Tag Archives: obesity

Are Organic Food Standards a Hoax? The Green-Washing of America

Copyright JC Politi Photography

Do you go out of your way to buy organic foods? Have you put a lot of thought into this decision?

An article in the New York Times called “Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized” is raising eyebrows this week. The article explores the recent boom in organic food products and takes an in-depth look at the body that regulates what is certified organic and what is not.

In particular, the article examines the National Organic Standards Board, which is the board that decides which non-organic ingredients can be included in certified organic foods.

The article points out the number of large corporations who have been taking advantage of the new market. For example, it surprised me to read:

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Healthy Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.      

Copyright JC Politi Photography

But certainly the most concerning portion of the article is the description of the people serving on the National Organic Standards Board.

While there is certainly room for corporations to serve on the board in the slots allocated for those interests, it is troubling to learn that executives from General Mills and other major corporations have served in positions reserved for consumers.

It appears that Congress specifically designed this board to ensure that it would represent a broad range of interests, but the appointments to this board have clearly been corporate-heavy.

Our family buys organic because we are concerned about the hormones and additives and preservatives that are found in most foods today. I understand that buying organic is a luxury, but we feel that it is an investment in our long-term health. This article makes me wonder if we are being duped.

What do you think? Do you go out of your way to buy organic foods? Why have you made the choices you have? Are you concerned about big businesses controlling the organic food standards or do you think that having big business involved is the only way to grow the industry to scale? Where do farmers markets fit into this equation?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!  

If you liked this, you may also like:

Grist BlogPost: Multinational Food Corporations Thank You For Buying ‘Organic’

Let Them Eat Sat: Who Funds These Studies?

What Foods Are Good For Me This Week?

Who Needs Government Anyway? Except… 


Filed under Business, Culture, Economy, Environment, Ethics, Fitness, Food, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Privatization, Role of Government, social pressures

Give Me A Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher’s final “new rule” was related to the fact that the vast majority of jobs in United States offer little to no vacation time, especially in comparison to the rest of the world.

To see the youtube clip, go to: Real Time With Bill Maher – New Rule June 15th

This really struck me in 1999, when I spent four weeks travelling in Guatemala. I thought I was fortunate to be able to build up enough comp time to take such a long vacation break, until I spoke with people from other countries who expressed their sympathy that my trip was so short. And most of my jobs since then have only had two weeks of vacation time.

It is hard for me to understand why the United States vacation system is so meager compared to the rest of the world. I can only assume that companies are trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of workers.

But I can’t help but wonder whether expectations that people will not take a vacation, or the fear that a person could lose his or her job simply because of using vacation days, actually leads to less productivity in the workplace – and to more sick days.

I believe that the low number of vacation days in the United States also likely contributes to rising health care costs and to increased obesity rates as we all sit on our rear ends for at least 40 hours every week, only to go home so exhausted, that all we can do is sit on our rear ends for a few more hours in front of the television. I can’t believe that this is actually good for any of us.

What do you think? If you are working now, or when you worked previously, how willing were you to use your vacation days? Did you feel pressured not to use your days? Why do you think the United States is so far behind the rest of the world on this issue? Do you think that this will change? What do think it is about the American culture that perpetuates this problem? If you are not from the United States, how many vacation days do people in your country start with when they start a job? And how many vacation days do you have? Do you use them?


Filed under Career Planning, comedy, Culture, Fitness, Health, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Role of Government, social pressures, travel

Let Them Eat Salt: Who Funds These Studies?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There was an article this weekend in the New York Times that questions conventional wisdom about the harms of salt. I know that my husband will be delighted to read this news, as I believe that he thinks salt should be included as its own food group.

This article is another example of the mixed messages in the media regarding the health consequences of overindulging in one food or another. It is also another example where it seems the wise advice of “everything in moderation” probably applies.

I wrote a blog post last month about how difficult it is to know what health-conscious people are supposed to be eating with all of the mixed messages we get in the media.

One of my readers, Maketheworldworkbetter wrote a fantastic response that really helped me understand the complexities involved with releasing these types of study data and the complexities involved with showing that eating a certain food causes a specific health consequence. His analysis was thorough and informative, so I wanted to share it here.

This article does make me think about the ethical issues surrounding scientific studies, which is a subject I would like to understand more fully. For example, when a study comes out which questions climate change and is touted as hard science, but upon further exploration, is determined to have been funded by the oil and gas industry, should there be a requirement to disclose this information?

What do you think? Do you think the media does a good job critically analyzing studies which they report on? Should there be a requirement that the media disclose who funded a particular study? Or do you think that the public simply does not look with critical enough eyes at these types of reports? Do you look at who funded a study before deciding how much credit to give that study? Do you think that who funds a study impacts the findings of the study? Should it?

I would love to hear your thoughts. I know that this is a complex issue and that I have only briefly opened the door for a conversation here, so I hope readers will help expand the discussion. Thanks so much for reading.


Filed under Culture, Ethics, Fitness, Health, Policy

Meet the Jetsons: New Ideas for Innovations

The New York Times posted a list of innovations that are currently in concept mode. The introduction of the article describes the original failure of the electric light bulb and points out that most innovations and successes are the result of much trial and error.

I have heard it said before that most successful people do not see a failure as an end, but rather as an opportunity to try another path. I like that mindset and try to think that way whenever possible.

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The list of innovations in the article sounds so futuristic – I guess it is, by its very nature, futuristic. The list includes things like electric clothes that enable your body heat to power gadgets and video games on subway straps that people hold when they ride the subway.A sampling of the ideas – there are 32 in total – includes:

Turning an entire room into a computer monitor and doing away with computer screens

Clothing that will track your activity level and report the information to a computer to encourage exercise

An in-car system that would alert paramedics to possible injuries in a car accident

A mind-reading shopping cart (I like this one, although if it really read my mind , who knows what would end up in my cart – but I may not mind if it would actually shop for me!)

A tooth sensor that would identify plaque and alert your dentist (I like this one a little less)

Edible food packaging

These ideas seem far-fetched, but when I think back to my college days in the early 90’s, e-mail and iPhones would have seemed pretty far-fetched if you had described them to me; in fact, the internet would have sounded the most far-fetched of all!

Sometimes I wonder what changes will occur over the next decade and how I will adapt. Things change at such a rapid pace and at times I find it difficult to keep up. I have to admit that I don’t even understand what Pinterest is! (Feel free to educate me in the comments section, as I know many bloggers are very skilled in this area.)

I also wonder whether a failure to keep up with technological innovation has become the dividing line between who is considered employable and who is considered an unskilled worker. What will this mean for kids who do not have access to much technology? Students leaving college now grew up with this type of rapidly moving innovation and have learned to adapt to the changes. What will that mean for those of us who are running to catch up?

What do you think? Do you picture yourself using any of the technologies listed in these articles? What changes have occured in your lifetime that you never thought were possible? Do any of these ideas make you uncomfortable? How do you try to stay up on the latest innovations? Do you have an idea that is not listed here or any suggestions for budding inventors who may have an idea they would like to create? Have you ever had an idea that failed spectacularly but then led to something that succeeded? Do you think that an understanding of how to use a wide range of technologies will become as important as a college degree? Or do you think that this will just be one of many characteristics that employers will be looking for?

I hope you will add your thoughts. And thank you for reading!


Filed under Career Planning, Education, Fitness, Health, Parenting, Social Media, Youth Leadership

What Foods are Good for Me This Week?

In today’s New York Times, there is one article discussing the benefits of drinking coffee and one article questioning the positive health impacts of high levels of good cholesterol. It was comical to observe that one of the studies made me cheer – yay, more coffee! – and one of the studies made me frown – boo, less guacamole!

I try to stay on top of the latest health research but it seems like there is a different study coming out every week touting the benefits of one food over another. I seem to be more willing to believe the studies that tell me that things that I like are good for me.

For example, when the studies came out saying that red wine and dark chocolate are good for you, I stood up and paid attention. And rushed to the food store!

Health advice seems to change at a rapid pace. One day researchers are telling us that something is good for us but it is likely that, within a year, that same food item will be on the cover of a weekly magazine reporting the hazards of eating that particular food.

Eggs are a perfect example. I can’t keep track of whether I am supposed to be eating more eggs or less eggs. All I know is that my grandmother ate a lot of eggs and died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 92.

Maybe that is the health advice we should really follow – we could look at what worked for our elders and emulate that. My grandmother ate some delicious foods, so that is a health plan I think I could follow!

What do you think? Do you follow the latest research on which foods are good for you and which are not? Are there certain authorities that you wait to hear from before you make a change in what you eat? What food advice did you learn from your elders?

I would love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for reading.


Filed under Health

A Weighty Issue: Is a Calorie just a Calorie?

Newsweek published a story this week about a new HBO documentary called “The Weight of the Nation.” The article questions the public health advice we have heard for years about making sure that calories expended are higher than calories consumed in order to stave off weight gain. Gary Taubes, who wrote the Newsweek article, makes the point that not all calories are created equal, and argues that few people in the general public understand this fact.

While I would dispute the assertion that people working to address obesity believe that all calories are the same, I completely agree with the notion that we should be educating people more on the different types of calories in different foods.

While a candy bar may have the same calories as a turkey sandwich with cheese, lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread with an apple, we all recognize that there is a significant difference in the energy that these two food choices will provide and thus, to the number of calories a person will need to eat later to fulfill their hunger.

Several years ago, I came to the realization that my body is changing as I age and that I am no longer able to eat anything I please without gaining weight like I could in my childhood. I started to pay more attention to what I ate and learned about the value of protein and fiber in keeping full with fewer calories and the importance of portion sizes.

Portion sizes are complicated for a person like me who loves food. But once I started better understanding calorie counts, fiber and protein, I learned to make tradeoffs in order to allow myself to indulge occasionally in some of the less-nutritionally impressive foods that I really love, like mashed potatoes or strawberry shortcake.

I did lose weight, but I feel that was because I found a way to educate myself about the value of different calories and came to understand that exercise simply does not enable me to eat more – or at least not as much as I wish it did. This was the beginning of what will likely be a life-long journey for me to try and develop a different, healthier, more educated relationship with the foods I eat.

I think that every child should learn these things in school – not as a way to try to make children worry about their weight, but rather as a way to educate our kids about the things that make them smarter and faster and more energetic.

What do you think? Do your kids learn about healthy eating in school? Did you learn about these things when you were in school?  Do you have any resources to offer for people who are just starting to educate themselves on these issues? How do you think public health professionals and the medical community could encourage more people to learn about the wide variety of tools to help manage weight? Do you see a role that the food industry could play in promoting healthy eating? Do you think that the current initiatives to try to curb obesity in the United States are on track or do you have ideas about other ways that they could move the dime on this issue?

I would love to hear your thoughts. And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Fitness, Health, Policy, social pressures, Women

Three Cheers! Leadership is in Vogue…

Last week, the New York Times, Slate, Forbes, and a number of other media outlets reported on a new policy at Vogue Magazine. Vogue announced a new commitment to stop using underage models or models who appear to have an eating disorder.

This is exciting news and has been a long time coming. For decades, fashion magazines have portrayed a physical ideal that is simply unattainable for most women. These images, with which we are bombarded on a daily basis through magazines, television and movies, lead many women to go to extremes, starving themselves to try to achieve the ideal figure they see portrayed in these media outlets.

This is an issue that has troubled me for years. The societal pressures that we all, women and men, face to have a body that looks a certain way can be incredibly destructive. But the pressures felt by young women can be downright lethal.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my food.  But I recall when I was younger; I had a boyfriend who told me that he thought that I could never have an eating disorder – that I loved food too much. I had to explain that every woman could fall prey to this dangerous disease, given the right circumstances. The pressures are enormous.

I have known a number of women over the years who have struggled with this issue. The pressures are real, they are dangerous and they are internalized by the vast majority of women in the United States. I applaud Vogue magazine for taking a lead on this issue; in fact, maybe I will finally subscribe!

What do you think? Do you think that fashion magazines should be allowed to use any models or do you think that these restrictions placed by Vogue are a step in the right direction? Do you believe that the market should dictate who ends up in magazines? Have you felt the pressure to conform to society’s ideal body shape and type? Do you think that the media exacerbates this pressure?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! And thank you for reading!

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Filed under Fitness, Health, social pressures, Women

20 Minutes That Can Change Your Life

The New York Times posted a book review entitled “The Shortcut to Better Health,” and an interview with the author. The book is called “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer,’’ and is written by New York Times columnist Gretchen Reynolds.

While I haven’t read the book, it was refreshing to read this interview, where Gretchen Reynolds talks about the benefits of moving just a little bit more than we currently do. Our culture is so obsessed with appearances, it feels like we are bombarded with fad diets suggesting that we must try the next big thing to achieve the perfect body – one week it’s eating only grapefruits or drinking apple cider vinegar before a meal, and the next week it’s eating only bacon double cheeseburgers – without the bun, of course.

It was refreshing to read that the advice in this book calls for simply going for a twenty minute walk. The American obsession with weight loss, fueled by the unattainable images that we are bombarded with daily in the media and in Hollywood, have led people to follow some extreme measures to try and reach this ideal.

I think that the proliferation of these extreme diets and exercise programs have intimidated a lot of people, who think that they could never accomplish what is required in these regimens. It seems that many people feel that they will not be able to commit to the extreme  requirements, so they think why do anything? This book appears to promote a sensible strategy for achieving fitness that any person can start today. In fact, this is a sensible fitness strategy that is so old, it is new again!

I am fortunate that I have a little four-legged friend who requires that I move, at least a little, every day. In fact, he is looking at me right now to ask when we are going for a walk. Now that is welcome pressure!

What do you think about this idea? Do you think that people avoid starting an exercise regimen because they feel that they will not follow through? Do you think that promoting the idea that a twenty minute walk can make a meaningful difference in a person’s health could encourage more people to move a little more? Do you think that this strategy is not enough to make a difference for people’s health?   


Filed under Fitness, Health, social pressures

Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity

The article that jumps out at me today is entitled “Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity.” It was written by Gina Kolata and can be found here.  Many of my friends work in public health and I will be very interested to hear their thoughts on this article. The article calls into question the hypothesis that a lack of access to healthy foods leads to obesity in low income neighborhoods.

The article sites two recent studies. The first study shows that, in the low income neighborhoods examined for the study, grocery stores were actually more prevalent than in wealthy neighborhoods, which contradicts the long-held belief of many policymakers and public health experts. The lead author for this study is quoted as saying, “‘you can get basically any type of food’ within a few miles of almost any urban neighborhood.”

The second study found that, in 13,000 teenagers who self-reported their weight, height and diet, there was no relationship between what people said they ate, what types of foods they were able to access and their weight.

Obesity in the United States has become an epidemic and is a leading cause of the astronomical increase in health care costs in this country. Michelle Obama has helped elevate this issue recently, but people still seem to see this through a personal freedom and liberty lens, rather than as a public health issue.

There are laws in place around the country to require food establishments to list the calorie counts on their menus; or to eliminate trans-fats; or to improve nutrition in school lunches – there is certainly a lot of advocacy going on in the public health arena. But this feels like an issue that will be complicated to address in the United States, perhaps due to the individualistic nature of our American culture. It reminds me of the debates around smoking – the arguments that people make that they have a personal right or freedom to do harm to their own body, balanced against the public health arguments about the impact smoking has on health care costs.

Questions that come to mind: Aside from the fact that “a few miles” from home can be quite a distance when a person has to take the bus and has children, I can’t help wondering why it is so hard to get people’s attention on this issue. Is it because healthy food is more expensive and so healthy food is seen as a luxury item? Is it that emotions are heavily involved when it comes to food? My family always gathers around a big meal to celebrate any event and I can’t imagine not partaking in the Baltimore crab cakes and mashed potatoes. And if I’m lucky, strawberry shortcake or a Vaccaro’s cannoli for dessert! How much do you think family, and culture and tradition plays a part in what we eat or whether we exercise? And do you think that policy efforts or advocacy efforts can make a difference to stem the tide of the problem? What do you think will help bring about change in this area?

Please share your thoughts or expertise here I would love to hear from you! And thanks for reading.

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Filed under Health, Policy