The ongoing social construction of what food is labeled healthy

New proposed guidelines from the FDA would change what constitutes health food and what can be marked healthy:

Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

Under the proposal, manufacturers can label their products “healthy” if they contain a meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (such as fruit, vegetable or dairy) recommended by the dietary guidelines. They must also adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. For example, a cereal would need to contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving for a food manufacturer to use the word “healthy” on the label.

The labels are aimed at helping consumers more easily navigate nutrition labels and make better choices at the grocery store. The proposed rule would align the definition of the “healthy” claim with current nutrition science, the updated Nutrition Facts label and the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the FDA said…

New labeling language is sure to be controversial among food manufacturers that have sought to capitalize on Americans’ interest in more-healthful food…

But what constitutes “healthy” food is a thorny topic among nutrition experts. Would foods high in what many nutrition scientists call “good fats,” such as those that contain almonds or avocados, be deemed “unhealthy,” whereas artificially sweetened fruit snacks or reduced-fat sugary yogurts might be considered “healthy”?

Put together science, business interests, politics, other interested social actors, and the everyday food practices of people in the United States and you have a public conversation slash negotiation over what it means for food to be healthy. This is not a new process – it has been going on for decades – but it has significant ongoing implications.

When talking about graphs and charts, I use the example my Statistics class of the evolution of the image of a healthy diet. Today, this is My Plate which was developed a little more than a decade ago. Prior to that was the food pyramid and there were several other government sponsored graphics before that. Each of them theoretically represent a healthy diet or approach to eating but they emphasize different foods and quantities. They reflect this ongoing social construction of healthy food.

This suggests that what is considered healthy might change within a decade or two after this current round of conversation and guidelines comes to a conclusion. These changes will embody new understandings and social/power dynamics.

The limited safety of pedestrians and bicyclists even in quiet residential neighborhoods

Street and intersections in quiet suburban subdivisions are not necessarily designed with the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in mind:

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

The station reached out to county officials and the local police precinct; everyone sure scratched their heads about that one. There was supposed to be a stop sign there, said the county, and they didn’t know why there wasn’t one installed. The police made sure to point out that it wasn’t their fault, either, because, they said, residents hadn’t complained. “Some residents have now reached out to us requesting additional signage,” said the precinct’s commissioner, James Mett. “In the coming days, we plan to examine and research the issue to determine the best course of action moving forward.” A few phone calls later, it was announced that a new stop sign would be installed Thursday.

So, that’s one thing that made this street unsafe. But there are plenty of other problems, not unique to this intersection but common to many, many American streets, that also made it unsafe. There’s no signage of any kind to alert drivers to the possibility that walkers or cyclists might want to cross. There are no traffic-calming design elements, like speed bumps, raised crosswalks (or any kind of crosswalk), or extended curbs. There’s no protected bike lane.

The speed limit on this road is 30 miles per hour, as it is on roads in all Texas cities. Last year a Texas lawmaker introduced a bill to lower the speed limit on such roads to 25 miles per hour. Cars traveling 30 miles per hour are 43 percent more likely to kill pedestrians they hit than cars traveling 25 miles per hour, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This is the lawmaker’s third attempt to pass this bill, and it seems to have been just as successful as the first two times, as nothing has happened to the bill in more than a year. (We don’t know how fast the driver of the Hyundai was traveling. Maybe she was going less than 30 miles per hour. Or maybe she was going faster; after all, Google Street View suggests you can drive the entire length of Kings Mill Road, a circuit of nearly a mile, and never see a single speed limit sign.)

And notably, the driver who struck and killed Chase Delarios was driving a midsize SUV. The heavier the car, the more likely it is to kill a person if it strikes them. At between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds (depending on specific model), a 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe is more than a match for an 8-year-old and his bike. (The post-crash local news coverage shows the bike, horribly, jammed under the Hyundai’s rear wheel.)

And the conclusion:

Like most American streets, Kings Mill Road is not a safe area for pedestrians or people riding bikes. It’s designed for drivers, and drivers use it that way. That’s the system we’re trapped in…

In the United States, cars and vehicles with engines rule the roads. We have built whole systems and ways of life to accommodate them and ease their travel. It is supported by public and private money, public sentiment, and an ongoing series of decisions.

If you are traveling via other means, you have to be aware and careful. Know where vehicles are at all times. Be cautious in crossing, even at clearly marked walkways. Be ready to move quickly if needed. Make yourself visible to vehicles.

To change this or seriously address this would require a long-term effort to redesign basic aspects of everyday American life. It can be done, but a sustained series of actions is difficult to organize and execute.

Changes in methodology behind Naperville’s move to #16 best place to live in 2022 from #45 in 2021?

Money recently released their 2022 Best Places to Live in the United States. The Chicago suburb of Naperville is #16 in the country. Last year, it was #45. How did it move so much in one year? Is Naperville that much better in one year, other places that much work, or is something else at work? I wonder if the methodology led to this. Here is what went into the 2022 rankings:

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Chief among those changes included introducing new data related to national heritage, languages spoken at home and religious diversity — in addition to the metrics we already gather on racial diversity. We also weighted these factors highly. While seeking places that are diverse in this more traditional sense of the word, we also prioritized places that gave us more regional diversity and strove to include cities of all sizes by lifting the population limit that we often relied on in previous years. This opened up a new tier of larger (and often more diverse) candidates.

With these goals in mind, we first gathered data on places that:

  • Had a population of at least 20,000 people — and no population maximum
  • Had a population that was at least 85% as racially diverse as the state
  • Had a median household income of at least 85% of the state median

Here is what went into the 2021 rankings:

To create Money’s Best Places to Live ranking for 2021-2022, we considered cities and towns with populations ranging from 25,000 up to 500,000. This range allowed us to surface places large enough to have amenities like grocery stores and a nearby hospital, but kept the focus on somewhat lesser known spots around the United States. The largest place on our list this year has over 457,476 residents and the smallest has 25,260.

We also removed places where:

  • the crime risk is more than 1.5x the national average
  • the median income level is lower than its state’s median
  • the population is declining
  • there is effectively no ethnic diversity

In 2021, the top-ranked communities tend to be suburbs. In 2022, there is a mix of big cities and suburbs with Atlanta at the top of the list and one neighborhood of Chicago, Rogers Park, at #5.

So how will this get reported? Did Naperville make a significant leap? Is it only worth highlighting the #16 ranking in 2022 and ignore the previous year’s lower ranking? Even while Naperville has regularly featured in Money‘s list (and in additional rankings as well), #16 can be viewed as an impressive feat.

The long-term consequences for those benefiting from buying a home during a recession

Thinking more about yesterday’s post on cooling home values in certain housing markets, how many people benefit from the lower prices? The typical emphasis in such economic times is to note the difficulty of buying a home when interest rates are higher and there is economic uncertainty.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

But, lower prices means some might be able to buy when they could not otherwise. The hottest markets in good economic times have high prices and lots of competition. Even as borrowing money is harder in a recession, prices can be lower and the competition might not be as stiff.

Some people are still buying and selling homes during economic downturns. This leads to a long-term question: are those who buy during a recession more or less likely to hold tightly to the idea of a home as an investment? Is buying at the height of the market – famously, such as right before the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s – tied to a deeper focus on property values and a strong return on investment? Or, because a home purchased during a recession might emphasize scarcity and economic uncertainty, might this lead to more concerns about property values?

The housing market giveth, the housing market taketh away

Where are housing prices dropping the fastest in the United States? They tend to be places where prices were zooming up not long ago:

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Top 10 cities where housing markets are cooling the fastest in 2022

  1. Seattle, WA
  2. Las Vegas, NV
  3. San Jose, CA
  4. San Diego, CA
  5. Sacramento, CA and Denver, CO (tie)
  6. Phoenix, AZ
  7. Oakland, CA
  8. North Port, FL
  9. Tacoma, WA

This raises multiple questions:

  1. While housing values are going down, how long before they stabilize and head back up? After all, these are places with higher demand and rising prices over time. At least, that is what a lot of homeowners are planning on.
  2. How are residents of these places feeling? American property owners like it when property values are going up, even if they are not ready to sell. When prices go down, I assume they are not feeling as good. (This could be true even if housing values today are higher than they were not long ago; the immediate feeling of loss is strong.)
  3. Is a local market with higher highs and lower lows in housing prices one where more growth is happening? Looking at the list above, it would appear these are fairly popular places with a steady demand for housing. The alternative to the yo-yoing in the housing market is a market where prices do not rise much or lose much. Such markets also exist in the United States, but they are less desirable.

Multiple factors behind the decline in starter homes in the United States

The starter home has disappeared from many housing markets:

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

The affordable end of the market has been squeezed from every side. Land costs have risen steeply in booming parts of the country. Construction materials and government fees have become more expensive. And communities nationwide are far more prescriptive today than decades ago about what housing should look like and how big it must be. Some ban vinyl siding. Others require two-car garages. Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today…

Nationwide, the small detached house has all but vanished from new construction. Only about 8 percent of new single-family homes today are 1,400 square feet or less. In the 1940s, according to CoreLogic, nearly 70 percent of new houses were that small…

But the economics of the housing market — and the local rules that shape it — have dictated today that many small homes are replaced by McMansions, or that their moderate-income residents are replaced by wealthier ones. (A little 1948 Levittown house on Long Island, the prototypical postwar suburban starter home, now goes with a few updates for $550,000.)…

The simplest way to put entry-level housing on increasingly expensive land is to build a lot of it — to put two, three, four or more units on lots that for decades have been reserved for one home.

The costs – financial, regulatory – are too high for the construction of lots of starter homes. The proposed solution is to try to reduce those costs by placing multiple residents on one lot and/or increasing density in communities and developments.

How to change all of this is difficult given the difficulties of addressing housing in the United States. The need is great, particularly when affordable housing is not aimed at a larger percentage of the population who would benefit from a cheaper residence.

I wonder if the best path forward is for certain communities to pursue starter homes successfully and show that it is possible. Of course, one danger is that even if it works well in some communities, other communities might leave the burden of such housing to a small number of communities. However, if starter homes can be constructed in such a way that they are perceived as an asset to the community and not a threat to property values, they might catch on. Are there several communities that would fit the bill?

“The strength of weak ties” applies to LinkedIn

A recent study suggests that weak ties on Linkedin are better in helping people find jobs:

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you have a LinkedIn account, your connections probably consist of a core group of people you know well, and a larger set of people you know less well. The latter are what experts call “weak ties.” Now a unique, large-scale experiment co-directed by an MIT scholar shows that on LinkedIn, those weak ties are more likely to land you new employment, compared to your ties with people you know better…

The notion that there is something especially useful about the more tenuous connections in your social network dates to a highly influential 1973 paper by Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” from The American Journal of Sociology. In it, Granovetter identified weak ties as a key source of “diffusion of influence and information, mobility opportunity, and community organization.”…

All told, the experiment involved around 20 million LinkedIn users, who over the five years ended up creating about 2 billion new connections on the site, recorded over 70 million job applications, and wound up accepting 600,000 new jobs identified through the site…

“Moderately weak ties are the best,” Aral says. “Not the weakest, but slightly stronger than the weakest.” The inflection point is around 10 mutual connections between people; if you share more than that with someone on LinkedIn, the usefulness of your connection to the other person, in job-hunting terms, diminishes.

The general idea is the people more removed to you but still in your network can access opportunities that close connections do not have access to. Reach out to the edges of your network and there are more options.

Now it would be interesting to see how LinkedIn and other similar platforms take advantage of this knowledge. Many social media platforms want to connect people. But, what if having more ties and increased interaction with other users is actually a negative feature for jobs?

Or, I imagine there are strategies for social media users to create an excellent set of weak ties rather than connect with people they know better. Why connect with people close to you when you could amass weak ties that could come through big later?

The heady rush prompted by a stimulating book

I recently finished a book that I found very interesting and left an impression on me. As I sort through how to write about the text and its content, the aftermath of reading the book reminded me that there is a particular experience with finishing such a book. Here are parts of that experience after the book is done:

Photo by Shawn Reza on Pexels.com

-Wanting to tell people about the book and/or recommending they read it.

-The text prompts all kinds of connections and links to other works and ideas.

-There is time devoted to thinking more about the book and dwelling on the text and its implications.

-Taking the new lens or perspective the book provides and employing it.

-Savoring the reading and thinking experience.

I read a good number of books each year and know that only a few prompt set of reactions. The ones that do make such a mark tend to make it into this blog, the classroom, and my conversations. They are the ones that I tend to purchase and keep on my shelves for a long time. I look forward to finding more of them, both old and new, that open up possibilities and provide deep experiences.

Decline in luxury home sales – but few have to buy or sell

Reading this overview of the decline of sales in the luxury housing market, a few quotes stood out to me about a particular aspect of this segment of housing:

Photo by Chris Goodwin on Pexels.com

As for purchasing real estate in all cash, Treasurys seem like a better bet than real estate right now, Ms. Fairweather said. “No investor wants to put their money into an asset that is going down in value,” she said.

Mr. Chan said he believes the slowdown in activity is more severe in the luxury market because high-end homeowners have a greater degree of discretion about when to sell and at what price. Often, sellers face no financial pressure to move, he said; they can just wait it out…

Many sellers, however, haven’t adjusted to the new realities of the market, Mr. Chan said. Some of his buyers have made lowball offers on homes, only to be met with significant resistance. “It’s a stalemate,” he said. “Sellers are living in the past, the buyers are living in the future.”…

One of her listings, a $14.95 million oceanfront mansion in Carlsbad, Calif., has been on the market since June. While the seller received one verbal offer, a sale never materialized. Still, she said, her client is wealthy and isn’t desperate to sell. “They don’t have to ever sell—they can carry these properties in perpetuity,” she said.

If housing has become more of an investment among all Americans, this segment of the market might exemplify this the most. Housing is a commodity that needs to be at the right price to buy or sell. Even as these homes signify status and a certain lifestyle, they are also a commodity with perceptions about what is a “good price.” When wealthy people have money – the economy is good, corporate profits are up, interest rates are relatively low – they want to purchase expensive and exclusive properties. When economic times are not as good – interest rates are higher, there is more uncertainty – luxury housing might be just that: a luxury.

If everyone is trying to get ahead with the best deal, how many people end up profiting compared to the other actors in this market? There are other motivations for moving beyond making money or getting a good return on investment; this helps guarantee there is some real estate activity in more troubled economic times.

Who is affordable housing in Naperville for? September 2022 edition

Two recent proposals aim to bring affordable housing to Naperville. The first project had 401 housing units and the affordable housing units within the development would be for this group:

Photo by Michael Tuszynski on Pexels.com

While the council has not adopted any measure requiring affordable housing, Pulte designed Naperville Polo Club in response to the city’s stated priorities, Whitaker said. They are committing to sell 20% of the town homes at an affordable level based on area median income, or AMI.

“Pulte will target buyers at 80-100% Naperville AMI consistent with household income targets set forth in SB Friedman’s Affordable Housing Program,” Whitaker said in the letter. “This target demographic for for-sale housing represents household incomes of approximately $100,000 to $125,000 and translates to a home purchase price below $440,000.”

With the median household income of DuPage County at over $94,000 and Will County at over $90,000 – Naperville spans both counties – this affordable housing is only accessible to people above the lower 50% of household incomes in the counties.

The second project involves affordable units set aside for two groups who need them:

It’s not often the Naperville City Council receives a standing ovation.

But it happened Tuesday after a 9-0 vote authorizing pursuit of an affordable housing project on city land southeast of the corner of 103rd Street and Route 59 on Tower Court. As part of the potential agreement for development, a minimum of 60 units would be built for seniors and for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

When the vote finished, more than a dozen audience members clad in red shirts with “I (heart) affordable housing” written on them stood and cheered the decision — more than a year in the making — that paves the way for young adults with special needs to live independently.

In both cases, housing is needed.

But, what is “affordable housing” about? Is it about keeping Napreville residents in Naperville like seniors and young college graduates? Is it about providing housing that provides no threat to larger homes and higher property values? Is it about providing units to those who live and work in wealthier suburbs but cannot easily afford to live there? Is it about providing units within a region where tens of thousands need affordable housing? Is it about providing housing for those who could not otherwise live in a wealthier suburb?