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One of the largest public health challenges we face today is chronic disease, which accounts for more than 60% of the world’s preventable deaths[1]. Chronic disease, an umbrella category for illnesses such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, has grown significantly in the last 20 years and is costing us billions in medical expenses. And to a large extent these diseases can be prevented or mitigated through diet and lifestyle changes.

As part of the effort to shift away from diets that are calorie-dense but are mainly nutrient-poor, the public health sector is undergoing an awakening to the value of increasing seafood consumption. What do the seas have to do with nutrition? In essence, to grow old and healthy we need to take in nutrients from the seas. It really is “The Old Man and The Sea.”

Seafood is a lean protein filled with healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. It is also more environmentally efficient than other proteins to produce, with aquaculture using less feed (and less fresh water) than other proteins. Unfortunately, at present 80-90% of Americans are confused about seafood and whether to add it to their diets.[2] The main reasons for such low rates of seafood consumption are lack of knowledge in selecting and buying seafood, low confidence in knowing how to properly cook seafood, and a perception that seafood is expensive.

Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP) released a whitepaper this October titled “Breaking Barriers: Empowering America’s Underserved with Resources and Access to a Healthy Diet.”[3] This whitepaper outlines SNP’s campaign to bring seafood nutrition to those with the greatest need. Below is an excerpt.

[1] World Health Organization. 2011. Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/ncd_report_full_en.pdf

[2] USDA AgResearch Magazine, August 2015, “Consumers Missing Out On Seafood Benefits” http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2015/aug/seafood/

[3] http://www.seafoodnutrition.org/uploads/1/9/5/0/19505793/snp_whitepaper-oct2015.pdf

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One of the largest public health challenges we face today is chronic disease, which accounts for more than 60% of the world’s preventable deaths[1]. Chronic disease, an umbrella category for illnesses such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer, has grown significantly in the last 20 years and is costing us billions in medical expenses. And to a large extent these diseases can be prevented or mitigated through diet and lifestyle changes.

As part of the effort to shift away from diets that are calorie-dense but are mainly nutrient-poor, the public health sector is undergoing an awakening to the value of increasing seafood consumption. What do the seas have to do with nutrition? In essence, to grow old and healthy we need to take in nutrients from the seas. It really is “The Old Man and The Sea.”

Seafood is a lean protein filled with healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. It is also more environmentally efficient than other proteins to produce, with aquaculture using less feed (and less fresh water) than other proteins. Unfortunately, at present 80-90% of Americans are confused about seafood and whether to add it to their diets.[2] The main reasons for such low rates of seafood consumption are lack of knowledge in selecting and buying seafood, low confidence in knowing how to properly cook seafood, and a perception that seafood is expensive.

Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP) released a whitepaper this October titled “Breaking Barriers: Empowering America’s Underserved with Resources and Access to a Healthy Diet.”[3] This whitepaper outlines SNP’s campaign to bring seafood nutrition to those with the greatest need. Below is an excerpt:

The Seafood Nutrition Partnership has taken up the charge of dispelling the notion that seafood is expensive and only available to the wealthy, and is raising awareness of the critical health benefits that seafood can provide for all Americans.

Education: The Invaluable Health Resource

At the core of SNP is its nutrition intervention program, Eating Heart Healthy, which aims to increase awareness of heart health by helping underserved Americans, especially women, feed their families nutritious and healthy meals by demonstrating how simple and inexpensive it can be to incorporate seafood into their diets and budgets.

Last year, the Seafood Nutrition Partnership concluded its Eating Heart Healthy pilot program. The program, in partnership with Boston-based Brigham & Women’s Hospital, the teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, and Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH), a nonprofit affordable-housing community for low- and moderate-income families, was designed to help women curb their risk of heart disease through a seafood-rich diet.

For four weeks, female RTH residents participated in heart health talks and cooking demonstrations, sampled omega-3 capsules, and were provided seafood recipes that average $10 to feed a family of four. At the end of the program, it was estimated that 92 percent of participants lowered their risk of sudden cardiac death, and 6 in 10 participants were at a lower risk for general cardiac problems.

The success of the four-week program led SNP to launch pilot public health education campaigns in Memphis, TN and Indianapolis, IN.  SNP partnered with local chefs, stakeholders, community leaders and health professionals to host cooking demonstrations, free health screenings for omega-3 levels, week-long restaurant events, and distribute free health education literature and recipes highlighting the nutritional benefits of seafood.

The success of those pilots provided the foundation to expand the grassroots, public health education campaign this October, also National Seafood Month, to a total of nine cities, including: Birmingham, AL; Charleston, WV; Golden Isles, GA; Indianapolis, IN; Jacksonville, FL; Lexington, KY; Memphis, TN; Oklahoma City, OK, and Toledo, OH.

Seven of those target markets, chosen because of their high rates of CVD[4], are in the top 14 states with the highest rates of obesity, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s new obesity report.

To be sure, education and targeted public health campaigns are critical in spreading point-of-purchase information and knowledge about how to select, order and prepare healthy proteins such as fish and shellfish, where consumers are at increased risk of making poor choices.

SNP can only succeed with the growing number of partners and donors that support this innovative campaign. We invite you to inquire on how you can support this campaign by going to www.seafoodnutrition.org. While there begin with the first step of taking the Healthy Heart Pledge, which is to eat seafood at least twice a week. May we all age gracefully and enjoy the seas.

[1] World Health Organization. 2011. Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/ncd_report_full_en.pdf

[2] USDA AgResearch Magazine, August 2015, “Consumers Missing Out On Seafood Benefits” http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2015/aug/seafood/

[3] http://www.seafoodnutrition.org/uploads/1/9/5/0/19505793/snp_whitepaper-oct2015.pdf

[4] Cardiovascular Disease

Linda Cornish is Executive Director for the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. She has held leadership and management positions with Arthur Andersen, Hitachi Business Consulting, Harrah’s Entertainment, Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, and Bill of Rights Institute.

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