Monday, April 30, 2012

As America's waistline expands, costs soar

U.S. hospitals are ripping out wall-mounted toilets and replacing them with floor models to better support obese patients. The Federal Transit Administration wants buses to be tested for the impact of heavier riders on steering and braking. Cars are burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline more a year than if passengers weighed what they did in 1960.

The nation's rising rate of obesity has been well-chronicled. But businesses, governments and individuals are only now coming to grips with the costs of those extra pounds, many of which are even greater than believed only a few years ago: The additional medical spending due to obesity is double previous estimates and exceeds even those of smoking, a new study shows.

Many of those costs have dollar signs in front of them, such as the higher health insurance premiums everyone pays to cover those extra medical costs. Other changes, often cost-neutral, are coming to the built environment in the form of wider seats in public places from sports stadiums to bus stops.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

How Washington went soft on childhood obesity

In the political arena, one side is winning the war on child obesity.

 The side with the fattest wallets.

 After aggressive lobbying, Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children.

 And during the past two years, each of the 24 states and five cities that considered "soda taxes" to discourage consumption of sugary drinks has seen the efforts dropped or defeated.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Eating blueberries and strawberries staves off memory decline, study suggests

Berries might provide a safe and easy way to boost brain power, a new study suggests. The study from Harvard researchers shows eating berries could stave off the cognitive decline and memory loss that comes with aging.

For the study, researchers looked at data from the long-running Nurses' Health Study of nearly 122,000 registered nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 who completed health questionnaires starting in 1976. Every four years the nurses were surveyed on their eating habits and between 1995 and 2001, researchers began testing memory in 16,000 of the nurses who by this time were over 70 years old.

Testing the subjects' memory in two-year intervals, the researchers found nurses who ate the most blueberries and strawberries delayed their memory decline up to 2.5 years compared with those who did not report eating berries. The findings are published in the April 26 issue of the Annals of Neurology.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Soft drink industry says their product has been unfairly singled out

Pushing her meal cart into the hospital room, a research assistant hands out tall glasses of reddish-pink liquid, along with a gentle warning: "Remember, you guys have to finish all your Kool-Aid."

One by one, young volunteers chug down their drinks, each carefully calibrated to contain a mix of water, flavoring and a precisely calibrated solution of high fructose corn syrup: 55% fructose, 45% glucose.
The participants are part of an ongoing study run by Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis. Volunteers agree to spend several weeks as lab rats: their food carefully measured, their bodies subjected to a steady dose of scans and blood tests. At first, each volunteer receives meals with no added sugars. But then, the sweetened drinks start showing up.

For the final two weeks of the study, volunteers drank three of the sweet concoctions daily -- about 500 calories of added sugar, or 25% of all calories for the adult women in the study. Within just two weeks, their blood chemistry was out of whack. In one striking change, the volunteers had elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Miserable spring allergies? Why that's a good sign

As you pull the 100th tissue from the box this allergy season, you can comfort yourself knowing your runny nose and itchy, watery eyes may be a sign that your immune system is functioning perfectly.

There are numerous reports that spring pollen really is hitting people harder than usual this year. But these allergic reactions are just the body’s way of protecting us from other environmental toxins that could do a lot worse than simply annoy us, according to a new report published in Nature.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Americans' Cholesterol Levels Shrink, Even As Waistlines Expand

A curious — and good — thing has happened on the road to Obesity Nation: the share of the U.S. adult population with high cholesterol has dropped.

Data just out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that only 13.4 percent of adults in this country have high cholesterol, according to data collected in 2009 and 2010.

A decade earlier, 18.3 percent of adults in the U.S. had high cholesterol. High cholesterol starts at 240 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. Having high cholesterol more than doubles the risk of a heart attack compared with desirable total cholesterol, which is less than 200 milligrams per deciliter.

The government had set a public health goal of getting the proportion of adults with high cholesterol down to 17 percent or less by 2010.

 Lately, the obesity wave appears to have leveled off, but at a pretty high mark. Some two-thirds of American adults are obese or overweight. Being overweight can raise your cholesterol.

So what gives? "Experts believe it's largely because so many Americans take cholesterol-lowering drugs, but dropping smoking rates and other factors also contributed," the Associated Press reports.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fat In Foods: 7 Eats With More Fat Than A Stick Of Butter

You wouldn't sit down to dinner at your favorite restaurant and order a stick of butter a la carte. You're too smart for that -- you know there'd be lots of calories and little nutrients and, most of all, lots and lots of fat.

 But some of the cheesy entrees and meaty meals you're ordering are packed with just as much fat -- or more. There's a total of 92 grams of fat in a stick of butter, much more than the maximum amount recommended for an entire day on a healthy diet. The Dietary Guidelines For Americans recommend limiting fat intake to 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories. (A gram of fat provides 9 calories.) For a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that means anywhere from 44 to 78 grams of fat a day won't push you over the edge.

Most Americans don't have to worry about not getting enough fat; in fact, our diets are too heavy in saturated and trans fats and skimpy on the healthy, unsaturated kind, found in good-for-you foods like fish, olive oil and nuts.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Rewash That Pre-Washed Bag Of Lettuce? Don't Bother (Probably)

It's the unscripted, offhand comments that get you in hot water in journalism. Yesterday, in an on-air conversation that introduced a piece on All Things Considered about how farmers in California's Salinas Valley try to keep harmful microbes out of bagged salad greens, we had this exchange in the studio:

 Allison Aubrey: Does that mean we need to wash this stuff? Audie Cornish: I wash it every time, I just don't know if it helps.

 Me: It says pre-washed, but washing might actually help ... Well. This did not sit well with some listeners. One of them heckled me (in a virtual way) on Twitter: "NPR reporter just falsely stated that you should wash pre-washed bagged leafy greens. Hey guys, thanks for misinforming America!"

 Doug Powell, a food safety specialist at Kansas State University, took a gentler tack in a post on his Barfblog: "Should pre-washed, bagged leafy greens be washed again at home? NPR says yes, many food safety types say no." Indeed, many (though not all) food safety specialists advise against washing bagged lettuce or spinach.

Why? First, because there's a good chance that if bacteria managed to survive commercial-scale washing with chlorinated water in the processing plant, a lot of them will survive your home washing, too.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia: Not Just A Potted Pet. Now It's Health Food

Remember Chia Pets? You know, those sprouting Terracotta kittens, Simpson characters and yes, even presidents and presidential candidates? Well, the tiny seeds responsible for the "pottery that grows" have been springing up recently in the food and dietary supplement aisles of grocery, pharmacy and vitamin shops nationwide. In the last three years, dozens of snacks, baked goods and drinks containing chia in some form have hit the market. Mintel, a market research group, says it counted 100 chia products on the market in the last three years. The poppy-like seeds, high in Omega-3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids, fiber and other minerals, have been touted for their nutrition benefits in popular fitness, health and diet circles. Dr. Oz devoted a segment to the seed last fall, no doubt boosting sales.

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Does Exercise Make You Overeat?

Some people respond to exercise by eating more. Others eat less. For many years, scientists thought that changes in hormones, spurred by exercise, dictated whether someone’s appetite would increase or drop after working out. But now new neuroscience is pointing to another likely cause. Exercise may change your desire to eat, two recent studies show, by altering how certain parts of your brain respond to the sight of food. In one study, scientists brought 30 young, active men and women to a lab at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo for two experimental sessions, where they draped their heads in functional M.R.I. coils. The researchers wanted to track activity in portions of the brain known as the food-reward system, which includes the poetically named insula, putamen and rolandic operculum. These brain regions have been shown to control whether we like and want food. In general, the more cells firing there, the more we want to eat.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain

The value of mental-training games may be speculative, as Dan Hurley writes in his article on the quest to make ourselves smarter, but there is another, easy-to-achieve, scientifically proven way to make yourself smarter. Go for a walk or a swim. For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn’t just a relationship; it is the relationship. Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons — and the makeup of brain matter itself — scientists in just the past few months have discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhance cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity

It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

American Chicken McNuggets Have 2.5 Times the Salt of British Ones

You read that right: for every serving of Chicken McNugget you buy at a McDonald's in the United States, you're getting 1,500 grams of salt. If you made the same purchase in London, you'd only ingest 600 milligrams of salt (and the British serving size is slightly larger). That makes the American version of the popular chicken product two and a half times saltier than their counterparts across the Atlantic, according to a paper published today in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study underscores what we've learned from other research: Americans are addicted to salt. We eat almost 3,500 milligrams of salt per day from the age of two onward, even though our bodies need less than 500 milligrams and the recommended intake is between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams. We get most of that through processed foods and restaurant meals, which are almost universally saltier than their homemade counterparts. Note that a single serving of Chicken McNuggets in the states would get you to the lower bound of the recommended daily sodium intake.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

To Some Hindus, Modern Yoga Has Lost Its Way

About 20 million people in the United States practice some form of yoga, from the formal Iyengar and Ashtanga schools to the more irreverent "Yoga Butt."

But some Hindus say yoga is about far more than exercise and breathing techniques. They want recognition that it comes from a deeper philosophy — one, in their view, with Hindu roots.

Many forms of yoga go back centuries. Even in the U.S., the transcendentalists were doing yoga in the 1800s.

William Broad, a reporter for The New York Times and author of The Science of Yoga, has been practicing since 1970. He says people pursue yoga for all kinds of reasons, from achieving health and fitness to seeking spirituality, energy and creativity.

Yoga, Broad says, is an antidote for a chaotic world.

"You see a wild correlation between yoga studios and the most stressful places on the planet," like lower Manhattan or road-rage prone Los Angeles, Broad says.

That's because, he says, "yoga works — to unplug, to relax, to help tense urbanites deal with that tension," he says.

Reconciling Modern Views With An Ancient Practice

But some Hindus are taken aback by how so much of the yoga practiced in the United States emphasizes only the physical.

One group, the Hindu American Foundation, has launched a "Take Back Yoga" campaign to address what they see as a fundamental disconnect between yoga and Hinduism.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

U.S. Tightens Rules on Antibiotics Use for Livestock

Farmers and ranchers will for the first time need a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals, in hopes that more judicious use of the drugs will reduce the tens of thousands of human deaths that result each year from the drugs’ overuse.

The Food and Drug Administration announced the new rule Wednesday after trying for more than 35 years to stop farmers and ranchers from feeding antibiotics to cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals simply to help the animals grow larger. Using small amounts of antibiotics over long periods of time leads to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected but cannot be treated with routine antibiotic therapy.

At least two million people are sickened and an estimated 99,000 die every year from hospital-acquired infections, the majority of which result from such resistant strains. It is unknown how many of these illnesses and deaths result from agricultural uses of antibiotics, but about 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This?

Supermarket eggs gleam with apparent cleanliness, and nothing might seem more wholesome than breaking one of them into a frying pan.

Think again. The Humane Society of the United States plans to release on Thursday the results of an undercover investigation into Kreider Farms, a major factory farm that produces 4.5 million eggs each day for supermarkets like ShopRite.

I’ve reviewed footage and photos taken by the investigator, who says he worked for Kreider between January and March of this year. In an interview, he portrayed an operation that has little concern for cleanliness or the welfare of hens.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Women exercise half as much as men

Women get an average of just 18 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise a day, compared to 30 minutes for men, resulting in greater odds of developing "metabolic syndrome".

Metabolic syndrome is a name for a group of conditions - including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and extra weight around the middle part of the body - which occur together and increase the risk of coronary disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.

The researchers in the US initially were interested in the correlation between physical activity, depression and metabolic syndrome, and ended up finding a gender difference.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eat more 'superfoods' to lose weight

When you're on a diet, food consumes your life.

You can't eat carbohydrates, so you think about them constantly. You can't dig into your co-worker's candy drawer, so M&M's float across your computer screen like a desert mirage.

You skip the bar after work because that's where the margaritas live. And forget snacking after 8 p.m.; that would be breaking diet rule No. 364.

"I've hated diets all my life," says Lucy Danziger, who is ironically the author of a new weight-loss book, "The Drop 10 Diet."

"If I tell you 'Don't think about this,' that's all you can think about."

What if losing weight didn't have to be so negative?

As the editor-in-chief of SELF magazine for more than 10 years, Danziger has seen every fad diet known to woman come across her desk.

Then, five years ago, the triathlete decided to ditch dieting all together and focus on choosing foods that would "pay her back." She wanted to run, swim and bike faster, and she needed the proper fuel to do that.

Danziger started eating superfoods: foods like nuts, berries and whole grains that are full of fiber, protein and important nutrients. In less than six months, she dropped 25 pounds.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Obese moms may be more likely to have autistic child

Women who are obese when pregnant may have a higher risk of having a baby with autism, a new study indicates.

Researchers found that the risk of autism increased by nearly 70 percent when moms were obese during their pregnancies, while the risk of a having a baby with some other neurodevelopmental disorder doubled, according to the study published early online Monday in Pediatrics.

Milder versions of autism, such as Asperger's syndrome and related conditions, form a "spectrum" of autism-related disorders. In addition, impairments in any one of the autism-related cognitive skill areas are considered developmental delays.

To take a closer look at the impact of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, the researchers compared medical histories of 315 typically developing children to those of 517 children with autism and 172 children with developmental disorders.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Prolonged Sitting Is Bad for Your Health

It’s time to get off your keister. Another study finds that sitting for too long increases your risk of death, even if you exercise regularly. Suddenly, those treadmill desks are sounding more appealing.

The study found that adults who sat for 11 hours or more a day had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next three years than those who sat for less than four hours a day. Even after taking into account physical activity, weight and health status, researchers found that the unsettling association held.

“That morning walk or trip to the gym is still necessary, but it’s also important to avoid prolonged sitting. Our results suggest the time people spend sitting at home, work and in traffic should be reduced by standing or walking more,” study author Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia, said in a statement.

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Can Food Really Be Addictive? Yes, Says National Drug Expert

Can food really be as addictive as drugs? In an impassioned lecture at Rockefeller University on Wednesday, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, made the case that the answer is yes and that understanding the commonalities between food and drug addictions could offer insights into all types of compulsive behavior.

Volkow began by acknowledging that the idea is controversial. “This is a concept that is rejected by many people,” she said. “It has polarized the [addictions] field.”

Many experts dismiss food as an addictive substance because it doesn’t lead to most people behaving like addicts — compulsively seeking food despite negative consequences. So, the reasoning goes, food can’t be as addictive as a drug like crack cocaine.

What that fails to recognize, however, is that crack cocaine itself isn’t as addictive as is commonly believed. “If you look at people who take drugs, the majority are not addicted,” Volkow said. Indeed, even for drugs like crack and heroin, fewer than 20% of users become addicted.

In contrast, if you look at the proportion of people who are currently obese — some 34% of adults over 20 — it’s a significantly larger group. Add in those who are overweight, and fully two-thirds of Americans clearly have significant difficulties controlling their food intake. So, measured by the proportion of those who behave in health-risking ways with each substance, food could actually be considered several times more “addictive” than crack.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Most Americans Are Getting Enough Vitamins, CDC Says

Here's some good news about Americans' diets: Most of us are getting sufficient amounts of key vitamins and minerals. That's the finding of a nutrition report just out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

Vitamins A and D, folate, iron and iodine are just a few of the nutrients assessed in the nationwide survey, which uses data collected between 1999 and 2006. Overall, less than 10 percent of the population appeared deficient in each nutrient.

"These findings are a snapshot of our nation's overall nutrition status," says Dr. Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health. "Measurements of blood and urine levels of these nutrients are critical because they show us whether the sum of nutrient intakes from foods and vitamin supplements is too low, too high, or sufficient."

Nutrient deficiencies are linked to all kinds of health problems, including heart disease, poor bone health and cancer. But the report cautions that just because we're eating our vitamins, it doesn't necessarily follow that Americans are eating as healthfully as they should.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is Your County As Healthy As Other Parts Of The U.S.?

How healthy is your county?

To see how the place where you live stacks up against the rest of the U.S., check out the latest County Health Rankings, an annual report comparing health trends for more than 3,000 counties, plus the District of Columbia.

The rankings are produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. You can drill down to look at, among other things, which areas have the highest and lowest education rates and income levels as well access to medical care and healthful foods.

Researchers say healthier counties have lower rates when it comes to things like smoking, physical inactivity, teen births, unemployment and violent crime — but they are no more likely than unhealthy counties to have lower rates of obesity, excessive drinking or greater access to better food options.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Obesity rate may be worse than we think

Doctors and health officials have relied for decades on body mass index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight, to categorize people as overweight and obese.

A new study, however, suggests the use of BMI may be leading us to underestimate the already sky-high obesity rate.

BMI, the researchers say, is an overly simplistic measure that often misrepresents physical fitness and overall health, especially among older women. Nearly 4 in 10 adults whose BMI places them in the overweight category would be considered obese if their body fat percentage were taken into account, according to the study.

"Some people call it the 'baloney mass index,'" says lead author Eric Braverman, M.D., president of the Path Foundation, a nonprofit organization in New York City dedicated to brain research.

Bodybuilders can be classified as obese based on their BMI, he says, while "a 55-year-old woman who looks great in a dress could have very little muscle and mostly body fat, and a whole lot of health risks because of that -- but still have a normal BMI."

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Monday, April 2, 2012

FDA Won't Ban BPA Chemical in Packaging

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that it won't ban bisphenol A (BPA), the controversial chemical that is widely used in food packaging.

The agency rejected a petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that called for a ban on BPA as an ingredient in food packaging saying in a statement the council didn't have the scientific data needed for the FDA to change current regulations on the chemical.

But the FDA stressed it would continue to review the safety of BPA.

In response to the FDA's rejection of its proposal, the NRDC told in a statement the agency "made the wrong call."

"BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply," said Dr. Sarah Janssen, an NRDC senior scientist. "The agency has failed to protect our health and safety -- in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the long-term effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies and young children."

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

5 Foods to Help Fight Spring Allergies

When it comes to keeping the sniffles of seasonal allergies at bay, maintaining a healthy diet is one of your first lines of defense, says Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “The best way to manage allergies is first and foremost to work with your doctor to get you on the best treatments out there. The sad new is there is no cure. A seasonal allergy is a genetic disease of the immune system. But even before you think about medications, it is really critical that you go into allergy season with a healthy diet,” says Tringale.

Studies show that a diet high in antioxidants and omega-3s can ease seasonal allergy suffering. A 2007 study found that children from the Greek island of Crete who ate a Mediterranean diet — high in fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and nuts — were less likely to develop allergy and asthma symptoms. “Allergies cause inflammation of the tissues lining the nose and throat. Finding foods that decrease inflammation will lead to relief,” Tringale says.

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