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6 signs 2011 could be healthier than 2010

The bees are disappearing, more kids (and even babies) are obese, and the flu is picking up steam in the United States—but not all signs point to a world of declining health. In fact, the following recent headlines give me hope that 2011 could actually be a healthier year for people and the planet.

McDonald’s does oatmeal: The fast food giant responsible for serving billions of fat- and sodium-laden hamburgers across the globe, rang in 2011 by rolling out its new Fruit & Maple Oatmeal nationwide. The new menu option is part of the company’s move to meet growing consumer demand for higher-quality, healthier food. Said Cindy Goody, PhD, RD, McDonald’s senior director of nutrition: "McDonald's wants to help make it easier and more inviting for our guests to eat more whole grains and fruits, and Fruit & Maple Oatmeal is an effective way to help our customers integrate these important food groups into their daily diets.” OK, so McDonald's is still selling all of of those hamburgers and french fries, but this is a step in the right direction and a sign of shifting consumer preference.

Tribe focuses on heritage to open natural grocery: In a sign that healthier living is spreading to every corner of the United States, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community, a federally recognized Native American tribe in Shakopee, Minnesota, opened its first natural and organic products market on January 3. Called Mazopiya, the store will give the tribe easier access to natural, organic and locally produced food; free-range, grass-fed meats; dietary supplements; and natural and organic personal care, household cleaning and pet products.

“A natural foods store is perfectly in line with our philosophy of protecting and preserving the environment for future generations,” Tribal Chairman Stanley R. Crooks told the Shakopee Valley News. “As Dakota people it is important to us to continue to take care of the earth to leave a legacy of a healthy planet for future generations.”

Italians say ciao to plastic bags:If you’re planning a trip to Italy, don’t forget your reusable shopping bags. That’s because the country’s ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect on January 1. The ban will help to keep the 20 billion plastic bags Italians use each year out of the landfill—and will hopefully motivate other countries to follow in Italy’s footsteps. It is too bad, however, that industry lobbying stalled full implementation of the ban, which began in 2006 and could unfortunately lack effective enforcement. Still, the movement against plastic bags finally appears to be picking up global steam—and that is good news for everyone.

You, not your genes, control your health: Research showing that our genes are not responsible for obesity, diabetes and other chronic health problems is growing. Nutrigenomic research, on the other hand, is demonstrating that we can eat our way to truly better health. Taken together, this means that we can take control of our health by eating well, exercising, and reducing our stress and exposure to environmental toxins. If you have children (as I do), you can influence their health destiny as much through the example you set and the environment you provide as through the passing on of your genes.

Farmers markets brave the winter to support local: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 900 farmers markets now run through the winter months—a 17 percent increase from two years ago. This means that in many U.S. communities people have year round access to fresh, locally grown and organic fruits, vegetables and other foods. The Huffington Post reports that the increase in winter farmers markets is being fueled by the growing number of consumers who want to eat local year round and the ability of producers to prolong the growing season with greenhouses and other methods.

Organic lands $50 million and Jillian Michaels: The USDA’s Organic Initiative, which makes up to $50 million available to small- and medium-sized farmers, is moving into its third year. A provision of the 2008 Farm Bill, the Organic Initiative is designed to support certified organic producers and farms transitioning to organic production, which will help meet growing consumer demand for organic fare. But it’s not just the government that is increasing its support of organic. A growing number of celebrities, including The Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels, are using their influence in support of organic agriculture. “I want to be a part of getting organic farms subsidized,” Michaels recently told People magazine.

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