that haven't done anything to you," said Jones, a 34-year-old mother of five. Because of the shutdown, she was turned away from the Social Security Administration office in Newark when she tried to get printouts of her children's Social Security numbers to renew her welfare and WIC benefits.

   ___

   Associated Press Writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington, Samantha Henry in Newark, Tim Talley in Oklahoma City, Bridget Murphy in Boston and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this story.

Published in National News

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