Blogs: Science

In 2011, the  United States Department of Agriculture replaced the idea of the Food Pyramid with My Plate ,which gives you a plan to figure out what you need to eat to be healthy. But not everyone agreed that My Plate represented healthy eating habits. Healthy Eating Plate vs. USDA Eating Plate argues that the USDA plan was influenced by political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists. They said that their plan, created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, is better because it’s based on science.


There are also food pyramids created to represent traditional Asian, Latino, African Heritage, Mediterranean and vegetarian and vegan diets (scroll down on the linked page to view these). Which ones match the way you eat? If you need more help researching diet and nutrition, feel free to contact a librarian.



There’s lots of ways to measure yourself, and this video tells you some ways to do it.

If you are paying attention to calories, concerned about your weight, planning to exercise, or just want to check how healthy your are, check out these online tools. Your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) measures the number of calories you burn even if you’re sleeping.  Your Body Mass Index is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight that will help you know if you are under, over or average weight.

You can look up how many calories you burn doing your favorite activities, or how long you should do an activity to lose weight, plus figure out the best exercise to lose weight. If you’re a runner and use a pedometer, you’ll need to measure your step length to figure out how far you run.

Your target heart rate can help you know how hard you should exercise so you can get the most aerobic benefit from your workout.

There are other health calculators you can use to help you assess your health, exercise, and vulnerability to disease as well. If you need more help, feel free to contact a librarian.

3 eggs =18 gummi bears =1 glass of milk= 200 calories.This is 200 Calories is a fun video that compares what 200 calories of different foods looks like. It also talks about what a calorie is, and why calories aren’t the only thing to consider in planning a healthy diet.

What Does 200 Calories Look Like? is a poster that compares visually 200 calories of more foods.

Wondering how many calories are in your favorite drink? This look at calories in drinks compares calories in soft drinks, juices and coffee drinks. Don't forget, serving size matters!

The Fast Food Nutrition Calculator lets you calculate the nutrition of meals at fast food restaurants. Select the items you want to eat then see how many total calories, grams of fat, and could it be? - vitamins -  are hiding inside your favorite meal.

Need more help?  Contact a librarian to be sure you get what you need.

What if all those times you're waiting around you exercised instead? 

We need exercise! To stay healthy, reduce stress and maintain a healthy weight, it’s important for kids to exercise one hour a day. Yup, scientists have discovered too much sitting can actually kill you in seven different ways. Since computer and TV screen time means you’re sitting a lot, break up your viewing time with some fun moves that make you active.

But how about using your screen time to  improve your moves? There’s lots of online videos made to get you moving. This kids’ twenty minute dance and fitness workout is like having your own fitness instructor bring the class right into your home. Put together basketball moves for a ten minute recess break. Or how about a reggae  or a hip hop instant recess?  A twenty minute yoga stretch break can make you feel refreshed. Workout with a friend or exercise with your family. Quit eating gummy bears and get silly with the gummy bear dance instead. Or go crazy and just dance like nobody’s watching.

More questions about exercise?  Contact a librarian to be sure you get what you need.


Human bodies need vitamins and minerals to function well. What’s the difference between the two? Vitamins come from organic sources (plants and animals), while minerals are inorganic and come from the soil and water. This chart tells you what each nutrient does, and how much a teen needs each day.  The best way to get vitamins and minerals is naturally, through eating foods that contain them. Vegetables and fruits are loaded with nutrients. It can help to have a chart that tells you what each food contains.

If you take vitamin or mineral supplements, what is the recommended daily allowance (or RDA)? This article explains why, as with any medicine, you should be careful of what you take, and also be sure to take the right dose for your age.

Need more information? Contact a librarian to be sure you get what you need.


Seems like everytime I go online, watch TV or read an article, I can’t avoid ads for burgers, chips, soda and candy. And once I see them, how can I not want to eat them?

It’s not by accident I'm craving junk food. Junk foods’ manufacturers specifically target young people, advertising everywhere kids go, to get you hooked on their product. If you become loyal to their brands as a kid, that’s a whole lifetime of purchases for them, since you will probably outlive your parents or grandparents. That’s why kids’ are highly targeted with ads.

The average child sees 10,000 food advertisements per year, most of them not for healthy foods. The fallout from this is that kids are unhealthy and obese. Fourteen percent of children are obese and of these, 60% have risk factors for diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure.

Now  these ads are on social media too. One study investigated junk foods ads on social media sites and discovered this marketing most attracted interaction from teens and young adults. It’s also been shown that kids of color are at higher risk of being targeted by junk food advertising.  And this type of ad only confuses feelings about ourselves and our body image. Girls especially get confusing mixed messages; how does one stay skinny and attractive and eat tons of junk food at the same time?

Teen Health and the Media and Common Sense Media have good resources for further info about junk food and other advertising aimed at youth.


Need more help?  Contact a librarian to be sure you get what you need.





Citizen scientists at work [Photo courtesy of Dennis Ward, Project BudBurst]Have you ever wished you could spend a little bit of time working as a scientist?  I have good news: you can do it, without having to quit anything you already do in your daily life, and without having to get an advanced degree. Scientists all over the world are enlisting regular folks to help them with big projects -- this kind of scientist-support volunteering is called citizen science.

There are so many different citizen science projects, there’s sure to be one that suits you!  No matter your age, your occupation or vocation, or your level of education, there is a citizen science project you can help with.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The annual Christmas Bird Count.  Join a group of Portlanders to participate in the local arm of a nationwide bird census.  This year, local bird-counters will be attempting to count every single bird within a 15-mile radius around Portland, on January 2, 2016.

Great Backyard Bird Count.  If you miss this year's Christmas Bird Count, don't worry, citizen ortnithologists are needed for the Great Backyard Bird Count every February.  Spend a little time in your backyard (or anywhere), and count the number and type of birds you see.  This year’s count takes place February 12-15, 2016.

Be a Martian.  NASA is looking for Earthling volunteers to help improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

Portland Urban Coyote Project.  When you see a coyote, report it to help scientists at the Portland Audubon Society and the Geography Department at Portland State University who are studying how coyotes have adapted to urban environments.

Project Budburst.  Observe and record when plants produce leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit, to help the National Ecological Observatory Network understand more about how plants respond to climate changes.

National Map Corps.  Edit information about buildings and other data features for the United States Geological Survey’s National Map -- all in the form of “challenges” in which editors are asked to map, edit, and peer-review new additions to the map.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network.  Measure and map rain, snow and other precipitation, together with volunteers across the U.S. and Canada.


Do you want to see even more citizen science projects you might help out with?  Here are some great places to look for projects that need volunteers:


Remember, you can talk to a librarian about your science questions (or any questions!) whenever you’re at the library in person -- just ask the librarian on duty.  Or, call or email a librarian to get personalized help with via email, text, phone or chat.


A room full of excited elementary school-age kids got a sneak peak at Multnomah County Library’s new Discovery Kits on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at Troutdale Library.

These hands-on projects are geared toward K-5 kids and their families, with interactive building projects that explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) ideas. “My son really wants to figure out how things work” so these kits are a perfect fit, said Sadie, whose twin 5-year-old boys were immersed in building robots.

The new Programming and Coding kit helps kids learn the basics of coding by drawing paths with markers that a programmable robot will follow. At Tuesday’s Science Squad, the kids wasted no time figuring out the patterns and colors needed to make a working path. And when the robot stopped moving, problem-solving kicked in organically, and the kids adjusted their “coding” by drawing thicker lines — all without a computer.

Building on success

The Discovery Kits project is made possible by gifts to The Library Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation and reach through private support. And now the project is expanding from a successful pilot in 2013 that brought 30 kits to Troutdale, Hollywood and Midland libraries. With the addition of five new kit themes, the project is growing to North Portland, Rockwood and Belmont libraries, with a total of 120 kits in circulation.

The most exciting thing about the new kits? “They have circuitry and little robots!” said librarian Violeta Garza, who led the Science Squad meeting. “It’s not something you normally find at a library” And with support from The Library Foundation, Violeta added, the project has support to engage more young people in STEM learning.

Science for everyone

Each kit contains games, hands-on activities, books and suggestions for school-age families to bring STEM concepts into home learning and play. No special science background or equipment is required. Many of the materials include instructions in Spanish, other languages and pictures. And the kits aren’t just for use at the library. As of Nov. 6, the Discovery Kits can be checked out and placed on hold at any Multnomah County Library location.

Multnomah County Library offers STEM programs for all ages, from nature-themed storytimes to activities at Rockwood Library makerspace to adult computer classes and more.

Science Squad next meets Nov. 17 at Troutdale Library. Registration is required.


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