Symposium tackles obesity and food issues

The Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute held its first annual symposium on health and food issues.

Breakfast is served at the Healthy Food, Healthy Lives Symposium on Monday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.

Breakfast is served at the Healthy Food, Healthy Lives Symposium on Monday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Center.

by Jill Jensen

The world is fat, which is part of the reason that processed foods âÄî the kind that can sit in the cupboard for three years without going bad âÄî have been demonized. Instead, health advocates claim fresh fruits and vegetables are the key to healthy living. And while eating fresh fruits and vegetables may be ideal, it isnâÄôt always realistic, Eric Decker , a professor of food science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst said. Decker, one of 15 experts who spoke about the current state of food and public health at the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Symposium at the University of Minnesota on Monday, said AmericaâÄôs fattest people also tend to be its poorest, and while fresh organic foods may be more nutritious, they donâÄôt come cheap. About 300 people attended the symposium, HFHLâÄôs first in a series of annual seminars it plans to hold. Other issues addressed at the symposium included âÄòDiet versus Drugs for Obesity Treatment,âÄô the negative effects of high fructose corn syrup, and antibiotic use on animals. During the symposium, Decker argued processed foods are actually the key to improving the worldâÄôs health. The new challenge for food scientists, he said, will be to make nutritious foods that also appeal to the masses. Scientists have already been able to suck the fat, salt and sugar from junk food, but labels expounding health benefits like âÄúsugar-freeâÄù and âÄúzero grams trans fatâÄù have developed a stigma as merely a marketing ploy or as bad-tasting. âÄúIf it doesnâÄôt taste good, no one will eat it,âÄù Decker said. Stacy Dalton , a food and nutritional science student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, said she traveled to Minneapolis specifically to attend the symposium because she wanted to learn more about current topics in health. Another Stout student, Elizabeth Langreck , woke up at 4 a.m. to make the drive. âÄúI think itâÄôs really beneficial for students to see and hear the discussion going on,âÄù Dalton said. Packing as many nutrients as possible into the food people eat and starting with the organic growing process was also discussed at the symposium. While definitive health benefits are very difficult to prove, organically grown fruits and vegetables have shown greater amounts of beneficial nutrients like vitamin C and good sugars, said Alyson Mitchell , professor of food science and technology at University of California, Davis. When asked about price issues with organic foods and the inevitable cost of higher quality food mentioned by Decker, Mitchell replied, âÄúThis is common sense; you get what you pay for.âÄù