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What if a machine dictated your menu?

What if you walked up to your fridge and it didn’t open because it knew you wanted ice cream? Instead it recommends that you grab an apple.

As part of its LiVe public service program, Intermountain Healthcare has installed a fake, talking vending machine at Rose Park Elementary School in Salt Lake City. The machine is filled with faux snacks and doesn’t take money. But when students press its buttons, looking for gooey, crispy or chewy goodies, they instead get playful nuggets of wisdom.

“I’m a vending machine and can’t move without someone’s help,” a cartoon-like voice says when a student chooses a Lava Cake. “Keep buying food like this and we’ll have that in common.”

The idea is to make kids think twice about their junk food choices. It reminds me of those posters NYC had around noting the pounds sugary drinks can add. They were really gross and even though my Cherry Coke Zero habit was minimal, I put a serious stop to it. Looking at those posters just made me squeamish.

Do you think just hearing what the junk food can do to your body will curb habits? Or do they need more visual reminders?

How Did I Miss This?

Thankfully NYMag’s Vulture is doing a recap of some of 2011’s best videos, otherwise I would have completely missed this amazingness created by Beyonce to help Michelle Obama’s obesity cause.

Seriously, this is probably one of the best tactics I have seen used to fight childhood obesity. Music, dancing, Beyonce? Slam dunk in my book.

Imagine me in my home office doing this right now.

The Subject Parents Don’t Want to Talk About

According to new survey results, parents would rather talk about sex and drugs with their kids than weight.

Twenty-two percent of parents are uncomfortable discussing the risks of being overweight with their kids. For parents of kids ages 8 to 12, only sex is a more uncomfortable topic and NO topic is worse for parents of teens. So talking about the horizontal mambo and where babies come from is easier than telling kids that if they continue to eat Doritos, drink sugary soda and sit in front of the television that they will get fat. That makes a lot of sense parents.

And it isn’t like parents are in denial.  Thirty-seven percent think it’s a risk to at least one of their children. They see it as a bigger threat to their kids than drugs (34%) or cigarettes (33%), and nearly as big a threat as alcohol (42%) and premature sexual activity (42%).

Parents think this discussion should fall on physician shoulders, but physicians think it should be the parents. UH OH Disconnect…

Is it as simple as a conversation?

There seems to be a fear of creating an eating disorder, but if you start early with healthy messages the risk would be less. If you want to prevent obesity, you have to be talking to the kids who are normal weight AND those who are overweight.

Glee Gets Message Right…Eventually

On first blush, Glee really upset me during “Born This Way.” The message was great, be comfortable with who you are, love yourself warts and all. Then however, Lauren found out that Quinn was in the not so distant past overweight, pimply and unhappy.

Lauren tried to use it to her advantage and confronted Quinn. Here is the thing though, Quinn didn’t take the easy way out AT ALL. She WORKED for her new life. She took up ballet and other fitness activities to lose weight. So she got a nose job…big deal (maybe that’s the Jew in me, thanks for pointing that out Glee).

The kicker and I was all ready to write a scathing post about Glee is that (oops) Lauren’s plan backfired and the masses saw Quinn as the inspiration that she was. Ok, maybe she could be a little more forgiving and nicer to those less fortunate than her now, but isn’t she the nicest of the popular girls?

I really hope those kids who are sad and unhappy with their weight take a page from Quinn’s book and take an opportunity to reinvent themselves. It is totally 100% acceptable to do so; that is one of the best parts about being young.

It will not be easy and you will certainly want to quit. But, no one will look down on you for doing it.

How media shape the public’s thoughts on obesity

Researchers at the University of Alberta’s Health Law Institute analyzed 360 news articles from 12 newspapers in three countries. Their findings were published online in November 2010 in the Journal of Public Health Policy. The focus of the study was the media’s role in shaping public opinion and public policy surrounding obesity.

The countries were the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. The major newspapers included: The Globe and Mail, The Guardian and the New York Times. The articles, published between January 1989 and April 2009, were reviewed for:

  • “the tone of print media coverage”
  • “the characterization of obesity”
  • “attitudes toward government interventions to address obesity”

They concluded that the media does in fact shape attitudes towards obesity itself and public policy targeting the “obesity epidemic.” (Especially by using the words “obesity epidemic”). Most interesting was the correlation between obesity as an effect of lifestyle choice and coverage of personal success stories.

What do you think about the way the media covers obesity?

The full report entitled “Newspaper reporting on legislative and policy interventions to address obesity: United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom” can be read free online.


Color Me Yummy!

March is National Nutrition Month®. The campaign is part of the American Dietetic Association’s effort to educate and focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices, developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.  It was started back in the 70s as a week and has exploded to a month.

This year’s theme is “Eat Right with Color.” Meaning RDs are focusing on the benefits of pigment-related phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables that supply them.

Ok enough background. If you want more click here.

I LOVE, with a capital L, eating color. If I don’t have enough color in my salad it just looks sad. Being a pescatarian I don’t get a lot of variety when it comes to my protein colors. Sure, my salmon is pink, but so are my tuna and shrimp.

So I turn to my heaping pile of fruits and veggies. There are times when I crave a fruit salad simply because you can have so much variety that is good for you. I am always the first person to jump into the crudités plate at a party. (See below for the RIGHT portion.)

The point is, when I go to the Union Square farmer’s market and see all the gorgeous radishes, rainbow carrots, apples and pears I get excited. I can’t wait for spring to return so that my colors come back.

Radishes from the farmer's market

Portion sizes

Fruits:  The food pyramid suggests two to four servings of fruit per day. An example of a serving size of fruit would be:

  • One medium apple, orange or banana
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit
  • 3/4 cup of fruit juice

Vegetables: The food pyramid suggests three to five servings of vegetables per day. An example of a serving size of vegetables would be:

  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable juice


New Rules Call for Healthier Lunches

The school lunch overhaul proposed today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is a giant leap in the right direction for tackling obesity in America.

The proposed rules would gradually reduce sodium, limit starchy vegetables, ban most trans fats, require fat-free or lowfat milk, increase whole grains, add more fruits and vegetables, and, for the first time, limit the number of calories children consume daily.

In a national telephone news briefing, Vilsack says children get about a third of their calories in school and that the number needs to be reduced to head off “serious consequences” relating to their health and also national security.

The new guidelines apply to breakfasts and lunches served at the school, but not what’s sold in the vending machines. (Apparently this will be addressed later)

This is the first time in 15 years that real changes will be made to school lunches. Today’s proposal comes a few weeks after President Barack Obama signed the child-nutrition bill into law. Vilsack says that law will provide up to $380 million annually in federal funds to help schools meet the new nutritional guidelines. He adds that the standards are a proposal, and it will likely be several years before schools have to make changes.

Battling Childhood Obesity is a Partnership

This week President Obama signed a new law revamping school lunches.  The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the first major overhaul in 30 years.

The act will replace junk food in school lunches and vending machines with healthier options.   In the past, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has used the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for surplus meat and dairy commodities. Not surprisingly, 90% of American children consume excessive amounts of fat and only 15% eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.

What I find amazing, is the opposition to this bill. Sarah Palin thinks it is an example of the government overstepping its boundaries and Michelle Obama’s crusade shows she doesn’t “trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own family in what we should eat.”

In a Washington Times editorial, Gabriella Hoffman attacks both Obamas for doing a parent’s job. She scoffs at the First Lady for calling it a National Security issue. (I am sorry if our armed forces are overweight and unable to do what they need to do physically, isn’t that a problem? That is a different conversation though.)

Gabriella, I agree with you, parents SHOULD be teaching their children proper eating habits. Unfortunately, when you aren’t educated yourself it is hard to do so.

To fight childhood obesity, Food Service administrators believe it needs to be a collaborative effort between what schools are providing to students and what kids are eating at home. I completely agree.

School lunches were put in place to offer affordable meal opportunities to children. For many kids in low income areas, that school lunch may be the ONLY meal they eat all day. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to have HEALTHY options?

Even if they are getting three meals a day, shouldn’t ALL be well balanced?

All they need is 16 minutes…

The difference between normal-weight and obesity could be as simple as 16 minutes. The University of South California and the National Institute of Health looked at 3,106 children’s physical activity over 4 days and found:

  • Normal-weight children ages 6 to 17 are moderately to vigorously active for 59 minutes a day, compared with 43 minutes for obese children

I guess the extra calories the obese children are eating could be burned off with just a few more minutes of exercise? Or is there something else?

More surprising is that boys in the same age range are getting 20 minutes more exercise than girls.

I really thought girls were just as active as boys these days—playing soccer and even football! Don’t get me wrong they are still getting 44 minutes of activity in on average, but that extra 20 minutes could really make a difference.

So is it a lack of motivation or is it just not ingrained in their brains yet?

There is a great program called Girls on the Run (GOTR), which encourages preteen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through running. The program combines training for a 3.1 mile race with self-esteem enhancing, uplifting workouts.

Right now there are GOTR groups in 44 states and in Canada. You should check out your local chapter and see about volunteering.

Obesity and the Common Cold?

Childhood obesity is not only an epidemic, it may be an infectious disease transmitted by a common cold virus.

The study was small (only 124 kids) but antibodies for a virus called AD36–a common viral strain that is linked to respiratory ailments as well as eye infections and GI disorders–were found in 15 of the participants who were also obese.

Only four kids who were of normal weight had the virus.

Not only were obese children more likely to have antibodies to the virus — 22 percent of obese children had antibodies compared with 7 percent of normal-weight kids — but the obese kids with evidence of prior AD36 infections were on average about 35 pounds fatter than obese children who hadn’t caught the virus.

Scientists have yet to determine a real link though.  No studies have shown that AD36 makes you gain weight. TBC…