Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

The New Great Divide: Longevity

September 26th, 2012 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

The United States of America have often been called a divided nation, separated by race, class, political affiliation, values, you name it. Now, one study has found that we are also drifting apart in terms of life expectancy. While the better-off can hope to live longer than ever, the rest falls behind and may even die at a younger age than their parents.

Educated white males seem to have the edge on longevity. Conversely, the least educated and often poorest Americans, regardless of gender or race, are moving in the opposite direction. The average life expectancy for them has fallen by four years since 1990.

The disparities are most dramatic between highly educated white men and the least educated black men, about 14 years, according to Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead author of the study report.

These widening gaps within our society have lead to “at least two Americas, if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership,” said Dr. Olshansky.

The causes behind these trends are not altogether clear, although unhealthy lifestyles like alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, poor diets, obesity and lack of health care coverage are among the most likely factors.

A separate study predicts that obesity, along with multiple related diseases, will continue to rise across the nation, but especially in states with the poorest populations. The report, sponsored by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), concluded that the numbers of diet and lifestyle-related illnesses could increase tenfold by 2020 and double again by 2030.

Currently, more than 25 million Americans suffer from diabetes, 27 million from chronic heart disease, 68 million from hypertension and 50 million have arthritis. Every year, almost 800,000 have a stroke, and about one in three deaths from cancer are related to weight problems, poor eating habits and physical inactivity.

While many Americans are becoming more health-conscious, the majority continues on a dismal path. “This study shows us two futures of America’s health,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo, president and CEO of RWJF. “At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs,” she said. “Nothing less is acceptable.”

Treating obesity and related diseases already costs an estimated $147 to $210 billion annually in health care, and these numbers will increase by another $48 to $66 billion if current trends persist, according to TFAH. The only way to change course is “to invest in obesity prevention programs that match the severity of the problem,” said Jeff Levi, TFAH’s executive director, at a news conference for the study release. The report included a series of policy recommendations such as swift implementation of existing legislation (e.g. the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) as well as creation of additional prevention strategies and action plans.

Government can definitely play an important role in the fight against the obesity epidemic, said Dr. Thomas A. Farley, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Government regulations are a justifiable option when they lead to preventing excess calorie consumption and obesity-related health problems and deaths, he wrote in an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In this country, we have long treated lifestyle choices as personal matters that should not be regulated or interfered with, even if they produce undesirable results. It’s a part of our individualistic culture. There is much to be said for that, but, as it is becoming increasingly apparent on so many levels, our attitudes have consequences, and sometimes they make the difference between life and death.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Food Companies Use Latest Technologies to Market Directly to Children

September 23rd, 2012 at 1:13 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Parents have long felt outgunned when battling the food industry for the hearts and minds of their children. Whenever they try to limit exposure to advertisements on TV, the Internet and in supermarkets, marketers have already found new ways to interact with their youngest customers.

The latest frontier: Ads on smartphones and tablets. New technologies allow companies to directly reach children by placing their products in games and other displays designed for touch-screen devices.

This is an especially fertile ground. Mobile apps are extremely popular with young kids as well as teenagers. And what’s even better for the industry, so far they are completely unregulated.

“The mobile games demonstrate how new technology is changing U.S. commerce, drawing tighter bonds between marketers and young consumers,” writes Anton Troianovski in an article for the Wall Street Journal.

This provides many new opportunities for food companies that have long been pressured by government agencies and advocacy groups to limit their advertising efforts aimed at children. “If [kids] have their phone with them, they can be playing these games that are basically advertisements in school and basically 24/7,” warned Jennifer Harris of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in an interview for the article.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made a number of attempts to impose more regulations on advertisers who target underage audiences but has never been able to get beyond issuing a few “voluntary guidelines.” In its latest initiative, the agency hopes to at least “shine some light” on current industry practices. It is unclear what that will entail.

Past proposals for regulatory measures have been rejected by Congress as too strict or burdensome, and several government agencies have eventually dropped their combined efforts to tighten control. Still, over a dozen major food companies, among them McDonald’s, Burger King, Mars Inc. and Kraft, have committed themselves to promoting more healthy foods to children, a somewhat vague but welcome step in the right direction. However, product placements on apps are not affected by this agreement.

Other increasingly common approaches marketers take are so-called cross-promotions where foods and beverages are simultaneously tied to movies, TV shows, product packaging, the Internet and in-store displays. According to one report by the FTC, film characters like Superman or Pirates of the Caribbean reappear in video games (a.k.a. “advergames”) and free downloads (a.k.a. “Webisodes”) from websites. The agency has recently asked media and entertainment companies to be more discriminatory when licensing such characters and to restrict campaigns to healthier foods and beverages when they are directed towards children. Again, there are no mandatory rules in any of these matters.

What concerns me most about these new technologies and their ability to help reach children by bypassing parental supervision is just that. Parents are supposed to be gatekeepers who protect their children from outside influences, at least in the early stages of their lives.

You may say it is still up to the adults to decide what foods are being bought and served in the home. But companies know very well about the “nag factor” and how persuasive children can be in their demands. They know that snack foods and candy are widely used as pacifiers to stave off temper tantrums. They know that their youngest targets are unable to distinguish between advertising and truth-telling, and that they can easily be manipulated. As I said before, parents find themselves routinely outgunned against this onslaught.

It would be naïve to think we can completely control the impact of new technologies on our lives and how they will be used. But that still does not absolve us from acting responsibly, especially on behalf of our children. It’s a battle worth fighting.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Eating Together as a Family Has Multiple Benefits

September 19th, 2012 at 1:49 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Is the traditional family dinner a thing of the past? Is it overvalued as an institution that was once a cornerstone of the American home but has become obsolete with changing times? In today’s households where both parents go to work and kids have busy schedules with school, homework and an array of afternoon activities, finding time for a gathering at the table seems all but impossible.

Yet, studies have shown time and again that eating together has multiple benefits for everyone involved, but especially for children, and not only for nutritional purposes but in many other aspects as well.

According to a number of study reports issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), children who eat at least five times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home.

To be sure, the iconic family meal, as for example depicted by the painter Norman Rockwell, came only into American life in the mid-20th century. In the 6os and 70s, profound social, economic and technological changes quickly dissolved that short-lived idyll. Restaurant visits, take-out and TV dinners have since become the norm rather than the exception.

There are indications, however, that the old customs are coming back, at least in parts. According to the latest CASA reports, 59 percent of surveyed families said they ate dinner together at least five times a week, a significant increase from 47 percent in 1998. Whatever drives this trend, it is a development that should be welcomed.

Eating together as a family is not just about food and nutrition. It is about civilizing children, about teaching them how to become members of their society and culture, says Robin Fox, a professor who teaches anthropology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Food has become such an ubiquitous commodity, so easily and cheaply available, we no longer appreciate its significance, he says. We have to rediscover its importance and its value. Sharing a meal with loved ones should be considered a special event, he says, that can almost take on the form of a ritual or a ceremony, as it was practiced by our ancestors for whom finding food was a constant struggle.

Besides appreciation for the value of food and the work that goes into preparing it, there are also many social elements that come into play when families share meals, says Miriam Weinstein, author of “The Surprising Power of Family Meals”. The dinner table can be the perfect environment where kids learn how to conduct conversations, observe good manners, serve others, listen, solve conflicts and compromise.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the simple act of eating at home surrounded by family will save children from developing unhealthy lifestyles or making regrettable choices down the road. It may not make them more virtuous or socially more responsible. But it can lay the groundwork for a lot of things that point them in the right direction.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “Healthy Eating Habits Can Be Learned – Mostly by Example.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Emotional Eating – A Widespread But Poorly Understood Health Problem

September 16th, 2012 at 7:21 am by timigustafson
  • Comments

There is no general agreement among the experts on the exact causes of the growing obesity crisis in America and around the world. Easy access to inexpensive calorie-dense but nutritionally poor food and sedentary lifestyles are often named as leading factors. Our culture that promotes ever-increasing consumption my also play a role. But could it be that our eating habits can make us not only physically ill but also harm our psychological and emotional well-being?

In her book, titled “Emotional Overeating” (2012), Dr. Marcia Sirota, a Toronto-based psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of addiction, says that constant eating, especially when it leads to weight problems, is actually a form of psychotic behavior.

“It seems as though we’ve become a society of addicts,” she says. “In particular, we’ve become a nation of compulsive overeaters, hyper-focused on everything having to do with food and eating.”

Even our efforts to control our weight through dieting can fit this pattern, says Dr. Sirota. “We’re compulsive in our eating behaviors, whether this means binge eating, restricting, purging, or a combination of all these. […] Both compulsive eating and compulsive food restricting (dieting) cause a behavioral vicious circle in which overeating leads to remorse, self-recrimination, heightened obsessions and further overeating.” The result is enormous emotional suffering, “suffering from a constant preoccupation with food and weight.”

Dr. Sirota believes that it is actually not desire for food that lies at the root of this kind of addiction but rather an inner emptiness, hurt or loss that needs to be filled. In other words, emotional eating is not about stilling hunger but numbing a pervasive state of unhappiness.

“When it comes to our relationship with food, there is much more going on than we would often assume,” says Dr. Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara, California. Like any addictive substance, food is often used to cover over or subdue emotional pain.”

But that’s not necessarily the case with all people who eat for emotional reasons. We should not assume that food, especially so-called “comfort food,” is only there to help us get out of a funk, when we are depressed, bored or lonely, says Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam, 2006). Food can just as well evoke feelings of safety, love or belonging and reconnect us with happy memories of loved ones and past events. Also, most people eat more than they should when they are celebrating, when they eat out or gather at the table on holidays. Fewer than half reach for the munchies when they have the blues or the blahs, he says.

Still, he concedes, there are significant differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Physical hunger builds gradually and recedes when the stomach is filled. By contrast, emotional hunger arises suddenly, unrelated to the time you last ate, and it persists even after sufficient food intake, thereby often leading to overindulgence. Also, there is no negative psychological fall-out after eating in response to physical hunger. But there can be feelings of shame and guilt after bouts of emotional overeating.

Using food to satisfy our emotional needs every so often does not necessarily have to be considered problematic. “We all eat for emotional reasons sometimes,” says Jane Jakubczak, a Registered Dietitian at the University of Maryland. “When eating becomes the only or main strategy a person uses to manage emotions, then the problems arise – especially if the foods a person is choosing to eat to satisfy emotions aren’t exactly healthy.”

By dealing constructively with our emotions, we can achieve a healthy relationship with food as well, says Deborah Kotz, a health writer from Silver Spring, Maryland. She advises people with tendencies toward emotional overeating to pay close attention to their reactions to stress, sadness or boredom. What actions can you take to avoid eating when temptation arises? Establish some rules before a craving attack takes place and follow through with your plan. Engage in activities that distract you. Avoid dieting, since it can lead to other forms of negative food addiction. The more you learn about the nature of your tendencies, the better you will be prepared to exercise restraint and stay in control when you need to.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

What Do You Really Know About Healthy Eating?

September 12th, 2012 at 7:07 am by timigustafson
  • Comments

Most Americans think they’re healthier than they actually are. Considering that well over 60 percent of the U.S. population is struggling with weight problems, that is quite surprising. Yet 80 percent of participants in a recent survey identified themselves as “extremely healthy” or “very healthy.” But only 20 percent claimed to have what is considered an all-around healthy diet, according to the NPD group, a leading market research company that conducted the study.

Despite of the overly positive self-assessment, about half of the almost 2,000 adults who were interviewed agreed that their existing diet could use some help. Roughly half of those said that changing their eating habits would require some exclusion of certain foods (presumably of lesser nutritional quality) as well as inclusion of others (presumably of higher nutritional quality). 26 percent saw the need to add more healthy foods, and only 19 percent thought they needed to cut back on what they usually ate. There were slightly fewer respondents claiming to be on a weight loss diet than in previous years when similar research was done.

Other studies have found that it is not rare for people who are overweight or obese to misjudge their size, sometimes considerably. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found in a study on weight problems among young Hispanics that only a minority of overweight or obese participants judged their body size accurately. Nearly 60 percent of those whose BMI identified them as overweight described themselves as normal weight, while 75 percent of those who were obese thought they were merely overweight. One in three women does not realize when she gains five pounds and 15 percent aren’t aware of weight increases of more then 10 pounds, according to a survey by the University of Texas in Galveston.

Even for Americans who are interested in eating better and keeping their waistline from expanding, maintaining a healthier lifestyle remains an uphill battle. Food prices, especially for fresh produce, are high and keep rising. Contradictory messages like a recent study that questioned the benefits of buying organic add more uncertainty. Many consumers either give up altogether or make inconsistent dietary decisions. “There’s complete confusion,” said Maria Mogelonsky, a food analyst for a global marketing firm in an interview with the New York Times on the subject. “Most people have a randomly arranged set of diet principles. They buy organics sometimes. They buy based on price sometimes. Very few people are completely committed to one cause,” she said.

So what advice is there to give?

• The first thing I tell my clients is not to make their dietary improvements too complicated. If your new regimen doesn’t fit your lifestyle, it won’t stick, no matter how hard you try.

• Learn a few basic facts about nutrition (your body needs over 40 different nutrients every day), and how you can achieve and maintain balance in your diet.

• Don’t start controlling your food intake by counting calories. Rather, watch your portion sizes. Your stomach’s size is roughly equivalent to the size of your fist. Your servings should not exceed that.

• Gradually increase your consumption of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. At the same time, decrease your intake of processed and packaged foods.

• Buy fresh produce as much and as often as it fits your budget. To save costs, choose locally grown, seasonal items whenever possible. Farmers markets can offer better quality at lower prices than supermarkets.

• Prepare most of your meals from scratch. Eating out or grabbing some take-out on the way home should be the exception, not the rule.

• Make water your primary beverage. Avoid sodas and keep caffeine and alcohol to a minimum.

• Get enough exercise to burn off calories your body doesn’t need.

If all or some of this is too challenging for you right now, take the steps you can manage and work toward the rest as you go.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “Will Rising Food Prices Change America’s Eating Habits.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fight Over Sweeteners Is About Profit, Not Health Issues

September 9th, 2012 at 12:58 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

A group of food companies has filed a lawsuit against the Sugar Association, a trade group representing the sugar industry, for making false claims in advertising that allegedly caused loss of profit and other damages. Their action comes on the heels of an earlier complaint issued by the sugar industry against makers and users of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) for saying that their product was essentially identical to sugar and should be marketed as such. Last year, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) had asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the name HFCS to “corn sugar,” a request that was ultimately rejected.

HFCS is derived from corn and is cheaper to produce than natural sugar made from sugarbeets and sugarcane. Both are present in countless foods and beverages Americans consume every day, and some experts believe there is a strong connection between these sweeteners and the current obesity crisis. In fact, studies have linked the consumption of large amounts of added sweeteners to widespread illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and dental problems. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends an upper limit of 100 calories for women (about 6 teaspoons) and 150 calories for men (about 9 teaspoons) from added sugar per day.

That high sugar consumption, whatever the source may be, can be detrimental to people’s health is not disputed, not even by the respective industries. In a public statement referring to the lawsuit, the CRA says that “vilifying one kind of added sugar [in this case, HFCS] will not reduce American’s waistlines. Reducing all added sugars and reducing calorie intake in general will.” The real issue is, the statement continues, that “Americans should reduce their consumption of all added sugars and calories in general.”

Considering that sweeteners in all forms are added to so many food products, including those that don’t necessarily taste sweet, it is hard to see how consumers could control their intake on their own. The question is not whether sweeteners are “nutritionally equivalent” and “indistinguishable once they are absorbed in the blood stream,” as the CRA statement claims, but how consumers can be protected from potential harm to their health and be helped to make better choices.

Whether it’s HFCS or added sugar, the fact that they are almost ubiquitous ingredients in our highly processed food and drink supply leaves consumers without much chance to improve their diet. And besides, are we really to believe that food manufacturers whose profitability depends on ever-increasing sales are serious about encouraging the public to buy fewer of their products? If that was the case, why do they keep spending billions of dollars in advertising, including to children?

What’s at stake here is consumer spending – not health concerns. The damages that are being claimed are price erosion and lost profits – not damages done to people’s nutritional and physical well-being from products that may be associated with some of the most widespread health problems we are confronted with today.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “Why It’s So Hard to Escape the Sugar Trap.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Why Are We So Confused About Our Health Needs?

September 2nd, 2012 at 2:24 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Two out of three Americans would benefit from losing weight and becoming more physically fit. For one out of three, it could be a lifesaver. Weight problems and obesity, combined with other diet- and lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer, are at the forefront of our ever-worsening public health crisis. All this is well documented and communicated, and yet, it seems, there is no turning point in sight.

What would it take to persuade Americans to take better care of their health? One would think that fear of debilitating illnesses or premature aging would be enough motivation to get the ball rolling, but nothing of the kind seems to materialize.

For decades, we have been bombarded with messages that health-promoting behavior is important, and most folks agree with those goals – but without much consequence for their actions, according to Jane E. Brody, a health columnist for the New York Times. She suggests that health experts should reframe the messages they’ve been giving and make them more relevant to everyday life.

People are thoroughly confused about the often-contradictory messages they’re receiving. Those who follow health news at all must be especially frustrated with the so-called “new findings” that regularly invalidate their efforts to live more healthily.

There is still general agreement that our weight problems come from overeating and lack of exercise. But we also hear that this may or may not be true, or at least it may not be the whole story.

For example, “Eat up,” was the headline of a recent article on the benefits of calorie-restriction, which was based on one study’s conclusion that slim monkeys did not have a longer life expectancy than their overweight peers. In other words, if eating less doesn’t let you live longer, why not dig in while you can? “Exercise is not enough when it comes to weight loss,” says another. So why bother getting sweaty?

In the face of such inconsistencies in our health messages, who can blame those who simply give up and let the chips fall wherever they may?

Both dieting and exercising are thought of as temporary measures (primarily for weight loss) by many who hope for quick fixes, as opposed to making permanent lifestyle changes. When a particular goal – e.g. shedding a few pounds for a wedding or a reunion – is achieved, the return to old habits is almost inevitable. The motivation is gone and so is the stick-to-itiveness. But it’s also the confusion that comes with the mixed signals we’re constantly confronted with.

A proper diet is important for health and exercise is necessary to keep our bodies strong, says Carrie Burrows, founder of thebootcampblog.org. There should be no confusion about that. But then the experts have us believe that getting enough exercise is the only thing that matters because we can burn off calories, no matter where they come from or how many we consume. Or, that the kind of foods we eat makes all the difference, whether we exercise or not.

“Food manufacturers and food product suppliers depend on you eating crappy food. They have a vested interest in you eating more. Gym facilities depend on you spending your money there but never walking through the doors,” she says. If those were our only sources of information to take care of our health needs, we would be clearly out of luck.

What’s the alternative? Educating ourselves as much as possible. Cutting through the confusion and overcoming our own limitations, including our ingrained habits, preferences and biases, is a continuing task each and every one of us has to perform. It takes our entire lifetime and we can’t count on much help from the outside.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The Meaning of Good Health.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Living Long, Living Well

August 29th, 2012 at 5:47 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Americans may be less optimistic about the future in general than they once were, but a solid majority still hopes to enjoy a long life. In fact, longevity is considered by most as part of a good life, on par with health, prosperity and loving relationships.

60 percent expect to live at least until they’re 80. 40 percent think 120 to 150 years could be feasible within their own lifetime due to further advancements in medical and biological technology. And one percent believes that death could eventually be eliminated altogether, according to a survey conducted by David Ewing Duncan, a science writer and author of “When I’m 164: The New Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds.”

Considering that two thirds of the population are currently dealing with weight problems and a host of lifestyle-related diseases, this may be wishful thinking for many. But the fact is that the average life expectancy has indeed dramatically increased over the last century due to improved hygiene, diet and medical care. In 1900, people could expect to live just under 50 years. In the year 2000, it was nearly 77. The average lifespan was lengthened between 1.5 and 2.7 years per decade, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

What’s even more stunning is that our chances of living longer seem to go up all the time. How so? “Because the more time you spend in the world, the more time the world gives you,” says Ted C. Fishman, author of “Shock of Gray” (Scribner, 2010). “For every hour we live,” he claims, “the average human lifespan increases between eleven and fifteen minutes. Every day sees the average lifespan grow another five hours.”

Of course, that doesn’t apply for everyone across the globe, Fishman admits. “Your odds are better if you have avoided the obesity epidemic and live in a place that enjoys good health care, education, and freedom from war and terrible poverty.” It also helps if you can manage to stay mentally fit and don’t suffer from memory loss and cognitive decline. A loving family, a circle of friends and other supportive social surroundings add to your chances.

Unfortunately, many of these important factors for longevity cannot be taken for granted. Baby boomers, now entering retirement, are rightly worried about their prospects when it comes to their financial security, health needs and social life.

“It does not bode well for the baby boom generation at all,” warns Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor for public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies longevity, in an interview with Reuters. More recent studies show that life expectancy gains in the U.S. have actually flattened out since the 1960s. Despite of dramatically increasing expenditures for health care, many Americans live with chronic diseases that are left insufficiently treated, especially among the uninsured and those with limited coverage. One study concluded that poorer citizens have on average a shorter lifespan of up to five years than the more affluent.

Obviously, money can’t buy everything and life remains an uncertain enterprise no matter how rich you are. For the rest of us, there are plenty of opportunities to take care of our health and well-being by eating right, exercising, etc. (you know the drill) – and for this, it’s never too early to get started.

Researchers found that physical fitness achieved during middle-age can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure in later years and may be associated with compression of morbidity at old age. Compression of morbidity is what many health experts consider the optimal outcome of aging. The idea is “to delay the onset of age-related disease and inevitable decline without worrying about extending life,” writes Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling health books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). Not longevity itself should be our first concern, but the quality of life we have as long as we are around, he says.

This reminds me of the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. who died last year at the age of 56, when he spoke of the inevitability of death at his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.

“No one wants to die,” he said. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. […] Your time is limited,” he ended, “so don’t waste it…”

Even the longest life can be a waste if it’s not brought to its full potential. Even the shortest life is rich and fulfilled if it’s lived well.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The High Cost of Living Longer.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Freedom of Choice Includes the Right to Know

August 26th, 2012 at 2:59 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

New Yorkers are divided over Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the size of sodas they can buy, according to a poll conducted by the New York Times. Proponents of the initiative argue that such legislation is necessary to curb obesity and raise awareness about the harmful health effects of sugary drinks. Those opposed to the measure say consumers should have the freedom to make their own choices and not be coerced by an increasingly intrusive “nanny state” mentality of government.

The American Beverage Association, in collaboration with restaurant chains and other retail outlets that risk losing millions of dollars in revenue if the Bloomberg plan gets approved next month, have launched a formidable counter-campaign, insisting that liberty itself is at stake if the government gets its way.

Meanwhile in California, an entirely different scenario is taking shape. Voters will decide in the November election whether consumers should have the right to know what goes in their food. Proposition 37, if it passes, will require food manufacturers to disclose whether their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Genetic engineering is a process by which the DNA of living organisms is changed to improve certain qualities such as faster growth or resistance to pests. It is estimated that 40 to 70 percent of foods currently sold in grocery stores in California contain some genetically altered ingredients.

Countless food items like baby formula, corn flakes or soymilk have such components, although they are not labeled as such. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require safety studies, and no long-term research on potential health effects has been conducted yet, although there are reports of preliminary studies that have linked GMOs to allergies and other health risks.

There are also environmental concerns. Critics say that GMO crops have led to an overall increase in pesticide use and unintentional contamination of non-GMO crops.

Proposition 37 does not intend to impose any bans. “It’s simply saying: Let’s give consumers information so we can choose for ourselves whether or not we want to eat genetically engineered foods. Consumers in 50 other countries – including all of Europe, Japan, China and Russia – all have this right,” argued Grant Lundberg, the CEO of Lundberg Family Farms, and Kathryn Phillips, Director of the Sierra Club California, both strong supporters of the measure, in an op-ed article in the San Francisco Chronicle’s online publication, SFGate.

Having started as a grassroots movement, Proposition 37 has a good chance of succeeding. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, a whopping 65 percent of registered voters in California say they support the measure.

But so far, less than 3 million dollars have been raised by the organizers, mostly from organic farmers and environmental activists and their supporters. Opponents, mainly chemical and food-processing companies, including Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Nestle, Coca Cola and Pepsico, have raised more than nine times as much, almost $25 million to date.

The question in both cases – the fight over New York City’s ban on supersized sodas and the disclosure requirement for GMO in California – is whether they are just another reflection of our political and social divisions or whether they are signs of a major shift in our relationship to our food and, in turn, to our health.

Food manufacturers are keenly aware that they are increasingly becoming a target for stricter legislation, like the tobacco industry before them. They are already facing a barrage of lawsuits brought by individual consumers and advocacy groups who feel mislead by false advertisement or worse. Their campaigns in defense of the status quo appear like last stands in a losing battle. Ignoring facts and keeping information secret is not a sustainable strategy in the long run. Once the paste is out of the tube, there is no putting it back in. California’s Right-to-Know movement could morph into something like that with the potential of spreading across the whole country.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The Right to Know What’s in Your Food.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Taking Time Off Can Improve Health and Productivity

August 22nd, 2012 at 1:02 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Americans are overworked, stressed out, anxiety-ridden. Our fast-paced lifestyles are wearing us out. Persistent uncertainty about the economy is paralyzing us. Fear is a common response. Prescriptions for medications against anxiety and depression outrank for the first time all others, including drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, according to the latest reports on spending for health care in the U.S.

In 1980, between two and four percent of Americans suffered from anxiety disorder, according to surveys conducted by the American Psychiatric Association on mental disorders. By 2009, follow-up studies showed a dramatic rise to 49.5 percent. That means 117 million U.S. citizens have been affected by disabling anxiety at least once in their lives.

What is happening? Why are we becoming suddenly a nation of nervous wrecks? Our lifestyle has certainly something to do with it. We don’t value free time and leisure as much as other cultures do. Two-hour lunches, midday siestas, weeks of paid vacations may be cherished customs elsewhere, but not here. We work longer hours with fewer breaks than almost any other developed nation. Even industrial powerhouses like Germany and France have 35-hour workweeks, but their productivity levels are among the highest in the world. On average, people there may have lower income rates, but their standard of living and quality of life are in many ways above the U.S.

Considering the price we pay in terms of our health and well-being, it may be time to question whether our traditional work ethic – which is essentially chasing the dime, no matter what – is still a worthy or even sustainable concept. In a recently published book, titled “How Much Is Enough,” (Other Press, 2012), the authors, Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky, a father-son team, argue that people who work too hard miss out on the “good life,” although that is supposedly the ultimate goal of their intense efforts, ideally becoming rich enough to enjoy a happy, carefree existence.

Skidelsky senior, a historian, and Skidelsky junior, a philosopher, cite the idea of the economist John Maynard Keynes that increasing per capita productivity through technological progress and other factors would eventually lead to a sharp decline in work hours, a theory that has clearly not been verified yet.

Yes, we have reduced our official workweek to 40 hours, but that is just the time we are required to spend in the office cubicle or at the assembly line. Long commutes, chores around the house, extracurricular activities for the kids, etc. cut deep into what’s left of the day. Doing nothing once in a while, lying in a hammock, listening to music, reading a book, painting a picture, playing an instrument, going on a trip – all that, it seems, has become an impossible dream. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Fortunately, the ability to change our way of life is not just stuff made up by academics. Forward-thinking companies like Google are well known for their efforts to enhance creativity by giving employees time off to pursue ideas of their own, regardless the outcome. Some of their most successful innovations have come out of that policy.

Much smaller enterprises are beginning to understand the advantages of allowing their people more space to play and explore as well. Jason Fried, co-founder and C.E.O. of 37signals, a software company, found that giving employees an entire month off to work on whatever they wanted was not only a great moral-booster but also resulted in an unprecedented burst of creativity, very much to the benefit of his business (see his article in the New York Times, 8/19/2012).

The all-American creed that hard work will make us successful may still linger for a long time to come. But eventually, we will have to accept our limits. Work alone does not guarantee success, as taking time off and pacing ourselves is not equivalent to laziness. There must be time for both to make the whole person.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “In Praise of Play.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Write your own blog

Do you have something to say? Are you passionate about a particular topic and can write regularly and coherently? We'd love to talk with you. Contact us today about blogging on this site.

Blog Search
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

*About Community Blogs

Community blogs are written by volunteers. They are members of our community but not employees of this site or newspaper. They have applied or were invited to blog here but their words are their own and are not edited by the editor or staff of this site, and have agreed to abide by our Terms of Use. The authors are solely responsible for their content. If you have concerns about something you read on a community blog, please contact the author directly or email us.

Would you like to have your own blog on our site? Contact us today.

Archive
Categories