Archive for the ‘Diet’ Category

The day after…Healthy Weight Week

January 23, 2011

Today is January 23rd. The first day after Healthy Weight Week was celebrated in the USA (January 16-22).

For several years now, I have been following this special week with great interest. Initiated by Francie M. Berg (editor of the Healthy Weight Journal), the idea is to celebrate interventions which promote a healthy weight and a healthy body image; and also to name and shame  the past year’s worst weightloss diets, products and claims. The latter is done on ‘Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day.’

One reason I named this entry ‘The day after’ is that many consumers are often  lured into trying out weightloss diets and different products, only to realise very soon that these do not work. Clever marketing strategies highlight the ‘benefits’ and ‘special properties’ of these  diets or products, often quoting the science imprecisely or inadequately to argue their point. In the long-term, many of these weightloss diets and products  prove to be useless or occasionally even harmful. It is also well known that one of the outcomes of society’s and the media’s overemphasis on weight, as reflected in appearance, is disordered eating.

Weightloss, where this is truly needed, is no easy task. In many cases, however,  small and gradual lifestyle changes are enough to set one on the right track. Eating a variety of foods,  with an emphasis on low-energy (i.e. low calorie) but  nutrient-dense (i.e. rich in nutrients) foods, accompanied by a good amount of physical activity is the basic  formula. This clearly points to increasing plant food intake (vegetables, fruits, pulses, wholegrain cereals) and opting for low fat milk and milk-products, lean meat and low calorie beverages (e.g. water). It also points to choosing low fat cooking methods, such as steaming, grilling, and stir-frying, and making physical activity a regular feature in ones daily/weekly routine.

Two sets of awards are highlighted during Healthy Weight Week. These are the ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ aimed at prevention of disturbed eating, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; and the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ aimed at exposing the fad diets, gimmicks and false promotions.

 The ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ winners for 2010 were:

‘A Chance to Heal’: a multi-workshop programme for middle and high school students, adults and families, and the health care community focusing primarily on  dissonance (http://achancetoheal.org)

‘In Favor of Myself’: an innovative 8-session preventive programme to promote positive self and body image widely disseminated among youth in Israel;

‘Healthy Body Image’: a 4th through 6th grade curriculum emphasising positive body image, appreciation of inner strengths, resistance to marketing pressures among others (http://www.bodyimagehealth.org )

 – ‘Body Rocks’: a school and community peer education club focusing on positive body image and eating disorders prevention.

This year’s finalists in the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ were:

Lapex BCS Lipo Laser, using laser light treatment for spot reduction (worst gimmick);

– HCG, a pregnancy-related hormone placed under the tongue to mobilise fat (worst product);

– Ultimate Cleanse, that builds on a myth re the need to detoxify the body (worst claim);

Basic Research, a marketer of bogus products with a long history of Federal Trade Commission (US) violations, warnings, charges and fines (most outrageous).

One must realise that due to global marketing and internet shopping, many  products like those mentioned above are available and accessible worldwide. Therefore, as Home Economics educators or other educators promoting healthy eating and a healthy weight we need to help our students / clients to be more consumer savvy. We also need to teach the basic principles of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

For more on Healthy Weight Week and research and information on obesity, eating disorders, weight loss and healthy living at any size see http://www.healthyweight.net/hww.htm

For a 22-year history of Slim Chance fads and frauds see www.healthyweight.net/fraud.htm

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Red meat – How much is too much?

July 13, 2010

In recent years we have been hearing a lot about the need to reduce our consumption of red meat and to avoid eating processed meats. Why is this so?

First of all, it is important to define red meat and processed meats.

1. Red meat refers to beef, pork, lamb and goat from domesticated animals, including the minced format of these.

2. Processed meat refers to meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives. This includes meats such as ham, bacon, luncheon meat, corned beef, salami, hot dogs and some other sausages.

The health issues around meat consumption are varied:

It is well known that most red meats, processed or unprocessed, are a source of cholesterol and saturated fats. It is also well known that most processed meats are high in sodium. A regular high fat, or high cholesterol, or high sodium intake increases the risk for heart disease due to facilitating obesity, narrowing the arteries and promoting high blood pressure among others. And in many developed countries, intake of red and processed meats is high.

Currently, there is also strong evidence that red and processed meats increase the risk for colorectal (bowel) cancer.  This is because:

  • They contain a red-coloured compound called haem, which has been shown to damage the lining of the colon.
  • They stimulate production of N-nitroso compounds in the digestive system. These are cancer-causing substances due to their potential to damage DNA in cells.

An interesting research study published this May offered the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat vs. processed red meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

The results showed that, on average, each 50 gram daily serving of processed meat (about 1-2 slices of cold cuts meats or 1 hot dog) was associated with a 42% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19% higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, eating unprocessed red meat was not associated with risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

One thing the researches uncovered was that unprocessed red and processed red meats (available in the United States) contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. Yet, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives. The researchers, therefore, concluded that possibly “differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.”

Of note is that animal experiments have shown that nitrate preservatives can promote artery narrowing and reduce glucose tolerance. These two effects increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

So how much is too much?

Current recommendations by various health organizations are as follows:

  • If red meat is part of your diet, consume no more than 500g cooked weight (700-750g uncooked weight) per week, including both processed and unprocessed meats.
  • Avoid processed meats as much as possible.

The bottom line: Opt for fish, lean poultry and rabbit if you want to consume meat, and find alternative non-meat fillings for your daily sandwiches (e.g. low fat cheese, or home-made  bean, chick pea or lentil pastes). If you still want to include processed cold cuts of meat in your diet, choose those which are low in fat and pale pink in colour. The latter often have a lower nitrate content (nitrate is used to preserve the natural red / pink colour of meat during processing).

For more information visit

http://www.wcrf-uk.org/preventing_cancer/diet/meat_on_the_menu.php

Renata Micha, Sarah K. Wallace, Dariush Mozaffarian. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation, 2010; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.924977

Bring back Home Economics Education

May 21, 2010

On May 11, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) published an article recommending that Home Economics (HE) Education should be brought back as a compulsory subject in US schools. 

The rationale given by the authors (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig) was that the younger generations are growing up with no healthy and thrifty food and meal preparation  skills and that HE education could help overcome this deficiency and thus  help curb rising obesity figures.

The article lays emphasis on the need to teach students about the
scientific and practical aspects of food – basic cooking techniques;
caloric requirements; sources of food (from farm to fork); food shopping and budgeting principles; food safety; sourcing and using nutrient information and labels; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.

I feel that this list of topics is typical of a classic Home Economics curriculum, though the article does say that these topics may be  taught in a cross curricular manner.

Below are the introductory and concluding sentences of the article.

“Home Economics, otherwise known as domestic education, was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls. The underlying concept was that future homemakers should be educated in the care and feeding of their families. This idea now seems quaint, but in the midst of a pediatric obesity epidemic and concerns about the poor diet quality of adolescents in  the United States, instruction in basic food preparation and meal planning skills needs to be part of any long-term solution.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1857)

“Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this  generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever  before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1858)

This article serves as further evidence of the need for a period of compulsory HE education, for both male and female students, during the formal years of schooling.

Access article here:  http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/303/18/1857

Campaign to retire Ronald McDonald

April 6, 2010

On March 31st, Corporate Accountability International launched a campaign asking McDonald’s to retire its mascot Ronald McDonald. 

http://retireronald.org/

This organisation states that there are several arguments to justify asking for Ronald’s retirement, primarily that this character has been used for nearly 50 years to lure children to eating less healthy food.

A survey conducted among a representative sample of the US adult population, in November 2009, showed that almost half of those surveyed agreed that it was time to retire Ronald.

This is the link to the full background report by Corporate Accountability International for those who are interested. 

http://retireronald.org/files/Retire%20Ronald%20Expose.pdf

Note: I am posting this bit of news and report not to demonise Ronald McDonald specifically (other characters are used in a similar way by other food companies), but rather to raise awareness that around the world adult carers are becoming concerned regarding the ‘unethical’ marketing ploys used by food companies to target young consumers.

Children are considered a vulnerable audience and companies often use various settings which children typically frequent, or where children spend long hours, to expose them to a variety of not-so-nutritious food. These companies also take advantage of children’s pester power to ‘force’ parents to buy certain food products.

You might ask “Is there something we should be doing ourselves at an individual or community level to curb this type of marketing to children?” 

Here  is a quote from the Retire Ronald Expose to get you thinking (p.23):

‘• Support local policy efforts, like eliminating all marketing, advertising and sales of fast food from school grounds, property in immediate proximity to schools, children’s libraries, playgrounds and other places where children visit frequently as well as hospitals serving children;

 • Support international policy efforts that encourage national governments to respond to this growing public health crisis by curbing the advertisement, marketing and promotion of unhealthy food products to children and young people.’

Winning Video on Childhood Obesity

April 3, 2010

‘Childhood Obesity: A Challenge Facing America’ is a video produced by a Home Economics student in Hawaii. It just won first prize in a national US competition.

See the video here:

 http://studentcam.viddler.com/videos/watch.php?id=9932b996

Though the environment and context are slightly different from Malta, I feel this video could be a useful tool to use in our Home Economics classrooms (or in any educational setting with teenagers) when talking about being healthy, factors which influence our health status, food choices, level of physical activity and diet-related diseases.

I also feel, however, that when we are ‘teaching’ we should  not dwell too much on ‘body weight’;  but rather our focus should be on giving practical tips, offering encouragement and facilitating making the right choices to eat healthily and to be physically fit, as individuals and as family members.

Weight Watchers©’ endorsement of McDonald’s© in New Zealand

March 7, 2010

Last week several items on the fast food giant’s menu – the Filet-O-Fish, Chicken McNuggets and Sweet Chilli Seared Chicken Wrap – were approved for the Weight Watchers diet in McDonald’s 150 New Zealand restaurants. Each meal is worth 6.5 points on the programme, which assigns points to food items and allows dieters to consume 18 to 40 points each day to achieve their target weight.

McDonald’s New Zealand managing director reported that they were able to include some of the most popular items in the Weight Watchers diet because of the many changes they had made over the years. For instance, the switch to a healthier canola blend cooking oil meant items such as the Filet-O-Fish and Chicken McNuggets now contained 60% less saturated fat than six years ago.

The Weight Watchers’ director of business in Australia and New Zealand said the partnership between the companies reflected “part of our philosophy that you can enjoy life … while still achieving your weight loss goals”.

However, around the world many nutrition and obesity experts were not so sure of this collaboration…

What are your views?