Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lessons from youth anti-smoking campaigns

Now it’s time for a positive post: The Petaluma Health Center in Sonoma County California is taking a stand against childhood obesity. With education and active involvement in the planting, nurturing, picking and cooking of healthy fruits and vegetables, the health center is looking to combat the 35% childhood obesity rate at the clinic.

The Petaluma Health Center is a non-profit Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC) providing primary and mental health care to the Sonoma County California community. The Petaluma "Loves Active Youth" program includes nurturing the community garden, cooking demonstrations and weekly meetings aimed at teaching children healthy eating habits and emphasizing the importance of exercise.

There are examples from the past of how government involvement and education have helped to curb unhealthy habits in children and youth. Lets look for a moment at the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement was reached between 4 of the largest tobacco companies and the vast majority of the states. The Agreement settled all forms of lawsuits between the states and those four tobacco companies- including antitrust, common law negligence and claims for monetary relief from the tobacco companies. In exchange for this settlement the following occurred (this list is not exhaustive):

  • the 4 tobacco companies payed $206 billion dollars to the states
  • the 4 tobacco companies payed $25 million dollars each year for 10 years to a create a foundation with the purpose of supporting the study of programs which reduce teenage smoking and supporting the prevention of diseases associated with smoking.
  • the 4 tobacco companies were required to create a $1.45 billion dollar industry-funded national public education program for tobacco control. The TRUTH campaign ( is a direct results of this money.
  • tobacco companies were prohibited from targeting youth in advertising, promotions or marketing of tobacco products. In addition, cartoon characters were banned for use in advertising due to the possible appeal they may have to youth.
  • the tobacco companies were banned from most outdoor advertising including advertising in stadiums and arenas
  • the tobacco companies were prohibited from lobbying against any state or local proposed laws that are aimed at tobacco youth access or prevention of youth smoking.
The Master Settlement Agreement was the beginning of a trend in America towards an anti-smoking attitude. Now, more than ever, smoking has the reputation of being “uncool” rather than “cool.” As you can see from the following graph, smoking rates among youth peaked around 1997 and have dramatically decreased ever since. The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was enacted in 1998. Additionally, in 1999 the government created the Nation Tobacco Control Program which funded all 50 states in their efforts to reduce smoking rates. This illustrates a direct correlation between government education and control programs aimed at youth tobacco consumption and a decrease in youth tobacco use. Additionally, according the Centers for Disease Control, research shows that the more states spend on comprehensive tobacco control programs, the greater the reductions in smoking—and the longer states invest in such programs, the greater and faster the impact. (3)

So what does the Petaluma “Loves Active Youth” Program have to do with anti-smoking campaign success? It is highly possible that a government-run educational program and government control over fast-food advertising aimed at children may help reduce the rate of childhood obesity. However, unlike anti-smoking campaigns, it is also extremely important that parents are actively involved in the anti-obesity fight. I believe that it is just as important, if not more important, to education parents about eating healthy and exercising in order to maintain health. The Petaluma Program is an excellent example of a government funded entity supporting the childhood obesity problem through education and awareness.




Sunday, April 17, 2011

Here is another one...

Denny's Maple Bacon Sundae. Here is an except from their website: "Bacon makes a classic ice cream sundae even more awesome. We start with maple-flavored syrup, and a scoop of rich, creamy vanilla ice cream and then a generous sprinkle of our diced hickory-smoked bacon. Add another sweet layer of syrup and vanilla ice cream topped with even more bacon and a drizzle of syrup."

It's as if a child thought this up. "Let's put bacon and ice-cream together and eat it- YUM!" I feel as if these food manufactures are actually just trying to appeal to the child inside of us. The child who wishes that they could eat any type of food combination that sounds good because they don't understand the consequences of eating foods like these. Except in this situation, we don't have a parent to say to us, "don't eat that it's not good for you." We are now the adults making these decisions for ourselves.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is this really necessary?

Pizza and cookies??? This is not good. This is too much. First of all, chocolate chip cookies and Supreme style pizza just sounds disgusting. Second of all, this is so unhealthy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Trans fat ban in Illinois on the Senate Floor

A Healthier Illinois?

The Illinois House of representatives has passed House Bill 1600 which would ban trans fat in restaurants and schools vending machines by the year 2013 as well as school cafeterias by 2016. The Bill is must now go before the Senate before it is law.

Do you disagree or agree with Mr. Pritchard? Without further knowledge regarding trans fat, what Mr. Pritchard says prima facie is hard to argue with. "This...legislation is overreaching where government is going to direct every part of our life." Who wants the government to be directing our life? Not me. Probably not you either. At face value what Mr. Pritchard is saying may very likely illicit a strong emotional reaction against any such legislation that may "direct every part of our life."

Let's talk briefly about trans fat, what it is, and what it's effects are on the human body. Trans fat is found in small amounts in meat in diary. However we get the majority of the trans fat we eat from processed foods. Trans fat gets into processed food when food manufacturers perform a process called "hydrogenation." Hydrogenation occurs when vegetable oil is heated to very high temperatures and hydrogen is added to the oil. This makes the oil (fat) nearly solid at room temperature which allows for better transportation of food, better taste and longer shelf life.

However, eating foods with trans fat has been linked over and over again to higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL). High levels of LDL causes cholesterol to build in the arteries making them narrow and allowing less blood to flow to the heart. This build-up, or plaque, can lead to an increase risk of heart disease and stroke. On the contrary, HDL is good for your heart as lipoproteins carry the “bad” cholesterol out of your arteries and back to your liver for processing.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that for each additional 2% of calories from trans fat added to your diet, your chances of developing coronary heart disease increase by 23%.1 It is recommended that you keep your levels of trans fat to as close to zero as possible, with 2 grams per day being the highest amount you should ingest.2
The problem with putting trans fat in restaurant food is that restaurants are not required by law to post their nutritional data. Therefore, if you want to avoid trans fat in a restaurant you are not given the information you need to make that decision.
The problem with putting trans fat into schools and school cafeteria food is more obvious: we should never be feeding our children something that is not healthy for them to eat.
After a little more information regarding trans fat, Mr. Pritchard's statement doesn't make quite as much sense. In my opinion, it is exactly the job of the government to regulate food served in schools in an effort to ensure those foods are healthy for our children to eat. Additionally, if Mr. Pritchard does not want an outright ban on trans fat in restaurants, wouldn't it make more sense to at least give consumers accurate information regarding the amount of trans fat in the food they order and the direct effects that food may have on our bodies?
It is true that most people do not want the government directing every part of our lives, but with an absence of information needed to make informed decisions, we as consumers are not able to direct our lives in a way that is best for us.

  1. Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006; 354:1601-13.

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Purpose

One day, when I was 16 years old I ate a sandwich, just like any other day. There was nothing wrong with this sandwich - the meat and cheese were brand new and smelled delicious, the bread had no mold or appearance of age, and the mayonnaise had been bought only the week before. Yet about half an hour after I ate that sandwich, my stomach began to burn. It was not terribly painful but only a slight annoyance. I remember thinking it felt similar to hunger pains and thought briefly that I had not ate enough. So I had some crackers to try to fill myself up, and my stomach burned on, like a rug burn or the Indian burn done by an overzealous friend trying to turn your arm red.

From that day forward, the burning never went away for very long. It would leave for periods of time- at first I would go days without the burning. But as the years passed by the periods of time between the burning shortened gradually from days to hours.

With the strange stomach burning came other strange symptoms: extreme fatigue is the one I remember most vividly. When I had got to college the waves of fatigue became so intense that at times it was difficult for me to speak and I needed to take a break and lay down before I had the energy to try again. Thankfully, the fatigue did not occur as often as the burning stomach. However, such extreme fatigue placed an unfriendly visit at least twice a week for hours at a time.

I remember my freshman year of college at the University of Iowa, my shins and tops of my feet began to hurt. It was only a slight pain at first, but as the days went by it became almost impossible to walk. I made a trip to the University of Iowa Hospital to see an Orthopedic surgeon. He took X-rays of my legs and feet and told me I had multiple hairline fractures on both legs and feet which was the cause of my pain. He was baffled as to why this happened as I was not a runner or athlete and was of normal weight. In the end, his only advice was to eat more calcium- even though I told him that I eat a ton of cheese and take a multivitamin. I was sent away in a cast which I had to wear on and off throughout college as the fractures would come and go on their own.

From 2001-2007 I suffered from stomach pains, headaches, extreme fatigue, brittle bones, depression, anxiety, slow teeth ascension, consistently loose stools, anemia, increased appetite and food cravings. I went to see doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist. I was diagnosed with GERD, ulcers, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, calcium deficiency, anemia, costochondritis, and my favorite diagnoses of all: "It's all in your head." (That diagnosis sent me into a rage and forever left me with a healthy skepticism of doctors' opinions.)

As I slowly got sicker and sicker, and lost more and more faith in doctors, I became obsessed with figuring out what was wrong with me. I had quite a few very dark days where I sat in pain and misery wishing I was anyone but myself trapped in this body. But as dark as the days became, I was never left in total blackness because I never, ever lost hope. I always had a feeling, deep down in the deepest part of myself, that the day would come when I wouldn't feel the way I did anymore. I knew that at some point both the physical pain and the mental torment- which often times fed upon each other - would disappear.

I placed all of my anger and hatred for my condition into figuring out the mystery that no doctor was able to solve. I had one advantage over any doctor with a medical degree: I was the one who was sick and I understood my body more than any doctor ever could. And the one thing I was 100% sure of was that all of my ailments somehow tied back to food. So this is where I started: FOOD.

I literally spent years and thousands of hours researching on the Internet, books and health magazines about food, diets, calories, fats, vitamins, nutrients, exercise etc.. I also researched far and wide for different types of diseases with symptoms similar to mine - and in the meantime learned a lot. I tried countless different kinds of elimination diets, eliminating everything from dairy to fruit and bread to nuts. Nothing seemed to work. I became a vegetarian for 3 years and ate only fresh vegetables, fruits, rice and whole wheat bread. This made me feel better than I felt in 5 long years, easing my depression, anxiety, food cravings and bone fractures- however the stomach pains, loose stools and fatigue remained.

One day, about 6 years after that sandwich that started it all, I was having dinner with my grandmother. She asked me how I was doing and instead of responded the usual way- "oh I'm doing fine," (LIE- actually my stomach hurts like hell all the time) I decided to tell her the TRUTH- my stomach hurts like hell all the time. She told me to call my Uncle John out in California whose stomach used to hurt like hell all the time until he discovered he had Celiac Disease. Then his stomach didn't hurt anymore.

I knew about Celiac Disease as I had discovered it in my research. I had even tried the recommended elimination diet and had take all bread and pasta out of my diet for 3 weeks. I didn't feel any better. But in a state of desperation, I decided to give Uncle John a call anyway.

We talked for at least an hour and by the end I had conceded to him that I would try the elimination diet again. I was not optimistic, however, I did learn two very important things from our conversation: 1. his symptoms were extremely similar to mine before he stopped eating gluten, and 2. soy sauce contains gluten. This second point was very important because while doing my original elimination diet I had soy sauce on my rice every single day. Read: unbeknownst to me I never actually did an elimination diet to eliminate gluten.

I heavily researched the Gluten-Free Diet, making sure this time that I knew all the different foods that contained gluten (including soy sauce). After one week of being gluten-free I had already felt a positive difference. My stomach wasn't nearly as knotted and painful throughout the day and my energy levels were slightly up. After a month on the diet I felt like a different person. My stomach almost never burned and my energy levels were higher than they had been in a very long time.

Fast forward 1 year and 1 Celiac Disease diagnosis later and I had literally been cured. My stomach never burned the way it had for 6 long years, I had all the energy I could ask for, my legs and feet had completely healed and my moods and anxiety were much more under control.

Being on a gluten-free diet has improved the quality of my life more than I can ever describe in words. However, it has also been a challenge in today's world of processed foods. I've spent a whole lot of my life looking at nutrition labels for ingredients to determine if a food contained gluten. This has opened my eyes up to the plethora of ingredients put into the foods we eat today. I've seen things I never thought possible before I started reading labels: wheat flour and sugar in soups, salad dressings and all types of sauces, food coloring and preservatives I can't even pronounce among other things.

Eating with other people has been a very interesting experience. I usually stick to simple things like rice, unprocessed meat, vegetables and fruits. However, I'm constantly being told that I eat "weird food" and always asked why I am not participating in the pizza/hamburger/hotdog/cookie eating frenzies at parties and in the company cafeteria. I look around me and see so many overweight people and hear so many stories of diabetes, heart disease and fatigue from the same people who ask me why I'm not participating in eating the processed foods they are eating. My answer is always the same: I can't eat gluten and gluten is in almost everything processed. However, I often wonder if they realize that just as gluten makes me sick, the very same food I avoid and they eat is making THEM sick. Sick not from gluten but from all the health hazards that come along with eating processed foods. Once I get to know someone enough to be sure they won't take offense, I start listing off all the ingredients that are actually in the "non-weird" foods they are eating and what effects those foods can have on their health. The majority of the time people are surprised and appalled by the things I tell them about the foods they are eating every day.

However, what gives me hope is that every single person who I've sat down and talked with about food has really been interested in what I've said and has made changes for the better in what they eat based on the information they have gained.

And it is for this purpose I've started the "FOOD FOR LIFE" blog and the reason I'm currently writing a book. It is my goal to bring the issues of food and nutrition to the forefront of America's consciousness. There is so much information out there in the information ether regarding what you should and shouldn't eat, how much or how little, what causes cancer and what doesn't etc. Although most of this information is vastly confusing, I still believe strongly that there are some very simple principles that must be conveyed regarding food and nutrition in 20th century America. It is my goal to convey that information in a way that is relevant to your life and to the lives of your family.

Food is meant to be eaten to sustain life. However, in the present day, the very food that we eat to live is actually slowly killing us. It is my sincere hope that one day we can all have access to information that will enable us to make decisions to eat FOOD FOR LIFE, not food for sickness or disease.