Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Screen Time and “Active” Couch Potatoes

Are you an “active” couch potato? Sitting . . . yes. Sedentary . . . yes. Active . . . that depends. It’s not just sitting in front of the TV watching, and not just sitting in front of a computer Tweeting, chatting, posting or surfing—it’s doing it all at once. In fact, the latest A. C. Nielsen Co. “Three Screen Report” says Americans in general now spend 35 percent more time in front of the TV and using the Internet at the same time than they did last year. Translation: 3.5 hours of overlapping TV / Internet time for the average American. Well, that’s sort of active.

The breakdown . . . the average American adult spends almost 2.5 hours each day in front of a computer screen, and watches about five hours and nine minutes of live TV each day. But if you ask someone how long they spend in front of the TV, most underestimate the time they spend by 25 percent. For children, the statistics are not much better. Total time per day in front of a screen—about 8.5 hours.

Children ages 8 to 18 spend on average 7.5 hours a day using and absorbing media on a screen. (That’s about the amount of time they spend in school.) They spend 4.5 hours watching TV, 1.5 hours on the computer and more than an hour playing video games. By “multitasking” they manage to cram about 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours. (Fast Company) They spend on average 25 minutes a day reading books.

And while we’re talking about screen-time statistics, how’s this for balance?

  • Percentage of Americans that regularly watch TV while eating dinner: 66%
  • Number of hours of TV watched annually by Americans: 250 billion
  • Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day: 70%
  • Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
  • Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
  • Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000

Do we have a problem? Now, think about the other screens we spend our time in front of (in addition to television and Internet). It’s a long list . . . mobile phones, smart phones, GPS devices, movies, electronic books, Wii, hand held games . . . and that’s not a complete list.

Here’s one final statistic: Number of minutes per week parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5

So, how many hours in front of a screen qualify you as a bonafide couch potato? Hmmm, what else could we be doing with all that time?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seven Simple Questions

Is wellness important to you—important enough to make it a priority in your life? We’re not talking specifically about weight loss, physical activity or lack thereof or even unhealthy habits such as smoking. We’re talking about what we can do to improve and sustain our long-term health and wellness. And yes, we can all benefit from healthier behaviors, and by making just modest improvements in our daily behaviors, we can all be part of the healthcare solution rather than part of the problem.

Take a minute and answer “yes” or “no” to each of the following questions.

  1. Is your health and long-term wellness important to you?
  2. Is your family’s health important to you?
  3. Do you want to protect your financial future?
  4. Do you want to have a healthy, active retirement?
  5. Do you want to maximize your investment savings and minimize your health care expenditures?
  6. Do you want to feel better, have more energy, and take fewer prescription medications?
  7. Do you want to be around to watch your children—and your grandchildren grow up?

If you answered “yes” to even one question, then you want to make wellness a personal priority. Whether or not you’ve given it much thought in the past, if your answers to these questions are positive, you can conclude wellness is important to you. And, if something’s important, isn’t it logical to take action? If you answered “no,” well, that tells you something too, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One Mouthful at a Time . . . Eat Your Way to Good Health

You change the oil in your car regularly—or should. Do you check the coolant? Would you say you pay more attention to the gasoline (and the price of the gas) you put in your car than to the food you put in your mouth? What about the interest on your credit cards? Paid off each month or carried over time? Does the balance slowly but surely creep up? The point is where do our day-in / day-out attentions and priorities lie? We are on the one hand a society of excess, and one of our more impressive excesses is how much and what we eat. On the other hand, we are a “time-challenged” society, and what we eat often has to do with how cheaply and how fast we can feed ourselves and our children.

But is that what you learned in high school P.E. class—that day you studied nutrition?

Here’s a big part of the overall problem. You can Google anything. In fact, Google “nutrition” and you get 93,300,000 hits. Too much information. We have all the knowledge in the world about everything in life, but has all that knowledge made an impact on our individual health? Who’s to blame?

Remember when Mom (or Dad) sat down and talked about the ‘birds and bees?’ Probably. Remember when Mom (or Dad) sat down and talked about proteins, and carbs, and saturated fats? Probably not. Where exactly did you learn about nutrition—on the school playground, huddled around “Nutrition Today Magazine” with your best friends, at the movies, online, or maybe, at the school vending machines?

The point is, most of us never learned about nutrition. But all is not lost. It’s never too late. Especially when you consider that an astonishing 80 percent of your quality of life is related, at least in part, to what you eat. In part, nutrition is in learning how to balance caloric intake with the number of calories burned. If you consume more calories than you burn, the excess caloric energy is going to be stored as fat, and you’re going to gain weight. But, there’s also the part of nutrition that’s about “nutrients,” the chemicals our bodies get from food. They’re used to build muscle, improve cell-to-cell transmission, manufacture hormones—and more. And, it’s those essential nutrients: amino acids, vitamins and minerals, fatty acids, and yes, sugars, that we need—but need in the right combination and amount.

One of our big problems is that about one-third of all American meals consumed are prepared foods. And the big problem with prepared foods is that for the most part, their contents are not nutritionally balanced. We can’t even pronounce many of the contents and ingredients, much less define what they contribute to our nutritional needs. Combine our lack of nutritional knowledge and our obsession with processed foods, and you can start to see why we have a problem. But, and here’s the big but, we also have a solution. We are the solution—each and every one of us.

Do you read labels? Are you ready to step up? Are you ready to make nutrition part of that 80 percent of your quality of life you can control? Is there a good reason why not?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Name-Calling . . . Finger Pointing

What’s in a name? Maybe more than you think. Whether simply vocabulary or semantics, names can carry a lot of weight. And with this segue . . . there’s been a lot of finger pointing and name calling lately. And much of it has to do with obesity (childhood and adult) and who’s responsible for the growing epidemic, and how we should label it, and how best to address it . . . and the issues multiply and gain a momentum of their own. It’s the answers that are hard to come by (although LoneStart Wellness offers a pretty good one).

But back to names—and labels, because while we talk about complex issues, we’re also talking about descriptions, and facts. So, we’re also talking about the wording of those facts. And, we’re definitely talking about highly emotional issues.

It seems as if recently there has been much discussion over the terms “obese”“fat.” How should we refer to people who are overweight—fat, obese, plus size? Do fat and obese mean the same thing? Is one term more descriptive, or more correct than the other? Is “obese” more of a clinical or medical term that can be measured? Is “fat” unkind, or simply a statement of fact? Is it “in your face” and meant to create an emotional impact? Is one better than the other? Well, we’re asking the question, but we don’t have the answer. And to complicate the issue further . . . and

How about those who are clinically underweight—skinny, anorexic, walking skeleton, model? Fat, skinny, obese, anorexic. We’re talking about extremes, and the focus should be on health and wellness.

Aren’t we really looking for healthier lifestyle behaviors? Maybe we should focus more on the solutions to acquire those behaviors than on what to call those looking for solutions. Maybe we should focus on what constitutes better behavior, and the fact that with the right information, support and motivation people can and will change their at risk behaviors. Isn’t that what we’re after?

Overweight, obese, fat or thin, whatever label you give it, the important thing is for people to know when they’re at risk. Check your BMI here. Where do you fall? Where do you want to go? We’d like your input.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What is Food?

Food is never just food. It’s love, comfort, solace, consolation. Sometimes it’s support. Sometimes it’s politics and religion. It’s nourishment or it’s junk. It’s fast, or it’s carefully and thoughtfully prepared. It’s all-you-can-eat or it’s a super-sized value meal (some value). But, it’s never just food.

One thing is certain about food though—we’re all preoccupied with it. We are indeed what we eat—and our children are what we feed them. It’s a lot to chew on . . . especially when you learn that a third of all children are considered overweight and 17 percent are clinically obese.

The U.S. weight loss market is expected to reach $68.7 billion this year. It thrives on food—and it thrives on failure. Our failure. After all, the diet and weight loss industry is built on repeat business. They need us to come back for more, and now it appears we’re all starting earlier. It’s estimated 40 percent of girls in first through fifth grades are trying to lose weight.

Back to food. Here’s an idea to consider . . . What if we listened to our bodies and look to ourselves for the reasons we’re taking in all this food? What if we look at what we need, not just what we want? What if we look at processes, not outcomes? I’ll bet if we worked to develop a “healthy relationship” with our food, changing our food behaviors—and our behaviors toward food, we might find we’re developing a healthier relationship with our weight at the same time. If the only goal is weight loss, you’ll probably be disappointed to learn that two-thirds of all dieters regain the weight they lost within one year, and 97 percent regain lost weight within five years. After all, when you lose weight, you don’t necessarily lose the reasons you turned to food in the first place.

We can heap our dinner plates with information, mis-information and dis-information. But, moving away from the concept of “heap,” what if we simply take a look at moderation? A little restraint, a little control, and a little thought about what we really are after moves the focus from food to health, away from “Barbie doll” looks, away from chubby children, away from finger-pointing and straight to the bottom line of health.

Maybe some of that $68.7 billion we’re spending on diet supplements, shakes, pills, diet books, diet entrees and meal plans could be spent on healthier food choices? Do you have food for thought to share?