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National Junk Food Day?

Most of you probably did not know this, but yesterday was National Junk Food Day.  I’m not sure why we need a National Junk Food Day, but it exists.  In a society that is as unhealthy as we currently are it looks like to me every day is National Junk Food Day.  Why don’t we just have a National Smoking Day or a National Eat ‘Til You Can’t Buckle Your Pants Day?

Ok, so maybe we shouldn’t have those days but I think you get the picture.  Having a day to ‘celebrate’ junk food is ridiculous in my opinion because judging by health care costs and our waistlines, people are already celebrating it too much!  Check out the statistics below on junk food consumption in this country.

STATS!

  • The average American eats about 24.5 pounds of candy per year, with 11.6 pounds being chocolate candy
  • There are 3,961 confectionery and nut stores in the U.S.
  • The top five ice cream flavors are vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, strawberry and chocolate chip mint
  • More than 90% of households in the U.S. consume ice cream
  • Not into candy or desserts? The U.S. has 12,804 McDonald’s restaurants
  • Children aged 6 to 11 are more likely to eat cookies than apples (or any other type of fruit)
  • 12- to 17-year-olds are as likely to eat potato chips as salad
  • On average 82 percent of people eat no cruciferous vegetables in a given day
  • On average 41 percent of people eat no fruits at all in a given day
  • Each day, 1 in 4 Americans visits a fast food restaurant
  • McDonald’s feeds more than 46 million people a day. (That’s more than the entire population of Spain.)
  • French fries are the most eaten “vegetable” in America
  • There’s one soda vending machine for every 97 Americans
  • In 1972, we spent $3 billion a year on fast food — today we spend more than $110 billion.
  • Sodas alone contribute 7.1 percent of total calories eaten
  • Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks add another five percent
  • Children and youth aged 11 to 18 years visit fast food outlets an average of twice a week
  • Household income spent on away-from-home foods rose from 25 percent of total food spending in 1970 to nearly one-half in 1999
  • By 14 years of age, 32 percent of adolescent girls and 52 percent of boys in the United States are consuming three or more eight-ounce servings of sweetened soft drinks daily

I got a little carried away with the statistics but they are incredibly easy to find and they are fascinating.  Some of them are unbelievable!  This is part of the problem in the US in terms of health.  These companies specifically market to children so they can get them hooked and in the habit of consuming their food.  They know that habits are hard to change even if they’re bad for your health.  If they can get a child hooked they’ve got a costumer for life.

I hope these statistics have enlightened you a little and I hope it makes you think about just how much junk we put into our mouths as Americans.  A National Junk Food Day is not necessary and hopefully in the next few years it can pass us by and no one will notice.

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Eat to live, don’t live to eat

Eat to live, don't live to eat

The title of this blog is something that is so simple yet people have such trouble actually abiding by it.  I first heard this quote from a trainer that I work with.  I hear him say it from time to time to other clients when I’m in the gym.

Many people struggle to attain the health goals that they want to achieve.  Whether those goals are losing weight, lowering cholesterol levels or just getting into better overall health, the foundation for those goals is a healthy diet.

Diet is a four letter word.  I’m not sure if you’re aware of that.  When people hear the word diet, they cringe.  They immediately think  it means you have to eat very little, and the food that you’re allowed to eat must taste terrible.  I am here to tell you that does not have to be the case.

When I talk about diet I mean diet in its most basic meaning.  The first definition of diet listed in the dictionary is as follows:

Diet (n) – food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health.

It’s not about breaking down what you’re eating a cutting a bunch of it out to lose weight.  It’s about the quality of the food that you are putting into you mouth and how it will affect your overall health.  It truly is about your habits with regard to food.

When patients come into my office diet is always something that we modify.  Patients come to see us for a wide range of conditions, but dietary change is almost always necessary.  There is the occasional patient that already has a perfect diet, but they are few and far between.

Patients are very motivated at first to change their eating habits because they are very motivated to feel better.  As they get into their programs motivation dwindles and people begin to miss their comfort foods.  It really is amazing how much people depend on food to make them happy.  It should not be that way.  Food can certainly be a source of joy.  There is nothing better than a good piece of steak or a tasty chicken breast sometimes.  However, if foods become your only enjoyment there is a problem.  Food should be nourishment, not your sole source of pleasure.

Patients, even when they are achieving the results they desire, complain about the dietary changes they’ve been forced to make.  Of course the alternative is to continue down the path they were on, eat as they wish and continue to feel bad.  Either way they feel trapped.  This is where the mind set needs to switch.  They need to finally realize that they need to eat to live, not live to eat.

If a person can understand that concept, accept it and then apply it, dietary changes are easy.  You are eating to be healthy and therefore happy.  Not the other way around.  Patients that have the hardest time changing often do not accept this concept.  They don’t want to give up ice cream, candy, cakes, etc. because they get enjoyment out of consuming them.  There are physiological reasons for this of course, but even when those are addressed the mindset does not change.  If one can decide to use food as a tool to get healthy rather than a tool to be happy changes occur much faster.

Remember this concept: food is fuel for our bodies.  We need it to function.  We need it to live.  We can certainly enjoy it, but it should not be a tool to make us happy.  We should view food simply as something that can nourish our bodies and make us healthy.  Viewing it this way makes it much easier to make good choices.  Inevitably people who choose “comfort foods” make bad choices.  When was the last time you heard that someone over ate chicken breast? It doesn’t happen.  People over eat the bad stuff like donuts, chips or ice cream because they are eating for joy, not for nourishment.  Abiding by the eat to live, don’t live to eat mantra will serve you well because it will help you make the right diet choices for the right reasons.

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4 Simple Ways To Help You Lose Weight

One of the major health issues facing Americans today is obesity.  As a matter of fact more than two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.  In my clinic we see lots of people who simply want to lose weight and get healthy.  While every case is a little different there are several things that you can do that will greatly improve your chances of losing weight and certainly get you feeling better.  Below I’ve listed somethings that are critically important in our program for people to get fit and most importantly, stay there.

1. Increase Your Activity Level With Exercise

This one seems like a no brainer, but when I talk to people about exercise I find that they don’t really understand what is necessary for them to actually see results.  I always ask people what they do for exercise.  For women, one of the standard answers is, “I have a young child at home and that gets me plenty of exercise.”  For men, a standard answer is, “My job is very physical so I don’t need to exercise.”  Other general answers patients give me for the dreaded exercise question include, “I walk to dog every day,” or “I like to garden on the weekend,” or “I don’t have time to exercise.”

Now, I can certainly appreciate that taking care of a young child can be fatiguing.  I can also understand that a physical job like construction is taxing.  I also know that walking the dog and gardening might seem like exercise, but if we examine these a little closer we will see that they do not qualify as exercise unfortunately.

Taking care of a young child and a job in construction are something that must be done every day (or almost every day).  At one point both of those might have burned you enough calories to qualify as an increase in your activity level.  However, after doing these things over and over again, your body figures out a way to to expend the least amount of energy possible while still performing those tasks.  This means that they no longer qualify as “exercise.”  Take this example.  If you went to the gym and you wanted to start getting in shape you might start by running on the treadmill.  You might start my running just a single mile.  Over time this single mile would no longer be difficult for you and would no longer qualify as exercise or produce the results you are looking for.  The same principle applies to your daily activities.

So to see the results you want, you must include exercise into your activities.  You don’t need to exercise every single day but at least several times per week.  Patients often tell me there is no time in their day for this.  The fix for this is simply that you must make the time.  No magic solutions for that one.

The exercises that I like people to include are weight training with high intensity interval training for cardiovascular health.  Weight training has many benefits.  It raises the amount of calorie you burn when you are at rest, it improves strength which reduces injury and it helps keep bones healthy and strong.  The high intensity interval training is cardiovascular work mostly using your body weight for resistance.  Often times this work is no more than a single 8-10 minute session after a weight training session.  The benefits are well studied and the shorter duration work out is equivalent to much longer workouts that are purely cardiovascular in nature.

2. Improve Your Diet

Again, this one sounds so simple, yet when done incorrectly will lead to poor results.  I always recommend that people reduce carbohydrate in their diet.  For a jump start I generally recommend that people get no more than 20-40 grams of carbohydrate per day.  For a little perspective on that, a single slice of whole wheat bread has about 15 grams of carbohydrate in it.  I also recommend that they get ketone strips from the local pharmacy.

Ketones are a by product of fat metabolism.  When you are exclusively burning fat for energy (as opposed to sugar) ketones will be excreted into your urine.  You may test this with ketone strips.  Simply pass them through a stream of urine several times per day and compare the color coded strip with the reference chart of the bottle.  You will want to see a trace to small amount of ketones.  This ensures that you are burning your body stores of fat for energy.

A diet low in carbohydrate will also help you gain control of a hormone called insulin.  People who have diets high in carbohydrate over produce insulin.  This is problematic because insulin is a storage hormone.  It causes your body to store energy in the form of fat.  Obviously if you produce too much of this hormone you will tend to store fat very easily.  Insulin is released in response to carbohydrate in your diet.  Reduce the carbohydrate and you reduce your fat storing hormone!

As a side note, continually over producing insulin will lead to diabetes and all the health complications associated with it.  Do not take insulin over production lightly.

3. Take Fat Burning Supplements

Many supplements tout their ability to lose weight for you.  No supplement will lose the weight for you.  To do that you will have to do the first two steps above.  There are, however, supplements that will help you lose weight.

One great example is something called carnitine.  It is available from many sources.  It works because carnitine is necessary for the body’s cells to transfer fat into the mitochondria.  This mitochondria is the power house of each cell.  It is what produces energy so the cell can keep up with it’s daily activities.  In order for it to burn fat it needs carnitine.  It is simple to take and is available in capsule form.  It is also very safe, unlike many other weight loss supplements.

Y0u may also benefit from taking supplements to stabilize blood sugar and reduce insulin production.  These are available through reputable supplement companies and I would urge you to see a doctor that specializes in functional medicine to find these types of supplements.

4. Check Your Thyroid

The thyroid can be thought of as the thermostat on the metabolism.  If it is under active your metabolism will be under active as well.  This means you will tend to gain weight very easily among other symptoms like lethargy, insomnia and general low energy.  Checking the thyroid is simple to do through a blood test.  I routinely check my patients on it.

There are several things to look for.  Many times physicians will order something called a TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone.  TSH is a brain hormone that tells the thyroid to secrete it’s hormone.  TSH is inversely proportional to thyroid function.  That means that the higher the TSH the lower your actual thyroid function is.  The reference ranges for most labs for TSH are 0.30-5.0.  This range is far too large.  A more appropriate range is actually 0.3-3.0.  In my practice if a patient’s TSH is above 2 I like to treat them and help them optimize thyroid function.  Other things that need to be checked are the actual thyroid hormones called T3 and T4.  Sometimes those are low, but the TSH is normal.  If the only test ordered is a TSH you might miss the fact that your thyroid is under active.  I also like to see something called the thyroid antibodies.  Sometimes people have antibodies to their own thyroid which reduces its effectiveness.

This list is by no means all inclusive.  It does, however, provide you and insight into the first few steps that go through my mind when someone asks for my advice in helping them lose weight.  We have been very successful in helping people get fit and achieve their weight loss goals.  It is not something that can be done for you, but the reward for achieving your goals is a great one.

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5 Superfoods You Should be Eating

In my office we talk about diet with every single patient that comes in.  We advise them on many aspects of diet.  Some people wish to lose weight.  Other wish to control chronic pain.  Still yet others just want to know how to be as healthy as they can be.  Despite the differences in what people desire out of their diet plans, there are always common themes between them.

There are foods that I advise people eat on a regular basis because they are inherently good for human physiology.  These foods pack a big bang for their buck in terms of nutrition.  They are “nutrient dense” as we say.  Below I have compiled a list of my top 5 food recommendations that I think everyone should consume regularly.   Enjoy!

1. Eggs

Ahhh, the persecuted egg.  For many physicians the egg is the enemy.  You will hear, “You can’t eat eggs, they’re too high in cholesterol!” True, eggs contain cholesterol but cholesterol is not your enemy.  Modern medicine, taking its cues from the pharmaceutical industry, would have you believe that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.  I am here to tell you that it is not.  Inflammation is the cause of heart disease.  Your body uses this cholesterol in an attempt to quell the inflammation.  This inflammation is caused by eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates, not high cholesterol.  Not a single large scale study has shown that by reducing cholesterol you reduce mortality rates.  None. So the egg is actually a very healthy food.  It provides a great protein punch, has great vitamins like B12 and vitamin D and best of all it is easy to prepare.  So enjoy your eggs, they are a great option for breakfast or hard boiled as a snack.

2. Avocado

Avocado truly is a super food.  It is loaded with vitamins and healthy fats.  These healthy fats are used for many things in the body including cellular repair and energy.  Avocado is also a great way to maintain the health of your skin and your hair because if its great fatty acid profile.  It’s rich in B vitamins, contains vitamins E and K and has much more potassium than a banana.  It’s also loaded with fiber which is important for maintaining a healthy colon.  Like I said, super food.  Eat it raw with some salt and pepper, grind it up to make guacamole, put it in a salad or as a garnish to your hamburger (with no bun of course).  There are a million ways to eat this wonderful food.

3. Coconut

This is another misunderstood food.  Coconuts are sometimes touted as unhealthy because of their fatty acid profile.  There is research that these unfavorable views go all the way back to World War II when all of the tropical oils were seen as bad because they came out of the Pacific and were a major export of Japan.  Today they are gaining popularity but some medical professionals point to the fact that coconuts are high in saturated fat as a negative.  Again, they are correct but it really is only a half truth.  Most of the saturated fat from a coconut is in the form of something called a medium chain triglyceride.  These MCTs have great benefit.  They are used for energy in the body and have been shown to increase weight loss.  Coconuts are also anti-fungal.  If you suspect you have a fungal or yeast overgrowth, coconut consumption might help.  Coconuts are sometimes hard to find, but the oil is a cinch.  Use the oil to cook with and you can gain all the benefits of consuming actual coconut.  Many companies sell the oil and some even remove the flavor if that does not appeal to you.

4. Almonds

While many nuts are good for you, almonds are great.  They contain a good source of carbohydrate and protein and a great source of healthy fat.  They are rich in vitamins such as E and they also have good amounts of magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron and fiber.  They are a great heart healthy snack and even have been shown to aid in weight loss.  Eat them raw, roasted or chopped up on your favorite salad.  They’re great any way you can get them.

5. Cold Water Fish

Fish is another food that has great benefit.  They contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.  These fats are potently anti-inflammatory and reduce the risk of a host of diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.  The importance of omega-3s in the diet cannot be overstated.  I like to shoot for 4,000-6,000 mg per day.  To do this you will likely have to supplement with a capsule or oil, but getting it in your diet as well is a must.  There are some things to look for when you buy fish.  Always buy wild fish.  Farmed fish are fed grain to fatten them up quickly and this changes their fatty acid composition negatively.  Consume smaller fish.  The larger fish have a higher potential to have levels of mercury that are unsafe.

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Solving Childhood Obesity Part IV – Food Marketing

The marketers that come up with advertising campaigns for the food industry are pure genius.  They can take a food that is completely unhealthy and spin the commercial so that it appears as if the food is as good (if not better) than any health food available.  My rant on Tostitos is a good example. (Click here to read the post.) Some excerpts and statistics from this blog were taken directly from the Let’s Move Report to the President available at www.letsmove.gov.

Honey Nut And Chocolate Cheerios are Health Foods!

I recently saw another good example.  This was a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial.  It started about by talking about cholesterol and how high levels of the stuff can be bad for you.  Then it mentions how whole grains can improve cholesterol numbers.  I have issues with that statement as well but that’s a whole different post.  The commercial continues and states that Honey Nut Cheerios is made from whole grains and in a “study” was shown to reduce cholesterol.  We are of course provided no information on this so called study, but it sounds official so it’s included in the commercial.  They also put a big read heart on the box to suggest that eating Honey Nut Cheerios is heart healthy.  At the end of the commercial they also introduce Chocolate Cheerios and it too has a big red heart on the box!  It’s heart healthy too!  The problem?  Honey Nut Cheerios and Chocolate Cheerios are not heart healthy!  In fact, they are the opposite.  They are loaded with sugar and are not a good way for children to start the day.

Both Honey Nut Cheerios and Chocolate Cheerios provides a child with the equivalent of more than 4 teaspoons of sugar to start the day.  That’s equal to half a soda for breakfast.  Would you let your child drink half a soda for breakfast?  Probably not.  But wait, Cheerios does provide vitamins and minerals, right?  Yes, they do but what if Coca Cola decided to fortify its soda with vitamins and minerals?  Does it make soda healthy?  Certainly not.  I have provided the nutrition information and packaging of both Cheerios below for your viewing pleasure.

As you can see, both boxes have the big red heart on them.  The marketers know that the vast majority of people that see this box with assume that means Cheerios is healthy and that’s a major problem because it’s cereals like this that are contributing to childhood obesity is a big way.

The Marketing Billions

Food marketing to children and adolescents is a big business. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates
that, in 2006, food, beverage, and quick-serve restaurant companies spent more than $1.6 billion to promote their products to young people. Children and adolescents are an important demographic for marketers for several reasons: (1) they are customers themselves; (2) they influence purchases made by parents and caregivers; and (3) they are the future adult market.  The last reason is of particular importance to marketers.  Just like the cigarette companies of the 50’s and 60’s, the food industry knows that if it can get you hooked on their products as a child, you are unlikely to change as an adult.  Habits are hard to break.

Food and beverage companies utilize a full range of marketing techniques including print, internet advertising (such as advergames), product packaging, in-school marketing, cross-promotions, prizes and contests, and the use of popular licensed characters that appeal to children and adolescents.

Marketing Works (Unfortunately)

Research conducted by the Sesame Street Workshop in 2005 found a strong influence of popular licensed characters on preschoolers’ food preferences. When preschoolers were asked if they would rather eat broccoli or a Hershey’s chocolate bar, 78% of the children chose the chocolate bar and only 22% chose broccoli. When an Elmo sticker was placed on the broccoli, however, 50% of the children chose broccoli.  This shows that children are extremely impressionable and will likely always want to eat the foods that have the marketing behind them.  Unfortunately, this is almost always foods that are nutrient empty.

Can Big Business Police Itself?

The food industry claims it is concerned with the health of children.  In 2006 the Council of Better Business Bureaus established the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).  CFBAI was intended to change the ratio of food and beverage advertising messages directed to children under the age of 12 to encourage healthier eating and lifestyles. It has 16 current member companies – Burger King, Cadbury Adams, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, Dannon, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft, Mars, McDonald’s, Nestle, PepsiCo, Post Foods, and Unilever.

These companies are doing this on a voluntary basis and have set guidelines for themselves:

  1. 100% of child-directed television, print, radio, and internet advertising must promote “healthier dietary choices” or “better-for-you” products.
  2. Products depicted in child-directed interactive games must be “better-for-you” foods or the games must incorporate healthy lifestyle messages.
  3. Companies must reduce their use of third-party licensed characters in advertising that does not promote healthy dietary choices or healthy lifestyles.
  4. Companies must not pay for or actively seek placement of their products in entertainment directed at children.
  5. Companies must not advertise food or beverage products in elementary schools.

While these guidelines sound noble, it’s like asking the wolves to guard the sheep. A recent examination of the CFBAI has showed that it really is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to appease the public while continuing to do what they have always done.

The Federal Trade Commission’s 2008 report on the CFBAI noted that the participating companies’ nutritional standards, as well as their definitions of “child-directed,” vary by company. Within certain guidelines, each company developed its own nutritional standards for what constitutes a “better for you” food or a “healthy dietary choice.” Moreover, the FTC criticized the program for applying these standards only to certain forms of advertising.

A recent study analyzed the effectiveness of the CFBAI and found that it had not substantially shifted advertising for children toward healthier products. Using one measure of nutritional quality, the study determined that, in 2009, advertisements for healthy products accounted for a very small fraction of all advertising by participating companies, while most advertising promoted foods of low nutritional value. The study also found that companies participating in the CFBAI nearly doubled the use of licensed characters over the past four years, increasing from use in 8.8% of advertisements in 2005 to 15.2% in 2009. Roughly half of all advertisements with these characters are for foods in the lowest nutritional category.

This clearly shows that while the guidelines have been set, they are not abiding by them at all.  And why would they?  There is no actual power in this CFBAI.  It’s a voluntary group that is regulating itself.  The food industry is not going to do anything that may cost them any profit.  The sad fact is though that it is costing the youth of America their health.

The Solution

There has got to be tighter regulation on what is termed health food.  Just because it contains whole grains does not make it a health food.  Industry wide changes need to be made.  Official guidelines need to be set that categorize foods into good and bad (easier said than done, I might add) and these big companies need to be forced to adhere to them.  The consequences of not doing so need to be severe as well.

Another big part of the problem is the lack of education in the general public.  I see these ads and brush them off as ridiculous.  I can do this because I’ve had years of nutritional training.  While it does not take years to train someone how to eat and evaluate food properly, the food industry knows that most people don’t know the difference between good and bad foods.  They also know that people trust what they see on television.  If they are told that Chocolate Cheerios are heart healthy then it  must be true.

Education is the only real solution to this problem.  Children need to be taught from a young age what foods are good for you and what foods should be viewed as treats and eaten sparingly.  My advice to my patients is always the same – if it comes in a box and is processed, don’t eat it. Those are the most likely culprits to destroy your health.  Shop around the edges of the grocery store.  Skip those middle aisles with all the cookies, snacks and cereals.  Most of the cereals on the market today are no better than a box of cookies anyway.  If you do this, you’ll live a healthier and happier life.

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Solving Childhood Obesity – Part III – Screen Time

In this third installment of how to solve childhood obesity we will be talking about the problem of ‘screen time.’  Screen time is the amount of time that a child spends in front of a television, computer or other similar device.  Thus far in this series we have talked about how breastfeeding and chemical exposure is related to obesity.  These ideas are not my own.  They are from the Let’s Move Campaign spearheaded by Michele Obama.  I am simply discussing them here.

In my practice I see many children with a wide variety of conditions.  Most of these conditions respond favorably to reducing screen time.  A child who is watching television or playing video games is not active.  This reduction in activity level not only leads to obesity but complicates ADHD and other learning disorders.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children two years old and under should not be exposed to television, and children over age two should limit daily media exposure to only 1-2 hours of quality programming.  In contrast to these recommendations, one study found that 43% of children under age two watch television daily, and 26% have a television in their room!

Children this young are not opting to watch television.  Their parents are using it as a cheap babysitter unfortunately.  It may be easy to sit your child in front of the TV and let them ‘entertain themselves’ but it is not healthy.  Children that young need to be up and about learning and exploring the world.  Not only is it important for maintaining a healthy weight, it’s how their brain develops.  The input from the muscles and joints provides enormous amounts of information to the brain.  The brain uses this information to develop.  If a child is seated and is not active a large portion of this input is lost.

Secondly, Physical activity assists children in obtaining and improving fine and gross motor skill development, coordination, balance and control, hand-eye coordination, strength, dexterity, and flexibility—all of which are necessary for children to reach developmental milestones.

Thirdly, allowing a child to watch too much TV or play too many video games sets up bad habits.  Habits that we form when we are young are hard to break.  Just like eating poorly as a child leads to poor eating habits as an adult, watching too much TV as a child leads to the same as an adult.

Preschool aged children are also watching more television than recommended.  Ninety percent of children ages 4-6 use screen media for an average of two hours per day. Over 40% of children in this age group have a television in their bedroom, a third have a portable DVD player, and a third have a portable handheld video game player.

The choices for children are just about endless.  The list below is just a sample of the devices that children have access to these days.

  • Television
  • DVD/Blu-Ray player
  • Computer
  • iPhone
  • iPod
  • iPad
  • Nintendo DS
  • PSP
  • Wii
  • Playstation 3
  • XBox 360

Not only do they have all the above options, but the gaming systems come with hundreds of games that could keep a child entertained for a life time.  This list above doesn’t mention cellular phones (except the iPhone) either.  I’ve seen children as young as 8 with cell phones.  Who are they calling?

Also the online world has changed how children are entertained as well.  Kids go home, get online and chat with their friends instead of actually getting outside and moving.

It’s one thing to talk about all these forms of entertainment, but do they actually lead to obesity.  The research says they do.  Studies show an association between television viewing and risk of being overweight in preschool children, independent of socio-demographic factors. Specifically, for each additional hour of television viewing, the odds ratio of children having a BMI greater than the 85th percentile was 1.06.   Having a television in the bedroom had a stronger association, with an odds ratio of 1.31. One study noted that preschool children who watched television for more than two hours a day were more likely to be overweight than children who watched television two hours or less daily.

Television viewing is also linked to dietary intake. Another study found that television exposure was correlated with fast-food consumption in preschool children, even after adjusting for a variety of socio-demographic and socio-environmental factors.

So how do we solve the problem?  I often tell the parents of my young patients that their child needs to be limited to no more than 2 hours of total screen time per day.  If the child wants to get up and watch 1 hour of cartoons before school, they only have one hour for the rest of the day.  Also, they are not permitted to watch television during meals.  That should be for family time.  When children get home from school they should get outside and enjoy an activity that makes them move.  Ride a bike, play a sport or get involved with an after school program.  Kids that come home and plop down in front of the television are much less likely to be healthy.  Do your kids a favor and get them moving!

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Why Salads Cost More than Big Macs

One of the major issues facing health care today is the cost which Americans must pay in order to obtain basic care.  Then the care they receive does nothing to address the problem they actually have.  For example, if a person walks into their doctor’s office with high cholesterol, they are almost always giving a statin medication to artificially lower their cholesterol.  The reason their cholesterol is high is not because of a statin deficiency.  It’s because of poor diet and lack of exercise.  Those causes, sadly, are hardly ever addressed.

The cost of this type of health care, according to some experts, is going to bankrupt this country if things are not changed and changed soon.  I have written many times about prevention and how that is the true key to reducing overall health costs in this country.  I absolutely believe that is true.  However, what if our government spent money a little differently in the mean time to reduce the cost of healthy foods?  Maybe that would put a dent in our rising obesity epidemic?

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that it’s just too darn expensive to eat healthy.  While I believe some people like to use that as a convenient excuse not to eat correctly, I believe most people have a hard time affording some healthy foods.  Just the other day I was at a local farmer’s market and one 3 oz. bag of shelled walnuts was $6!  A $6 snack? And a small one at that!

Often times fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds are among the most expensive items at the grocery store.  The cheap stuff includes low grades or less desirable cuts of  meat, dairy and all grain products.  Want to know why?  Below is a graphic of what our government chooses to subsidize and in what percentage of the whole. (Original article can be found here.)

Subsidized America

Of course lobbying plays a major role in what gets subsidized, but that doesn’t change the above graphic.  You’ll notice that vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes are subsidized the least while the meat, dairy and grain industry make out like bandits.

Meat is an essential part of our diets.  We need animal protein.  It is the only complete source of protein.  It also contains healthy fats that are vital to survival.  When consumed properly is the absence of abundant carbohydrate, it is perfectly healthy.  Do not let mainstream medicine talk you into being a vegetarian.  Eliminating meat is a big mistake. That being said, their piece of the pie should not be so significantly higher than the other important part of our diet – fruits, veggies and nuts and seeds.

The grain industry gets the second largest chunk.  The current government recommendations on the right in the diagram above more than make up for the lack of subsidy.  Our government recommends that everyone eat 11 servings of grains per day.  And where has this gotten us?  It has lead us straight into an obesity epidemic.  It’s the carbohydrate consumption that is out of control in this country.  If people were eating too much high quality meat, I doubt we’d see the problems we are seeing today.

McDonald’s, whose product’s success relies mostly of meat and refined grain, are okay with the current subsidization I am sure.  Let’s face it, when you buy a Big Mac for $.99 you aren’t buying it for the iceberg lettuce or the soft tomato they put on it.

At the very top of the subsidy pyramid are vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes.  They account for just 2.28% of government subsidy.  They get less money than sugar and alcohol do.  See a problem with that?  However, does this translate to higher prices you ask?  Check out the diagram below.

The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has clearly gone up while most other foods have remained the same or decreased.

This illustrates very well just how much subsidizing food products can have an effect on price.  While fruits and vegetables have increased in price, soda has plummeted.  This is a major issue, especially considering that soda is a major contributor to preventable disease in the United States.

With this knowledge it is easy to see that a salad could easily cost just as much if not more than a whole meal at McDonald’s.  The soda, burger and bun all get larger subsidies than the salad that you didn’t buy.

Health care cost are at an all time high and the complexities of the problem are astounding.  I think the above is also a large part of the problem.  While senators and congressmen are elected to impart the will of the people, they rarely do.  In order to get elected it takes a lot of money.  Big business has a lot of money.  Put 2 and 2 together.  Special interest groups control political action (or lack thereof) and people suffer with expensive salads and cheap Big Macs.

My advice?  While good food might be more expensive to eat, it’s worth it in the end.  You might get away with eating a poor diet for years and years while your young, but it catches up with us as we age.  Don’t short change yourself in terms of your diet.  It only ends up costing you more in the end.

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