NatureBox chews on $8.5M to tackle obesity epidemic with healthier …

Snacks are helping make America fat. Most snack food in America is junk, loaded with empty calories, salt, sugar, and unhealthy oils, and once you open that bag of chips or box of cookies, it’s hard to stop.

NatureBox is addressing this issue with an online subscription service for healthier snack food. Today the company announced closing $8.5 million to make eating well in-between meals easier.

NatureBox delivers boxes filled with nutritionist-approved healthy snacks every month for $20. Each box contains five full-sized snack items, free from high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors. NatureBox produces all the food itself and gets ingredients from local growers and independent food producers. The assortment generally includes a range of sweet and salty snacks based on a seasonal theme. Treats include various kinds of granolas, trail mixes, fruit and vegetable chips, and nut- and seed-based snacks.

“We started NatureBox to disrupt the grocery industry that has devolved into a sea of too many choices,” said CEO Gautam Gupta to VentureBeat. “We think having more items on shelf isn’t the answer to consumer needs – we believe that through data, we can create a much more personal shopping experience for consumers and give consumers products that they will love.”

Market research firm IRI found that 49 percent of the population has one to two snacks a day while 43 percent have three to four, and 60 percent of consumers snack for enjoyment. Whether it is to satisfy hunger, boost energy, out of boredom, or in a social setting, Americans consume almost 25 percent of their daily calories from snacking, and most of these foods consist of empty calories. Snacking is a major cause of childhood obesity, which has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. One-third of children and adolescents are overweight and obese in the U.S.

While unhealthy snacks contribute to weight gain, healthy snacks are part of an overall healthy diet. Health experts have found that small, nutritious snacks speed up your metabolism and curb hunger and consumers are growing more aware of how to eat well.  THe IRI study found that 87 percent of consumers said they are trying to eat healthier, and sales for natural and organic snacks are on the rise. This is where NatureBox steps in. If you are going to snack, might as well get some actual nutrients while you are at it.

Food startups are beginning to tackle how we eat from various angles. Love with Food, Pop-Up Pantry, Hello Fresh, and Hungry Globetrotter all deliver food to your door. Some streamline grocery shopping, and others make home cooking easier.

Since launching in 2012, NatureBox has shipped 50,000 boxes to its customers and is on track to ship over 1 million annual shipments by the end of this year. It is adding in five to 10 new products a month and currently offers 80 items. Its business model seems difficult to scale, since the supply chain requires actually finding, manufacturing, packing, and delivering consumer goods.  This round of funding will help NatureBox expand its customer base and meet demand for the service.

General Catalyst Partners led this first institutional round, following an initial seed investment last year. New investor Softbank Capital also participated. This brings NatureBox’s total capital raised to $10.5 million. It is based in San Carlos, Calif.

Obesity is much more like drowning than a disease

There is a certain irony in the nearly immediate juxtaposition of the rare introduction of a new FDA-approved drug for weight loss (Belviq) to the marketplace and the recognition of obesity as a “disease” by the AMA. A line from the movie Jerry Maguire comes to mind: “You complete me!” Drugs need diseases; diseases need drugs.

And that’s part of what has me completely worried. The notion that obesity is a disease will inevitably invite a reliance on pharmacotherapy and surgery to fix what is best addressed through improvements in the use of our feet and forks, and in our Farm Bill.

Why is the medicalization of obesity concerning? Cost is an obvious factor. If obesity is a disease, some 80 percent of adults in the U.S. have it or its precursor: overweight. Legions of kids have it as well. Do we all need pharmacotherapy, and if so, for life? We might be inclined to say no, but wouldn’t we then be leaving a “disease” untreated? Is that even ethical?

On the other hand, if we are thinking lifelong pharmacotherapy for all, is that really the solution to such problems as food deserts? We know that poverty and limited access to high quality food are associated with increased obesity rates. So do we skip right past concerns about access to produce and just make sure everyone has access to a pharmacy? Instead of helping people on SNAP find and afford broccoli, do we just pay for their Belviq and bariatric surgery?

If so, this, presumably, requires that everyone also have access to someone qualified to write a prescription or wield a scalpel in the first place, and insurance coverage to pay for it. We can’t expect people who can’t afford broccoli to buy their own Belviq, clearly.

There is, of course, some potential upside to the recognition of obesity as a disease. Diseases get respect in our society, unlike syndromes, which are all too readily blamed on the quirks of any given patient and other conditions attributed to aspects of character. Historically, obesity has been in that latter character, inviting castigation of willpower and personal responsibility and invocation of gluttony, sloth, or the combination. Respecting obesity as a disease is much better.

And, as a disease, obesity will warrant more consistent attention by health professionals, including doctors. This, in turn, may motivate more doctors to learn how to address this challenge constructively and compassionately.

But overall, I see more liabilities than benefits in designating obesity a disease. For starters, there is the simple fact that obesity, per se, isn’t a disease. Some people are healthy at almost any given BMI. BMI correlates with disease, certainly, but far from perfectly.

The urge to label obesity a disease, and embrace the liabilities attached to doing so, seems to be a price the medical profession is willing to pay to legitimize the condition. It may also be an attempt to own it (and the profits that come along with treating it), whereas that right and responsibility should really redound to our entire culture. Is it necessary for obesity to be a disease for it to be medically legitimate? I think not.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is medically legitimate, but it is not a disease — and there’s a good reason for that. It is poisoning, so the fault lies not with our lungs, but with what is being drawn into them. Your lungs can be working just fine, and carbon monoxide can kill you just the same. Perfectly healthy, disease-free bodies can be poisoned.

None would contest the medical legitimacy of drowning. If you drown, assuming you are found in time, you will receive urgent medical care — no matter your ability to pay for it. If you have insurance, your insurance will certainly pay for that care.

But drowning is not a disease. Perfectly healthy bodies can drown. Drowning is a result of a human body spending a bit too much time in an environment — under water — to which it is poorly adapted.

And so is obesity. Our bodies, physiology, and genes are much the same as they ever were. Certainly these have not changed much in the decades over which obesity went from rare to pandemic. What has changed is the environment.

We are awash in highly-processed, hyper-palatable, glow-in-the-dark foods. We are afloat in constant currents of aggressive food marketing. We are deluged with ever more labor-saving technological advances, while opportunities for daily physical activity dry up.

We are drowning in calories. And that’s how, in my opinion, we should make obesity medically legitimate: as a form of drowning, not as a disease.

With drowning, we don’t rely on advances from pharmaceutical companies. No one is expecting a drug to “fix” our capacity to drown. Our capacity to drown is part of the normal physiology of terrestrial species.

Our capacity to get fat is also part of normal physiology. Obesity begins with the accumulation of body fat, and that in turn begins with the conversion of a surplus of daily calories into an energy reserve. That’s exactly what a healthy body is supposed to do with today’s surplus calories: store them against the advent of a rainy (i.e., hungry) day tomorrow. The problem that leads to obesity is that the surplus of calories extends to every day, and tomorrow never comes.

Thinking of obesity as a form of drowning offers valuable analogies for treatment. We don’t wait for people to drown and devote our focus to resuscitation; we do everything we can to prevent drowning in the first place. We put fences around pools, station lifeguards at the beaches, get our kids to swimming lessons at the first opportunity, and keep a close eye on one another. People still do drown, and so we need medical intervention as well. But that is a last resort, far less good than prevention, and applied far less commonly.

There is an exact, corresponding array of approaches to obesity prevention and control; I have spelled them out before.

Disease is when the body malfunctions. Bodies functioning normally asphyxiate when breathing carbon monoxide, drown when under water for too long, and convert surplus daily calories into body fat. Perfectly healthy bodies can get obese. They may not remain healthy when they do so, but that is a tale of effects, not causes.

The most important reasons for rampant obesity are dysfunction not within our individual bodies, but at the level of the body politic. We do need medicine to treat obesity, but more often than not, it is lifestyle medicine.Lifestyle is the best medicine we’ve got — but it is cultural medicine, not clinical.

That’s where our attention and corrective actions should be directed. If calling obesity a disease makes us treat the condition with more respect, and those who have it with more compassion, and if it directs more resources to the provision of skill-power to adults and kids alike, it’s all for the good. But if, as I predict, it causes us to think more about pharmacotherapy and less about opportunities to make better use of our feet and our forks, it will do net harm. If we look more to clinics and less to culture for definitive remedies, it will do net harm. If we fail to consider the power we each have over our own medical destiny, and wait for salvation at the cutting edge of biomedical advance, it will do net harm.

Long before labeling obesity a disease, the AMA lent the full measure of its support to the Hippocratic Oath and medicine’s prime directive: First, do no harm. Obesity is much more like drowning than a disease. Calling it a disease has potential in my opinion to do harm. And so it is that I vote: No.

David L. Katz is the founding director, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.

Many Fronts in Fighting Obesity

Yvetta Fedorova

Personal Health

Personal Health

Jane Brody on health and aging.

Sugar, and especially the high-fructose corn syrup that sweetens many processed foods and nearly all soft drinks, has been justly demonized for adding nutritionally empty calories to our diet and causing metabolic disruptions linked to a variety of diseases. But a closer look at what and how Americans eat suggests that simply focusing on sugar will do little to quell the rising epidemic of obesity. This is a multifaceted problem with deep historical roots, and we are doing too little about many of its causes.

More than a third of American adults and nearly one child in five are now obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our failure to curtail this epidemic is certain to exact unprecedented tolls on health and increase the cost of medical care. Effective measures to achieve a turnaround require a clearer understanding of the forces that created the problem and continue to perpetuate it.

The increase in obesity began nearly half a century ago with a rise in calories consumed daily and a decline in meals prepared and eaten at home.

According to the Department of Agriculture, in 1970 the food supply provided 2,086 calories per person per day, on average. By 2010, this amount had risen to 2,534 calories, an increase of more than 20 percent. Consuming an extra 448 calories each day could add nearly 50 pounds to the average adult in a year.

Sugar, it turns out, is a minor player in the rise. More than half of the added calories — 242 a day — have come from fats and oils, and another 167 calories from flour and cereal. Sugar accounts for only 35 of the added daily calories.

Demographic changes, and how the food and restaurant industries responded to them, compounded the problem. As more women entered the work force, family meals and especially home-cooked meals became less frequent. (Relatively few husbands became family cooks, sadly.) From 2005 to 2008, according to the Department of Agriculture, 20 percent of American calories were consumed in fast-food and full-service restaurants, more than triple the amount in 1977-78.

Eating just one meal a week away from home can translate into two extra pounds a year for the average person, the department calculated. Although the recent economic downturn forced more people to dine at home, the average adult now eats out nearly five times a week.

Unless calorie counts are reliably listed on the menu, it is impossible to know how many are being consumed in a restaurant — never mind the bread, butter, chips and dip that people eat while waiting to be served.

Portions have grown along with waistlines. Restaurants know that Americans love bargains, and providing huge portions doesn’t add substantially to overhead. Although some weight-conscious diners will share an entree or take home half a meal for another day, most people tend to eat what they are served.

These restaurants are training diners to believe a serving of food is much larger than what dietitians would consider a proper portion. Now, even when eating at home, people pile too much on their plates.

Portions of other foods also have ballooned. Bagels, once two ounces and 160 calories, now weigh up to 10 ounces and supply 800 calories even before anything is put on them. A Costco corn muffin has 520 calories, and a healthy-sounding raisin bran muffin from Au Bon Pain has 410. Coffee is no longer a calorie-free beverage. A Starbucks 16-ounce latte with 2 percent milk has 190 calories, and a 16-ounce Frappuccino has 410 — about as much as a 32-ounce Coke, with 416 calories from 26 teaspoons of sugar.

People are often fooled by the healthy aura of a food, like yogurt. Yoplait, which has trumped the market in recent years, is really dessert. Yoplait French Vanilla has 26 grams of sugar, twice as much as a serving of Lucky Charms.

Greek yogurt, the current national passion, is really just strained yogurt, higher in protein, fat (unless fat-free) and calories than regular yogurt. And although frozen yogurt typically supplies 30 calories an ounce, most people consume much more than they realize. The serve-yourself frozen yogurt store that recently opened on my corner provides cups that, if filled, would contain 12 ounces; that’s 360 calories, not counting toppings.

Although restaurants and packaged food producers often say that they are simply giving customers what they want, Hank Cardello and colleagues at the Hudson Institute, a policy research organization, recently reported that “among leading consumer packaged goods companies and restaurant chains, those that have grown their better-for-you/lower-calorie foods and beverages over the past five years” achieved better sales growth than their competitors.

Toxic though it may be, the problem is not just this environment of food. Researchers now know that people who struggle with weight are battling evolution itself, which has programmed us to store calories when food is plentiful and, when food is scarce, to reduce calories we expend.

When an overweight person cuts down significantly on what he eats, the body defends itself by using fewer calories. The effect can be long-lasting: If a person’s weight drops to 150 pounds from 250, significantly fewer calories must be consumed daily to stay at that weight than would be necessary if the person had never been overweight.

Even if a 170-pound person loses 20 pounds, he needs 15 percent fewer calories to maintain the new weight than someone who always weighed 150. Short of bariatric surgery, very gradual weight loss — say, no more than 20 pounds a year — may be the only way around this metabolic slowdown. This strategy gives the body and appetite a chance to adjust.

Willpower rarely helps people who struggle with their weight. With constant temptations to eat more, and especially more high-calorie foods, our society must change. Instead of subsidies for corn used to produce high-fructose corn syrup, let the government subsidize more fresh fruits and vegetables. Michael Pollan, an author and journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His newest book, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” adds a corollary: “And cook it yourself.”

No time? People always have time for what they consider important, and what is more important than your health? Home-cooked food contains better ingredients, and you know what you’re eating.

Could brown fat cure obesity? – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks

No, this kind of brown fat certainly won't accelerate weight loss. (© David Brabyn/Corbis)

No, this isn’t the kind of brown fat we’re talking about. (© David Brabyn/Corbis)

In my previous blog post on thermal dieting, I discussed how exposure to cold temperatures can potentially ramp up fat metabolism. In figuring out what makes this possible physiologically, scientists have pinpointed brown fat as the gatekeeper. Distinct from white fat, the stuff that gym memberships are made of, brown adipose tissue is chock-full of energy-chomping mitochondria (these iron-packed structures give the tissues its brown color, in fact) that kick into gear when the body’s internal temperature drops in order to generate heat. In short, when the mercury plummets, brown fat chows down on calories and fat cells. Rather cannibalistic, eh?

Babies are born with brown fat deposits to help keep them toasty, and rodents are rich in brown fat as well since their bodies don’t shiver when temperatures drop. Only recently, scientists also figured out that many adults retain pockets of brown fat in small quantities even as they age. Grownups don’t tote a lot of it around, though; a couple shot glasses-worth of the stuff is on the high end comparatively, as Wired’s Steven Leckhart reported. Even in those minimal doses, brown fat delivers a serious punch, tearing through around 80 more calories-per-hour  than a body normally would.

Now that brown fat’s presence is known in adults, scientists are furiously attempting to untangle how it can yield accelerated weight loss results in the face of rising obesity rates in the United States and abroad, keeping in mind that different people carry around different amounts of brown fat, along with the myriad variables associated with metabolism and weight loss.

To that end, some scientists have tried turning white fat brown. In 2010, a group of European scientists published a headline-generating study in which they were able to tinker with an enzyme in the white fat cells of mice and effectively convert it to brown fat. The results? A 20 percent drop in mouse weight. But the study authors also highlighted some not-so-fantastic possible impacts of rejiggering that COX-2 enzyme. TIME reported, “revving up its activity may lead to some serious side effects such as clotting problems, increased sensitivity to pain and even muscle abnormalities.”

Others are seeking to develop brown fat transplants, which have been shown to effectively spur weight loss and curb the risk of type 2 diabetes in mice. And there’s even a patriotic bent to this strand of research. The military has awarded a grant to a company developing “transferable brown fat cells,” Wired reports in hopes to trimming down troops.

And brown fat isn’t the only promising adipose tissue on the block. In 2012, researchers discovered another fat-burning fat they termed “beige fat,” which has similarly been hailed as a possible obesity remedy.

Whether these sepia-toned tissues can work their magic in humans remains to be seen, however. As diabetes and physiology professor Andre Carpentier cautioned WedMD in late 2012, additional brown fat still won’t be a substitute for overweight adults adjusting their daily health regimens. “You may end up burning a little bit more calories at the end of your day, but it’s not going to be anything close to what you can achieve by doing exercise and diet,” Carpentier said.

Wolverine: Hugh Jackman bulks up with high-calorie diet

On the red carpet a trim and toned physique is the norm. But for movie roles, actors are often required to subject themselves to extreme body transformations, shedding or gaining a significant amount of weight and devoting themselves to months of physically gruelling training.

Whereas Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis most recently had to shed 20 pounds, enduring a punishingly limited calorie intake and extreme exercise to develop  the skinny, sinewy bodies typical of a ballerina for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, the director has ordered Hugh Jackman to guzzle down 6000 calories to bulk up for his role in the next installment of Wolverine.

“It’s 6,000 calories a day. It’s rough,” the Australian actor told the Los Angeles Times about the preparation for the role, which also includes an intense fitness regime.

“Right now, I’m at 210 [15st],” he says of his his current weight, which is already around 20lbs heavier than he was in 2009 for X Men Origins: Wolverine.

“I don’t know how much I want to give away about it, but Darren said with the last one, ‘Hey you looked great, but you’re so tall that in those long shots you looked kind of like Clint Eastwood, and that’s not Wolverine,'” the 42 year old added.

“He said that Wolverine, in the comics, is powerful, stocky…he’s short and thick. So he said, ‘I want you to go there, get bigger.'”

Jackman joked: “If I have  a massive heart attack, well, you tell everyone what I was going for.”

The Wolverine is scheduled for a 2012 release.

Read here about Michael Douglas and his high-calorie diet.

Images: Wikimedia Commons

Dieting can lead to heart diseases

A recent study has revealed that people who go on diet stints are more likely to have deadly health problems including cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. According to, dieting results in increased production of cortisol hormones responsible for causing stress. In addition, higher exposure to this hormone was also found to be responsible for increase in weight.
As per, calorie conscious people are more at risk of affecting their mental state due to the high psychological stress of constantly keeping a tab on what they eat. The study was conducted by researchers at the Minnesota University and California University in San Francisco. The team of researchers undertook about 121 women and kept them on a controlled diet of about 1200 calories per day for a period of three weeks. At the end of the 3 weeks, a saliva test was done which revealed that there was a considerable increase in the cortisol hormone.
“Chronic stress, in addition to promoting weight gain, has been linked with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Dieting might potentially add to this stress burden and its consequences would best not be ignored” the researchers said.

Celebrities who have battled weight problems include Oprah WinfreyKirstie Alley and Sharon Osbourne.

Celebrities with heart problems include Robin Williams and Bill Clinton.


Dieting ineffective without workout for losing weight

A recent study has revealed that dieting cannot help deal with obesity. According to, one needs to keep a tab on ones calorie intake and also engage in physical workout in order to lose weight. The study has been conducted by researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University.

The team of scientists studied a group of rhesus macaque, specie of monkeys. Some of these monkeys were kept on high calorie diet for various years. These monkeys were later put on a low fat diet which had 30 percent reduced calorie count.  While other set of monkeys was kept on a normal calorie diet, which is fit for monkeys and were also made to workout on treadmill everyday for about an hour. Activity monitor was put around the neck of these monkeys which tracked their activity count.

As per, it was found that no considerable change occurred in the weight of these monkeys. The findings also revealed that with the decrease in the calorie intake, the physical activity also diminished. However, the group which was fed normal calorie food and was made to workout lost significant weight.

“These findings will assist medical professionals in advising their patients. It may also impact the development of community interventions to battle the childhood obesity epidemic and lead to programs that emphasize both diet and exercise.” said Cameron, a researcher in the study.

Celebrities who have battled weight issues include Oprah WinfreyKirstie AlleySara Rue and Sharon Osbourne.