For many good reasons, health experts and policymakers continually seek ways to encourage Americans to become healthier. Mostly, these efforts fall short. (Raise your hand if you’ve met your New Year’s resolution.)

Researchers at Drexel University conducted a review of various public policies, laws, programs and approaches, from banning sodas in school vending machines to building more walking paths, to determine which are most effective at promoting long-term public health.

They looked at natural experiments with which they could compare people’s caloric intake or activity levels before and after a change or against a similar group of people unaffected by the change.

Changes with the strongest impacts were those that improved the nutritional quality of food, such as banning trans fat, limiting sugary or high-fat food and beverage access, and improvement of active transportation infrastructure, such as adding more bike routes.

Changes with smaller or no impact, according to research data, included nutritional information requirements and building supermarkets in underserved areas.

A common shortcoming in many studies is that they only measured process outcomes, such as food purchases, not desired health outcomes, such as weight loss.

“Research suggests that people will use new amenities like bike shares and limit purchases of unhealthy foods in specific contexts like schools,” said Stephanie Mayne, who led the Drexel review. “But it is less clear whether these changes translate into overall improvements in diet and physical activity.”

Body of Knowledge

Human adults breathe, on average, about 23,000 times a day.

Get Me That, Stat!

A smoker who consumes a pack a day for 10 years will smoke 73,050 cigarettes, or 3,653 packs, in that time period, according to the American Cancer Society’s cigarette calculator. On average, the life span of the average smoker is a decade shorter than that of a nonsmoker.

Phobia of the Week

Athazagoraphobia: fear of being forgotten or ignored.

Never Say Diet

The speed-eating record for Mars bars is 38 bars in five minutes, held by Patrick Bertoletti. A regular 52-gram Mars candy bar (milk chocolate, nougat and caramel) contains 240 calories. Bertoletti thus consumed 9,120 calories — or the equivalent of more than 1 pound of salted butter. It’s not known whether this record extends beyond Earth.

Best Medicine

After a checkup, a doctor asked his patient, “Is there anything you’d like to discuss?”

“Well,” said the patient, “I was thinking about getting a vasectomy.”

“That’s a big decision. Have you talked it over with your family?”

“Yes, we took a vote. They’re in favor of it 15 to 2.”


“I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous; everyone hasn’t met me yet.” — comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004)

Medical History

This week in 1930, Jimmy Dewar, plant manager at Continental Baking Co. in Chicago, debuted the Twinkie — a sponge cake injected with banana cream. Dewar created Twinkies as an inexpensive treat for the times (the Great Depression). They sold two for a nickel. Their brand, Hostess, estimates that more than 500 million are consumed each year. It is unknown how many are digested.

Curtain Calls

An 18-year-old man dashing to catch a late-night bus in Birmingham, England, last year ran head-on into the bus stop, which he apparently did not see. He collapsed, stood up and then collapsed again and later died at a hospital.

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