One-Week Healthy and Balanced Meal Plan Example

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Planning a daily menu isn’t difficult as long as each meal and snack has some protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and a little bit of fat. Here’s what you need to know about each meal:

  • Eating breakfast will help you start your day with plenty of energy. Don’t ruin your breakfast with high-fat and high-calorie foods. Choose some protein and fiber for your breakfast; breakfast is also a good time to eat some fresh fruit.
  • A mid-morning snack is totally optional. If you eat a larger breakfast, you may not feel hungry until lunchtime. However, if you’re feeling a bit hungry and lunch is still two or three hours away, a light mid-morning snack will tide you over without adding a lot of calories.
  • Lunch is often something you eat at work or school, so it’s a great time to pack a sandwich or leftovers that you can heat and eat. Or, if you buy your lunch, choose a healthy clear soup or fresh veggie salad.
  • A mid-afternoon snack is also optional. Keep it low in calories and eat just enough to keep you from feeling too hungry because dinner is just a couple of hours away.
  • Dinner is a time when it’s easy to over-eat, especially if you haven’t eaten much during the day, so watch your portion sizes. Mentally divide your plate into four quarters. One-quarter is for your meat or protein source, one-quarter is for a starch, and the last two-quarters are for green and colorful vegetables or a green salad.
  • A complex carbohydrate-rich evening snack may help you sleep. Avoid heavy, greasy foods or foods high in refined sugars.
Verywell

A Week of Healthy Meal Plans

Studying a few examples may make this whole meal planning thing easier, so here’s a full week’s worth. You don’t need to follow the days in order; you can choose any meal plan, skip one, or repeat as you like.

This week’s meal plan was designed for a person who needs about 2,100 to 2,200 calories per day and doesn’t have any dietary restrictions. Your daily calorie goal may vary. Learn what it is below, then make tweaks to the plan to fit your specific needs.

Each day includes three meals and three snacks and has a healthy balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. You’ll also get plenty of fiber from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Every plan includes three meals and three snacks to keep you feeling satisfied all day long. Some days even include a glass of beer or wine. 

Feel free to add more water, coffee, or herbal tea to any day, but keep in mind that adding cream or sugar also adds calories. It’s OK to swap out similar menu items, but keep cooking methods in mind.

Replacing a sirloin steak with grilled chicken is fine, for instance, but replacing it with chicken-fried steak isn’t going to work because of the breading changes the fat, carb and sodium counts—and the calories. Finally, you can adjust your calorie intake by eliminating snacks if you want to lose weight or eating larger snacks if you want to gain weight.

Day 1

Today’s meal plan contains about 2,250 calories, with 55% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 20% from fat, and 25% from protein. It also has about 34 grams of fiber.

Breakfast

  • One grapefruit
  • Two poached eggs (or fried in a non-stick pan)
  • Two slices whole-grain toast with one pat of butter each
  • One cup low-fat milk
  • One cup of black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: Approximately 555 calories with 27 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, and 23 grams fat)

Snack

  • One banana
  • One cup plain yogurt with two tablespoons honey
  • Glass of water

(Macronutrients: 360 calories, 14 grams protein, 78 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fat)

Lunch

  • Chicken breast (6-ounce portion), baked or roasted (not breaded or fried)
  • Large garden salad with tomato and onion with one cup croutons, topped with one tablespoon oil and vinegar (or salad dressing)
  • Glass of water 

(Macronutrients: 425 calories, 44 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup carrot slices
  • Three tablespoons hummus
  • One-half piece of pita bread
  • Glass of water or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: 157 calories, 6 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat)

Dinner

  • One cup steamed broccoli
  • One cup of brown rice
  • Halibut (four-ounce portion)
  • Small garden salad with one cup spinach leaves, tomato, and onion topped with two tablespoons oil and vinegar or salad dressing
  • One glass white wine (regular or dealcoholized)
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 646 calories, 42 grams protein, 77 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup blueberries
  • Two tablespoons whipped cream (the real stuff—whip your own or buy in a can)
  • Glass of water

(Macronutrients: Approximately 100 calories, 1 gram protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fat)

Day 2

If you eat this whole menu, you get about 2,150 calories, with 51% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 21% from fat, and 28% from protein. The meal plan also has 30 grams of fiber.

Breakfast

  • One whole-wheat English muffin with two tablespoons peanut butter
  • One orange
  • Large glass (12 ounces) non-fat milk
  • One cup of black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: approximately 521 calories with 27 grams protein, 69 grams carbohydrates, and 18 grams fat)

Snack

  • Two oatmeal cookies with raisins
  • Glass of water, hot tea, or black coffee

(Macronutrients: 130 calories, 2 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fat)

Lunch

  • A turkey sandwich (six ounces of turkey breast meat, large tomato slice, green lettuce and mustard on two slices of whole wheat bread
  • One cup low-sodium vegetable soup
  • Glass of water

(Macronutrients: 437 calories, 59 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup (about 30) grapes
  • Glass of water or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: 60 calories, 0.6 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fat)

Dinner

  • Five-ounce sirloin steak
  • One cup mashed potatoes
  • One cup cooked spinach
  • One cup green beans
  • One glass beer (regular, lite or non-alcohol)
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 671 calories, 44 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams fat)

Snack

  • Two slices whole wheat bread with two tablespoons jam (any variety of fruit)
  • One cup non-fat milk
  • Glass of water

(Macronutrients: Approximately 337 calories, 14 grams protein, 66 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat)

Day 3

Today’s meal has about 2,260 calories, with 55% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 20% from fat, and 25% from protein. It also has 50 grams of fiber.

Breakfast

  • One medium bran muffin
  • One serving turkey breakfast sausage
  • One orange
  • One cup non-fat milk
  • One cup black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: approximately 543 calories with 26 grams protein, 84 grams carbohydrates, and 15 grams fat)

Snack

  • One fresh pear
  • One cup of flavored soy milk
  • Glass of water, hot tea, or black coffee

(Macronutrients: 171 calories, 6 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fat)

Lunch

  • Low sodium chicken noodle soup with six saltine crackers
  • One medium apple
  • Water

(Macronutrients: 329 calories, 8 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams fat)

Snack

  • One apple
  • One slice Swiss cheese
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 151 calories, 5 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat)

Dinner

  • 8-ounce serving of turkey breast meat
  • One cup baked beans
  • One cup cooked carrots
  • One cup cooked kale
  • One glass of wine

(Macronutrients: 784 calories, 84 grams protein, 76 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup of frozen yogurt
  • One cup fresh raspberries

(Macronutrients: Approximately 285 calories, 7 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fat)

Day 4

By the end of today, you’ll consume about 2,230 calories, with 54% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 24% from fat, and 22% from protein. You’ll also get about 27 grams of fiber.

Breakfast

  • One cup whole wheat flakes with one cup non-fat milk and one teaspoon sugar
  • One banana
  • One slice whole-grain toast with one tablespoon peanut butter
  • One cup of black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: approximately 557 calories with 18 grams protein, 102 grams carbohydrates, and 12 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup grapes and one tangerine
  • Glass of water, hot tea, or black coffee

(Macronutrients: 106 calories, 1 gram protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fat)

Lunch

  • Tuna wrap with one wheat flour tortilla, one-half can water-packed tuna (drained), one tablespoon mayonnaise, lettuce, and sliced tomato
  • One sliced avocado
  • One cup non-fat milk

(Macronutrients: 419 calories, 27 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup cottage cheese (1-percent fat)
  • One fresh pineapple slice
  • Four graham crackers
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 323 calories, 29 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat)

Dinner

  • One serving lasagna
  • Small garden salad with tomatoes and onions topped with one tablespoon salad dressing
  • One cup non-fat milk

(Macronutrients: 585 calories, 34 grams protein, 61 grams carbohydrates, 23 grams fat)

Snack

  • One apple
  • One cup non-fat milk

(Macronutrients: Approximately 158 calories, 9 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fat)

Day 5

This delicious meal plan includes three meals and three snacks and has approximately 2,250 calories, with 53% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 25% from fat, and 21% from protein. And lots of fiber—over 40 grams.

Breakfast

  • One piece of French toast with one tablespoon maple syrup
  • One scrambled or poached egg
  • One serving turkey bacon
  • One cup orange juice
  • One cup black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: approximately 449 calories with 16 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, and 18 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup sliced carrots
  • One cup cauliflower pieces
  • Two tablespoons ranch dressing
  • Glass of water, hot tea, or black coffee

(Macronutrients: 223 calories, 4 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams fat)

Lunch

  • Veggie burger on a whole grain bun
  • One cup northern (or other dry) beans
  • One cup non-fat milk

(Macronutrients: 542 calories, 38 grams protein, 85 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat)

Snack

  • One apple
  • One pita with two tablespoons hummus
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 202 calories, 5 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat)

Dinner

  • One trout filet
  • One cup green beans
  • One cup brown rice
  • One small garden salad with two tablespoons salad dressing
  • One glass of beer
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 634 calories, 27 grams protein, 78 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup cottage cheese
  • One fresh peach

(Macronutrients: Approximately 201 calories, 29 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fat)

Day 6

Today’s meals and snacks have about 2,200 calories, with 55% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 19% from fat, and 26% from protein. You’ll also get about 31 grams fiber.

Breakfast

  • One cup corn flakes with two teaspoons sugar and one cup non-fat milk
  • One banana
  • One hard-boiled egg
  • One cup black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: approximately 401 calories with 18 grams protein, 72 grams carbohydrates, and 6 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup plain yogurt with one tablespoon honey, one-half cup blueberries, and one tablespoon almonds
  • Glass of water, hot tea, or black coffee

(Macronutrients: 302 calories, 15 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fat)

Lunch

  • One cup whole wheat pasta with one-half cup red pasta sauce
  • Medium garden salad with tomatoes and onions and two tablespoons salad dressing
  • Glass of water 

(Macronutrients: 413 calories, 11 grams protein, 67 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat)

Snack

  • One and one-half cup cottage cheese
  • One fresh peach
  • Glass of water

(Macronutrients: 303 calories, 43 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fat)

Dinner

  • Four and one-half ounce serving of pork loin
  • Small garden salad with tomatoes and onions topped with two tablespoons oil and vinegar (or salad dressing)
  • One small baked sweet potato
  • One cup asparagus
  • One glass wine (regular or dealcoholized)
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 500 calories, 46 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fat)

Snack

  • Five graham crackers
  • One cup non-fat milk
  • One cup strawberries

(Macronutrients: Approximately 279 calories, 10 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fat)

Day 7

Today’s menu contains about 2,200 calories, with 54% of those calories coming from carbohydrates, 22% from fat, and 24% from protein. There are also 46 grams of fiber.

Breakfast

  • One cup cooked oatmeal with one-half cup blueberries, one-half cup non-fat milk, and one tablespoon almond slivers
  • Two slices turkey bacon
  • One cup non-fat milk to drink
  • One cup black coffee or herbal tea

(Macronutrients: approximately 442 calories with 26 grams protein, 59 grams carbohydrates, and 14 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup plain yogurt with one tablespoon honey, one-half cup strawberries, and two tablespoons almond slivers
  • Glass of water, hot tea, or black coffee

(Macronutrients: 343 calories, 17 grams protein, 41 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fat)

Lunch

  • Six-ounce baked chicken breast
  • Large garden salad with tomatoes and onions and two tablespoons salad dressing
  • One baked sweet potato
  • One whole-wheat dinner roll.
  • Glass of water 

(Macronutrients: 498 calories, 47 grams protein, 63 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams fat)

Snack

  • One cup raw broccoli florets
  • One cup raw sliced carrot
  • Two tablespoons veggie dip or salad dressing
  • One fresh peach
  • Glass of water

(Macronutrients: 112 calories, 3 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fat)

Dinner

  • 3-ounce serving of baked or grilled salmon
  • One-half cup black beans
  • One cup Swiss chard
  • One cup brown rice
  • One whole wheat dinner roll with a pat of butter
  • Sparkling water with lemon or lime slice

(Macronutrients: 671 calories, 38 grams protein, 91 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams fat)

Snack

(Macronutrients: Approximately 62 calories, 1 gram protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fat)

A Word From Verywell

Planning healthy meals isn’t difficult but if you’re not used to it, the planning can take a little practice. The examples we provided should give you a great start.

Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t stick to the plan exactly as outlined—it’s OK to make variations that fit your lifestyle and needs. Just do your best to incorporate healthy choices into your day—vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, beans and legumes, and whole grains are always smart bets.

How can healthy living choices prevent birth defects?

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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time for raising awareness of how frequently birth defects occur and what can be done to help prevent them. This year, the theme is “Making Healthy Choices to Prevent Birth Defects – Make a PACT for Prevention.” In this article, Medical News Today will explore precisely how a PACT can be made.

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Every year, around 120,000 babies are born with birth defects in the US – 1 in 33 children.

Birth defects are conditions that are present when a baby is born and can affect nearly every part of the body. Some conditions such as cleft lip can be easy to diagnose, while others – such as deafness or heart defects – may only be discovered following diagnostic testing.

Each year in the US, around 120,000 babies are born with birth defects – one every 4.5 minutes. In total, birth defects affect 1 in 33 babies born in the country and are the cause of 1 in 5 infant deaths during the first year of life.

According to March of Dimes, birth defects are not only common and critical, they are also costly. Each year, birth defects-related hospital costs in the US exceed $2.6 billion.

Birth defects are caused by a variety of different factors that can lead to conditions forming at any stage of pregnancy. Genetic inheritance, individual behavior and environmental factors can all work together to result in birth defects.

The following is a list of 10 of the most common birth defects in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Down syndrome – 6,037 cases a year
  • Cleft lip (with or without cleft palate) – 4,437 cases a year
  • Cleft palate without cleft lip – 2,651 cases a year
  • Atrioventricular septal defect (hole in the heart) – 1,966 cases a year
  • Absence of malformation of the rectum and/or large intestine – 1,952 cases a year
  • Gastroschisis (hole in the abdominal wall) – 1,871 cases a year
  • Tetralogy of Fallot (a combination of heart defects) – 1,657 cases a year
  • Spina bifida without anencephaly – 1,460 cases a year
  • Reduction deformity, upper limbs – 1,454 cases a year
  • Reversal of the heart’s two main arteries – 1,252 cases a year.

“Birth defects can have a serious physical and emotional impact, not only on those affected, but also on their families and communities,” says Coleen Boyle, director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

With these points in mind, preventing birth defects can have a widespread positive effect.

Experts do not know what causes more than 60% of birth defects, though they are aware there are certain measures that can be taken in order to reduce the risk of their occurrence.

“Although not all birth defects can be prevented, there are steps women can take to increase the chances of having a baby born without birth defects,” explains Leslie Beres, president of the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN). “Small steps like visiting a health care provider regularly and consuming 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily before and during pregnancy can go a long way.”

The “P” in PACT stands for planning ahead. If a mother wishes to have a healthy baby, it is best to start preparing prior to conception. The majority of birth defects occur during the first 3 months of pregnancy, when the baby’s organs are forming, so being prepared from the get-go can improve a baby’s chances.

According to the CDC, around half of pregnancies are unplanned. As a result, all women of childbearing age are recommended to follow advice to ensure the best possible health for babies.

Foods high in folic acid

  • Asparagus, cooked, 1 cup: 243 mcg
  • Beef liver, braised, 3 ounces: 215 mcg
  • Black-eyed peas, boiled, ½ cup: 179 mcg
  • Lentils, boiled, ½ cup: 179 mcg
  • Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup: 168 mcg.

Learn more about folic acid

Health care professionals identify folic acid – also referred to as folate – as being incredibly important for healthy babies. Folic acid is a B vitamin that reduces the risk of neural tube defects affecting the brains and spines of babies.

If all pregnant women took 400 mcg of folic acid each day during the initial stages of pregnancy, up to 70% of neural tube defects could be prevented.

Such is its importance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated in 1996 that all grain products labeled as “enriched” had to have folic acid added to them.

Since this mandate – known as folic acid fortification – was passed, a 36% reduction in cases of spina bifida and a 17% reduction in cases of anencephaly (incomplete formation of the brain, skull and scalp) have been recorded.

Genetic counseling can also be an important part of preparing for a healthy pregnancy. Geneticists help people to learn about genetic conditions and find out what the likelihood would be of their child being born with a genetic birth defect, as well as advise screening for genetic conditions.

The “A” in PACT stands for avoiding harmful substances. Harmful substances include drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, as well as substances that can be found in the environment, workplace or home.

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Smoking during pregnancy can cause babies to be born with oral clefts, one of the most common birth defects.

As stated earlier, almost half of pregnancies in the US are unplanned, meaning that babies can be inadvertently exposed to harmful substances before the mother is aware of being pregnant.

In addition to causing birth defects, harmful substances can have other severe consequences including premature birth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and miscarriage. They can also affect a woman’s health and ability to become pregnant.

According to March of Dimes, smoking during pregnancy causes 20% of oral clefts (lips and palates). Even if a woman smokes before realizing she is pregnant, quitting can still improve the chances of her baby avoiding certain health problems, such as low birth weight.

Some jobs involve exposure to fumes or toxic metals that can be hazardous to the health of unborn children. These should be avoided where possible; ask questions about such hazards in the workplace or consult a doctor if you have any concerns.

Good forward planning is the best way to prevent harmful substances from affecting the health of unborn children. Even if pregnancy does not occur, avoiding harmful substances is beneficial to overall health enough to make this worthwhile.

The “C” in PACT stands for choosing a healthy lifestyle. “A mom’s health during pregnancy has a direct impact on her baby’s health,” says Dr. Siobhan Dolan, medical advisor to the March of Dimes. “There are many things a woman can do to help give her baby the best opportunity to be born healthy.”

There are many other things that women can do to live a healthy life and reduce the risk of the baby developing a birth defect. Key to choosing a healthy lifestyle is following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and treating long-term conditions such as diabetes.

The babies of women who are overweight have an increased risk of birth defects. Overweight mothers also have an increased risk of miscarriage and complications related to delivery and labor.

Following a healthy diet is crucial to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and any changes in diet need to be long-term rather than viewed as a quick fix. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins and healthy fats and oils is recommended by the NBDPN.

Diabetes can affect the chances of a baby being born with a birth defect if it is not controlled properly. Blood sugar needs to be kept at a healthy level. As many people are unaware that they have this metabolic disease, seeking testing from a doctor may be a good idea for women who are unsure.

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that affects 2-10% of pregnant women, occurring when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to cope with the increased demands of pregnancy. Living a healthy lifestyle could halve this risk, according to study reported by Medical News Today in October 2014.

There are many infections a mother can catch that can increase the risk of birth defects. These include:

The risk of catching these infections can be easily reduced by paying close attention to personal hygiene, making sensible lifestyle choices and getting appropriate vaccinations. However, all potential shots should be discussed with a doctor due to the potential for adverse effects.

“Eating a healthy diet and working toward a healthy weight, keeping diabetes under control, quitting smoking and avoiding second hand smoke and avoiding alcohol – all can help increase the chances of having a healthy baby,” says Leslie Beres.

The “T” in PACT stands for talking to your doctor. Regular contact with a doctor can greatly help with planning ahead, avoiding harmful substances and choosing a healthy lifestyle.

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Regular check-ups with a doctor or midwife mean that any risks to mother or child can be dealt with as soon as possible.

All medications should be discussed with a doctor prior to being taken, including prescription medication, over-the-counter medication and dietary and herbal supplements.

Use of opioid-based painkillers in early pregnancy could double the risk of babies being born with serious heart defects, and other pain medication can also lead to spina bifida or gastroschisis – a hole in the abdominal wall.

Vaccination history should be discussed with a doctor. There are some vaccinations that are best received before becoming pregnant, such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Others such as Tdap – for whooping cough – should be received during pregnancy.

The flu vaccine is best given at specific times, depending whether it is flu season when pregnancy begins or not. Researchers have found that a flu shot given during pregnancy can protect both mother and baby (for up to 6 months) from flu. Pregnant women are more susceptible to severe illness caused by flu.

An important part of planning a pregnancy can be exploring family history. This process is best done with the assistance of a doctor, who can help to identify any relevant information that may influence care during pregnancy. A doctor may recommend specific genetic or nutritional counseling depending on a family’s medical history.

Pregnant women should have regular check-ups – referred to as antenatal care – arranged with a doctor or midwife. These are vital in monitoring the health of both mother and baby and identifying any health risks that may arise as soon as possible.

Men can also play a part in preventing health defects, even if a lot of the onus is on women to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Offering support to people who are considering parenthood can make a difference, particularly when significant lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, are involved.

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) state that raising awareness of Birth Defects Prevention Month – by sending an email to everyone in your address book, for example – could help. “It is free and could easily prompt someone considering parenthood to have a wellness exam or seek genetic counseling,” they suggest.

As some birth defects can run in the family, it is important that men participate fully in any investigations into family medical history that take place.

In recent years, Medical News Today has reported on studies suggesting that a father’s diet and occupation can also influence the risk of birth defects in their infants.

These studies have suggested that men should ensure they receive adequate levels of folate, and men working in certain jobs – including computer scientists, landscapers and hairdressers – were associated with a higher risk of having children with birth defects.

Even if the findings of these studies have not been incorporated into the recommendations of groups such as the NBDPN, if men decide to make similar lifestyle changes to their partners, they could provide an additional level of encouragement that might make big changes a little bit easier.

Birth defects are a widespread health issue, but it does not have to be as prevalent as it is. One of the keys to lowering its prevalence is through raising awareness.

“Many people don’t realize how common birth defects are,” says Coleen Boyle. “Most of us know someone affected by these conditions: a child born with cleft lip and palate, a young girl with Down syndrome, a co-worker who has lost a baby due to a severe heart defect.”

National Birth Defects Prevention Month is well placed at the start of the year. The majority of recommendations for reducing birth defects are linked to living a healthy lifestyle. With the turn of the year fresh in people’s minds and impetus for change in the air, January is a great time for people thinking about children to build the foundations for a happy and healthy pregnancy.

“The New Year will be full of surprises,” says Dr. Dolan. “So even if you’re not pregnant, but want children in the future, resolve to give them a healthy start in life.”

Our Towns: What Happens After the Election

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This note is to kick off a resumed set of chronicles in the “Our Towns” series, after  time away for a long Atlantic project on the origins of this era’s public-health and economic disaster.

The results of that project are here: “Three Weeks That Changed Everything.” If you’re wondering, the three weeks I have in mind are: January 1, 2020—when first mentions of an outbreak of a new “pneumonia type disease” in central China would have appeared in the CIA-produced “President’s Daily Brief,” at the White House, which in normal governing circumstances would have triggered the beginnings of a coordinated federal response—through January 22, when the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 turned up in the United States. I argue that at the start of that time, it might have been possible to contain the disease near its point of origin, before it became a global disaster. By the end of that time, the U.S. had made fateful decisions that put us on our current catastrophic path.

In a bleak way, the past few months have underscored a message Deb Fallows and I have been discussing for years: At a time of federal-government paralysis and worse, the functionality and cohesion at many points in local- and regional-level America have been the main source of resilience.

I am careful to say “at many points” rather than “everywhere,” because some governors, and a handful of mayors, have followed the disastrous federal example of treating the pandemic as another front in the national-politics war, rather than as public-health emergency. But most governors (of both parties), plus an overwhelming majority of mayors (whose offices are usually not strongly partisan), and a larger and larger share of corporate, private, and non-profit organizations have offered such traction, practical-mindedness, and civic spirit as the nation can display at the moment.

Of course, these dispersed efforts are not enough, in coping with a disaster of this scale. If national governance fails, the whole nation suffers—as does the world, which in previous disease crises had relied on the U.S. to take the lead (again, as my Atlantic piece argued). But local, statewide, regional, and private/NGOs are what we have work with—and learn from, and expand—right now.

To kick things off today, three developments that shed light on how the parts of America that still work can be applied to the parts now so badly failing.


1) “Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century,” from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences:

I know, I know: Another commission report, with another lofty title, from another worthy institution, grappling with another of our biggest public challenges. But this one is different and is worth paying attention to. (For the record: I saw an early version of the report but had nothing to do with its preparation or contents. The web version of the report is on the Academy’s site here, and a free downloadable PDF is here.)

The report’s diagnosis of America’s civic, cultural, and governing problems will be recognizable to most readers. The real payoff is the recommendations. There are 31 of them, in six categories, and they’re both impressively ambitious and surprisingly practical-minded, which means that—in theory—they are achievable.

For instance, the sweep of the ideas involves proposals as consequential (and logical) as changing the Supreme Court to fixed 18-year terms for justices, with one nomination every two years; or switching to ranked-choice voting in presidential, congressional, and state elections, to avoid third-party “spoiler” results; or adopting the Australian model in which voting in federal elections is an expectation-of-citizenship, like showing up for jury duty. Significant as such changes might be, only one of the 31 proposals would require amending the Constitution—all the rest could be done by Congress or state legislatures, or would require no legal changes at all. The one exception is this—essentially, correcting the Supreme Court’s ruinous Citizens United ruling from 2010:

RECOMMENDATION 1.5 Amend the Constitution to authorize the regulation of election contributions and spending to eliminate undue influence of money in our political system, and to protect the rights of all Americans to free speech, political participation, and meaningful representation in government.

There’s a lot more in the report, not all of which I agree with, but the vast majority of which would make America more workable at all levels of governance. Another example: stronger incentives to encourage a year of national service. And allowing states to create multi-member congressional districts, if in so doing they could reduce gerrymandering and ideologically “safe” seats.

Congratulations to the three directors of the project, Danielle Allen, Stephen Heintz, and Eric Liu, and to their colleagues who held meetings and citizen-hearings all around the country in coming up with their recommendations. This should be one of the roadmaps for digging out of the current rubble. For more on the fixed-term Supreme Court proposal, see a note* at the end of this item.

Also: If you’re looking for a wry, quickly readable, yet informed and edgy discussion of the same topic, I highly recommend Democracy In One Book or Less, by David Litt. Readers of Litt’s previous book, Thanks, Obama, will need little prodding to get his new work. Litt was a young White House speechwriter for Barack Obama, and that previous book, published in 2017, was one of the funnier and more self-aware entries in the special niche-literary category of speechwriters’ memoirs. His new book is not exactly like Schoolhouse Rock, the corny-but-informative ’70s-era video series on how democracy works, including such classics as “I’m Just a Bill.” But it’s in the same spirit: whimsy and pop culture, enlisted toward the end of knowledge. Here’s the Washington Post review of Litt’s book. Read it!

And in the same “bonus reading tips” spirit, please check out Joe Mathews, of Zócalo Public Square, on the useful thought experiment of California declaring independence (it won’t happen, but it’s clarifying to think about); and Quint Studer, a successful businessman who has become a civic leader in Pensacola, Florida, on how to broaden understanding of what it takes for democracies to survive.


2) Right to Start, from the Right to Start Fund and Victor Hwang:

Victor Hwang, originally trained as a lawyer, is a longtime tech entrepreneur and startup evangelist. I came to know him in his years with the entrepreneur-minded Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City. While there he emphasized the foundation’s findings that a huge share of America’s net job growth comes from brand-new, startup firms. Bigger firms obviously employ more people, but as time goes on they have little net job creation.

The graph below, produced by the Kauffman Foundation, illustrates the pattern: In most recent years, long-established firms (gray line) either shed more jobs than they create, or add only modest numbers overall. By contrast, new firms (blue line) have added one to two million jobs nearly every year. The point is obvious once you think about it: Since startup firms, by definition, have no existing jobs to lose, every job they create is a net plus. But Hwang and his Kauffman colleagues have long emphasized a less obvious implication: that if an economy wants new jobs, it needs to foster the creation of new firms.

“New” firms are responsible for most net job creation in the U.S. economy. (Graphic courtesy of the Kauffman Foundation)

Now Hwang has devoted himself full-time to policies at the national, state, and local level that will make it easier rather than harder to start a small business, a small factory, even (someday) a small restaurant. Obviously this is all the more important now, as the small businesses that have been so crucial in city-by-city revival (as I described here) have come under new, intense pressure.

At Kauffman, Hwang helped write the “America’s New Business Plan” policy guideline, which begins this way:

America’s future depends on entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs not only embody the American spirit, they also power our economy. The new businesses they start account for nearly all net new job creation… [Yet] starting and building a business has become harder and rarer in most of America….

America remains a nation with vivid entrepreneurial dreams. More than 60% of Americans have a dream business in mind they would love to create, and more than 40% would quit their job and start a business in the next six months if they had the tools and resources they needed…

There is a hole at the center of our economic discussion where hope should be.  

Victor Hwang and his colleagues wrote that, and the rest of the manifesto, before the pandemic upended everything. But I think their recommendations for state legislators and regulators (here), for local officials and policy makers (here), and for federal candidates and office-holders (here) are worth your time and attention.

Update: Victor Hwang’s organization has just released a video from Tulsa, about “The Legacy of Black Wall Street” there. The reference is of course to the “Tulsa Race Massacre” of 1921, whose centennial the city is planning to observe in appropriate ways next year.


3) The Career Certificates Program, from Grow with Google:

Back at the dawn of time, I wrote an Atlantic cover story called “The Case Against Credentialism.” It argued that the American higher-education system and associated “meritocracy” had less and less to do with the abilities that should enable people of different backgrounds to get ahead, or with the professional competence that society needed.

That is: Parents understood that getting children into the right preschool helped them get into the right prep school, which helped them get the right test scores, which helped them get into the right college, which helped them … in some general way. (Mainly by getting to the top rather than the bottom of an unequal economy.) But as a society looked at the twin goals of maximizing opportunity and rewarding real performance, it made less and less sense to enable a system that gives such an edge to those who start out with advantages.

This is a point many people recognize in principle, though it is hard to implement in practice. It’s a reason Deb and I have given such emphasis to community colleges over the years, for instance here (about Kansas and Michigan) and here (about Ohio). Community colleges matter because they are the part of the U.S. educational system most committed to matching people who need opportunities with the opportunities this era has opened up.

The high-tech industry is not often seen as a vehicle of rapid class mobility within the United States. For people from around the world, yes! Less so for people without financial or educational advantages inside the U.S.

In the past few years, Deb and I have often referred to initiatives by Grow With Google, a non-profit arm of Google started in 2017 and devoted to applying advanced tech tools to job-search, civic resilience, and local-startup ends. (For the record: Grow With Google was an underwriter for some of our travel and reporting last year. Deb and I had known, liked, and collaborated with members of this organization in the time well before their business relationship with the Atlantic—and have stayed in touch with them thereafter.)  

This past week Grow With Google announced a new program to offer transferrable certificates, in a variety of tech-related fields. The crucial aspect here is the standardization and nationwide (or international) transferability of these credentials. The training may be under Google’s auspices, but the goal is a credential that people can use to show their proficiency when applying for jobs elsewhere.

“Everyone says ‘Bachelor’s degree or equivalent’ in job listings,” Lisa Gevelber, VP of Global Marketing and a leading figure in Grow With Google, told me last week. “But there was no standard definition of what that ‘equivalent’ is.” Five years ago I wrote about an effort in San Bernardino, California, to provide a standardized, transferrable credential in machine-tool and similar skills. Grow With Google is trying to do that on a much broader scale, in an array of skills that have much faster-than-average growth in job availability, and much higher-than-average wages. In addition to tech-related fields like IT support, the certificates cover project-management and data-analytics skills that can be applied in a range of industries.

“A college degree is just out of reach for lots of folks, but a great job doesn’t have to be,” Gevelber told me. “People want to get started, but they don’t know what would be a specific, realistic pathway.” The new certification program, operated in partnership with 100 community colleges around the country (and eventually with “career technical” programs at many high schools), intends to offer the same kind of specific “here’s the next step” certification that people intending to be lawyers have with the LSAT and law degrees, or that aspiring pilots have with FAA certifications. The program also offers its students extensive free “soft skill” training—practice in writing resumes, preparing for job interviews, and generally filling in the background that people from more advantaged backgrounds would already have. Students in these programs pay $49 per month to Coursera, which hosts them. Lisa Gevelber said that students typically finish in three to six months, at a total cost of $150 to $300—and that Google is funding 100,000 scholarships, in addition to other reduced-cost options.

Standardized degrees for professional-class America—the BA, the PhD, the law and medical and related credentials—have been indispensable tools of mobility and opportunity for many people. Standardized and portable credentials for the rest of America are also important, which is why I think this initiative deserves notice.


The main theme of my pandemic article was that people have thought hard about  “gray rhino” challenges—problems that, unlike “black swans,” are foreseeable and inevitable, but whose timing is unknown. In earlier administrations, they had come up with plans that could have saved us incalculable suffering, cost, and woe.

Something similar is true of these civic and economic plans. People have thought about this! We should listen to them.

How social isolation affects mental and physical health

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Posted in Healthy lifestyle
  • Social isolation can negatively affect mental health, as well as physical health. 
  • Research has found that perceived social isolation and loneliness are associated with depression, cognitive decline, poor sleep quality, a weaker immune system, and potential heart problems. 
  • Here are some of the best ways to stay mentally and physically healthy during social isolation. 
  • This article was medically reviewed by Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center. 
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

More than three in five Americans report feeling lonely, and that number has been rising. And now, the coronavirus outbreak has led even more of us to experience some level of social isolation. 

It’s widely recommended that everyone practice social distancing, which means staying six feet away from others and keeping trips to public spaces like grocery stores to a minimum. Moreover, people who have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus are told to quarantine at home for at least 14 days. 

Social isolation, at such a stressful time, can contribute to anxiety and have a negative impact on mental health. Here’s how you can stay as mentally healthy as possible. 

Social isolation can negatively affect mental and physical health 

Humans are social animals, and being isolated can have a big impact on our health, says Zlatin Ivanov, MD, a New York-based psychiatrist. 

“All our systems, including social, psychological and biological, have developed around social groups and interaction with one another,” Ivanov says. “Social isolation in most cases would bring the negative effect of loneliness, anxiety, and sometimes depression.”

Social isolation is hard to define, but what matters most is whether a person feels lonely, which scientists refer to as perceived social isolation. While this can have negative effects on mental health, it can also harm physical health. 

For example, research has found that perceived social isolation is associated with depression, cognitive decline, heart troubles, and a weakened immune system. In addition, one study found that loneliness can lead to a 30% increase in risk of coronary artery disease and stroke. The study’s authors suggest this is because of higher levels of stress, poor sleep, and unhealthy lifestyle habits — which are more likely to occur with less social interaction and accountability. 

Families with immunocompromised children, who have to practice social distancing in normal circumstances, are also known to suffer physical and mental health consequences. Plus, Ivanov says the effects of isolation get worse with time. 

“The longer the period of isolation, the more likely it becomes for the individual to show signs of anxiety, loneliness, and depression and other mental afflictions,” he says. 

How to stay mentally healthy during social isolation 

Many studies about the negative effects of isolation have looked at people who are not readily able to communicate with others. But that’s not the case with coronavirus, where millions of people are physically isolated but able to keep in touch via technology. 

One important way to protect your mental health during social isolation is continuing to communicate with those you love, using technology like video chat. 

Ivanov also recommends the following:

  • Exercise: Exercise is a well-documented stress reducer. It boosts endorphins (our feel-good chemicals) and decreases stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. Even during social isolation, you can still safely go for a run, workout at your desk, and maintain strength and muscle.  
  • Meditate: Research has found that meditation can reduce anxiety and depression. A 2019 study of mobile meditation apps found that 10 minutes per day of meditation made college students feel less depressed and more resilient. The more they used the apps, the stronger the results were — though further research is needed to gauge whether these benefits can last over long periods of time. 
  • Connect with nature: Getting outdoors, especially into sunshine and green space, can improve mood by slowing activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that has been associated with anxiety. If you can’t get outside, listening to natural sounds (like that of rain or birds) or even looking at pictures can help. 

Overall, these activities can stimulate the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, all of which promote mental health and stability, Ivanov says. 

Focusing on what you’re grateful for — like spending time with family or getting to try a new hobby — can also help lift your mood and combat the effects of isolation. For example, one small study of 32 healthy people found that gratitude meditation could improve mental health and emotional regulation. 

The researchers used brain imaging scans and found that connections in the brain were activated during the meditation, and participant’s heart rates were lowered. Further research is needed, they said, to study the potential long-term effects. But overall, Ivanov says meditating on what you’re grateful for can be a helpful tool to try. 

“We need to stay aware of what makes us happy and brings joy to our daily life,” Ivanov says.

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Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.

Is an unhealthy lifestyle more harmful for poor people?

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Posted in Healthy lifestyle
A socioeconomic gradient has been observed in morbidity and mortality in the UK and elsewhere.

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  • Mackenbach JP
  • Stirbu I
  • Roskam AJ
  • et al.
Socioeconomic inequalities in health in 22 European countries.