Archive for January 2013 | Monthly archive page

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Is a calorie just a calorie?

Obesity is one of the most visible problems in our country. But it may be masking another overarching chronic health problem – malnutrition.

In a country with so many choices, so much inexpensive food everywhere, and a McDonalds in every town big or small, why would we have to worry about malnutrition?

We pride food on being inexpensive and convenient above all else – above sustainability, above quality, and above nutritional content. As a result, the grocery aisles have become stuffed with packaged, processed foods designed for low cost and long shelf-life. Unfortunately, the nutritional value of these foods is often little to none. So while most Americans are certainly getting enough to eat, they are not consuming the nutrients that are essential for health.  Nutrient deficiency-related diseases can happen to anyone – even an EcoWoman.

Everyone has a different diet, and risks for possible nutrient deficiencies. And women in particular face risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Here are five common nutrient deficiencies in American women:

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D aids the auto-immune system – a deficiency may lead to increased susceptibility to colds and the flu. Vitamin D’s role with the immune system also helps prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes. More commonly known is vitamin D’s critical role in calcium absorption and in regulating the nervous system. Women have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis than men, so maintaining bone health is particularly important.

2. Calcium

Calcium and Vitamin D go hand in hand in terms of bone health. Osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases among women – over half of women over the age of 45 are affected. The risks of osteoporosis are more deadly than one might think – bones degraded from osteoporosis causes about 250,000 hip fractures in the U.S. each year, resulting in a 20 percent risk of death.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Over 90% of Americans have too little Omega-3 Fatty Acids in their diet. As an essential component of the brain (60% of brain material is made from omega 3 fatty acids), a deficit can lead to learning disabilities, such as ADHD, or contribute to depression. It also may contribute to obesity or heart disease.

4. Folic Acid

Folic acid is extremely important for women that are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Folate helps protect against a number of embryonic malformations, including neural defects. Also, advanced folate deficiency can lead to anemia. And speaking of anemia…

5. Iron

For vegetarians, iron can be the biggest challenge. Iron-deficiency anemia causes extreme fatigue, dizziness, and an increased heart rate – so much so that it can be difficult to simply walk up a hill. And in the longer term, anemia can have severe impacts, leading to heart disease or heart attacks. The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world.

With all the research on the dangers of vitamin supplements, it is important – and increasingly difficult – to get these nutrients from natural sources. There are exceptions, of course – vegetarians might take iron supplements to ensure their iron stays at healthy levels and prevent anemia. But they should always be supplemented with the real thing – iron pills could be taken with quinoa, spinach, and lentils.

One thing to take away from this is that maintaining nutrient health is HARD. It can be very difficult to get all the nutrients you need in a natural way, without relying on a multivitamin. But there are experts that can help. Now, I’m no expert – just an EcoWoman trying to stay healthy. For a chance to learn from real experts, DC EcoWomen is hosting a workshop. Dr. Melissa Windsor and Dr. Karen Threlkel of the Restorative Health Center for Integrative Medicine will talk about why we’re malnourished, what the common deficiencies are, and how simple changes in your food choices can make a difference.

A calorie is NOT just a calorie. A nutrient-filled calorie means a whole lot more. In time, it could mean everything.

Learn more about the workshop “Overfed Yet Undernourished” and reserve your ticket.

posted by | Comments Off on Jane Danowitz Ecohour: Woman and Words of Wisdom

On January 15, Jane Danowitz arrived at DC EcoWomen’s monthly EcoHour in a geometric necklace hanging over a bright fuschia blazer – an outfit nearly as bright and colorful as her personality. Speaking to a captivated audience, she told the story of her life and her career – her youth as a feminist and an activist in a supremely patriarchal world, and her remarkable multi-sectored career path. Throughout the story, and in the question and answer session that followed, she left the crowd with many gems of wisdom.

Danowitz is currently the Director of the U.S. Public Lands Program at Pew Environment Group, but the path she took to get there was rather unusual, branching into politics, lobbying, the labor movement and women’s rights. Immediately after graduating college, she accepted a job as a typewriter for a moderate Republican Congressman before going on to law school. She then spent the next couple decades in many different field – she lobbied for First Lady Betty Ford, and then worked in the labor movement. She headed the Women’s Campaign Fund, for several years, where she helped women get leadership experience – her dream job. Finally, Danowitz worked with the Clinton Administration, and then the Land & Water Conservation Fund, which is how she finally wound up at the Pew Foundation 10 years ago.

Given her varied experiences, some call her the “one-woman-coalition,” and for good reason.

Her life story unsurprisingly left her with many good lessons, some of which she shared with the fellow women in the audience:

1. Don’t Rush Into Job Specialization
Try out different industries, sectors, and skills. Look around, and don’t rush into any specific career. A broad array of skills is extremely helpful to pull from whenever needed.

2. Career Transitioning is Difficult (but Important)
In a new environment, it’s important to hone your skills right away, and this will often take some gruntwork. Spend time learning the dynamics of the field, who gets ahead and who doesn’t. Danowitz suggested to “stand by the copy machine” to pick up valuable information from candidly-speaking colleagues.

3. Network and Keep your Contacts
In a city like DC, you might be more likely to get a job because of who you know than what you do – so networking is essential. Keep in touch with your colleagues and acquaintances, and work to broaden your network. Make sure to treat your equals AND those below you with respect – you never know who’s going to rise quickly to the top.

4. Don’t Become Stagnant
If you feel you’ve reached a wall in your career, take a small step back to think about how you could revamp and improve it. Spend time learning about other industries, talk to your networks. Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to a job – it is far better than working to the point of displeasure.

5. Have a Vision
Work for a job you believe in. Leave at the end of each day feeling like you’re making a difference, at least in some small way.

Jane Danowitz grew up in a world that was even more discriminatory towards women than it is today. But it was clear why excelled – with her charisma and passion, she could hold her own in a room dominated by men. She could even do it in a bright blue blazer with red heels.

In fourth grade, Danowitz wanted to be President of the United States – and although that particular fantasy was never fulfilled, she will always keep that memory to remind herself that youth doesn’t see barriers. Likewise, every EcoWoman should never forget to dream and reach for the stars.

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Below is a post by Ecowomen Board Member Beth Porter.  Beth serves on the Membership Committee for the DC EcoWomen’s Executive Board. She has a background in environmental advocacy, community outreach, and a passion for wildlife conservation.

At the close of 2012, environmental policy in the United States looked less than promising. Disappointed in America’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the UN climate conference held in Qatar last November, many watched as yet another opportunity for America to become a leader in fighting climate change pass by, leaving the conference nothing more than a side story shoved behind the headline of the recent election. On the heels of superstorm Sandy and one of the hottest summers on record, many had hoped that these, along with other even more devastating climate-related disasters, would steer the administration towards a more serious look at strong climate legislation. However, gridlock on Capitol Hill is doing more than it’s fair share on halting any progression on tackling the most serious threat we face as a country and as a global community. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, released a new minority report the same month of the UN climate negotiations in Qatar entitled, “A Look Ahead to EPA Regulations for 2013: Numerous Obama EPA Rules Placed On Hold until after the Election Spell Doom for Jobs and Economic Growth”.

Clearly, Inhofe is not a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency which some members of the House and Senate have been claiming to be one of the biggest threats to our economic recovery. However, the EPA strengthened regulations on dirty energy sources (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) which has obvious health benefits, and also offers more incentive to expand the renewable production by making fossil fuel extraction more expensive, leading to job creation in the clean energy sector. The Natural Resources Defense Council states that a new 250-megawatt wind farm will create 1,079 jobs and add millions of dollars to local communities.

The MATS rule was only one of the victories (albeit, a significant one) the EPA has seen under the watch of Lisa Jackson. She also saw through improved fuel efficiency standards and made strides on climate change regulation under the Clean Air Act. Shortly after Obama’s re-election, Jackson announced that she would be stepping down as head of the EPA. It is unclear how drastically this will impact the success of the EPA in the coming year, as this announcement comes at a time when many feel President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change has wavered due to his Fall campaign which barely mentioned the issue. No successor has been named, but it is likely that Robert Perciasepe, EPA deputy administrator, will temporarily take command. Many GOP members, including Inhofe, see this as an opportunity to weaken the regulatory hand of the EPA, though Jackson feels confidently that “the ship is sailing in the right direction”.

Another more promising change is on the horizon for environmental policy this year, in what some may say is a surprising source. In December, John Kerry was appointed to fill Hilary Rodham Clinton’s role as Secretary of State for Obama’s second term. In his time in the Senate, Kerry (D-Mass.) exhibited a strong record on climate change. Groups like 350.org have expressed favor to Kerry, but their optimism hinges on if he says no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a controversial project which crosses the US border with Canada and requires State Department approval. Kerry will be taking over Hilary Clinton’s Global Climate Change and Clean Air Initiative, with a team including the EPA Administrator and representatives from four other countries. It is designed to tackle “short-lived climate pollutants”, which account for over one third of current global warming. It is speculated that Sen. Kerry will be the most adamant climate hawk to ever hold this office, leaving many in the environmental movement hopeful that 2013 will host more than a simple ‘conversation’ on the pressing issue of climate change.

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Below is a post from Elizabeth Floyd.  Elizabeth has two degrees in European history, worked in theatrical costume design and wardrobe for many years, and now promotes sustainable modes of transportation as a Business Development Manager for Arlington Transportation Partners. She owns three bicycles but no car, and has started sewing clothing with reflective trim that are appropriate for both work and play. You can read more of her writing on her blog: Tin Lizzie Rides Again.

I recently attended the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change conference in Sacramento, CA. I also presented all the great work that Arlington Transportation Partners does with the Arlington county employers and property managers, as well as learning from all the sessions I attended. Although the conference focus was on energy and climate change, the best part was learning about basic behavior change strategies that can apply to anything – commutes, weight loss, even buying habits. I recognized every point in myself, as I thought about my transit from a car-less Metro rider to a car-less bicyclist.

There are some basic behavior change concepts that apply to everything – people do not change their habits based on facts and figures, but rather, on information they learn from friends, family, and respected role models. Once the motivation is there, however, individuals will only change their behavior if the barriers are removed, and there are prompts, often social, in place to encourage them to repeat the desired behavior and reframe their worldview. It sounds simple, right?  However, the reality is much harder, or we would all be perfect.

I was interested in bike riding when I lived in Manhattan for ten years, but despite knowing that it was healthy, inexpensive, and fun, there were several barriers in place. I did not know anyone who did it, so my only real reference point was the huge bike messenger and bike delivery population swarming around the city every day. Watching them made me nervous about bike safety, and honestly, it was not a lifestyle or look I was interested in emulating. Moreover, in my small apartment, where on earth would I keep a bike? I didn’t want to hang it from the ceiling – that did not match my décor!

Fast forward to moving into Arlington. My parents came to visit. My dad, who used to ride his bike to work every day, helped me find a decent beginner bike, installed fenders and lights, and made sure I had the proper tire pump. So that was not only the first lowered barrier, but I was learning from someone I trusted. I still didn’t know anyone who biked for transportation, and got used to coworkers at the job I had then teasing me for biking, but then I discovered that a local bike shop was having a “Ladies’ Night” event. That made a huge difference for me – I found a large group of women, some of whom were new like me, and many of whom were more experienced. Add in some fun women leading the talk, and encouraging us, and suddenly I’d found a group of role models I could emulate. Then, when I joined the ATP team, I went from being “the person in the office who bikes to work” to “one of many people who bike to work.”

Now I’ve completed the behavior change loop. I have reframed my worldview so that biking for transportation is completely normal, I have many friends and colleagues who do it, and it is encouraged by my workplace. It only proves what the presenters at the BECC said – it takes time to change behaviors.

Wait, that’s what we say here at ATP! We know it is not easy to change behaviors, but we are here to help with the process. We encourage businesses and properties to offer not just bicycle amenities, but many types of benefits to help remove barriers to non-car commuting.  And once everyone in an office or building observes biking, Metro, busing, and walking as easy, socially acceptable behaviors, it becomes easier to do it as well. So contact ATP now to find out how to remove barriers, add benefits, and begin to reframe your transit worldview.