Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why There's Less Red Meat On Many American Plates

Some 39 percent of Americans polled in a recent survey said they eat less meat now than they did three years ago. Health experts say that's a sign that Americans' attitudes about consuming meat are changing.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Which Diet Works?

One of the challenges of arguing that hyperprocessed carbohydrates are largely responsible for the obesity pandemic (“epidemic” is no longer a strong enough word, say many experts) is the notion that “a calorie is a calorie.”

 Accept that, and you buy into the contention that consuming 100 calories’ worth of sugar water (like Coke or Gatorade), white bread or French fries is the same as eating 100 calories of broccoli or beans. And Big Food — which has little interest in selling broccoli or beans — would have you believe that if you expend enough energy to work off those 100 calories, it simply doesn’t matter.

 There’s an increasing body of evidence, however, that calories from highly processed carbohydrates like white flour (and of course sugar) provide calories that the body treats differently, spiking both blood sugar and insulin and causing us to retain fat instead of burning it off.

 In other words, all calories are not alike.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Belviq: 5 Things You Need to Know About the New Weight-Loss Pill

The first new prescription diet drug in 13 years won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval on Wednesday, offering a new alternative to aid weight loss for the nearly one in three Americans who are considered obese. The new drug, called Belviq (lorcaserin), is made by Arena Pharmaceuticals. Here’s what you need to know:

 How does Belviq work?
The drug works by controlling appetite — specifically by activating brain receptors for serotonin, a neurotransmitter that triggers feelings of satiety and satisfaction. Serotonin is also involved in mood; many antidepressant drugs work by preventing the reuptake of serotonin and keeping brain receptors bathed in the chemical. Researchers at Arena say their drug is designed to seek out only the serotonin receptors that affect appetite.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Having Your Coffee and Enjoying It Too

A disclaimer: I do not own stock in Starbucks nor, to my knowledge, in any other company that sells coffee or its accouterments. I last wrote about America’s most popular beverage four years ago, and the latest and largest study to date supports that earlier assessment of coffee’s health effects.

Although the new research, which involved more than 400,000 people in a 14-year observational study, still cannot prove cause and effect, the findings are consistent with other recent large studies.

The findings were widely reported, but here’s the bottom line: When smoking and many other factors known to influence health and longevity were taken into account, coffee drinkers in the study were found to be living somewhat longer than abstainers. Further, the more coffee consumed each day — up to a point, at least — the greater the benefit to longevity.

The observed benefit of coffee drinking was not enormous — a death rate among coffee drinkers that was 10 percent to 15 percent lower than among abstainers. But the findings are certainly reassuring, and given how many Americans drink coffee, the numbers of lives affected may be quite large.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Moderate exercise tied to lower breast cancer risk

Women who exercise moderately may be less likely than their inactive peers to develop breast cancer after menopause, a study published Monday suggests.

 Researchers found that of more than 3,000 women with and without breast cancer, those who'd exercised during their childbearing years were less likely to develop the cancer after menopause.

 The same was true when women took up exercise after menopause.

 And it did not take a vigorous workout; regular exercise at any intensity level was linked to a lower breast cancer risk, the researchers say.

 The findings, reported in the journal Cancer, add to a number of past studies tying regular exercise to lower breast cancer odds.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Panic About Pesticide In Produce

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit health advocacy organization, says you should be concerned about pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, but not so concerned that you stop eating these foods.

 That's the mixed message delivered in the eighth edition of EWG's annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce released today.

 The guide begins by telling readers to "eat your fruits and vegetables." Then it offers a detailed list of every pesticide found along the produce aisle, as well as reminders that "some pesticides pose health dangers to people."

 So what's a consumer to do?

 Look beyond the fearful rhetoric, says Joseph Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Few Drinks While Pregnant May Be OK

When a woman drinks heavily during pregnancy, it can cause profound damage to her unborn child.

Nobody knows how much alcohol, if any, is safe, so the U.S. surgeon general and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise women to abstain from drinking throughout pregnancy to avoid physical and mental birth defects.

 But here and elsewhere, even conscientious pregnant women have been known to have an occasional beer or glass of wine while carrying a child. How risky is that?

Research funded by the CDC and conducted in Denmark is shedding some light on the question, though there's no definitive answer just yet. Still, the results suggest that light drinking (one to four drinks a week) and even moderate imbibing (five to eight drinks) may be OK. Even occasional binge drinking (five or more drinks in a single session) didn't appear to be tied to developmental issues.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

How Can a Big Gulp Look So Small?

The average person makes more than 200 decisions about food every day, and most of the time isn’t even aware of it. We may take a stand each morning when it comes to ordering a tall, nonfat, no-foam latte, but for the most part, we tend to consume what’s put in front of us. When we eat out, everything from a restaurant’s lighting to the menu design to the size of the plate or cup influences how much we eat and drink.

 But when Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a ban on supersize soft drinks in New York last month, the restaurant and beverage industries argued that people are in control of what they consume. “We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them,” McDonald’s tweeted.

 Recently, Pierre Chandon, a French marketing professor and visiting Harvard Business School scholar, decided to test the idea that consumers know what’s best for them. He asked 294 people to estimate — using photos of a 6.5-ounce bottle (the standard for decades), a 12-ounce can or a 12-ounce cup as benchmarks — how much liquid was in a range of cups, starting at 12 ounces all the way up to a 50-ounce “Double Gulp.” While it sounds simple, respondents consistently guessed wrong, assuming that the larger cups held about 20 percent to 40 percent less liquid than they actually did. Dozens of other studies, using jelly beans, popcorn, ice cream and alcoholic drinks, have also shown that consumers can’t be depended on to perceive serving sizes accurately.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Too Old For Weight Worries? Eating Disorders Are Common Among Women Over 50

Feeling fat is an insecurity many women don’t grow out of, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program. They found that 62% of women over age 50 reported that their weight or shape negatively impacts their lives — and many have eating disorders.

 Previous research on disordered eating has focused on teens and young women, but the new study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders finds that about 13% of women over 50 have the problem too. The study included 1,849 women, average age 59, from across the U.S. who participated in the survey “Body Image in Women 50 and Over — Tell Us What You Think and Feel.” The questions ran the gamut, asking women about eating, aging, body image and their weight-loss attitudes and behaviors.

Overall, the vast majority — 79% — said their weight or shape affected their self-perception, and more than 70% said they were trying to lose weight. Two-thirds of women thought about their weight or shape daily: 41% checked their body daily and 40% weighed themselves a couple of times a week or more. Their attitudes and behaviors put them at risk for full-blown eating disorders, the authors said. Indeed, about 3.5% of women reported binge eating, nearly 8% reported purging and 36% of women spending at least half their time in the last five years dieting.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How Well Do You Sleep? The Answer May Depend on Your Race

There’s no shortage of reasons that many Americans don’t get enough sleep: stress, obesity, late-night shifts on the job, to name just a few. Now new research suggests another factor to consider as well — their race or ethnicity.

 In two presentations at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Boston, scientists report that the amount and quality of sleep people get each night vary across racial and ethnic lines. In one study, researchers found that blacks and Asians don’t sleep as much as whites do, while another study showed that foreign-born Americans are less likely to report having sleep problems than those born in the U.S.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Stress levels increased since 1983

You may have felt it, but now a scientific analysis of stress over time offers some proof that there's more stress in people's lives today than 25 years ago.

 Stress increased 18% for women and 24% for men from 1983 to 2009, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who analyzed data from more than 6,300 people. It's considered the first-ever historical comparison of stress levels across the USA.

 "The data suggest there's been an increase in stress over that time," says psychologist and lead author Sheldon Cohen, director of Carnegie Mellon's Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and Disease. The analysis is published online in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.

 In research done in 1983, 2006 and 2009, those with higher stress were women, people with lower incomes and those with less education. Findings also show that as people age, stress decreases.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Growing Up With a Fat Dad

I grew up with a fat dad — 450 pounds at his heaviest. Every week he would rotate to a new fad diet, and my family ended up eating whatever freeze-dried, saccharin-loaded concoction he was trying at that moment. By the time I was 9, I was an expert on Atkins, Pritikin and Weight Watchers, just to name a few. Did I mention spending four weeks at Duke University’s “Fat Farm” consuming only minuscule bowls of white rice, while my 10-year-old peers were home eating ice cream cones?

 In spite of being shorter and scrawnier than my classmates, I was eating calorie-free astronaut mystery powders and drinking diet sodas, which were the only staples in our kitchen. My dad was obsessed with his career in advertising and his fluctuating weight, which was fluctuating mostly in the wrong direction. Every new diet, no matter how stringent or odd, was the potential solution for his expanding waistline.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

UK council lifts gag on 9-year-old food critic

Britain's youngest food critic is back in business.

 A Scottish local authority on Friday retreated in the face of an online outcry and lifted a ban on 9-year-old blogger Martha Payne, who had been ordered to stop taking photographs of the lunches served up at her school cafeteria.

 Her images of uninspiring school meals _ one consisted of two croquettes, a plain cheeseburger, three slices of cucumber and a lollipop _drew international attention. The blog, set up about six weeks ago as a writing project and to help raise money for a school-meals charity, has drawn more than 2 million hits.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

How Does a Child’s Weight Influence Her Math Abilities?

Being overweight or obese in childhood can put kids at risk for several health problems later in life, such as heart disease, sleep apnea and diabetes. Add to that list trouble in school, says a new study in the journal Child Development.

 The research team looked at a nationally representative sample of more than 6,250 children who were participating in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort. The children were tracked from kindergarten through the fifth grade.

 Kids who were persistently obese, beginning in kindergarten, scored lower on math tests taken starting in first grade through the end of the study period, compared with kids who were never obese. For kids who became obese later, the effects varied: boys who become obese later, like in third or fifth grade, experienced no dips in math scores. Girls who became obese later showed temporary lapses in math performance.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

In Good Health? Thank Your 100 Trillion Bacteria

For years, bacteria have had a bad name. They are the cause of infections, of diseases. They are something to be scrubbed away, things to be avoided.

But now researchers have taken a detailed look at another set of bacteria that may play even bigger roles in health and disease: the 100 trillion good bacteria that live in or on the human body. No one really knew much about them. They are essential for human life, needed to digest food, to synthesize certain vitamins, to form a barricade against disease-causing bacteria. But what do they look like in healthy people, and how much do they vary from person to person?

 In a new five-year federal endeavor, the Human Microbiome Project, which has been compared to the Human Genome Project, 200 scientists at 80 institutions sequenced the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people.

 They discovered more strains than they had ever imagined — as many as a thousand bacterial strains on each person. And each person’s collection of microbes, the microbiome, was different from the next person’s. To the scientists’ surprise, they also found genetic signatures of disease-causing bacteria lurking in everyone’s microbiome. But instead of making people ill, or even infectious, these disease-causing microbes simply live peacefully among their neighbors.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Psychology Of The Honor System At The Farm Stand

In a state full of tasty surprises, count the Swanton Berry Farm, along the coast highway just north of Santa Cruz, California, among the most charming. At this pick-your-own, certified-organic berry field and farm stand cafe on the planted bluffs above a tumbling surf, you can pick or picnic with ocean views — and, if you're lucky, catch a glimpse of a grey whale and her calf migrating north from Baja. Locals bring out-of-town guests to Swanton's to swoon over the juicy organic strawberries or blackberries on buttery shortcake, or the scones slathered with tartly sweet, small-batch strawberry-citrus jam.

 But what customers seem to love at least as much as the expansive views and good food is Swanton's old-style method of payment: Step up to the unmanned counter whenever you're ready, figure out what you owe (scratch paper provided), and stuff the cash through a slot in the honor box. Swanton founder Jim Cochran says his stand has thrived for years on the honor payment system, a style of business he first admired as a college student at his favorite bakery in Santa Cruz decades ago.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Choosing a Sugar Substitute

White. Pink. Blue. Yellow.

 On restaurant tables everywhere, the colors of the sweetener packets instantly identify the contents.

 Sugar. Saccharin. Aspartame. Sucralose.

 Reaching for one to pour into a cup of coffee or tea can sometimes feel like sweetener roulette, with the swirl of confusing, conflicting assertions about which are safe and which are not.

 Alissa Kaplan Michaels, for one, never picks pink. She still associates saccharin with cancer. The Food and Drug Administration sought to ban it in the 1970s, because rats that gorged on the chemical developed bladder cancer.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Panel Questions Benefits Of Vitamin D Supplements

An influential panel of experts questioned two big reasons people take vitamin D supplements.

 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded in draft recommendations released Tuesday that taking less than 400 international units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day doesn't reduce the risk for bone fractures among postmenopausal women. And so the task force recommended against doing that.

 And the panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence that higher doses protect the bones of postmenopausal or premenopausal women, or reduce the risk for cancer.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Junk Food More Appealing When You're Sleepy: Study

Unhealthy foods, such as sweets and chips, are more appealing to people who haven't had enough sleep, new research suggests.

 When researchers examined the areas of the brain that were most active when people were looking at healthy or unhealthy foods, they found the reward centers of the brain were activated when sleep-deprived study volunteers saw pictures of unhealthy foods.

 "We found regions associated with reward and motivation -- those that are involved with addiction and pleasure-seeking behaviors -- were more strongly activated in the short-sleep phase," said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a research associate at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center and an assistant professor at Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition in New York City.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

7 bad foods that are actually good for you

Are you shying away from bad foods that are actually good for you? With all the hoopla about healthful eating, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. As a nutrition consultant, I’ve come to realize there is no shortage of surprises and superstitions in the world of nutrition. Here are reasons to enjoy some of your favorites.

 They are “the most demonized ingredients beyond high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil,” said Melissa Abbott, culinary director at the Hartman Group, a company specializing in consumer research.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Brain training 'helps treat depression'

A brain training technique which helps people control activity in a specific part of the brain could help treat depression, a study suggests. Cardiff University researchers used MRI scanners to show eight people how their brains reacted to positive imagery.

 After four sessions of the therapy the participants had seen significant improvements in their depression. Another eight who were asked to think positively but did not see brain images as they did so showed no change.

The researchers said they believed the MRI scans allowed participants to work out, through trial and error, which sort of positive emotional imagery was most effective. The technique - known as neurofeedback - has already had some success in helping people with Parkinson's disease.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Food allergies affect more city kids than rural ones

Food allergies are more common in kids who live in a city than those who live in more rural areas, according to new research.

 The new study is the first to map children's food allergies by where they live in the United States, according to the researchers. They surveyed parents of nearly 38,500 kids younger than 18, asking for their zip codes and details on their child's food allergy.

 The researchers determined that in urban centers, almost 9.8 percent of children had food allergies, compared with 6.2 percent of children in rural communities. Specifically, city children were twice as likely to have peanut (2.8 percent compared to 1.3 percent) and shellfish allergies (2.4 percent compared to 0.8 percent) compared to their rural counterparts. Based on the survey, the states with the highest prevalence of food-allergic kids were Nevada, Florida, Georgia, Alaska, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Moderation as the Sweet Spot for Exercise

For people who exercise but fret that they really should be working out more, new studies may be soothing. The amount of exercise needed to improve health and longevity, this new science shows, is modest, and more is not necessarily better.

 That is the message of the newest and perhaps most compelling of the studies, which was presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in San Francisco. For it, researchers at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and other institutions combed through the health records of 52,656 American adults who’d undergone physicals between 1971 and 2002 as part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Each participant completed physical testing and activity questionnaires and returned for at least one follow-up visit.

 The researchers found that about 27 percent of the participants reported regularly running, although in wildly varying amounts and paces.

 The scientists then checked death reports.

 Over the course of the study, 2,984 of the participants died. But the incidence was much lower among the group that ran. Those participants had, on average, a 19 percent lower risk of dying from any cause than non-runners.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

NY judge: FDA should act on animal antibiotics

A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the safety risks to human health associated with the widespread use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, saying the agency has done "shockingly little" since proposing in the 1970s to order a substantial reduction in the use of antibiotics in animal feed.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz in Manhattan issued the order in a ruling filed on Monday. The decision largely agreed with the arguments of several health and consumer organizations that sued last year, saying the FDA violated federal law by failing to withdraw approval of using penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed when animal health is not at stake.

Katz said the agency must evaluate the safety risks of the drugs and make a finding that they are unsafe — or explain why it is refusing to do so.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Disney says no more junk food ads

Disney says it’s taking ads for junk food off its children’s programming.

The Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday announced new guidelines for TV, radio and website programming at an appearance in Washington with First Lady Michelle Obama. Critics who have for years complained about fatty, sugary food and beverage ads aimed at kids praised the move.

And, they said, it’s smart: As a company that positions itself as family-friendly, Disney can be seen as looking out for kids’ health.

 Obama, who has made improved children’s health a central focus of her work, called Disney’s plan a "game changer."

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Global cancer cases to rise 75 pct by 2030 as developing countries adopt bad habits from West

LONDON — Global cancer cases are projected to rise 75 percent by 2030, in part because many other diseases are being stamped out and more developing countries are adopting Western lifestyles linked to cancer, international health experts reported.

 While population growth and aging explain much of the increase, at least one-fifth of the new cancer cases will likely be due to preventable factors, the researchers predict.

 Cancers that are caused by infections, such as cervical cancer and some liver and stomach cancers, are falling. But experts say that decline will be outpaced by a surge in cancers linked to bad diet and exercise habits, smoking and drinking too much alcohol, such as cancers of the lung, colon and breast.

 Researchers estimate that by 2030, the number of people affected by cancer in some of the poorest countries will increase by more than 90 percent. Previous health initiatives to save people from dying of infectious diseases such as malaria or AIDS also mean they are living long enough to develop cancer, which is normally associated with aging.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

What's in a name? FDA, on high fructose corn syrup, says lots

It appears high fructose corn syrup will still be called high fructose corn syrup.

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration denied a petition by the Corn Refiners Assn. (filed in 2010) to allow “corn sugar” as an alternate name for HFCS.

The letter, sent to Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Assn., rejected the petition for a variety of reasons. Some seemed a little pedantic -- syrup, in the public’s mind, is liquid, whereas sugar is generally deemed solid and crystalline, the FDA said -- but others more significant.

For example, some people have fructose intolerance and they use dextrose as a sweetener, noted Michael M. Landa, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA, in the letter. Guess what another name for dextrose is on food labels? Corn sugar. The Corn Refiners Assn. wanted that name prohibited for dextrose so that they could use it for HFCS instead.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Around world, Bloomberg soda war hard to swallow

LONDON (AP) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks in restaurants, delis and movie theaters in the hopes of combating obesity. Under his plan, sugary drinks would be limited to 16 fluid ounces — almost half a liter.

Around the world, portion sizes are generally smaller. Perceptions of American overconsumption have been fueled by films such as "Super Size Me" and the spread of U.S. fast-food chains.

So while many global citizens reacted with a mix of incredulity, awe and disgust when confronted with some of the sizes of sugary drinks sold stateside, others were less surprised.

"I know what American culture is like — big portions, not necessarily health-conscious," Gordon Howard, who works in finance, said at a London wine tasting. "They supersize everything."

Like Howard, many people around the world say the notion of a 44-ounce cola doesn't hold much water for them — but neither did a ban.

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