Make Today a Little Sweeter

November is American Diabetes Month. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes, while 86 million have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. While there are some risk factors for diabetes that you can’t change, knowing your risks lets you decide what’s best for your health. This fall, take time to make and celebrate healthy changes. Some ideas:

Play detective: Find out what you don’t know about your family history, especially when it comes to chronic conditions.

Stay in check: Low blood sugar levels can cause sudden mood swings in some people, so don’t go too long between eating meals.

Indulge smart: When you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, be mindful of your choices. A serving of berries is almost always better than a pastry or chocolate.

Form more information, visit

You Too Can Have Healthy Meetings!

Panel discussion featuring, from left:  Kathy Gerwig, Marilyn Chow, Kelly Kearney, and Erin Meade.

Panel discussion featuring, from left: Kathy Gerwig, Marilyn Chow, Kelly Kearney, and Erin Meade.

On Monday, February 2nd, our friends at Kaiser Permanante’s Garfield Innovation Center hosted a great event focusing on delicious, healthy food. “A Taste of the Garfield Center” featured local Bay Area caterers to showcase menus that adhere to Kaiser Permanente’s “Healthy Picks” policy, along with a few presentations on healthy meeting and working practices.

I was certainly humbled to be on a panel with Kathy Gerwig, Marilyn Chow, both of Kaiser Permanente, and Kelly Kearney of Pacific Fine Foods (a favorite at the Garfield Center) – three incredible women. I was inspired that 100 Kaiser Permanente employees made time in their busy schedules to attend the event so that they could go back to the office with a better understanding of healthy picks to share with their teams. The audience included administrative assistants, lawyers, nurses, designers; many expressed trepidation about trying to change habits from their relatively junior positions. “After all,” said one assistant, “we aren’t all vice presidents.” Marilyn’s answer – sincere, honest, and inspiring – was simply, “We all lead from where we are.”

Kelly and the Pacific Fine Foods Team (showing off their VERY delicious kale chips)

Kelly and the Pacific Fine Foods Team

The Center for Total Health was one of the earliest adapters of the Healthy Picks guidelines, about a year ahead of schedule. As a team, we love helping our guests explore healthy AND delicious menus (ideally paired with some physical activity) for their meetings and events, and we are lucky to get to work with colleagues from inside and outside of the organization.

Now, I’m going to challenge YOU to make your next meeting healthier! Here are some tips and tools to help you start:

1. Get agreement for the concept of healthy meetings as a concept before introducing it for a specific meeting. Then hold people to it (especially the boss and other leaders).
2. Ease in! You don’t have to do a 180 degree change overnight. Try making healthy substitutions (lowfat yogurt, leaner meats, more fruits and vegetables) to start.
3. Healthy food can be tasty and fun – look for menu items with herbs and spices instead of sauces, and consider interactive options like a build your own salad bar to get people engaged in (and excited about) what they’re eating. Bonus: no one can complain about what’s in their salad!
4. If you’re ordering from a large chain, they are legally required to provide nutrition information on their menus. Use it! If you aren’t sure what is best, try consulting the USDA’s Healthy Plate guidelines or Kaiser Permanante’s own Healthy Picks guidelines. You might also like our Healthy Meetings Essentials toolkit, which has information about menus, activity, sustainability and more!

We’d love to hear more suggestions from you, and let us know if you’re working on making your meetings (or work environment) healthier!

A Q&A with FoodCorps DC

FoodCorps DC Service Sites

FoodCorps DC Service Sites

On Monday, the Center for Total Health was delighted to host a meeting for FoodCorps DC.

FoodCorps is a national nonprofit organization that has nearly 200 AmeriCorps leaders throughout the country who are connecting kids to real food so they can grow up healthy.

These service members help schools in communities with limited resources, where they educate kids on how to make smart choices around food and nutrition.  They also lead hands-on activities like gardening and cooking that foster skills and pride around healthy food.  They even help make it possible for nutritious meals from local farms to make it onto school lunch trays. FoodCorps recently expanded into Washington, D.C., where they work in partnership with OSSE and many of D.C.’s wonderful food organizations such as D.C. Greens and City Blossoms.

After Monday’s “supervisor summit” at the CTH, we asked FoodCorps DC Supervisor Maddie Morales to answer a few questions for us.

Q: What is the mission or goal of FoodCorps? 

A: Together with communities, FoodCorps serves to connect kids to healthy food in school.

Q: What are some of the FoodCorps programs in DC? 

A: FoodCorps works with community partners to place service members into DC schools. We have 13 service members serving in 17 schools across the city. Our service members have been placed at schools through our service sites which are DC Greens, City Blossoms, FreshFarm Markets, Capital Area Food Bank, Marie Reed Elementary, Washington Youth Garden, Metz Culinary, and SEED Public Charter.

Q: Where should someone go to see your work in action in DC?

A: One of our 17 partner schools! Cleveland Elementary, Eastern High School, Kimball Elementary, or Hart Middle School, to name a few.

Q: If FoodCorps could change one thing, what would it be? 

A: We would create a future in which all of our nation’s children––regardless of class, race, or geography––know what healthy food is, care where it comes from, and eat it every day.

Q: What attracted you to working with FoodCorps? 

A: I originally applied to be a service member, because I saw this as a position that aligned my goals and personal values with tangible work. After a year of service, I wanted to continue my journey with FoodCorps as a fellow to further support the amazing work this organization has been able to accomplish.

Q: How can others get involved? 

A: Apply to be a service member! Applications are open until March 31st. Spread the word or volunteer at a service site.

Q: Who won during today’s pre-meeting warm up (physically active video) games? 

The FoodCorps team took an active meeting break on Monday morning with the help of an X-Box game.

The FoodCorps team took an active meeting break on Monday morning with the help of a physically active video game.

A: Rebecca Lemos. That girl has a mean uppercut punch. (Sorry Sam.)

Q: What healthy strategies does FoodCorps employ for its employees? 

A: FoodCorps supports an environment of wellness for employees. Through access to health care, support for eating healthy and reminders to take personal time, I know that my health is a priority for the entire organization. Also, potlucks and sharing delicious, healthy food is huge around here.

Q: Besides Kaiser Permanente, what other organizations does FoodCorps partner with to succeed? 

A: We are grateful to have support from a plethora of generous organizations, foundations and individuals who think kids deserve the chance to grow up healthy and happy. Take a look at our funders’ page for a complete list.

Q: What is your goal or personal mission at FoodCorps? What do you enjoy most? 

A: As a fellow with FoodCorps, I hope to support our service members and promote the amazing work being done in DC to support healthy lives for our students. I hope my passion for improving the food environment for children and families in DC is motivational to the service member cohort and our larger community! I most enjoy working alongside fantastic and dedicated people already doing this work and learning from the strong foundation that they have created. I also have a personal mission of learning how to cook like all of my colleagues…they are amazing!

You can read more about FoodCorps on their blog and follow their work on Twitter.

Learn more about Keith Montgomery and Alice Patty through their answers to our Total Health Questionnaire.

How Food Affects Your Mood: What You Need to Know

Many of us resolved on January 1 to make some changes to our eating in an effort to improve our physical health.  But are we familiar with what effect those changes may have on our moods?

The latest episode of Total Health Radio explores this — how what we eat can affect our brain chemistry and therefore our emotions.  Learn tips for increasing dopamine and serotonin and how to stave off crashing after too many refined carbohydrates.  It’s a great listen — check it out.

salad bar

Healthy Picks for Happy Meetings

We’ve all been to meetings with food that runs counter to our best efforts. You know the drill – you wake up, maybe go for a run or hit the gym, eat a healthy breakfast and get ready for your day. You head to a great meeting, full of interesting conversation and great colleagues, only to sit down and be immediately faced with the sugared-up carb du jour and not a lean protein in site. Follow this up a few hours later with heavy lunch, and you’re ready for a nap by 2 p.m.

All smiles at the DIY Salad Bar

All smiles at the DIY Salad Bar

Kaiser Permanante has long offered guidance to employees with our “Healthy Picks” Guidelines – nutrition information and guidance to help employees select healthy meals for meetings and events. On May 1, 2014, the guidance became a policy, meaning that it’s the law of the land. Led by several executives, including Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health, & wellness, Kaiser Permanente has made it company policy to have healthy meals provided at company events. The transition is not always easy, but it is catching on as people see that healthy food doesn’t have to be boring.

The Center for Total Health committed to these guidelines more than a year ago. Working with an exclusive caterer, we have succeeded in removing sugary beverages and most desserts from the Center, while bringing in more lean protein and tasty fruits and veggies. One of the most popular innovations we’ve seen is our DIY salad bar, which lets guests build their own salad. It gets rave reviews every time.

If you’re interested in bringing healthier food to your meetings and events, please check out our guidelines. For more healthy meeting suggestions, check out the full guide from our HealthWorks team.


More on Community Access to Healthy Foods with Elevation DC

On Tuesday, June 24, an panel came together for a discussion about food in our neighborhoods – where it comes from, what barriers keep healthy foods from some communities, and solutions that are working. Kaiser Permanente and Elevation DC hosted the discussion right here at the Center for Total Health.

Food writer Mary Beth Albright moderated a lively conversation among Laine Cidlowski, an urban sustainability planner for the D.C. Office of Planning; JuJu Harris, culinary educator with the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture; and Ted Eytan, MD, physician director at the Center for Total Health. Panelists shared different perspectives about D.C.’s food system and considered the economics of good health.

This discussion was a prime opportunity to consider the consequences as well as the opportunities related to food in neighborhoods. According to Cidlowski, communities of high poverty that are more than a 10-minute walk or one bus transfer away from a full-service grocery store are considered food deserts. D.C. liquor stores and fast food restaurants dominate some of the most vulnerable communities where grocery stores have gone out of business or have never existed. This condition leaves residents wanting – and to a large extent, vulnerable to chronic illness and low quality of life.

Organizations such as Arcadia farms, with its mobile market, are filling the gap by bringing fresh produce to people where they live and teaching residents about food selection and meal preparation. Harris, Arcadia’s culinary educator and SNAP outreach coordinator, hosts cooking demonstrations at the markets to help engage customers about what to do with the produce once they get home. She shared that even a 10-minute walk can sometimes be too much for people living in poverty.

Community gardens, gardening plots and urban farms are also part of the solution, however Cidlowski shared that with so much demand, there are now wait lists – some as long as three years – to use some green spaces. But with revitalization efforts in the city, much consideration is being given to food access in the District.

Eytan offered the physician perspective. He highlighted the connection between food and health and why this issue is integral to Kaiser Permanente’s total health mission. “We want to provide health care, not just sick care,” said Eytan, who encourages patients to make time for physical activity and healthy meal preparation, but acknowledges that healthy choices are difficult to make in many neighborhoods.

Enjoy more food for thought—read Elevation DC’s full story.

USDA Supports Better Health for Kids with New “Smart Snacks in Schools” Guidelines

PrintThe USDA announced this week the latest addition to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010: The “Smart Snacks in Schools” nutrition standards.  Highlights of these new standards. according to the website, include:

    • More of the foods we should encourage.
    • Less of the foods we should avoid.
    • Targeted beverage standards allowing variation by age group.
    • Flexibility for important traditions.
    • Ample time for implementation.

The infographic here illustrates the difference in school snacks before and after introduction of the standards.

More on this news can be found on the Thriving Schools blog or via the USDA’s official press release.

Bringing Healthier, More Nutritious Options to Food Banks

Our friends at the Kaiser Permanente News Center have a nice write-up today about the initiative called Healthy Options, Healthy Meals™ that focuses on meeting the nutritional needs of people who rely on emergency food assistance programs — such as food banks — for their meals.

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, in partnership with the Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley, and Kaiser Permanente, has helped numerous food banks throughout the United States improve the quality and nutrition of their food by optimizing procurement and supply policies and practices. A few of the successes the program has experienced, along with other learnings, are highlighted in the video below.

More on the work of the Healthy Options, Healthy Meals initiative can be found here.

A National Conversation: Improving Access to Healthy Foods

On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, as many of the country’s leading health experts gathered at the Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, DC to pour over the latest findings and recommendations from the Institute of Medicine for addressing the obesity epidemic, another group of experts assembled nearby at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Total Health to discuss how they were already making progress on obesity prevention. The group—representing community development financial institutions, farmers market promotion programs, community planners, and food project coordinators—shared their insights and strategies for empowering communities through improved access to healthy, affordable food under the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.

HFFI is a national effort to attract investment in under-served communities to support the development of fresh food retail services for communities who want and need access to healthier food. Loan and grant funding is provided through a variety of federal agencies, including the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support development and expansion of healthy food retail. Such funding investments have been shown to jump start community economic development, provide much needed jobs, and create opportunities for improved access to healthy food through corner store conversions, the institution of farmers markets, and new or expanded supermarkets and other food retailers. Since its launch in 2011, $77 million has been allocated for the HFFI.

The HFFI gathering was sponsored by PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund, three organizations working to advance social, economical, and health equity for people living in under-served communities. Notably, The Food Trust and The Reinvestment Fund had achieved previous success when they partnered with the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition nearly 10 years ago to create the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative. The Pennsylvania initiative became a nationwide model for healthy food financing and has since spurred similar state-based efforts across the country. California’s FreshWorks Fund, of which Kaiser Permanente is a sponsor and funder, is one of the more recent incarnations of such public-private partnerships.

At the HFFI gathering in Washington, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president of community health, Loel Solomon, PhD, energized those in the crowd with his encouraging stories of how local food markets bring communities together. His talk was followed by Pennsylvania Congresswoman, Allyson Schwartz, who recounted the steps to success in her state and the need to continue to advocate for these kinds of initiatives across the country. Both speeches are provided below. Following the gathering, many of the attendees split off in taxis and shuttles to meet with their Congressional representatives on Capitol Hill in order to further tell their story about how they are involved in bringing healthy food access to their communities.

A Chat with Fooducate’s Hemi Weingarten at Health 2.0 Spring Fling

The Center for Total Health Blog was in Boston this week for Health 2.0’s Spring Fling event, and we sought out up-and-coming innovators in the health space to hear what they are working on and what we can expect in the near future.  Over the next week, we’ll be posting interviews from the event, and today, we kick that off with our conversation with Hemi Weingarten, CEO of Fooducate.

Back in February when the blog was reporting from HIMSS, we asked Matthew Holt—founder of The Health Care Blog’s co-founder of Health 2.0—to tell us about one of his latest favorite apps, and he gave us an informal demo of Fooducate.  Weingarten goes a bit deeper, sharing the inspiration for the application, what’s on the horizon for Fooducate (apps for folks with food allergies and diabetes), and a short demonstration of some of its features.

Fooducate is available on iOS and Android devices, and it was selected as Apple’s Best App of 2011 in the Health & Fitness category.  They have their own blog with helpful advice on navigating the world of nutrition labels and making healthy choices.  Check it out here.   You can also follow them on Twitter— @Fooducate.

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