The Food Guide Pyramid
recommends 3-5 vegetable
servings and 2-4 fruit
servings daily as part
of a healthy diet and
is used by Community
Nutrition Research Group
staff to determine who
meets minimum daily
ARS' Community Nutrition
Research Group (CNRG) was established 3 years ago as one of seven units
of the Beltsville (Maryland) Human Nutrition Research Center.
Traditionally, ARS' applied nutrition efforts have centered
on bringing people into human nutrition research centers for volunteer
studies. But CNRG's nutritionists, home economists, and a statistician
also reach out toand intovarious communities. "By learning
about the dietary needs of communities, the lab can provide sound data
to support applied nutrition policies and programs," says Ellen
W. Harris, the group's research leader and assistant director for nutrition
monitoring at the Beltsville center.
The group's mission is to monitor and assess the capacity of communities to meet their members' food and nutrition needs and to use those assessments to highlight the links between agriculture, nutrition, health, and community.
"The relationship between food and chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension is significant," says Harris. CNRG staff study the dietary patterns as well as the behavioral and environmental characteristics of communities in the United States to identify gaps and emerging nutrition needs within diverse groups.
In addition to a healthy diet,
early establishment of habits
like exercise can reduce risk
of chronic diseases. Here, a
high-school student jumps
rope to keep in shape.
Nutrition by the Numbers
The Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) is a collection
of data taken from 16,000 people surveyed nationwide in homes by trained
interviewers, most recently between 1994 and 1996. The survey is managed
by ARS. Several CNRG staff analyze survey data to investigate dietary
patterns, physical activity, and other behaviors in the United States
among diverse population groups. The data has been used, for example,
to examine such patterns as use of carbohydrates versus fat in diets,
consumption of soda versus milk by teens, and the quality of high- versus
moderate-sugar-intake diets, to name a few.
Eleven percent of the 16,000 people surveyed were African American.
"This sample allowed CNRG to make several important group-based
conclusions," says Harris. "Within the African American community,
a greater understanding of the link between nutrition, health, and quality
of life is needed."
In response, the CNRG, together with Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, published "Food Counts in the African American Community." Thick with vital information, the publication serves as an educational resource for academicians, extension workers, health fair presenters, and church and community group workers.
Ellen Harris, research leader
(left), and Alvin Nowverl,
review data for the community
nutrition mapping project.
Written for a wide audience, the 115-page paperback is made available
free of charge by the lab. "We hope the book ultimately will help
this community reduce its risk of diet-related diseases," says
Among other themes, "Food Counts" provides an explanation
of the role of atherosclerosisa progressive disease of fat accumulation
in the walls of blood vessels, especially in the heart, brain, and kidneys.
African Americans show a higher prevalence of hypertension than whites
and other ethnic groups. In addition, while mortality from coronary
heart disease is known to increase with age, death rates among African
Americans are consistently higher than among whites and other ethnic
minorities, regardless of age.
The book points to excessive salt intake, high alcohol consumption,
physical inactivity, and obesity as factors that increase development
of hypertension. To help users, the book provides handy cholesterol
and blood pressure charts, as well as a body mass index table. Users
can check their own numbers against the charts provided to determine
their level of risk and then plan changes that will lead to better health
and nutrition habits.
Another way that CNRG strives to assess and forecast nutritional needs
is through the Community Nutrition Mapping Project, or CNMap. The project
is a collection of food and nutrition indicators obtained from a variety
of sources. Through CNMap, CNRG staff strive to map community nutrition
by logging indicators that reflect the nutritional health of a particular
CNMap combines CSFII and other data with geographic information system
(GIS) software to provide a picture of human nutrition, health, behavior,
and environment at state and regional levels.
"We use GIS to combine data from USDA's Food Stamp Program and
from its Agricultural Marketing Service and Economic Research Service,
in partnership with the Census Bureau," says Alvin Nowverl, CNRG's
mathematical statistician. The resulting application, CNMap, was released
onto the World Wide Web last year (www.barc.usda.gov/bhnrc/cnrg/cnmapfr.htm).
CNMap provides data on fat, cholesterol, sodium, and macro- and micronutrient
intakes, healthy eating patterns, physical activity, demographics, body
weight, obesity, and more.
A CNRG project called FoodLink connects foods used in USDA food surveys to information on ingredients and commodities. One FoodLink product is the Food Guide Pyramid Servings database. "Each food contains food serving(s) from one or more of the established fruit, grain, vegetable, dairy, and/or meat groupings," says Annetta Cook, home economist. "Pyramid servings data can be joined with other survey data to provide an indicator of those who do and do not meet minimum daily servings recommendations."
Nurturing Youth for the Future
CNRG has worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
to improve the nutritional health status of students on college campuses.
Two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, two Hispanic-Serving
Institutions, and two Native American Tribal Colleges participated from
1999 to 2001. Focus groups consisting of faculty and students were formed.
The groups worked on creative ways to stimulate better nutritional awareness.
One group produced public service announcements, which were broadcast
by the campus radio station. Competitions and walkathons were also organized.
Now, CNRGin partnership with Howard University in Washington,
D.C.is planning to launch a project to collect nutrition, body-measurement,
and fitness data from urban children aged 10 to 16. The data will be
used to develop future intervention programs to significantly improve
the health, well-being, and quality of life of youth nationwide.
"Findings from community nutrition studies and programs can help
build a better understanding of the relationship between nutrition and
health in practical ways," says Harris.By Rosalie Marion Bliss,
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National Program
(#107) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
"Putting Community Nutrition on the Map" was published in the April 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.