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Out with the doughnuts: Healthier foods served at obesity symposium

The menu at a typical academic event might include bagels and cream cheese in the morning, a lunch of tuna sandwiches with potato salad and soda pop, and an afternoon snack of cookies, brownies and fruit.

But what if you're hosting an all-day event on the American obesity epidemic?

When planning the menu for an all-day symposium on obesity for Sept. 30, organizers at the School of Public Health (SPH) realized focusing on why people are overweight and what needs to happen in order to reverse the trend called for food that sets an example.

Anita Sandretto, director of the Human Nutrition Program at the SPH and organizer of the symposium, worked with University Catering to offer choices that are more appropriate for how people should eat.

Gone are doughnuts and cream-cheese Danish pastries, with muffins in their placeánot butter-laden, cake-like affairs, but low-fat, higher-fiber treats. No carbonated beverages will find their way to the event, with water, juices and low-fat milk offered instead. In a concession to one American addiction, Sandretto submitted to coffee and tea.

When attendees register for the event online, they'll select not only which breakout sessions they plan to attend but which lunch they preferáand they'll find detailed nutritional information about each option before they choose. Some people might not think about how much fat is in the mayonnaise mixed with tuna or how many calories are in that creamy coleslaw. Sandretto wanted to assist attendees in making informed decisions based on calories, fat and fiber in the selections.

The options represent a healthier array than usual conference fare, with an emphasis on lower calorie items and fresh, rather than processed, ingredients. One choice is grilled, herbed vegetables rolled in flat, lavash bread. Another is foccacia, a pizza-style crusty bread, topped with grilled chicken.

But with the focus on healthy dining, Sandretto says planners had to take taste into account. The effect of a healthy meal is lost if people throw it away and sneak out for a candy bar.

"We always need to realize that people eat with all their senses and their psyche as well. We have to balance our waistline concerns with taste. If it tastes like cardboard, it won't be consumed, even if it has a great nutrient profile," Sandretto says.

Katie Harter, account executive at University Catering, a U-M unit that provides meals and snacks for campus functions, says she didn't want to set up a boring menu just to make it healthy. She got excited when sous chefs in the catering kitchen came up with ideas like roasted vegetables with garlic and basil as a sandwich filling.

Harter says her office is full of people who enjoy eating well, so they like the challenge of providing an unusual menu to a discerning crowd. She says many of her clients are interested in serving healthy food.

For more information on the 2002 Public Health Symposium, which includes a keynote address from William Dietz, director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit http://www.sph.umich.edu/symposium/2002.


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