Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A New Take on Independence Day

This weekend we’ll celebrate Independence Day—but are we really—independent? Are we self-determining, self-regulating? You know this is a wellness and well-being blog, so you can guess where this is going. But, read on . . .

Food for thought: Many of us are already focused on the traditional hot dog / hamburger cookout on the grill, accompanied by chips, soft drinks . . . the list goes on. But, what if we use this Independence Day as the time to shift our “food focus,” just a little bit at time? If we do, we can take a giant step in declaring our independence from chronic illness by Independence Day 2011 . . . a goal worth pursuing, a battle worth winning.

Here’s why: The foods we choose to eat on a daily basis contribute 80 percent to whether we will develop diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. Already, almost one-half of all Americans report having a chronic illness—and those illnesses account for 75 percent of our national spending on health care (and we are all well-aware of those costs). Furthermore, almost 80 percent of all chronic disease is caused by three preventable health behaviors—obesity and overeating, physical inactivity, and smoking. The good news . . . weight loss, as modest as 5 to 15 percent of total body weight in a person who is overweight or obese, reduces the risk factors for some diseases, particularly heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity has roughly the same association with chronic health conditions as 20 years of aging. It contributes to 53 diseases including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and some types of cancer. Obesity costs our health care system about $147 billion a year. To put that figure in perspective, the American Cancer Society estimates that all cancers combined cost our health care system $93 billion a year. So ending obesity would save the health care system fifty percent more dollars than curing cancer.

How about this? What if this Independence Day (even if it’s after the big feast) we declare our independence from overly-processed, junk and fast food? What if we look for healthy substitutions? What if we find ways to work in a little more physical activity? What if we make just one modest yet meaningful change in our nutritional behaviors each month? If we as a nation of individuals can each make the effort to independently create a positive change for ourselves, we will collectively do great things for our country—and our own long-term health and wellness. “We the people” can take control of our wellness behaviors—and outcomes. “We the people” can become the solution rather than part of the problem. We are all stakeholders in this effort, and together we can turn the epidemic of overweight, obesity, and inactivity around and reduce our risk factors for preventable chronic illnesses.

Yes, it's a mouthful, but don’t you think it’s something well-worth chewing on?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Functional Foods, Nutraceuticals . . . Who’s In Charge Here?

Are we talking about something that’s good for us, as the title would imply, or are we talking about a marketing strategy? Read more and decide . . .

And, exactly what are functional foods and nutraceuticals? Functional foods have been created so that consumers can eat an enriched food product close to its natural state—in place of taking a dietary supplement. These foods are enriched or fortified through a process called nutrification, which restores the nutrient content of a food back to a level from before the food was processed. (Seems like a pretty round-about way to eat something good for you.) Actually, aren’t all foods functional in the sense that they have nutrients or other substances that provide energy, sustain growth or support vital processes?

Now, combine the words nutrition and pharmaceutical and you have a nutraceutical—a food or food product (or supplement) that supposedly provides health benefits. There is minimal regulation over which products are allowed to display the nutraceutical term on their labels yet almost two-thirds of the American population takes at least one type of nutraceutical health product.

Do you remember way back, when once upon a time, people actually ate real food? But, today too many of us are consuming too many food-like products—and too little real food. And, even if we don’t realize it, we’re buying more and more functional foods. Food manufacturers don’t want us to stop buying their products—and now the big trend / trick is dressing up these make-believe foods with a healthy image. Look at the addition of vitamins to soft drinks, calcium to ice cream, milk and orange juice; and omega-3’s to any number of products.

There’s still more to consider . . . we’re eating more (more calories and fat), because we think we’re eating something that’s good for us. In a way, functional foods and nutraceuticals are really “calorie distracters.”

If we look at these “designer” foods as a relatively new marketing technique we might come to the conclusion that we’re being had. And we’re paying more for it—these foods aren’t inexpensive. So . . . what if we actually ate more foods as they were intended to be consumed—in their natural state? And, if we spend time preparing those foods ourselves, we’ll know exactly what we’re really eating.

Our question—would you rather consume your calories from something fresh, natural and real, or from a food product that’s been processed, engineered and given a catchy name?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Is “It” Here to Stay?

In a real—and sad way—it’s our own fault. We allow it. The “it” is junk food, fast food and processed packaged food. But no matter what name you use for it, it’s still mostly lacking in healthy nutrients and loaded with empty calories. We’re all targets, and none more so than our impressionable children. While the First Lady aims to end childhood obesity, it’s not going to happen no matter how many healthy school lunches are served or how accessible we make healthier foods—it’s not going to happen as long as obesity is encouraged financially rather than discouraged.


  • Children ages 8 to 12 see an average of 21 television ads each day for candy, snacks, cereal and fast food, more than 7,600 a year.
  • $1,600,000,000 was spent on food ads aimed at kids in 2006 (mostly junk food).
  • The Council of Better Business Bureaus responded by establishing the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative as a self-regulatory industry body.
  • Jump three years later—in 2009 there had been no substantial changes in food ads marketed to kids.

Why? The explanation lies in free speech. We don’t regulate marketing—but instead “encourage” the industry to self-regulate. Do we really think that’s going to happen?

And now, we have “advergames.” Advergames are a blend of interactive animation, video and advertising, targeted at children and exposing them for extended periods of time to online messages that primarily promote corporate branding and products.

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior analyzed corporate websites linked to TV food advertising aimed at kids. (Yes, many advertisers post their corporate websites on their commercials.) The researchers found the most frequently used strategy to encourage ongoing and return visits to the website was advergames, and 84 percent of the corporate websites assessed included online games for children. The study concluded that, “advergames are clearly a means of casting food with few health benefits in a positive way and potentially priming kids for a lifetime of unhealthy food preferences.”

Now, consider this—Did you know that every day, one in three American kids eats a meal of fast-food? And that, according to a study in Pediatrics, eating fast-food can add six pounds to a child's weight each year. Those extra pounds are no surprise considering that the average fast-food "value" meal contains 1,200 calories and 53 grams of fat. A few quick bites can yield more than half of an adult's fat and calorie allotment for the whole day.

Is self-regulation in the industry working? No. Is another generation at risk for long-term chronic disease linked to poor nutritional choices? Yes.

Have you considered the irony in how our “opportunities” to eat continue to increase, while our “barriers” to consumption continue to decrease? Are you ready to get involved?