Posts Tagged ‘Healthcare’

Why Fat Shaming Is So Misplaced

October 4th, 2016 at 7:45 am by timigustafson

Should carrying extra weight be judged as a matter of personal failure? Considering the fact that two thirds of Americans are now diagnosed as overweight and one third as obese, it feels strange that there should be any prejudices against body fat. And yet, stigmatizing heavyset people is more common and seemingly acceptable than any other form of discrimination left on the planet.

Women in particular are routinely targeted for their appearances. Their ‘imperfect’ bodies can keep them from advancing in their careers (if they can get lucrative jobs in the first place), from getting married or finding partners, even from receiving proper healthcare.

Overweight itself is widely seen as a problem. Obesity is now officially called a disease. But people who are afflicted by it are not treated like other patients who, for example, have cancer or heart disease. Presumably, they brought their ailments upon themselves – by their self-indulging, undisciplined and irresponsible behavior. That makes them easy prey.

The reasons why body weight is so often looked upon as a moral rather than a health matter are complex and not easily understood. In my own practice as a dietitian, the topic comes up frequently by clients who despair more over their looks than what is happening to them health wise. In fact, many accept some of the discriminatory messages they receive in person or in the media as ‘truth.’

Sadly, when it comes to weight issues, moral judgment is never far away. Not by accident, love for food, a.k.a. gluttony, is listed in Christian religious teaching as one of the seven cardinal sins. With such labeling, eating behavior becomes a matter of right and wrong, of good and evil. And because weight control can take effort and struggle, those who fail at it or don’t try hard enough are then viewed as losers or slackers who don’t put in the necessary work, and should be called out for it.

In reality, there are countless causes for unhealthy weight gain. Lack of self-control is not the most common. Traumatic childhood experiences, poor self esteem and body image – resulting in all kinds of eating disorders, genetic predispositions, lack of access to quality food, among many other possibilities, are much more decisive factors in overeating.

The worldwide obesity crisis we are facing today is not the product of personal failure. Overweight people don’t just overindulge because they cannot resist their urges. The undeniable fact is that much of our food supply – especially the cheap, fast, and highly processed kind – is harming us. Period.

Moreover, most consumers are basically illiterate when it comes to nutrition. Nobody teaches them how to eat right – not in schools, not at the workplace, or anywhere else, and certainly not in ways that are commonly understandable and actionable.

To the contrary: Lunches in many public schools remain of poor nutritional quality, kids are constantly bombarded with junk food and soda ads, and low-income families struggle to put half-decent meals on the table.

These are structural, not personal failures. Here is where the root of the ‘evil’ lies. As long as these issues are not addressed, no moralizing about weight has a place.

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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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A New Emphasis on Mental and Emotional Well-Being in Healthcare

July 14th, 2016 at 2:57 pm by timigustafson

That diet and exercise are important pillars of good health is common knowledge, even among those who don’t necessarily follow suit. But when it comes to caring for their mental and emotional well-being, most people remain largely in the dark. According to the current U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, it is time to pay greater attention to the treatment of mental and emotional conditions, which he considers as crucial as all other forms of healthcare.

Mental illness is responsible for more disabilities than any other group of illness, Murthy says. A lot of people with mental and emotional problems may not feel comfortable talking about them or seeking professional help. But in the absence of mental and emotional health, it is impossible for people to properly function and reach their full potential.

Oftentimes people mistake mental and emotional disturbances for lack of intelligence or disability. That is far from what the facts tell us, according to the Surgeon General. Mental and emotional dysfunctions can have countless causes, some of which can be addressed relatively easily. Chronic stress, sleep deprivation, traumatic experiences – all well-known culprits that can wreak havoc on both body and mind – can be successfully treated with appropriate countermeasures, sometimes even with a few adjustments in behavior and lifestyle habits.

Many of the mental and emotional damages people suffer from have been inflicted early in life. Negative childhood experiences can lead to lasting consequences later on and sometimes persist for a lifetime. By contrast, fostering emotional wellbeing in the earliest stages of life through skilled parenting can be instrumental in building a solid foundation for overall health throughout adolescence and adulthood, according to the Surgeon General’s recommendations.

Like most other illnesses, mental and emotional health issues don’t occur in isolation. They are affected by multiple environmental and social factors, by personal choices and habits, by events and circumstances beyond an individual’s control. Any effective form of treatment must take all of these possibilities into account.

For this reason, the Surgeon General’s office (then under former Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin) commissioned a plan to improve the health of citizens on every level and at every stage in life, and titled it “The National Preventive Strategy,” which was released in 2011. The National Prevention Council, consisting of more than a dozen health departments and agencies, authored the final report with emphasis on proactive healthcare measures whenever possible, including for mental and emotional concerns.

Surgeon General Murthy takes his views on the importance of mental and emotional health even further by adding happiness and inner peace to the equation as health-promoting states of mind, which can be attained through yoga, meditation and other exercises.

Besides healthy nutrition and physical exercise, we must look at other components that constitute wellness, including mindfulness and feelings of gratitude and satisfaction, he says in an interview with Huffington Post. Happy people live longer, are less stressed, and have lower levels of inflammation and heart disease. Happiness can change health in ways we never even imagined, he says.

Sounds like a plan.

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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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Extreme Longevity – Progress or Worrisome Prospect?

May 10th, 2014 at 7:45 am by timigustafson

Alexander Imich is officially the oldest man alive. A few weeks ago he turned 111, still living independently in his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is not the currently longest-living human, though. 66 women surpass him, including the eldest, Misao Okawa, a 116-year-old lady from Japan, as recently reported by the New York Times. But despite of the noteworthiness of these examples, extreme longevity is no longer a rare exception but is becoming a growing trend.

According to the most recent data collected by the Census Bureau, over 53,000 people are now 100 years and older in the United States alone.

The “oldest old” – those who are 90 and beyond – are the fastest expanding segment of the U.S. population. Today there are nearly two million nonagenarians. That number will likely increase to 10 to 12 million by mid-century, a prospect that raises multiple concerns in terms of healthcare and retirement issues.

A study titled “90+,” conducted by the University of California, Irvine and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), has followed this demographic since 2003. As reported by 60 Minutes, the news magazine on CBS, it is the largest study on the subject of old age to date, and includes clinical, pathological, and genetic research, involving more than 1,600 participants.

While the study is still ongoing, it has already produced some surprising results. For example, putting on a little extra weight late in life does not as much harm as previously thought and may even have some benefits. Eating right is still important, but adding more nutrients, e.g. by taking vitamin supplements, seems to have no noticeable effects. On the other hand, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee can indeed promote healthy aging and increase longevity, the researchers found.

Mental health, however, is less assured, no matter what action is taken. Over 40 percent of nonagenarians suffer from dementia, and about half of those are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The causes are not fully understood yet, but experts say that lack of physical activity may be a contributing factor. Naturally, most 90-year-olds do not or are not able to exercise rigorously.

What we learn from the longest living among us is that they generally make healthy diet and lifestyle choices, but they don’t obsess over them. Education, access to healthcare, and standard of living are clearly important components, but so are good marriages, friendships, and an active social life. Purpose and meaningful work also play a role. Communities, neighborhoods, and even climatic and geographic differences seem to contribute to longevity. In other words, it is not one thing or set of rules people who age well live by – but usually a whole package that fulfills their needs and lets them thrive over long periods of time.

We are witnessing an extraordinary growth of aging populations throughout the world, and the current trends will likely accelerate in the future. How we handle the challenges that come with longer life expectancy, demographic changes, age-related disease, and many others, depends on how well we understand the natural aging process and meet its demands. Extending the human life span further and further, just because our medical and pharmaceutical advances enable us to do so, may not be the best way to go – it may not even be the right way.

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

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About timigustafson

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

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