Archive for March, 2010

Even The Economist

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I get lots of blog ideas from The Wall Street Journal, usually from their last section, oriented to the personal and rather eclectic in content. Four days ago I was reading my copy of The Economist and was somewhat surprised to see an article in their Business section that called out for a blog post. The title of the piece was "Pepsi gets a makeover: Taking the challenge."

The focus of the article was on Pepsi's CEO wanting the firm to make products with less sugar, salt and fat. She even plans to remove all of the company's drinks that contain sugar from schools by 2012.

Bravo, I said and read on. It seems that she's gotten the message. She wants to help keep food companies (or at least hers) from the fate of their tobacco-company distant relatives, noting the latter firms have been impugned for the deleterious  health-related outcomes caused by their products.

I was unaware that Pepsi owned Quaker, but found fascinating the plans to alter their marketing of those products also. The Pepsi boss seems quite serious in her efforts, and although they clearly must be driven, in large part, by an attempt to capture/maintain market share, I applaud the concept.

I personally drink few soft drinks (One Caffeine-free Diet Coke a day), but I hope this effort by a major food company will be followed by all the others. it's about time!

Finally, I'm back home with a lesson learned

Friday, March 26th, 2010

We've been on the road for thirteen days, driving to Phoenix and back for my wife's Integrative Mental Health meeting. The trip covered nearly 2,000 miles and we got a chance to visit six sets of old friends. I weighed myself this morning, expecting to be way up, but I'm only at the top of my acceptable limit, three pounds over my current goal weight. That didn't make sense at first as we've eaten out a lot and had home-cooked meals in three places; those were delicious, but not what I've been eating while I'm dieting. I had also spent four days in the car and several more with friends who didn't exercise regularly.

Then I realized I still got a fair amount of exercise along the way, snowshoeing in Angel Fire and walking four miles a day in Phoenix while Lynnette was in her meeting.

My central focus in losing weight has been eating less, but when we're home I'm in the gym six or seven days a week. I've said before the vast majority of people have to modify their intake of calories to lose weight, but I don't think you can keep it off without exercising.

So I pulled out an article I picked up at a hotel we stayed at on the trip (we spent three nights there and two more on Air Force bases). This on was from USA Today and focused on "older women." It came at the issue from a different slant, that of normal-weight women who want to avoid weight gain as they age. A group of Harvard researchers followed a large group (34,000 participants)of women over an extended time frame (13 years). These women were healthy, didn't need to lose weight initially and eat a normal diet.

The conclusions fit with my premise; the relatively small cohort (13%) who never gained more than five pounds during the entire length of the study regularly did an hour a day of moderate-intensity exercise. The researchers didn't extend their findings to men or younger women (or kids), but I firmly believe the way to keep weight off for all of us is through some kind of exertion. Whether you chose to walk for an hour (at least five days a week) or do something more strenuous for shorter time periods, get off your couch and find a form of exercise that fits with your age, health condition and inclinations. Even shorter periods or exercise will convey at least some health benefits. You'll be ahead of most of your fellow countrymen and women if you do so.

Weight-loss fundraiser

Friday, March 12th, 2010

Fascinating article and accompanying editorial in our local paper today. It seems that General Mills and other big businesses have pledged $0.14 to food banks across the country for every pound lost by their area residents. What a double win that could be: here the Food Bank for Larimer County has noted a huge increase in the number of visits by those in need of food help; up 32,000 from 2008 to 2009. Twenty percent of the kids in the county get food assistance either through the schools or food stamps.

At the same time, although Colorado is a "relatively lean" state, more than half of the people who live in my county fall into the overweight and obese categories (that includes one fourth of the students in our school district). We face a quandary in these difficult financial time; it's cheaper to buy unhealthy food choices than healthy ones.

So our Food Bank has over 13,000 area folk who've pledged 13,000 pounds so far and is aiming at 50,000 pounds in pledges. If they succeed, they'll get $7,000 from the corporate sponsors of the "pound for Pound Challenge," be able to feed more of our our-income residents and, at the same time, help those who pledge to become healthier.

It's hard to think of a better "twofer" than that. Wherever you live, I'd suggest seeing if your area food bank is participating. Join in on this wonderful plan to help others and yourself.

What's the FDA up to now?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal published two interesting articles last week that may, in one case, apply to the world of health and diet and, in the other case directly applies. The first said the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations should be more active. But, it also mentioned that an appellate judge had reversed a case ruling from a lower court where the FDA had charged a food wholesaler with misbranding the labels on their food product.

Hmm, on the one hand the FDA announce s(they did so in a letter to a senator) they will increase their prosecution of food industry executives, but one of their officials said they will do so with considerable thoughtfulness. The article itself shows why they have to, since their 2007 case got reversed.

The other article said the agency has warned a number of food and beverage makers that they must stick to government labeling requirements. They're particularly concerned about unproven health-benefit claims that don't help us as consumers decide which foods are healthy and which aren't.

Good so far, but I want to see this in action. While walking down the aisles of our favorite supermarket, I've see cereals I wouldn't dream of eating be labeled "a healthy choice" and that's just the beginning. Another example is "no trans fat" in products that still have lots (I define this as >4) grams of saturated fat per helping. One ice cream "snack" mentioned has 20 grams of saturated fat per serving.

The proof is in the pudding; I'll be happy if the FDA does crack down on labeling, but in the meantime I'll continue to read labels carefully and to do most of my supermarket shopping in the outer ring where the fruits and vegetables (and dairy products) are.

An article on eating less red meat

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I got a copy of the monthly magazine Reform Judaism yesterday and read Rabbi Eric Yoffie's article titled "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" In it he urged a decision to reduce red meat intake by at least one fifth. When I read some of the rationale behind his recommendation, I was impressed. One table listed the average amount of water needed to produce a variety of foodstuffs; those numbers ranged from 13 liters for a tomato to 135 liters for an egg to 2,400 liters for a hamburger. We're facing a water shortage in Colorado where I live, so that got my attention.

I started thinking about the Why behind that huge quantity of water as well as the Why Not about Rabbi Yoffie's suggestions. Most of our beef, at least that available in the supermarket, comes from animals that are corn-finished. So in order to bring a cow to the slaughterhouse, most producers, wanting as much meat as possible per animal, raise them in feedlots and feed them corn for a large portion of their lives. Raising all that corn consumes a lot amount of water.

The meat industry is responsible for a goodly share of our greenhouse gases; the article mentions a U.N. paper ranking  animal agriculture above the total of all transportation modalities.  One academic has suggested that cutting our meat intake by one fifth would be the equivalent of each US citizen driving a Prius instead of an ordinary, non-hybrid automobile.

At that point I thought, "For once I'm ahead of the game." Lynnette and I each bought a Prius at the end of 2006 and, as I've previously said in one of my blogs, we've cut our red meat intake markedly in the last three years. We've also purchased non-corn-finished meat, splitting a bison with three other families and recently trying some Beefmaster beef from a Colorado company that grass feeds and finishes all their animals.

Well that's a good start, but I still need to be careful of my portion control when I do eat red meat; Michael Pollan's Food Rule #23 says, "Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food." He's concerned about the other consequences increasingly linked to red meat; those include heart disease and some forms of cancer.

I think Lynnette is making a vegetarian dinner while I'm writing this; tonight I'll be content to eat no meat at all, red or otherwise. It seems like that is a good start on cutting my water use and staying healthy.  (more…)

Why are the kids so heavy? What will that lead to?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

I read two scary newspaper articles yesterday, one in our local paper and the other in The Wall Street Journal. Both mentioned a research study, reported by a University of North Carolina pediatrician, that showed obese kids had a high blood levels of a significant chemical marker of inflammation. What that translates into is three to five year-old American kids already having signs they are increasing their risk for early-onset heart disease. I remembered seeing a New England Journal of Medicine article from December of 2007 (NEJM, vol. 357: 2329-2337) that had first warned me of this issue. That one followed over a quarter million Danish schoolchildren and concluded that a high body-mass-index during childhood (BMI is a term that correlates weight and height) is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease as an adult.

The other study, reported on in the Associated Press article that was reprinted locally, pointed toward an increased risk of being obese in Black and Hispanic children. That is partly due to income levels, but partly also to cultural factors, according to the authors of the study. Twenty percent of these kids, all under the age of twenty, were obese, vs. fifteen percent of Caucasian kids. The NEJM article had a footnote saying an estimated 19% of US kids age 6 to 11 have a BMI greater than the 95% percentile for their age and gender.

So what's going on here and how can we change this grim picture?  Number one is to let people know about this issue.  Secondly we can look really hard at what we're feeding our kids from an early age on and what kind of food they eat as they get older. Thirdly we have to have a realistic look at our kids. I hear lots of young parents wanting their child to have weights high up on the growth charts; that's not the only way to measure their progress, folks. Is your kid (or grandkid) slender, chunky or just plain fat?

There are other factors in the lives of our children that we can all influence: what about our own BMI; how does that send a signal to our kids? And what about food choices? Can we start them eating the right things (mostly vegetables and fruits; less red meat). And can we, the American public, influence what the fast-food industry offers to their customers and to the kids in particular? Is there a way to get young people interested in more exercising and less sitting in front of their computers, TVs and all those hand-held devices?

I've heard people speculate that the Boomer generation may be the first to live average shorter lifespans than their parents. I don't know the data here, but these are adults who presumably are fully competent to make their own choices. That's not true of our kids. it's time we turn this slide into obesity around for their sakes.