Soil health affects Nutrition Industry

soil health

Soil health as related to untangling food webs is the work of a lifetime.  That’s why it’s so difficult to predict the effect of large-scale inputs of chemicals into agricultural ecosystems.  And some of these effects don’t become apparent for decades.

Long-term effects of poor soil health

For example, the Haber/Bosch process is a little more than a century old.  This is a catalytic process, invented by German chemists in the early 1900s, by which nonreactive nitrogen—the stuff that makes up most of the atmosphere—can be converted into ammonia, the basis of chemical fertilizers.

The development was one of the most important of the industrial age, and is the mechanism by which the world’s billions are fed. Prior to this breakthrough, policymakers at the turn of the nineteenth century were looking forward to a world plagued by malnutrition and starvation. There was thought to be no way to raise agricultural production fast enough to feed the world’s rising population (about 1.6 billion in 1900) with the relatively small amount of reactive nitrogen at hand in the form of animal manure and compost.

Who could have predicted in the first bloom of the use of these nitrogen fertilizers the eventual consequences? These include oceanic dead zones utterly depleted of oxygen by rivers saturated with agricultural runoff. According to Scientific American, there were 49 such dead zones identified in coastal waters around the world in 1960. A study conducted in 2008 found there are now more than 400.

Vaclav Smil, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba in Canada, is one of the first researchers to have sounded the alarm about excessive nitrogen use.  In addition to the runoff problems, he said excess nitrogen also can contribute to the greenhouse effect and can work over time to demineralize soils.

Glyphosate use accelerating

Similarly unintended (or hidden, perhaps?) consequences affecting soil health can be ascribed to the use of many pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate.  The use of this herbicide, marketed by Monsanto as RoundUp, has been accelerating rapidly in recent decades.  Recent studies have shown that by 2020, worldwide glyphosate use is expected to hit  1 million tons per year. Another study shows that in the US, the rate of growth has been accelerating. Between 1995 and 2004, glyphosate use grew by 356%. Between 2005 and 2014, it grew by 637%.

Studies have shown that plants exposed to high levels of CO2 grow faster, but contain fewer nutrients. The same appears to be true of crops treated with glyphosate.  One of the side effects of this heavy usage, which now includes spraying fields to desiccate the crops prior to harvest, is a lowered microbial diversity in the soil.

Committing to true sustainability

MegaFood and its parent company Food State is one organization that has been putting its money where its mouth is in terms of its sustainability message. Bethany Davis, MegaFood’s director of advocacy and government relations, said supporting soil health has now become part of the company’s core mission.  And getting the word out about the side effects of high glyphosate usage is part of that effort.

“People know about gut microbiome. They understand the importance of that. But the same thing is true of the soil,” Davis told NutraIngredients-USA.

Davis and others maintain that soil rich in a full suite of microbes, fungi, and viruses functions better in many ways. Plants grown in such soils are more nutrient dense, and soils with diverse, robust microbiomes absorb and hold more water, easing runoff and drought concerns.

And a key point that figures into the climate change debate: Rich soils store much more carbon than do their depleted counterparts.

Regenerative solution

Regenerative agriculture is the catchphrase for practices that have topsoil health, replenishment and, ultimately increase as a core principle.  It goes a step beyond organic, which is mostly about acceptable inputs, to take a holistic view of the agricultural ecosystem.  The need to address topsoil loss is illustrated by a 2011 report by the Environmental Working Group that highlighted data from the Iowa Daily Erosion Project coordinated through Iowa State University. The project estimated that agricultural fields in 440 townships encompassing 10.1 million acres may have suffered erosion at rates greater than the statewide average and that eight townships encompassing 184,000 acres experienced utterly disastrous average erosion rates exceeding 50 tons per acre.

“I like to joke that the reason why any of us are here is that there are six inches of soil and it rains sometimes,” Davis said.

“Our food is about 50% less nutritious on average than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Regenerative agriculture is integrally linked to nutrition. That is one of the reasons we stand for it, and it is confusing that so few people in our space stand for it,” she said.

Dietary supplement companies might observe that the sum total of ingredients used in our industry hardly amounts to skimming the froth from a huge vat of milk when talking about the large-scale effects of agricultural practices relating to soil health.  They are mere derivatives, in other words.

But, as the sellers of derivative mortgage securities discovered in 2008 and 2009, when the underlying market is unhealthy, everyone, even the bit players, suffers.  For dietary supplement companies touting a sustainability message, and exactly as we see in climate change issues, being part of the solution seems to be the place to be, rather than sitting on the sidelines.

Body Mass Index Measurement

This post deals with measuring Body Mass Index (BMI) for adults, children, and teens. Body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of body size. It combines a person’s weight with their height. The results of a BMI measurement can give an idea about whether a person has the correct weight for their height. 

BMI (Body Mass Index) is a screening tool that can indicate whether a person is underweight or if they have a healthy weight, excess weight, or obesity. If a person’s Body Mass Index is outside of the healthy range, their health risks may increase significantly.

Carrying too much weight can lead to a variety of health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular problems.  In a previous post, we offered five simple exercises which can help a person achieve some of their weight goals.

A weigh that is too low can increase the risk of malnutrition, osteoporosis, and anemia. The doctor will make suitable recommendations.

Body Mass Index does not measure body fat directly, and it does not account for age, sex, ethnicity, or muscle mass in adults.

However, it uses standard weight status categories that can help doctors to track weight status across populations and identify potential issues in individuals.

BMI (Body Mass Index) in adults

Body Mass Index calculator shows healthy weight
A BMI chart or calculator can show a person if they have a healthy weight.

Calculating BMI involves measuring a person’s height and body weight.

 

Metric

  • To calculate BMI in metric units, use the following method: BMI = kg/m2
  • So, to calculate an adult’s BMI: Divide their weight in kilograms (kg) by the square of their height in meters (m2)

Since most people measure height in centimeters (cm), divide height in cm by 100 to get height in meters.

Imperial

  • When using imperial units, the formula is: BMI = lbs x 703/in2
  • In other words: Multiply a person’s weight in pounds (lbs) by 703. Then divide by their height in inches, squared (in2)

To avoid using the math, a person can use a calculator or a chart to find their BMI.

BMI calculator

Enter height or weight in either imperial or metric measurements to find your BMI.

1) Metric BMI Calculator

2) Imperial BMI Calculator

BMI charts

People can also work out their BMI using a chart. Click here to see a chart provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Locate your height in inches on the side of the chart, then look across to find your body weight in pounds. Scan to the top to see if the result corresponds to a normal weight, overweight, or obesity.

Understanding the results

The following table shows the standard weight status categories associated with BMI ranges for adults.

BMI Weight status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5–24.9 Healthy
25.0–29.9 Overweight
30.0 and above Obese

BMI of less than 18.5

A BMI of less than 18.5 indicates that you are underweight, so you may need to put on some weight. You are recommended to ask your doctor or a dietitian for advice.

BMI of 18.5–24.9

A BMI of 18.5-24.9 indicates that you are at a healthy weight for your height. By maintaining a healthy weight, you lower your risk of developing serious health problems.

BMI of 25–29.9

A BMI of 25-29.9 indicates that you are slightly overweight. You may be advised to lose some weight for health reasons. You are recommended to talk to your doctor or a dietitian for advice.

BMI of over 30

A BMI of over 30 indicates that you are heavily overweight. Your health may be at risk if you do not lose weight. You are recommended to talk to your doctor or a dietitian for advice.

BMI in children and teens

In adults, BMI values are not linked to age and are the same for both sexes.

However, measuring Body Mass Index in children and teens is slightly different. Girls and boys develop at different rates and have different amounts of body fat at different ages. For this reason, BMI measurements during childhood and adolescence take age and sex into consideration.

Doctors and other health professionals do not categorize children by healthy weight ranges because:

  • they change with each month of age
  • male and female body types change at different rates
  • they change as the child grows taller

Doctors calculate BMI for children and teens in the same way as they do for adults, by measuring height and weight. Then they locate the BMI number and person’s age on a sex-specific BMI-for-age chart. This will indicate whether the child is within a healthy range.

Calculator and charts for child and teen Body Mass Index

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have produced a calculator that provides BMI and the corresponding BMI-for-age percentile on a CDC growth chart for children and teens.

First, click here for the calculator.

Next, use the charts to see if a child’s weight is suitable for their age.

Click here for the charts:

What do the results mean?

The following categories explain the meaning of the results:

Weight status category Percentile range
Underweight Below the 5th percentile
Healthy weight 5th percentile to less than the 85th percentile
Overweight 85th to less than the 95th percentile
Obesity Equal to or greater than the 95th percentile

How doctors use BMI

BMI is not accurate enough to use as a diagnostic tool, but it can screen for potential weight problems in adults and children.

If someone has a high or low BMI, a doctor or other healthcare professional might then consider other factors, such as:

  • skinfold thickness measurements, which indicate how much fat is in the body in adults and children
  • evaluations of diet and physical activity
  • discuss any family history of cardiovascular disease and other health problems
  • recommend other appropriate health screenings

The doctor or healthcare professional can then make diet and exercise recommendations based on these results.

Health risks of extra weight

Excess weight has the following effects on the body:

  • It increases how hard the heart has to work.
  • It raises blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • It lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol levels.
  • It can make diabetes and other health problems more likely.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), carrying extra weight can increase the risk of the following conditions:

  • hypertension, or high blood pressure
  • dyslipidemia, which involves high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
  • type 2 diabetes
  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • gallbladder disease
  • osteoarthritis
  • sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • some cancers, including endometrial, breast and colon cancer

Carrying extra weight as a child or teenager can also pose significant health risks, both during childhood and into adulthood.

As with adult obesity, childhood obesity increases the risk of various health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea.

The American Heart Association (AHA), point out that children with a high BMI also have a higher risk of:

Benefits of a healthy weight

Walking with the family helps Body Mass Index levels
Walking with family or friends can be an enjoyable way of keeping fit and preventing unwanted weight gain.

Apart from reducing the risk of the health conditions, maintaining a healthy weight offers additional benefits:

  • fewer joint and muscle pains
  • increased energy and ability to join in more activities
  • improved regulation of bodily fluids and blood pressure
  • reduced burden on the heart and circulatory system
  • improved sleep patterns

Other measures of a healthy body

BMI is a useful tool, but it cannot identify whether a person’s weight is made up of muscle or fat.

For example, an athlete with a lot of muscle tissue may have a higher BMI than a person who is not very active. But, this does not mean that the athlete is overweight or unhealthy.

In addition, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure are more likely to occur in people who have additional fat — known as visceral fat — around their middle rather than their hips.

Other measures of body size include waist-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, and body composition, which measures body fat and lean body mass. These measurement systems focus more on the amount of fat a person has and its distribution around the body.

Together with BMI, these additional measures can help to assess more accurately the health risks associated with an individual’s weight.

Takeaway

Body Mass Index can be a useful screening tool for predicting certain health risks. However, people should use it with caution, as it does not take other factors — such as activity levels and body composition — into account.

For children and teens, it is important to include their age and sex when taking a BMI measurement, because their bodies continuously change as they develop.