Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Why Kids Can’t Make Informed Food Choices

September 11th, 2013 at 7:43 am by timigustafson
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Campbell Soup Company, the giant maker of condensed soups and other ready-to-eat products, has a new advertisement out, titled the “Wisest Kid in the Whole World.” The just released campaign depicts a young boy (with long facial hair, no less), clad in Tibetan monk-style clothing and seated in a meditative position while sucking on a circular string of noodles that comes out of a bowl placed next to one of Campbell’s iconic soup cans. The kid knows what he’s doing: “When the mouth slurps, the belly smiles,” say the captions below. He’s having fun – and he is doing something good for his nutritional health. There is wisdom in eating this product.

The underlying message, of course, is this: Kids are smart enough to know what’s good for them and therefore should take the lead when it comes to stocking the pantry. Parents, towards whom the ad is really directed, are well advised to take the young guru’s recommendations to heart and follow suit.

“Who knows more about what kids like than kids?” said Ed Carolan, president for national retail at Campbell, when asked about the campaign in an interview with the New York Times.

“Moms and dads still struggle with what we call the real-time dilemma at mealtime: they want to be happy about what their kids eat, but the kids have to like it,” he added, suggesting that Campbell soup can bridge that gap.

I’m not at all opposed to serving children (or adults) soup, although I would always recommend made-from-scratch versions over processed ones. But when there is not enough time for elaborate meal preparations, opening a can of condensed chicken noodle or tomato soup can be a reasonable substitute.

What I have a problem with, however, not only as a dietitian and health counselor but also as a mother and grandmother, is the idea that children can make consciously healthy food choices for and by themselves. Allowing kids to be in charge of their diet, especially in an unsupervised manner, is a recipe for disaster.

The fact is that at an age when their growing bodies and minds need proper nourishment the most, too many youngsters already begin to acquire poor eating habits that often lay the groundwork for lifelong health problems. Bombarded with snack food ads on daytime television and bribed by fast food chains with toys and entertainment, many children believe that the best foods are those endorsed by their favorite cartoon characters and action heroes. Regardless of taste or how they make them feel, those are the ones they choose, those are the ones they nag their parents about.

What irks me the most is the whole concept of playing tricks with young minds. Children, wise ones or not so wise ones, should never be put in a position where they, even on rare occasions, are responsible for their own wellbeing.

Yes, it can be fun to make a grocery list or roam the supermarket aisles together as a family where everyone can make a wish. But parents should never derelict their duty of supervision and guidance, especially in matters of health and nutrition. It is, and will always be, highly objectionable when outsiders like food manufacturers, restaurateurs and advertisers attempt to interfere with that parental role by sending out messages that say: You are old enough to decide for yourself – and here is what we want you to choose.

Children develop healthy as well as unhealthy eating habits early on by following the example of others, at first their parents and older siblings, later their peers and the media. By the time they reach adolescence, parental influence vanishes. If solid foundations have not been laid by then, it will be hard to make corrections for many years to come. That is the reason why parental authority cannot and must not be delegated, not even to the wisest kid on the planet…

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Food Industry: Walk the Talk to Protect Our Kids’ Health.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Malnutrition, Another Form of Hunger

September 8th, 2013 at 3:20 pm by timigustafson
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September is hunger awareness month. We are not talking about the developing world where food shortages have long been a menace to vast parts of its populations, but in the United States, one of the wealthiest places on earth.

According to statistics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 14.5 percent (17.6 million) of American households are currently experiencing so-called food insecurities, meaning they don’t have enough to eat at least for some periods of time. 5.7 percent (7.0 million) of families do worse. They find themselves without sufficient food supplies on a regular basis. As it is often the case, children are the hardest hit in such situations, suffering the severest and longest-lasting consequences.

Regrettably, the long-term effects of food deprivation, especially at a young age, are not always readily understood or considered. Families who don’t have the money to buy any food at times, rarely ever can afford high-quality products like fresh fruits and vegetables. They do the best they can by stretching their budget as far as possible. Typically that means purchasing the cheapest things they can find, like fast food and highly processed items, none of which are particularly health-conducive.

The inevitable result is malnutrition, which is harder to identify than actual hunger because the symptoms are less obvious, although the health-effects are similar in the long run.

A number of clinical studies have found strong links between chronic illnesses and malnutrition both in children and adults. One study from the Universities of Toronto and Calgary concluded that food insecurities and nutrient inadequacies at any time in life can give rise to chronic diseases and contribute to overall poor health.

More surprisingly, further studies by the same researchers revealed that the cause and effect relations work both ways, meaning that patients who suffer from nutrition-related illnesses are also more likely to experience continuing food insecurities due to disabilities and medical costs. In other words, it is easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle.

Malnutrition does not only affect the poor, however. Unhealthy eating habits are not exclusively caused by lack of funds but also by cultural preferences and lack of nutritional education. A study by the National Health Service (NHS) in Great Britain found that a third of the people admitted to hospitals and health care centers are diagnosed as malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. Many of these are elderly with reduced mobility and other conditions that prevent them from getting enough food, whether they are poor or not.

Symptoms of malnutrition in children include stunted growth, lack of energy, developmental difficulties, learning disabilities, and unhealthy behavior like underage drug, tobacco and alcohol use.

In adults, malnutrition can lead to muscle loss, chronic tiredness, depression, and increased proneness to infections and illnesses.

Obviously, the simplest solution would be to make more food available to low-income families and individuals, and also to seniors who live on a limited budget. There is no shortage of food supply here, but quality items are increasingly out of reach for those who can’t keep up with the ever-rising prices.

In the current political climate, it is unlikely that government subsidies such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be increased (or even kept from further reduction) to the levels needed to end hunger in our country any time soon. But we have to be aware that the consequences of our neglect in this regard will be serious, and they will be dire.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Not Your Mother’s Supermarket

September 4th, 2013 at 12:31 pm by timigustafson
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For generations, food shopping in America was the easiest thing to do. One stop at almost any supermarket would get you everything you could possibly want or need. Price, efficiency and convenience mattered most. What you could find in the aisles was, and largely still is, the backbone of the “standard American Diet” (SAD), dominated by highly processed, ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat foods.

But things are changing. America’s consumers are developing increasingly diverse food preferences. Our culinary landscape is continuously expanding, in parts due to cultural influences from recent immigrants but also because of changes in taste and growing concerns over food safety and nutritional health. Food retailers are keenly aware of these shifts and try to find new ways to keep their customers satisfied. However, some say their responses are not coming fast enough.

“Many U.S. supermarkets are stuck in a time warp,” according to a recent report by the Hartman Group, a research and consulting firm. The one-fits-all approach of the last four to five decades is no longer working, and it impacts their bottom line.

Traditional supermarkets and supermarket chains are seeing a steady decline in revenue, according to Willard Bishop, an industry advisory group and publisher of an annual report on current and projected market share and sales data for the retail food industry.

Too many of these stores continue to follow concepts that put them in direct competition with mega outlets like Costco or Sam’s Club whose prices they cannot match. Also, consumers no longer seem to insist on one-stop-shopping experiences and shop more often for specific items like fresh produce and other perishables.

But the changes in consumer behavior are uneven. Supercenters and wholesale clubs are rapidly growing their market shares. Price-consciousness and budget limitations drive their business. On the other side of the spectrum, high-end chains like Whole Foods and QFC do very well with their affluent, educated and health-oriented clientele. Independently operated grocery stores in upscale city neighborhoods also succeed for similar reasons.

We can expect these trends to continue and even accelerate in the near future as prices for fresh foods continue to rise and incomes remain stagnant for large parts of the population. Those who can afford it will increasingly buy locally grown, natural and organic foods, while the rest will look for the biggest bang for their buck, mostly from outlets that sell in bulk and for discount prices.

Still, the fact that consumers pay closer attention to their nutritional needs as well as become savvier in their shopping will inevitable influence how food retailers conduct their business. According to the Technomic’s Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, a majority of Americans are interested in eating more healthily. Half want restaurants to make more healthy choices available on their menus. Health food outlets and local farmers markets are enjoying growing popularity everywhere in the country. Processed and packaged foods with reduced salt, fat and sugar content sell better than they used to. And yes, more shoppers read labels.

Will all this end our nutritional malaise with all its dismal consequences for public health? Probably not any time soon, but if the trends continue, we could be going in the right direction.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

For Weight Loss, the Right Kind of Support Can Be Critical

August 16th, 2013 at 7:53 am by timigustafson
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Addressing weight issues, especially when it involves others like family, friends or co-workers, is always a delicate matter. Asking for support can be difficult, and trying to be helpful can easily backfire.

Research has shown that the attitude of loved ones has enormous influence on people’s weight loss efforts, both positive and negative. Encouragement and genuine support are essential components for success. On the other hand, criticism, even if meant to be constructive, can do serious harm. So can sabotage and non-cooperation.

For example, one recent study found that urging a partner to go on a diet, even when done with the best of intentions, can lead to serious eating disorders. Almost half of the participants in this study reported that they were more likely to engage in binge eating, bulimia and other dysfunctional behavior around food when they felt challenged by significant others to lose weight.

Fear of rejection and being found unattractive leads especially women to take sometimes drastic and ultimately counterproductive steps in response to outside pressures.

In the workplace, corporate health and fitness programs are becoming increasingly popular, and they can indeed offer many benefits, including promoting team spirit and lowering healthcare costs. But if they are imposed in ways that make overweight employees feel disadvantaged and even discriminated against, they can quickly overreach.

In any situation, it can be hard to make one’s personal needs known, particularly when they conflict with those of others who will also be affected. No one wants to be a spoiler or the weakest link everyone else has to be considerate of.

For instance, it can be very difficult when only one member of the family, or any other group or partnership, is trying to change his or her eating habits, and the rest either doesn’t have to or doesn’t want to, says Linda Spangle, a nutrition counselor and author of “100 Days of Weight Loss” (SunQuest Media, 2006) to WebMD in an interview on the subject.

Asking for support can also be tricky if you are not quite sure what kind of help you actually want and would find useful. Stop and think about what you really expect in terms of support, then take pen to paper and write your “in a perfect world” list, Spangle suggests. This list should consist of ways others could lend a hand in your quest for a healthier you.

Ideally, not just you but everybody around you should be able to benefit from your actions. So instead of isolating yourself or forcing others to join you, it is advisable to point out how positive eating and lifestyle changes can benefit everyone.

For example, you don’t want to ask your family to give up certain favorites because they interfere with your diet program, but rather discuss how eating more healthily and becoming more active can improve the health and well-being of all members. Or, instead of avoiding your colleagues at lunch hour or after-work get-togethers, you can suggest getting more physical exercise such as walking, bicycling or playing team sports – together. You may discover that your co-workers, too, can use some nudging and may even thank you for it.

Good communication is always key when you request help, Spangle advises. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just say, “Be nice to me,” or, “Help me.” Instead, clearly state what you want others to do or not do in your presence.

If you are the only one who needs or wants to make changes, be aware of the potential consequences and give those around you enough space, so they don’t feel inconvenienced and imposed upon. At the same token, stand up for yourself and don’t lose sight of your goals, whether they are seconded by anyone else or not.

Also, keep in mind that different relationships in your life can play different roles. Not everyone has to fit into the same scheme. Your choice of going to the gym early in the morning doesn’t mean your spouse has to jump out of bed with you. Buddy-up with someone who has similar habits or follows a similar schedule.

What matters most is that you can draw strength from your surroundings, not resistance. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard enough without having to fight for it or suffering setbacks caused by others.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Sometimes the Best Way to Lose Weight Is a Change in Venue.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Breakfast – Yes or No?

August 13th, 2013 at 8:46 pm by timigustafson
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Many followers of healthy eating and lifestyle habits, myself included, get confused every so often over seemingly contradictory messages they receive from new study findings. The latest reports on the importance of a nutritious breakfast are no exception.

For some time now, we have been hearing that eating a healthy meal at the start of the day offers multiple benefits, including for weight control. Two recent studies on the subject, however, have come to opposite conclusions, one confirming the value of eating heartily in the morning, the other negating it. On closer examination, both studies seem to be correct in some aspects but miss the mark in others.

For one study, researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel enrolled obese women in a 1,400-calorie-per-day weight loss regimen and divided them in two groups. One half was served 50 percent of the daily allotted calories at breakfast, 36 percent at lunch, and 14 percent at dinner. The other half was made to eat in the opposite order.

After three months, the heavy breakfast eaters had lost considerably more weight, had slimmer waistlines, a lower body-mass index (BMI), and declining triglyceride, blood sugar and cholesterol levels compared to their counterparts who had their biggest meals for dinner – all despite the fact that the daily calorie intake in both groups was identical. The logical conclusion seems that it not only matters what and how much dieters eat but also when they eat.

In sharp contrast to these findings stands another recent study, this one from Cornell University, which seems to suggest that skipping breakfast may be helpful in one’s quest for weight loss. Here, researchers fed or withheld breakfast from two groups of participants but left it up to them whatever they wished to eat for the rest of the day. As it turns out, the breakfast-skippers lost more weight than those who stuck to three meals a day.

So, what is going on here? Is having breakfast a good or a bad idea for weight control? The answers to both studies are in fact quite simple.

In the study from Tel Aviv, the breakfast group had a decisive advantage over their dinner-eating peers because after eating they had the entire day ahead during which they could burn off calories. By contrast, the members of the dinner group were more likely to settle down for the evening after finishing their meals, and went to bed relatively full, without much of a chance for calorie expenditure. Naturally, that difference in behavior shows up on the scale.

Unfortunately, the Cornell study is inconclusive from the start because it does not control the total calorie intake of either group and only focuses on one eating occasion in the day. The participants who skipped breakfast may have made up for the deprivation by having a heavier lunch or by adding more snacks in between meals. Those who managed to keep to their usual eating pattern may have lost weight by foregoing breakfast, but they could have achieved the same by omitting any other eating event. The bottom line is that reducing total calorie intake will inevitably lead to weight loss over time. We already knew that.

The reason why I agree with those who emphasize the importance of having breakfast is that eating a nutritious, balanced meal in the morning gives you much needed energy and prevents you from getting too ravenous later on, which often results in overeating. For the reasons I discussed earlier, I also believe that eating the European way – a large breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner – is preferable to our custom of making dinner the main eating occasion. I also like the breakfast styles there better, including those of the Israelis, which typically include a vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy products, instead of sugary cereals and pastries. And let’s not forget portion sizes. They matter at all meals, regardless when you have them.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

More Attention Must Be Paid to Obesity Prevention, Report Finds

August 10th, 2013 at 5:48 pm by timigustafson
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The United States government does not enough to prevent obesity and obesity-related illnesses, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-profit organization that advises policy makers on issues of science, medicine and health.

Obesity continues to pose one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century, creating serious health, economic, and social consequences, despite of the numerous efforts that are being made to better understand the causes of the epidemic and to implement preventive interventions, says the report.

35.7 percent of adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents are currently diagnosed as obese in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In a prior report, the IOM laid out its plans for solving the nation’s obesity crisis through decisive measures in terms of policies and incentives for individuals and communities to speed up progress in treatment and prevention.

Besides the staggering human toll caused by obesity and related chronic diseases and disabilities, the IOM warns that the growing medical costs are unsustainable, even in the foreseeable future. Today, treating obesity amounts to nearly $200 billion annually.

Preventive measures put in place so far, however, are insufficient, sporadic, and underfunded, the IOM report warns. The organization recommends the creation of a task force to guide and oversee a comprehensive national anti-obesity plan.

The concept of prevention also plays an important role in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). The Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) was created as a national investment to reduce the occurrence of preventable chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately, funding for the program was substantially reduced by Congress in 2012 and again in 2013.

A good example for how preventive health policies could be developed was set by the New York State Department of Health (NYDH). In a “Strategic Plan for Overweight and Obesity Prevention”, the department listed a set of important markers to help more New Yorkers achieve and maintain a healthy weight range.

Among them are the goals to increase public awareness of obesity as a major health threat; identify environmental, socio-economic and personal factors that contribute to obesity; recognize early tendencies toward excessive weight gain; improve management of obesity-related diseases; reduce food insecurity and hunger; set guidelines for healthier eating habits; promote lifelong physical activity; encourage employer-sponsored physical activity and fitness programs in the workplace; require daily physical education (PE) classes for all public and private schools; recommend limiting television viewing time for children; decrease exposure of children and adolescents to advertisements for products associated with overeating; work toward greater availability and affordability of healthy foods and beverages in low-income neighborhoods.

The NYDH also acknowledges that government cannot do all, if any, of this alone and needs the public to support initiatives, policies and legislative measures to implement at least some of its recommendations.

Granted, these are highly complex issues that require concerted action by all of society, whether it’s on the federal, state or local level. That in itself makes it a daunting task. But, considering the dismal track we are on, what choice do we have other than doing our best to turn this crisis around.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

For the first time in many years we are seeing some progress in the fight against childhood obesity in this country, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although the changes are not yet very significant, there is hope that the epidemic is beginning to taper off.

For the study, nearly 12 million preschoolers from 40 states plus Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico had their Body-Mass-Index (BMI) measured. Most came from low-income families who received assistance from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), a federal program that gives grants to state-level health and nutrition aid projects.

The majority, 21 states, showed no significant changes in their current obesity rates, while 19 states had a slight decline, and 3 states registered an increase.

One in eight preschoolers (12.5 percent) in the U.S. is diagnosed as obese. Minorities are especially hard hit, with one in five African American and one in six Hispanic children being obese.

Childhood obesity is often considered a precursor of weight problems that persist throughout adolescence and adulthood, giving cause to multiple additional health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But even in their earliest stages in life, obese children can suffer from some of these illnesses as well as learning disabilities and other developmental deficiencies.

The reason why it is so important to look closely at this particular demographic – young children with low-income background – is that they face barriers like limited access to healthy foods, limited places for safe physical activity, and limited educational resources about nutrition that cannot easily be overcome, said Dr. Lindy Christine Fenlason, director of the Pediatric Weight Management Clinic at Vanderbilt University, in an interview with NBC.

The CDC calls for action to be taken on all levels, national, state and local, to provide greater material and structural support for low-income families with overweight children. Far from being a sign of wealth and abundance, as it once may have been, obesity now affects the poor in far greater numbers than the well-off. Their children may be overfed but remain dangerously undernourished.

Civic leaders and government officials should make improvements in their districts and communities wherever they can to promote healthy eating and active living for everyone, the study report says. That includes making healthy foods more affordable and recreation spaces more accessible. Schools have a responsibility to facilitate sufficient physical activity during recess and PE classes. And, most importantly, parents and childcare providers should maintain healthy standards at home and at daycare centers, not least by setting good examples.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Fighting Childhood Obesity in a Complex Environment” and “Childhood Obesity, a Disease with Devastating Effects on Multiple Levels.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Growing Up with a Poor Body Image

August 3rd, 2013 at 3:09 pm by timigustafson
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The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) leadership has announced that it will ban obese members from participating in this year’s national Jamboree, a gathering taking place every four years that includes a number of physically demanding activities, including rock-climbing, whitewater rafting, mountain-biking and strenuous hiking trips. The newly imposed fitness requirements potentially eliminate a growing number of overweight young scouts from such events.

The decision has quickly raised objections from parents and advocacy groups who see it as a form of discrimination against children who struggle with weight problems and already suffer from widespread stigmatization in society.

Setting fitness standards for participation in the Jamboree was not meant to exclude obese kids but rather to motivate them to lose weight and improve their health, according to Dan McCarthy, a high ranking official in the BSA who spoke to Fox News on the subject.

That may be a good intention in theory, but the results can be quite different.

“While the BSA deserves credit for its commitment to the health and well-being of children, and for its efforts to address the difficult issue of childhood obesity, the decision risks perpetuating a stigma, which could in fact make the problem worse,” says Dr. Michael A. Friedman, a clinical psychologist practicing in New York City. “There is perhaps no group that is the subject of more stigma than obese children. This plays out in the form of teasing, ridicule for their appearance, blame for their condition, and assumption that they are lazy or lack willpower. All this, despite evidence of powerful genetic, biological and environmental forces that maintain childhood obesity.”

These assessments are supported by a study from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, Canada, that found obese children to be twice as likely to develop low self-esteem, compared to their normal-weight peers.

“The current childhood obesity epidemic may trigger an increase in the prevalence of low self-esteem in the future. [It] may increase the prevalence of not only chronic diseases but also poor mental health,” the authors of the study report concluded.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 17 percent, or 12.5 million, of American children and adolescents are currently diagnosed as obese. Obesity prevalence among the young has nearly tripled since the 1980s, and there seem no measurable improvements in sight.

Self-esteem and body image become more closely connected as children move into adolescents, about at the age of 14, says Dr. Richard Strauss, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and author of a study on childhood obesity and self-esteem. He found that “obese children with decreasing self-esteem demonstrate significantly higher rates of sadness, loneliness and nervousness, and are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as smoking and consuming alcohol.”

Sadly, prejudice, stereotypes, stigma and discrimination towards obese persons of all ages remain a socially acceptable form of bias in our culture, says Dr. Rebecca Puhl, a research scientist at Yale University and co-author of a study on the effects of stigmatization of obese people.

Based on her findings, Dr. Puhl says, weight stigma is not a beneficial tool to promote health or reduce obesity. “Rather, stigmatization generates health disparities, and interferes with implementation of effective obesity prevention efforts.”

Especially in growing children, negative thinking about one’s body can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Dr. Helen Pavlov, a radiologist and frequent contributor to Huffington Post on a variety of health issues. Instead of adding to the insecurities youngsters inevitably go through, parents, teachers and other adults in their lives should help instill feelings of self-worth to contribute to their becoming healthier and more confident adults, she says.

Perhaps, the Boy Scouts could schedule an event next time that includes exercises in tolerance and support for those who need it the most.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Don’t Just Sit There, It’s Not Healthy!

July 31st, 2013 at 12:40 pm by timigustafson
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Health experts have long warned that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a number of diseases and even shorten people’s lifespan. Several recent studies have confirmed that sitting for hours while working, commuting or relaxing at home can result in serious damage that cannot easily be offset even with regular exercise.

One study found that sitting for six to eight hours significantly increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and certain forms of cancer. These findings are particularly relevant for office workers and people driving for a living, like taxi-, bus- and truck drivers, according to Dr. Richard R. Rosenkranz, a professor of nutrition science at Kansas State University and co-author of the study report.

“We know with very high confidence that more physically active people do better with regard to chronic disease compared to less physically active people, but we should also be looking at reduced sitting. A lot of office jobs that require long periods of sitting may be hazardous to your health because of inactivity and low levels of energy expenditure,” Rosenkranz said in an interview with Medical News Today. “It’s not just that people aren’t getting enough physical activity, but it’s that they’re also sitting too much.”

What’s significant here is that sitting for hours on end by itself can form a health hazard. For example, as one study found, those who sit uninterruptedly for most of their work days nearly double their risk of developing colon cancer. This is independent of how physically active they are in their free time. It’s a bit like smoking – the damage occurs no matter how healthily you live otherwise.

The risks are the same for everyone who sits too long, regardless of age, says Dr. Mark Tremblay, professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Institute (HALO).

“People tend to think they’re okay as long as they get their ‘dose’ of working out each day, [but] getting your 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week is no insurance against chronic disease,” he said to Reuters.

Why sitting especially contributes to such a wide range of health risks is not yet altogether clear, however, experts believe that sitting too much may adversely affect blood vessels and metabolism by increasing fat content in the blood stream and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

“When you are standing or walking, your leg muscles are constantly working, which helps to clear blood glucose and blood fats from the blood stream,” said Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a researcher at the University of Sydney who conducted a separate study on the subject in Australia. “If you are sitting, this is not happening because the muscles are not active.”

More companies are beginning to realize that a health-conducive work environment can benefit not only their workers but also their own bottom-line. To minimize rising insurance costs by preventing health problems before they develop, some are redesigning work stations and offer in-house facilities where employees can move, bend and stretch multiple times during the day. Elevated desks where work can be performed standing and even treadmills in individual office spaces are becoming more common.

There are also less cumbersome adjustments people can do on their own. Taking breaks for a few minutes every one or two hours by walking the hallways or climbing the stairs to loosen one’s muscles is a good start. Unfortunately, there is not much to be done about long, slow-moving commutes other than finding housing closer to work, which is not always an option. But moving and stretching after coming home, instead of immediately collapsing in the lazy chair, can offer at least some compensation.

Those who travel long-distance by plane should also pay close attention to their need for movement before and after their flight. Layovers offer great opportunities for walking airport terminals. Instead of sitting at the bar, the lounge or the waiting area, you can go for a long stroll. While airborne, you should get up at least once every hour and walk the aisles as far as possible.

The benefits from moving, even the slow and leisurely kind, should not be underestimated or dismissed as insignificant. If nothing else, you burn a few calories and prevent stiffness and back pain and, in the long run, more serious problems. So, don’t just sit there, do something for your health…

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

For Low-Income Families, Healthy Choices Are No Easy Choices

July 27th, 2013 at 5:00 pm by timigustafson
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In 2008, Congress authorized a test project to determine whether increasing monetary incentives would improve the eating habits and subsequently the overall nutritional health of low-income families. For the study, titled the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP), additional financial help was provided to several thousand beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, to promote the purchase and consumption of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

Under the program, participating households were allowed an extra 30 cents for every SNAP dollar they were already receiving that could be spent on SNAP-eligible foods and beverages of their choice.

According to an interim report, the initial impact on the participants’ behavior was considerable. On average, families bought 25 percent (worth about $12 per month) more fresh produce than they did before, amounting to roughly a fifth of a cup per day. This may sound miniscule, but it adds up to about six cups of healthy food a month. Still, it remains far below the two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables per day recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

When asked about their experience with the HIP program, 70 percent of the participants said that healthier foods had come within their reach due to the extra support. 95 percent said they would like to see the incentives go on indefinitely. However, 40 percent complained that the program had not been well advertised and that they first heard about it long after its inception. They also found it hard (or didn’t know whether it was hard or easy) to understand how it worked and who would be eligible.

This points to a notorious problem with well-intended programs like HIP. They are primarily geared towards audiences that are hard to reach. Many if not most of the potential beneficiaries have no access to the Internet or other media outlets, or have the necessary education to understand complex government programs.

Even long-established aid programs like SNAP that people are familiar with and depend on are under constant threat of being reduced or altogether eliminated, adding to the already widespread food insecurity among the poor in this country. Chances are that in the current political climate HIP will be discontinued, regardless whether it turns out a success or a failure.

In truth, for poor families it will never be easy to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices, no matter how hard they try. Food prices keep rising, supermarkets and grocery stores are absent from many low-income neighborhoods, and people lack basic information about their health needs.

It is one thing to criticize food stamps recipients for buying junk food and sodas that make them overweight and sick, it’s another to offer them realistic alternatives to turn their lot around. Cutting people’s lifelines they desperately need to make it halfway through is certainly not the way to go. If additional incentives can achieve even better results, we should increase instead of end them.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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