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Archived HHRA News Posts
  • HHRA’s 2023 Annual Report

    Last year was a year of progress and transition for the HHRA and the Heartland Study. Read about it here!  

  • Supporting HHRA and the Heartland Study Through Donor-Advised Funds

    An increasingly popular way to manage charitable giving is by donating cash, securities, or other assets into a donor-advised fund (DAF), from which you will receive an immediate tax deduction. From this, donors can recommend grants to IRS-qualified nonprofit organizations.  DAFs are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to “grow” resources earmarked for future charitable giving.  The HHRA is an IRS-qualified organization, and we encourage you to use your DAF, if you have one, to support our mission. You can find three simple steps to supporting our research via your DAF here.  Simple and convenient, your DAF can have genuine effects on the health of mothers, babies, and future generations.  Thank you!

  • HHRA-funded Dicamba study published in “agrochemicals”

    Dicamba and 2,4-D in the Urine of Pregnant Women in the Midwest: Comparison of Two Cohorts (2010–2012 vs. 2020–2022) Abstract Currently, there are no known human biomonitoring studies that concurrently examine biomarkers of dicamba and 2,4-D. We sought to compare biomarkers of exposure to herbicides in pregnant women residing in the US Midwest before and after the adoption of dicamba-tolerant soybean technology using urine specimens obtained in 2010–2012 from the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-to-be (N = 61) and in 2020–2022 from the Heartland Study (N = 91). Specific gravity-standardized concentration levels for each analyte were compared between the cohorts, assuming data are lognormal and specifying values below the LOD as left-censored. The proportion of pregnant individuals with dicamba detected above the LOD significantly increased from 28% (95% CI: 16%, 40%) in 2010–2012 to 70% (95% CI: 60%, 79%) in 2020–2022, and dicamba concentrations also significantly increased from 0.066 μg/L (95% CI: 0.042, 0.104) to 0.271 μg/L (95% CI: 0.205, 0.358). All pregnant individuals from both cohorts had 2,4-D detected. Though 2,4-D concentration levels increased, the difference was not significant (p-value = 0.226). Reliance on herbicides has drastically increased in the last ten years in the United States, and the results obtained in this study highlight the need to track exposure and impacts on adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. Keywords: pesticide; exposure; 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; human biomonitoring You can read the paper here.

  • Crop-killing Weeds Advance Across US as Herbicides Lose Effectiveness

    Farmers say they are losing their battle with weeds at a time when growers are grappling with inflation and extreme weather linked to climate change. Crop-killing weeds such as kochia are advancing across the U.S. northern plains and Midwest, in the latest sign that weeds are developing resistance to chemicals faster than companies including Bayer and Corteva  can develop new ones to fight them. In many cases weeds are developing resistance against multiple herbicides, scientists said. Read the Reuters report here.  Read an earlier post by the HHRA board chair on the problem of resistant weeds here.

  • Heartland Health Research Alliance logo Help Lead this Worthy Cause: The HHRA is Recruiting Board Members

    We are publicly recruiting for board positions to ensure that we move beyond our immediate networks and honor our ongoing commitment to creating a board that is diverse in its composition, inclusive in its culture, and equity-focused in its approach to how it views its mission, its work, and the communities it serves. Our board members are the fiduciaries who steer the HHRA toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the HHRA has adequate resources to advance its mission. The Heartland Health Research Alliance (HHRA) is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2020 and dedicated to creating a new future in which cultivating health is the priority of farming. Our mission is to help inform the decisions shaping agriculture by advancing research on the health effects of food and farming. The HHRA seeks to fill vacancies on its board with qualified volunteers who, in addition to the standard roles and responsibilities (see below) of a board member, will be active advocates and ambassadors for the organization. Preferred qualifications 1. Professional experience in public health, medical research, epidemiology, toxicology, or organic farming, 2. A network or experience, or both, that may facilitate grant seeking and fundraising. 3. Commitment to the scientific method and the integrity of research. Essential information 1. The board of the HHRA is a volunteer board. 2. Each term is for three years, to which members can be re-elected once. 3. The board meets four times a year via the Internet. Expectations The HHRA expects each board member to honor the HHRA values and mission, act in the best interest of the HHRA, prepare for the board meetings by reading the agenda and reports, participate in the board meetings, and identify personal and professional connections for HHRA fundraising, grant-seeking, and policy influence. Process 1. To apply to volunteer, please send your CV and a one-page cover letter providing your name, contact information, and a description of either which of the preferred qualifications (above) you will bring to the HHRA or how your unique qualifications can help the HHRA.  Send these materials to Russell K. King, HHRA executive director, at . 2. Qualified applications will be reviewed by the current board, which will vote on whether to seat a volunteer as a member. (The next board meeting is in February 2024.) 3. The recruiting process will remain open until all seats are filled. Standard board member duties 1) Board members should advance the mission of the organization Overall, spreading awareness for your mission will promote growth and empower your team to flourish in its work. 2) Board members should prepare for and attend board meetings Review the agenda in advance. Everyone should understand all matters on the agenda heading into the meeting. Participation in discussions is a big part of why you choose someone for a role on the board. Fulfilling these duties is part of acting in good faith for any board member. 3) Board members hire, set compensation for, support, and collaborate with the executive director Hiring and supporting the executive director is one of the most important board member responsibilities.  The executive director is the professional hired to as bring nonprofit leadership and operational expertise to the HRRA’s daily operations and to advice and educate the board on matters relating to nonprofit governance and operations, so this board role is crucial to the organization’s health. 4) Board members are responsible for recruiting new members Drawing on your professional and personal networks, seek new members who have needed skills and qualities that are missing from the current board. 5) Every board member must fulfill three specific core legal responsibilities. Duty of Care Attending meetings and actively participating. Communicating with the executive director and other board members. Following through on assignments.. Supporting programs. Duty of Loyalty Support HHRA’s mission. Be a loyal ambassador for HHRA’s cause. All activities and decisions should be in the best interest of the organization, not in the best interest of the individual board member. Support the HHRA executive director. Duty of Obedience Adhere to HHRA’s bylaws, policies, and board decisions.

What Makes One Food “Healthy” and Another Less So or Not “Healthy”?

Feb 14th, 2023
Feb 14th, 2023

U.S. Food and Drug Administration logoAs part of the September 28, 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, the Food and Drug Administration published in the Federal Register a Proposed Rule that had been fermenting for six years.  The rule sets forth a new definition of “healthy” food and lays out a front-of-package labeling system designed to assist consumers pick healthier food products.

The term “healthy” as defined by the FDA in its Proposed Rule means the capacity of a food to promote human health by meeting a person’s daily needs for essential nutrients, health-promoting vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and healthy fatty acids.

FDA invited comments from the public, scientists, and the food industry on the nuts and bolts of their newly proposed definition of “healthy” food. HHRA’s comments begin with a paragraph explaining why this Proposed Rule could be the most important one issued by the FDA in the last half century when measured by potential positive impacts on our collective health.

“Data compiled by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington show that in 2010 dietary choices accounted for the largest share of deaths, and nearly 50% more deaths than smoking (the #2 cause of death).  Food and diet quality are important factors driving 6 of the top 10 causes mortality across the US population.”

Food both sustains us and cuts short far too many lives. It impairs the quality of life for about one-third of the US population, impacting people who struggle with overweight and one or more chronic disease with roots in food choices.

The HHRA Public Policy Advisory Committee took the lead in recruiting an international team of scientists with expertise in multiple disciplines. Their collective critique of the provisions in the FDA’s proposed rule is contained in their 45-page set of comments submitted today to the FDA (see some news coverage here). The team writes:

“We conclude that the new definition of healthy food and the food labeling system proposed by the FDA will likely do little good in moving consumers toward healthier dietary patterns. Indeed, the FDA apparently agrees with our assessment, given FDA’s sobering estimate that its proposed new definition of healthy food and labeling system will alter no more than 0.4% of consumer food purchase decisions.”

Given this very modest projected impact, the HHRA team decided to describe the primary provisions of a definition and labelling system with potential to guide consumers hoping to make smarter, more health-promoting food choices. It will also help people sort through the many, sometimes dubious “healthy” food claims on packaging encountered along almost every aisle in supermarkets.

HHRA’s Counter Proposal – The NuCal System

Mark Lipson, HHRA's policy director, holding part of an organic tomato harvest from 2018
The Molino Creek Collective in Davenport, California has grown nutrient-dense, tasty organic tomatoes for many years. HHRA’s policy director Mark Lipson is holding a part of the 2018 harvest.

The HHRA comments spell out the core provisions of  what we call the NuCal system. NuCal is designed to overcome the inherent weaknesses of the system proposed by the FDA. It incorporates a commonsense metric that captures in a single value the degree to which a serving of a given food meets a person’s essential nutrient needs.

An Appendix in HHRA’s comments provide the detailed data used to calculate NuCal values for  196 common foods. These values are then used to array the foods along a “Nutritional Quality Continuum” divided into green (very healthy), yellow (moderately healthy), and red (not so healthy) zones.

Healthy foods are those that provide 4-times or more of the essential nutrients a person needs in a day compared to the share of the total calories that person can consume in a day while maintaining a healthy bodyweight.

Not so healthy foods take up twice or more of the caloric space in a person’s daily diet relative to the percent of total essential nutrients we all need to stay healthy.

The top five green-zone foods that excel in the NuCal system and each food’s score using the system’s novel metric are:

  1. Spinach (NuCal score 17)
  2. Turnip greens (17)
  3. Kale (15.3)
  4. Asparagus (15.2)
  5. Broccoli (8.8)

Red-zone foods take up more caloric space relative to the nutrition they deliver. The five foods with the lowest NuCal scores are:

  1. Sprite, Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up and most sugar-sweetened soda (0.03),
  2. Honey (0.04)
  3. Fruit flavored Gatorade (0.09)
  4. Butter (0.17)
  5. Yellow cake with icing (0.31)

The NuCal system makes it easy for consumers to make choices that will promote rather than undermine good health. Here is one of the insights gained from the NuCal system that is featured in the HHRA comments:

Consuming a serving of orange juice with a NuCal score of 1.45 instead of a coke or 7-Up would enhance the NuCal metric score for a single beverage serving by 48-fold!”

Food choices matter. Check out where some of your favorite foods and meals land along the Nutritional Quality Continuum and find answers to these two questions:

Of the 196 foods included in HHRA’s analysis, which food delivers the most nutrients per serving compared to all other 195 foods?

What portion of a person’s daily caloric intake is “taken up” by a Big Mac with cheese?

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