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Appetite for Health

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Food sustains life. It brings comfort and joy. It plays a role in defining cultures. Home-cooked and commercially prepared meals bring families together and unite friends, old and new.

But food — or more precisely, certain types of foods and the extent to which they are consumed — can also promote chronic disease and early death. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are considered overweight or obese, putting them at risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. At the same time, more than 42 million U.S. residents live in households that lack reliable access to sufficient amounts of affordable and nutritious food. Paradoxically, many of the same people who are food-insecure are also prone to obesity, in part because the cheapest meal options tend to be unhealthy, and low-income communities are often characterized by an abundance of fast food and a scarcity of fresh produce. The problem is exacerbated by a sedentary population — 80 percent of U.S. adults fail to meet recommended physical activity levels.

The Fielding School has a long history of promoting improved nutrition and physical activity, from the pioneering work of early faculty members in identifying essential nutrients and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, to more recent efforts that have contributed to a dramatic shift in food policies for a federal program benefiting low-income families and major improvements in the food and fitness environments of schools, workplaces and communities. As the stories on the pages that follow illustrate, FSPH faculty, students and alumni continue to identify and implement solutions that are making it possible for more people to lead nutritious and active lives.