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USDA updates Food Environment Atlas, which displays nutritional data on counties

Tuesday, January 25, 2011; E02

16 pounds of solid fat?

If the way Americans eat is of interest to you, then carve out an hour to tool around the federal government's highly addictive U.S. Food Environment Atlas Web site, ers.usda.gov/foodatlas.

Last week the Department of Agriculture released an updated version of its year-old online mapping tool, which compares U.S. counties in terms of their "food environment." It was developed as part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity in a generation.

I spent some time looking at stats for Montgomery County, where I was born and raised. Did you know that there were 556 fast-food restaurants there in 2007 and 589 in 2008?

What did folks in MoCo eat at home in 2006? Per capita, they consumed:

l 230 pounds of fruit and vegetables

l 122 pounds of packaged "sweet snacks"

l 57 gallons of soft drinks

l 99 pounds of meat and poultry

l 320 pounds of prepared foods

l and 16 pounds of "solid fat."

Nonexclusive breast-feeding

Is it really best for babies to be fed nothing but breast milk for the first six months of their lives?

That issue is explored in a new article in Bmj.com, the online version of a British medical journal.

The benefits of breast-feeding are well documented, the study's authors emphasize. At issue is the balance between the benefits exclusive breast-feeding confers on the baby - such as reduced risk of infection - and its potential drawbacks, which may include lack of sufficient iron and increased risk of food allergies and of celiac disease. In addition, the report suggests, babies who are exclusively breast-fed till they're half a year old may have difficulty accepting new tastes, particularly bitter ones, which could shape their food preferences for years to come. A baby who hasn't learned to enjoy bitter tastes may reject such foods as leafy greens later on; that could lead to less-healthful eating habits and even overweight - or, as the paper charmingly calls it, "fatness."

- Jennifer LaRue Huget

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