Programming Kids For Bad Health

American children watch 1,500 hours of TV per year. What are they learning about nutrition and health?

Each year we shatter previous records for the number of obese people and the average weight of individuals. We're getting fatter and fatter. The healthcare costs are skyrocketing into the many billions, and the personal costs are immeasurable.

Expanding waistlines result from a convergence of factors, including the environmental, cultural, personal and genetic.

It's no secret, however, that becoming overweight or obese most often results from poor lifestyle choices. Which leads to yet another question: Why do we make such damaging choices?

It all starts with television. A recent study headed by Kristen Harrison at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, suggests a link between obesity and TV.

Some 83 percent of the foods advertised during children's programming exceeds the recommended daily maximums of total fat, saturated fat and sodium, while falling short of the recommended minimum nutrients.

Huge corporations, including grocery store chains, fast food restaurants, processed-food manufacturers, television networks and marketing agencies Amira Elganconspire with their vast resources (food and beverage manufacturers spend about $12 billion per year on marketing) to create powerful messages that shape our children's perceptions of the world. This unrelenting campaign has just one goal: To maximize demand for their products.

We allow our children to sit in front of television sets while their young minds are programmed to strongly desire heavily processed foods laden with sugar or fat, year after year. Some advertisers even blatantly depict junk food as "healthy," which further complicates proper education about health.

Kids are the perfect target because they haven't developed skepticism about advertising, yet they have a major impact on parents' shopping decisions. Junk food companies spend billions to create strong desire for junk food in the minds of kids, the kids pester their parents, and the parents buy the products.

The consumption and enjoyment of that junk food completes the early-education process. Kids learn every day that they like, love, and need brightly colored food that comes individually packaged with a greasy "mouth-feel" or loaded with sugar.

We tend to think that kids are learning when they're in school, and not learning when they're out of school. In reality, kids are learning whenever they're paying attention to something. Which do you think commands more attention in the mind of a child: A teacher in health class, or a TV commercial?

Ask any child between the ages of 6 and 12 about commercial brands - McDonald's, Mountain Dew, Doritos -- and you'll discover that most are walking encyclopedias about junk food. They know what they want and can ask for it by (brand) name. Many can recite the menu at McDonald's.

But when it comes to the important knowledge -- which foods will make them lose in sports and which will help them win, how diet affects bad grades, what's causing their hyperactivity or depression -- most kids don't know much at all. What is saturated fat? Which popular drinks have caffeine? Why are fried foods bad for you? What is artificial maple syrup made of? How much sugar is in a Big Mac? Kids don't know and don't care because this information isn't part of their daily education about food.

It's up to all of us to keep kids away from TV commercials whenever possible. When it's not possible, use TV commercials as an opportunity to educate. When the TV is advertising soda, for example, point out that soda is just "liquid candy" that may contain a drug (caffeine) and other toxic substances and in excess can ruin teeth, cause damage to vital organs, weaken the muscles, "displace" nutritional foods and make people gain weight and get sick.

TV marketing is influential, but not as influential as parents and grandparents.

Let's give kids the best gift we can give anyone: The gift of knowledge that empowers them to make choices for a lifetime of good health.


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Good Things In Store

The Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter is an interesting product my husband discovered on the Web. It's designed to recycle food waste, which usually makes up about 33% of household garbage. Food waste contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer with the methane gases it emits, takes up more landfill space and pollutes our water system. The composter converts food waste into an organic fertilizer good for your lawn or garden. I'm still considering it and wouldn't hesitate to use it if I had more space to keep it, though I must confess that I'm afraid it might attract flies, which I have no tolerance for.

Words of Wisdom

"If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work".

- Thomas J. Watson

Research Developments

Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center have found that extra virgin olive oil (in addition to tasting yummy and being good for you!) contains pain-relieving properties. The compound, oleocanthal, which is found in olives, acts as a painkiller similar to the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen, but on a much smaller scale. A quarter cup of cold-pressed, high-quality extra virgin olive oil provides 50g of oleocanthal, which is equivalent to 10 percent of the recommended dose of ibuprofen for treating pain in adults. Freshness is the operative word in newly pressed oil made from the first harvested olives, if you want a higher concentration of oleocanthal.

Taking Control

Obesity causes not only ill health, but also unhappiness and misery for those who must live with it. The remarkable story of Steve Vaught (The Fat Man Walking), for instance, highlights the hardships and despair many people endure every day. In Vaught's case, he is taking action to regain control of his life and improve his self-image. He has decided to lose weight by walking across America. It's a drastic decision, but also brave and admirable.

Vaught's story is important because it brings light to the emotional and psychological aspects of the disease. We always hear about obesity as the underlying cause of serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But we often neglect to talk about obesity as a painful source of depression and low self-esteem that disrupts the well being of entire families.

At least Steve preserves an image of when he used to be fit. Unfortunately, for children who are becoming obese as toddlers, their health and emotional problems will be even more difficult to overcome. They will never know what it's like to have a healthy weight. Prevention -- and permanent lifestyle changes, rather than fad diets or dramatic-but-temporary exercise -- is always best.

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Anytime Tofu and Chickpeas (vegan)
Serves 4 to 6

I love this combination of tofu and garbanzo beans because it's great eaten hot or cold. It has lots of turmeric in it, which not only gives a bright yellow color but also a savory flavor that is perfect for enjoying an "eggless salad sandwich."

To learn all about tofu read previous articles I've written:

Vegetarian Organic Life #17
Vegetarian Organic Life #18

Ahead of time:
Garbanzo beans (or substitute with organic canned garbanzo beans)

Preparation time: 7 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
2 tablespoons oil (safflower or canola oil) Read the Q&A section of Vegetarian Organic Life #20
4 fresh garlic cloves, crushed or minced
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 small leek, sliced (or about ¼ cup of diced green onions)
1 medium poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (or green bell pepper)
2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained (garbanzo beans)
1 pound firm tofu, drained and finely cubed
2 tablespoons turmeric
¼ teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons yellow mustard spread
½ cup regular soymilk
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

1. In large pan, heat oil on low heat. Add garlic, onions, leeks sautéing for 5 minutes. Add peppers and chickpeas stirring and sautéing another 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine turmeric, curry powder, yellow mustard, soy milk and soy sauce mixing well. Add tofu and liquid mix stirring well and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Cook's tip: Use cold leftovers to make sandwiches on whole grain bread. For best results add finely chopped fresh celery, onions and carrots to the mixture. Then add your favorite garnishes such as lettuce and tomato.



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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

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