Posts Tagged ‘Health Problems’

For a Child, Being Fat Is a Never-Ending Nightmare

September 10th, 2016 at 5:07 pm by timigustafson

“She likes to eat,” the mother said. She didn’t have to spell it out. It was obvious that her child at the age of nine was well on her way to become obese. I counseled clients like her before. They keep coming to my practice on a regular basis. Children as young as three or four years old are being diagnosed with multiple health problems caused by overweight. Sadly, they will have to cope with the consequences for the rest of their lives. They are cut off from their future in so many ways, and so unnecessarily.

There are the physical aspects. Too much fat in a growing body wreaks havoc all around, from bones and muscles to vital organs. Overweight and obese children and teenagers are at an immediate risk of heart disease due to high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Most are pre-diabetic, meaning they are likely to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes before they reach adulthood. Their bones and joints, unable to carry the extra weight, will weaken and in many cases deform. The list of potentially catastrophic outcomes goes on.

Many of the health issues they are facing early on will only worsen as they grow older. Most will continue to struggle with weight management and related diseases for as long as they live. The long-term effects can become ever more severe, and at some point acutely life-threatening. Premature death from heart failure, stroke or cancer is a real possibility.

For children, the psychological impact of being overweight is equally as menacing. Many suffer from a poor body image and low self-esteem. Depression and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon among older kids and adolescents who struggle with their appearance. Some develop eating disorders and engage in other dysfunctional and detrimental behavior, like under-age smoking, drinking and drug use.

For parents, it can be hard to acknowledge that their offspring is having weight issues. They may hesitate to address the subject because they don’t want to hurt their child’s feelings and make things worse. If they are themselves on the heavy side, they may not see a ‘little chubbiness’ as such a big deal. Or they blame it on their family’s genetic makeup. Or they hope their kid will eventually outgrow it all.

That may be the case for some, but unfortunately, not for most. Childhood obesity is real and it has taken on epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weight problems plague twice as many children and four times as many adolescents than just a generation ago. One in three is now diagnosed as overweight or obese before the age of 18.

We are not helpless in the face of this crisis. Enough information on how to address the underlying problems is available. We know what to do. What we need is to be clear-sighted and determined to take the necessary steps that can reverse these trends.

There are multiple obvious culprits we know contribute to childhood obesity. Poor diets consisting of fast food and sugary drinks are among them. So is lack of exercise and physical education (PE) in schools. None of these issues are isolated or occur in a vacuum, and I have written plenty about many of them and how they connect with one another.

But foremost – and this cannot be overemphasized – it is the parents who must act as gatekeepers. They are the ones who ultimately control what goes into their children’s mouths. If there is junk food in the house, the kids will eat it. If there are sodas, they will gulp them down. If these things are not brought home, the kids will not even develop a taste for them, let alone overindulge.

This is a choice all parents can make. Yes, healthy food can be more expensive and may not even be readily available everywhere. Yes, not all communities have parks, bike paths or swimming pools. Some may not even be safe enough for kids to play outside without supervision. But alternatives can be found and investments can be made if we only care enough.

The risks are too high and the damages too serious to ignore what’s at stake here. The children who fall prey to these diseases will never live their lives to the fullest and will probably succumb far too soon. For them this is nothing short of a nightmare. It doesn’t have to be this way. It must not.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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Baby Boomers Could Be the Healthiest Generation Ever, If Only…

September 15th, 2013 at 1:30 pm by timigustafson

Older Americans have a much better chance to enjoy many more years of good health and vitality than any generation before them due to better medical treatment and easier access to healthcare, according to a recent study, based on data collected by government health agencies over the last three decades. On average, seniors living today in the United States can expect about two more years of healthy living than their parents.

Health problems that were debilitating just a short while ago, like vision problems or cardiovascular disease, can now be treated more successfully, said Dr. David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard University and one of the authors of the study report.

“There are a number of conditions, such as heart disease, that used to be very, very impairing. It used to be that after a severe heart attack, people would essentially be bedridden, or they would wind up in nursing homes. We’re not seeing that anymore,” he added.

While that is good news for retiring baby boomers, these findings are not universally applicable. A higher percentage of the boomer generation (about 36 percent) is obese compared to any other group in the U.S. The two generations directly above and below are about 25 percent. That puts boomers at an exceptionally high risk of suffering from diet and lifestyle-related illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, all of which may be treatable but still have diminishing effects on people’s quality of life.

In other words, although boomers can greatly benefit from the enormous medical and pharmaceutical advances that have been made over the last decades, their well-being still largely depends on how well they take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, current trends are not pointing in the right direction. Studies show that younger boomers, those born in the 1960s, have a higher prevalence of obesity than those born one or two decades earlier. The overall increase in obesity rates throughout the boomer generation is steeper than any other before them.

Considering the means and opportunities older Americans have today to meet their health needs, it is surprising that so many ended up less healthy than previously thought, said Dr. Dana King of the West Virginia University Department of Family Medicine and author of a study on the health prospects of the aging population.

The reasons for these developments are multiple and they are well documented. Increased food consumption, poor diet choices and sedentary lifestyles are at the forefront, as they are in most other parts of the population suffering from weight problems and related ills. Likewise, the solutions would be similar.

It would indeed be surprising if this generation that has always been known for its high expectations couldn’t meet the challenges of healthy aging. There is certainly no shortage of advice for how to go about it, this blog included.

Yes, boomers are lucky to be able to benefit from many opportunities that were not available before; but they can also learn from some old-fashioned wisdom that helped our forbearers to get through life – sometimes better than we know how to today.

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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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As obesity rates continue to rise rapidly in the United States and many other countries, health experts wonder how to convey more effectively the seriousness of the crisis to the public. While many seem to be resigned to the fact that the world population is getting heavier, the growing numbers of obese people are burdening health care systems in unprecedented ways.

Societies around the world are woefully unprepared for the changing realities and lack the resources to meet the coming challenges. Insurers and healthcare providers warn that the additional costs of treating millions upon millions of overweight patients are unsustainable.

Yet, despite the flood of obesity-related health messages in recent years, it has been proven difficult to create a sense of urgency in the public’s perception of the issue. One study found that obesity-related media campaigns can be perceived as motivating but also as discouraging and even stigmatizing.

When participants in this study were asked to view obesity awareness programs from the U.S., England and Australia and rate them based on their responses, most favored positive messages that recommended making small improvements over negative ones that laid blame squarely on the lack of personal responsibility.

But not everyone agrees with taking a soft approach. “A shock of recognition” is in order because we “need to understand that obesity is a national health problem, one that causes lethal diseases, shortens lives and contributes substantially to rising health care costs,” warns Dr. Daniel Callahan, a bioethicist and cofounder of the Hastings Center, a think tank specializing in bioethics in the public interest.

A report he authored recently, titled “Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic,”, has quickly evoked fierce protests from obesity acceptance and antidiscrimination advocates, mainly because of his suggestion that social stigmatization and shaming could be a useful tool in the fight against the obesity epidemic. Similar measures, he points out, have been highly successful during the anti-smoking campaigns a few decades ago.

Trying to get the obesity crisis under control has turned out to be “the most difficult and elusive health problem this country has ever encountered” Callahan laments. Addressing it effectively requires profound changes in our personal behavior but also in the ways we allow food and beverage commerce to operate. The respective industries spend billions of dollars on marketing less-than-healthy products, often aimed at children, and on lobbying to prevent much needed regulations from being enacted.

There are limits to how much government can do to influence people’s behavior. But government can impose regulations and taxes to coerce both industry and consumers into making changes that can produce desirable results over time.

And here we can indeed take cues from the anti-smoking crusades. For instance, we don’t allow smoking in most public areas and means of transportation any more. We certainly don’t allow cigarettes to be sold to minors. We no longer have cigarette advertisements on television. Placing warning signs and sometimes deterring images on cigarette packages is mandatory. High taxes on tobacco products have made them less affordable. Considering how dramatically smoking has declined in this country, these measures have turned out largely successful.

The question is whether there will be enough political will to take similar steps towards the causes of obesity. For instance, can we agree to ban fast food outlets from residential areas? Can we forbid the sale of junk food to minors unaccompanied by adults? Can we outlaw TV ads for snacks and sodas, at least during daytime hours? Can we impose high taxes not only on sodas but also on unhealthy foods and snacks to curb consumption? Can we require warning signs on packaged foods containing unhealthy ingredients?

Proposals like these may sound radical and outlandish now. But the same was said about the smoking restrictions we take for granted today. Some of the measures mentioned here are in fact already being experimented with. What’s most important is that we finally convey a consistent message that doesn’t confuse us any longer about what we should and what we shouldn’t do.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “How Serious Is the Food Industry About Helping in the Fight Against Obesity?” and “Obesity Must Be Addressed 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).

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For many generations, immigrants from all over the world have come to the United States hoping for greater opportunities and better living conditions compared to their home countries. Through hard work and frugal spending they aimed for “the American dream” of prosperity and happiness, if not for themselves, then for their children and grandchildren. Many succeeded. But for many more it turned out to be an elusive mirage.

Tales of rags to riches, or at least of humble beginnings to comfortable living, are a solid part of our national narrative and are told in countless versions, often laden with romanticizing overtones. But historically speaking, this has always been the exception rather than the rule.

With growing income inequality over the past few decades, the notion of the American dream for all has lost ever more of its luster. Becoming an American nowadays may not only disappoint you in terms of your socio-economic prospects, it may even be bad for your health, according to several recent studies on the subject.

“A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes,” a report on the health toll of immigration in the New York Times concludes.

In terms of diet and lifestyle, assimilation among newcomers does not happen too slowly, it happens too fast, some experts say. The standard American diet (SAD), which is not particularly conducive to anyone’s health, seems to affect immigrants at disproportionally higher rates. Eating processed foods that have little nutritional value and are high in fat, sugar and salt content is common especially among poor immigrants because of low cost and convenience.

“In Mexico, we ate healthily and didn’t even know it,” said one immigrant who had become diabetic since her move to the U.S. “Here, we know the food we eat is bad for us. We feel guilty. But we eat it anyway.”

Even more disturbing is that the second generation – the children of immigrants born and raised in the U.S. – doesn’t seem to fare better but worse. Although American-born children of immigrants are on average better off financially, they often have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The reasons for this are not altogether clear, but experts believe that poor diet and lifestyle choices as well as a widespread lack of education in health matters may play a role.

To shed some light on these health disparities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report in 2011 that investigated economic, racial/ethnic and other social factors such as healthcare, exposure to occupational and environmental hazards and behavioral risks, among others.

The CDC researchers found that health education together with access to healthcare and preventive health services would have the greatest impact on reducing health disparities between immigrants and the rest of the population. For school children, enrollment in breakfast and lunch programs may also be effective.

The U.S. is by no means the only country that struggles with addressing the health problems of immigrants. A report published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health (RCSP), the official publication of the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), found that even newcomers to Canada who were well educated in their mother tongue still faced substantial barriers because of lacking language skills and understanding of cultural differences, affecting them on multiple levels, including their health. A panel of experts at the CPHA recommended a health literacy strategy for immigrants with English or French as a second language, as well as training programs for healthcare providers to increase awareness of their diverse clientele’s needs.

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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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Lack of Physical Activity Found as Harmful as Poor Diet and Smoking

July 22nd, 2012 at 2:04 pm by timigustafson

Spending too many hours sitting at work, commuting or relaxing on the couch can wreak as much hazard on your health as being overweight or even smoking, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, found that sedentary lifestyles are responsible for millions of premature deaths globally, on par with so-called non-communicable diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In fact, more people may die from inactivity than from tobacco use – a somewhat surprising discovery.

For the study, the scientists used a statistical model to analyze how lifestyle-related diseases and early deaths could be prevented if people moved more. Because much of the world population is increasingly becoming sedentary due to greater availability of private and public transportation as well as changes in the work place, inactivity is rapidly becoming a major public health concern.

Worldwide, it is estimated that inactivity is the cause for 6 percent of coronary heart disease cases, 7 percent of type 2 diabetes, 10 percent of breast cancer and 10 percent of colon cancer. As a contributor to premature mortality, it has lead to well over 5 million deaths, or about 9 percent of all deaths, in 2008, the year the data were collected. By comparison, smoking was estimated to have killed about 5 million people worldwide in the year 2000, a number that has gradually come down since.

If people became more active, it could increase the average life expectancy of the world population by 0.68 years, according to the report. In the United States those numbers would even be higher: 1.3 to 3.7 years from the age of 50, just by getting enough daily exercise.

Physical inactivity, as defined in the study, is an activity level below the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which call for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of a more vigorous regimen each week.

I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study report, who calls her estimates “likely to be very conservative,” said that the issue of inactivity should be considered as “pandemic with far-reaching health, economic, environmental and social consequences.” She said one of the key messages of her report is to make this problem a global health priority.

While some progress has been made to reduce tobacco use and alcohol consumption and to promote healthier eating habits, the lack of regular physical activity has not yet been widely recognized as a standalone health threat, despite of being the fourth leading cause of death in the world.

The good news is that more awareness of the importance of exercising can have an accumulative effect on other health and lifestyle issues as well. As people understand better how the different aspects of well-being are connected, they can see the benefits on multiple levels. Exercise and healthy eating make us feel better, give us more energy, help us control our weight, protect us from illness, and may let us live longer and stay fit at old age. None of this is rocket science. It makes you wonder how we could have gotten so far off course in the first place.

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.

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How Damaging Is Yo-Yo Dieting?

July 4th, 2012 at 3:52 pm by timigustafson

Yo-yo dieting, a.k.a. weight cycling, a continuing pattern of losing and regaining weight, can be one of the most frustrating experiences people with weight problems may undergo.

The term, first created by Dr. Kelly D. Brownell of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, refers to a decrease of 10 pounds or more of body weight through significant calorie restrictions, followed by sometimes rapid, sometimes gradual weight gain after the regimen ends. It is an unproductive process that can lead to emotional upheaval and serious health problems.
Some diet regimens require participants to adopt radical changes in their existing eating patterns, including cutting out entire food groups such as fat or carbohydrates. While this can result in quick weight loss, it also makes it tempting to revert to old eating habits later on.

When a diet, any diet, includes starvation-like low-calorie intake, the body first adapts to conserve energy by slowing down the metabolism (the way it burns food for energy). But when the near starvation period is then followed by a return to former eating habits (e.g. regular overeating or bouts of binge eating), the body reacts by storing fat faster. That is why many dieters end up heavier than they were before their initial weight loss efforts. Also, with each new cycle of weight gain and weight loss, the metabolism becomes less efficient, making it even harder to repeat former successes.

“Unfortunately, yo-yo dieting is probably the most common outcome of efforts to lose weight,” said Dr. Thomas Wadden, director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in an interview on the subject with USA Today. “People do lose weight, but the majority regain some or all of their weight, whether it’s over one year, two years, three years or five.”

The experience of seeing one’s initial successes being undone time and again takes a toll on people emotionally, which can be quite stressful, Dr. Wadden said. “People often feel ashamed, humiliated and powerless.”

But it’s more than just feelings of shame and humiliation that aggravates the problem, according to Dr. Tracy L. Bale of the University of Pennsylvania who conducted a study on the high failure rate of weight management, published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Bale and her colleagues found that dieting itself can change how the brain responds. Based on experiments with mice, the researchers observed that alternating eating behavior – like switching from near-starvation to overeating – lead to changes in the brains of the animals. In other words, the experience of famine (dieting) “taught” the rodents to overindulge in highly caloric foods as soon as they had access to them, just in case there would be more lean times in the future. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense and there is no reason to think that these mechanisms won’t apply to humans as well. The problem is that in our food environment today with its plentiful supplies these effects often work against us.

However, not everyone agrees that yo-yo dieting is an all-around bad thing. At least one study suggests that losing weight, even if it’s gained right back, is better than remaining obese all the time. Based on experiments with mice, researchers found that yo-yo dieters may be healthier and live longer than those who do nothing about their weight. Dr. Edward List, a scientist at Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute and lead author of the study report thinks that gaining and losing weight by itself does not seem detrimental to one’s life expectancy.

Still, some damage that is hard to reverse can result from significant weight fluctuations, one being muscle loss during rapid weight reduction, which is often replaced by fat gain afterwards. Both affect the metabolic rate, and not in a good way.

So what are workable alternatives to yo-yo dieting? Obviously, there are no easy answers. Setting realistic weight loss goals is certainly a part of it. Opting for small changes over time instead of trying for dramatic results is also recommended. So is observing appropriate portion sizes. And the need for regular exercise goes without saying.

Deprivation alone will rarely do the trick. If you don’t enjoy the kind of food your weight loss diet requires, you will not stick to it no matter how beneficial it may be to your health. So, eat the food you like, get as many important nutrients as possible and give your body the time it needs to readjust. After all, you want to lose weight not only for the pounds but for your health’s sake.

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.

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Long Commutes Are Hazardous to Drivers’ Health, Study Finds

June 10th, 2012 at 1:27 pm by timigustafson

Driving long distances on congested roads is part of the daily grind for millions of Americans. Commuting between the home in the suburbs and the workplace downtown has been a common phenomenon since the 50s and 60s and the hassle has only become worse ever since.

In a recently published study, researchers from the Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, tried to shed some light on the impact of commuting on drivers’ health and found that driving long distances on a twice-daily basis can substantially increase the risk of developing weight problems, heart disease and lung disease.

“The study was the first to show that long commutes can take away from exercise and are associated with higher weight, lower fitness levels and higher blood pressure, and all of these are strong predictors of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers,” said Dr. Christine Hoehner, the lead researcher of the study, which was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The research was conducted in the areas of Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, where most people go to work by car. The more time they spend behind the wheel, the less opportunities they have to do other things, including activities that would benefit their physical health. That is bound to have consequences over time, Dr. Hoehner suggested.

She and her colleagues also tested commuters’ heart and lung health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides and blood sugar. Those who traveled more than 10 miles each way showed higher risk levels in most categories. “It looks like the threshold was a commute distance of 10 miles for blood pressure,” she said. The risk of becoming obese increased at 15 miles or more daily commute.

It’s not just the sedentary lifestyle that comes with long distance commuting. Driving on congested highways is also a source of considerable stress. People are locked in a situation they absolutely hate but can do little about. And the same scenario repeats itself five days a week.

“Learning how to cope with the stress of commuting could help limit the negative health effects,” said Dr. Redford Williams, professor of medicine and director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University. But that is a difficult undertaking because people feel they have almost no control. In the current economy, most workers are forced to take jobs where they can find them, even if it means driving for an hour and a half or longer every single day.

While not much can be changed about traffic situations on an individual basis – other than moving closer to the workplace, which is not always a realistic option – long-distance drivers can benefit from getting a workout or at least going on a swift walk around the block during lunchtime. Also, people who like to eat in the car while driving (a common phenomenon among commuters) may reconsider their habits, especially since most of the food choices for the road are less than healthy, i.e. fast food and snack items.

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.

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More Confusing News About Vitamin Supplements

October 16th, 2011 at 2:59 pm by timigustafson

Two independent studies suggest that taking a daily dose of vitamin supplements may not be as health-promoting as previously believed and may even be harmful. Their findings are only the latest in a series of clinical study reports that have questioned the benefits of the popular nutrition-enhancers.

In one study, researchers from the University of Minnesota followed over 38,000 women in an still ongoing survey called the “Iowa Women’s Health Study.” The participants were in their early 60s when the project was started in 1986. The focus of this study was on the women’s use of vitamin supplements for about 18 years on average.

As it turns out, the women who took daily doses of supplements had a higher mortality rate by two and a half percent compared to those who didn’t take any.

“Our study, as well as other similar studies, have provided very little evidence that commonly used dietary supplements would help to prevent diseases,” said Dr. Jaako Mursu, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and lead author of the study report, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (10/11/2011). “We would advise people to reconsider whether they need to use supplements, and put more emphasis on a healthy diet instead,” he added.

Dr. Mursu admitted that the study was not designed to determine if there was a specific cause for the increased mortality risk of the supplement users. The study did however distinguish between the different kinds of supplements the participants took. For example, the women who took iron supplements had a four percent higher probability of dying. Others who used multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium and zinc also showed higher rates. Only calcium seemed to have a positive effect, decreasing the risk for most women who took it.

A second study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), found that men who took daily a high dose of vitamin E ran a 17 percent greater risk of developing prostate cancer. These results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), came as a surprise, considering that vitamin E was believed to be actually helpful in the prevention of prostate cancer.

The vitamin E study, named the “SELECT” trial, began in 2001. It was designed as a double-blind, placebo-controlled research project, the highest standard in scientific testing. The initial goal was to find out how vitamin E and selenium (a mineral mostly found in soil) can reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

“I was surprised by the results of this trial,” said Dr. Eric Klein, an urologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the national coordinator of the study. “There really is not any compelling evidence that taking these dietary supplements above and beyond a normal dietary intake is helpful in any way, and this is evidence that it could be harmful.”

The increase in health risks could be derived from the high concentration of nutritional compounds that many supplements contain. Most of these micronutrients are present in much smaller amounts in regular foods, so they can become toxic when they are consumed over long periods of time and accumulate in the body, according to Dr. Mursu.

While vitamins and minerals are necessary for healthy nutrition, excess intake can create serious problems. It is also important that consumers understand the differences between the supplements they are taking.

For example, overdosing on water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B-complex is possible but unlikely. Excessive amounts pass through the system and get eliminated in the urine.

Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K, on the other hand, are stored in fat cells and can eventually build up to toxic levels. Minerals like calcium, chloride, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc are absorbed in the body as well and can become harmful to the liver and kidneys. Some supplements can interfere with medications a person is taking and also negatively affect the metabolism of other nutrients.

For these reasons and others, many nutrition experts warn that supplements should not be considered as a substitute for a well-balanced diet, notwithstanding their enormous popularity. Over half of American adults take at least one supplement a day. It is estimated that vitamin and supplement sales in the U.S. amount to $20 billion plus per year.

It’s tempting to rely on supplements. In our fast-food culture, it may even sound reasonable to take extra vitamins to make up for nutritional deficiencies. Ironically, the people who use the most supplements are the ones who already eat the healthiest. So, they may want to reconsider. But for the millions of Americans who adhere to a less than perfect diet, it makes good sense to keep adding a basic multivitamin a day.

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.

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As Income Declines, So Does Health

September 19th, 2011 at 4:40 pm by timigustafson

The number of Americans living below the official poverty line has increased to 46.2 million, according to just released statistics by the Census Bureau. It is a record in the 52 years the bureau has surveyed poverty in the United States.

The median household income fell nationally last year back to the levels of 1997. It is the first time since the Great Depression that Americans earned less, adjusted for inflation, than they did over a decade ago.

Predictably, minorities were hit the hardest, with poverty rates twice as high as those of non-Hispanic whites. Southern states had the highest amount of people falling into poverty – almost double the rate of the Northeast, Midwest and West.

The poverty threshold is an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four and $11,344 for a single person.

“This is truly a lost decade,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard University. “We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

As income declined, the number of people without health insurance coverage rose. Nearly 50 million are now uninsured, almost a million more since 2009. For many working-age Americans, job loss and long-term unemployment lead to loss of employer-provided health insurance or affordable alternatives. And those who are working often struggle to maintain their coverage. In 2010, approximately 55 percent of working Americans were insured by their employers, a 10 percent decrease from 2000, according to the census report.

Studies on the causes of poverty have shown that there are three important components that hold together the social safety net for most people: Income, health and relationships. If one of these fails, the other two are usually still able to bridge the gap, at least for some time. However, if two out of three are diminished, the chances for falling into poverty and even homelessness rise sharply. In other words, if you lose your job but are healthy and have a stable marriage or partnership (especially if there is a second income in a household), you are much better equipped to get through the ordeal of temporary unemployment than if you are sick and/or on your own. That may sound like a no-brainer, but it is exactly the kind of situation that most poor people are dealing with.

The harsh realities of poverty affect the youngest members of society even more. 22 percent of children and adolescents under 18 are now considered poor. Hunger or what is called in bureaucratic terms, “food insecurity,” affects 15 million kids in this country today. Considering the importance of healthy nutrition for normal physical and mental development at a young age, there is a whole generation that is being lost in front of our eyes.

Nutrition-related diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, are most common among the poor. With healthy foods out of reach because of high prices and lack of outlets in low-income neighborhoods, poor families have little choice but to survive on junk food.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has recently published a report on “Health Disparities in Life Expectancy and Death,” documenting current health disparities in New York City based on differences in race, ethnicity and economics. Other factors included in the study were social and physical environmental conditions, opportunities, stressors that impact health, access to primary and preventive health care and quality of health care received.

Trying to identify how poverty and health are interrelated, the researchers wrote: “Living in poverty makes it difficult to know about, find or access a variety of resources that promote health and prevent illness. For example, people living in poor neighborhoods may have access to fewer opportunities to exercise and buy healthy food. Living with limited resources also increases stress and anxiety, which can, in turn, lead to unhealthy habits, like smoking and drug use. In the other direction, poor health can prevent people from completing their education and obtaining well-paying jobs, which can lead to subsequent poverty.”

In other words, the decline of income, social safety and health are all part of the same vicious cycle. To break it, the Health Department makes a number of recommendations, including setting up “health policies that benefit vulnerable populations,” directing “resources to target communities disproportionately affected by illness and premature death,” and implementing “policies that reduce economic and social disadvantages.”

In the meantime, the White House and Congress continue debating how to cut hundreds of billions of dollars more from entitlements and aid programs. I guess the statistics are not scary enough just yet.

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.

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Anti-Soda Campaigns Make Progress Despite of Pushback from Beverage Industry

September 2nd, 2011 at 12:47 pm by timigustafson

Sodas add hundreds of calories a day to the typical American diet, according to a new government investigation. Over half of all Americans drink varying amounts of sugary beverages on most days. Adults consume daily an average of 336 calories from sodas and kids are not far behind.

These are the findings of a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is widely acknowledged among experts as the gold standard for evaluating food- and beverage-related consumer habits. The results are based on over 17,000 interviews between 2005 and 2008.

“Sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one single source of calories in the American diet and account for about half of all added sugars that people consume,” said Dr. Rachel Johnson, a nutrition expert at the University of Vermont, speaking on behalf of the American Heart Association (AHA). The association advises that people should consume not more than 36 ounces or about 450 calories from sugary drinks – a week.

The CDC study has been released less than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) withheld its support for a proposal to exclude soda drinks from New York City’s food stamp program, which was championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also known for his strong anti-smoking advocacy.

With anti-soda legislation still facing a rough road ahead, consumer advocacy groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) say it’s time to think of more effective strategies to increase awareness of the health risks from excessive soda consumption. “Reducing the consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks would be a major public health victory and would help reduce health care costs for all levels of government,” the group wrote in a statement. CSPI announced a new campaign called “Life’s Sweeter With Fewer Sugary Drinks.”

What’s required in this ongoing battle against the health hazards from sodas is an involvement of health experts, civic organizations, youth groups, civil rights groups and many others, according to CSPI director Michael F. Jacobson. He pointed out that the worst health problems caused by excessive soda consumption occur among minorities, the poor and the young. “Not since the anti-tobacco campaigns has there been a product so worthy of a national health campaign,” he said.

Despite of New York City’s recent setback, there are signs that the anti-soda movement is catching on in many more parts of the country. In Boston, soda sales have recently been banned from city property. Public schools are no longer allowed to sell sugary beverages on campus. An extensive media campaign against soda consumption that specifically targets parents of young children is in the works. Later this month, the Los Angeles County Health Department plans to implement a host of similar policies.

In the meantime, there has been considerable pushback coming from the beverage industry. Soda makers have sued health departments from New York to California. The industry, which insists that it only defends itself against baseless attacks, has filed numerous requests for scientific proof of the claims made by government agencies.

Anti-soda advocates say that these requests for documentation, which often require hundreds of staff hours from cash-strapped governments on the local and state level, are only made to sabotage new health policies before they can get off the ground. They come directly from the tobacco industry’s playbook, according to Ian McLaughlin, an attorney at the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Oakland, California. “It is, in our opinion, an effort to overwhelm or smother government employees, who already have too much to do,” he said.

Santa Clara County in California received subpoena letters asking for records relating to its “Rethink Your Drink” education program. Similar notifications were sent to Chicago and Seattle county governments for their publications connected to beverage education efforts, according to Reuters (“Soda Makers Escalate Attacks Over Obesity,” 7/29/2011).

The American Beverage Association (ABA) says that food and beverage makers are being unfairly singled out. “Sugar-sweetened beverages are not driving health issues like obesity and diabetes. In fact, recently published data from CDC researchers show that sugar-sweetened beverages play a declining role in the American diet, even as obesity is increasing,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, director of communications for the ABA.

From 2009 to 2010, the ABA, Coke and Pepsi, two of the largest producers of sodas, have collectively spent $60 million on lobbying efforts against raising taxes on sugary beverages to cover obesity-related health care costs, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics (Reuters ibid.).

In going after public health campaigns, the ABA is taking its cues from the tobacco wars of the 1990s. Back then, tobacco companies embarked on a Freedom of Information effort, targeting government agencies for their anti-smoking legislation, according to a report by the National Cancer Institute.

“For beverage manufacturers, the issue of obesity is kind of Armageddon,” said Tom Pirko, an industry consultant. He may have hit the nail on the head. Once the evidence that tobacco use causes cancer became overwhelming, people finally started paying attention and smoking went down dramatically. When the connection between sugary drinks and obesity becomes similarly clear, a large-scale change of consumer behavior will likely follow. In other words, if it’s no longer considered cool to smoke today, it may no longer be cool to guzzle sodas tomorrow. Obviously, there is a long way to go.

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 at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

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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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