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A Better Food Label

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A quick scan of grocery store shelves shows that there’s been an explosion of ethical food labels and certifications: Certified Organic, Non-GMO, dolphin-safe, free-range, cage-free, Fair Trade, Animal Welfare Approved. These labels and their associated standards—typically verified by a third-party audit and subject to annual renewal—hope to recruit consumers to influence the practices of food production. If more people buy cage-free eggs, fewer farms would use “battery-cages,” where hens live confined wing to wing in wire pens.

Most labels focus on just one issue, says Johns Hopkins toxicologist Alan Goldberg, and don’t paint a broad picture of how that food is produced. Goldberg and an advisory team are creating a comprehensive ethical information and certification program that would rate adherence to multiple criteria related to the environment, animal welfare, labor standards, water utilization and contamination, and food safety. The purpose of the label, which is the first of its kind and still in development, is to create a template of ethical standards for the food industry and to better inform consumers about their choices. If all goes as planned, the information program and labels will appear on packaging by winter 2018 or early 2019.

food label
Chris Gash

Putting the Brakes on Asthma

Public Policy

Levy a tax on drivers to reduce asthma attacks in children? It’s an exhaust-busting strategy that worked in Sweden, where Stockholm’s “congestion tax” reduced asthma attacks in kids by up to 47 percent over the course of just a few years.

Administered by license plate scanners in the “congestion pricing zone,” the tax costs up to the equivalent of $2.60 per vehicle, depending on the time of day, with the tax waived on weekends, holidays, and the month of July.

Johns Hopkins economist Emilia Simeonova was part of a team of researchers that studied the tax and its impact. While the pollution level dropped between 5 and 10 percent very quickly, the health improvement in children was more gradual, suggesting that the full health benefits from reduced pollution might not occur immediately. Patience can reap big rewards, Simeonova says.

More Exercise Means More Money

EXERCISE

Encouraging kids to go outside and play does more than give parents a few fleeting moments of Zen. It could also save billions of dollars over the long haul in lost wages and medical bills.

Using computer modeling, researchers from Johns Hopkins and Carnegie Mellon universities simulated how changing children’s level of physical activity could not only affect them throughout their lifetime but also have a significant impact on the economy. Currently, 32 percent of children in the U.S. engage in 25 minutes of physical activity three times a week. If we could bump it up to 50 percent, the overall savings in medical costs and lost wages would amount to $21 billion over the lifetime of today’s kids.

On the flip side, if the current level of kid fitness remains, we’d see 8.1 million overweight or obese children by 2020, with a price tag of $2.8 trillion in additional medical costs and lost wages over their lifetimes.

“As the prevalence of childhood obesity grows, so will the value of increasing physical activity,” says study leader Bruce Y. Lee, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “We need to be adding physical education programs and not cutting them. We need to encourage kids to be active, to reduce screen time and get them running around again. It’s important for their physical health—and the nation’s financial health.”

kids exercising
Monika Melnychuk

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