Preventing Childhood Obesity


If you read The Onion, you know it has a disturbing tendency to report things as they really are, with a bite. It does not disappoint with “Preventing Childhood Obesity.” It lists a mix of the sad and absurd, all with underlying facts, including:

  • Avoid buying unhealthy foods, such as anything marketed to the American consumer.
  • Set a good example by choking down a salad in front of your kids.
  • Make healthy tweaks to favorite dishes, cutting back on the salt, fat, and sugars that are the sole basis of their appeal.
  • Obesity has a large genetic component, so make an effort to only pass the slimmest of your genes onto your children.
  • Limit your child to one food a day that contains the word “Cheez.”
  • Help your child develop good diet and exercise habits by raising them in a different country.

Raising them in a different country may not help. Although US children are particularly hemmed in by reduced recess and gym activities in schools, more screen time, and more indoor activity in general than in previous decades, European children also see a dropoff in activity. And in some countries, notably in the Middle East, where outdoor conditions are hostile, prosperity has walked hand in hand with a dramatic reduction in activity, change in eating habits, and spike in diabetes – stark even by US standards.

But other factors represent opportunities for action. Avoid bringing packaged and processed foods into the home, for example. Packaged, processed foods often have lower nutritional value than whole foods prepared at home. Where they are used, it’s best to save them for treats or other small roles in the overall food pattern. Basic cooking skills serve anyone well, and kids love to help, so take a look at this list of age-appropriate kitchen tasks and delegate.

How you eat and move is the single greatest factor in how your kids will, so don’t ask them to do what you say (but not what you do). Try to keep those messages as consistent as possible – and discover ways to make salads and other wholesome foods more enjoyable. Yes, that may mean using less fat, salt, and sugar in cooking, but it also means using more spices and a wider variety of foods. And discovering new favorites.

Between work and the kids, when do I go to the gym?
September Is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
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Envy for Kids’ School Lunches
Halloween Party Foods
Have Some Fun with Your Food
Burger and Fries…?
A Better Replacement

Sun Care for Summer (and the Rest of the Year)


It’s getting hot in the Northern hemisphere, and some of the best exercise is outdoors, so why not test your sun-safety IQ?

The American Cancer Society offers regular updates about sun safety and tanning issues and sums up the basics in “Protect Your Skin From the Sun.”

Take good care of your skin — it’s what you keep your body in!

Image by Lim Heng Swee

What Makes a Fruit or Vegetable Good?

ridiculous potato

Produce has a short shelf life, and much of it is wasted because there is no good way to store it (or because it gets to your fridge, but you don’t use it in time). “Shelf appeal” is a major consideration for sellers of produce, pushed partly by consumers, too, and as a result countless tons of fruits and vegetables never make it to supermarkets just because they’re, well, ugly. This is bad for human nutrition, a waste of environmental and farming resources, and tough for the slim-margin grocery business, too. Enter Intermarché:

Intermarché – a big supermarket chain in France – decided it was time to save an endangered species from the rubbish bin; ugly duckling fruit and veg. In the UK a whopping 40% of greens don’t reach our shelves simply for being a bit unfortunate looking and globally we waste $750 billion worth of food each year. Ouch.

Patrice de Villiers took beautiful, glowing pictures of the fruit and veg for the campaign, giving them their moment to shine centre stage. Ad agency Marcel also made a funny jaunty promo video; it’s like The X-Factor of the produce world and we’re all cheering for the ones with the sob story. French shoppers were offered their lumpy cucumbers and mutant carrots 30% cheaper than their perfect siblings, and chose price over prettiness – making the experiment a roaring success. They even had a second chance as soups and juices too. A true tale of the triumph of the underdog. —Great ad campaign encourages customers to buy oddly shaped fruit

Tesco and Waitrose, in the UK, also offer ugly produce at a discount, and there’s a German campaign, as well. European food sellers are finding a good business case for rescuing these ugly ducklings, and consumers are starting to see the appeal. After all, once they go into a soup, salad, or smoothie, who cares how pretty they were?

Image: Intermarché campaign, photo from a series by Patricie de Villiers

UPDATE: A friend in the US writes to say that farmer’s markets sellers sometimes offer ugly or “stew-ready” produce at a discount. It’s worth asking!

A Vacation That Really Rests You


For many families, summer means longer days, a break from school, and family vacations. If everyone’s getting increasingly sleep deprived, that summer vacation can be more than just a getaway — it can actually help the body restore balance to its sleep and waking schedule. And better sleep means everything is better, from your energy level to your mood — and your ability to make good choices.

The researchers then took them on a weeklong camping trip in the mountains of Colorado—separating them from smartphones (gasp), TVs, laptops, and even flashlights. What they discovered was that after one week of light exposure limited to just sunlight and campfires, everyone’s body clock shifted to match the natural light cycle, resulting in earlier bed and wake times. So if you’re struggling to get to bed early and rushing off to work, and you’ve still got a week or two available, do yourself a favor and squeeze in a camping trip before the end of the summer. Your body, and your body clock, will thank you.

If camping isn’t in the cards, the researchers recommend an early morning walk to kick off your day—or try eating breakfast outside in the sunlight. At night turn down the house lights, and dim those smartphones, TVs, and laptops. Sweet dreams!

— Reset Your Body Clock with a Camping Trip

Why Athletes Love to Sleep — and So Should You
Tips for Better Sleep
Sleepless in America

Image by me. Even in a really fancy tent, a camping trip can help you reset as long as you go easy on the artificial light sources.

Should You Join a Corporate Wellness Program?


Employers, health insurers, and life insurers are rolling out tracked wellness programs in a hope that using “nudge”-style methods can help reduce the costs generated by the people they cover. Health and life insurers have historically collected some medical information, usually records or exam results at the time of application, but newer programs offer discounts for complying with tracking options. The programs are defined as voluntary, and offer a way to get an additional benefit in exchange for sharing personal information, a bit like a store loyalty card. Do they work? Maybe. Either way, they’re out there, so here are some things to think about.

Your basic question is “Is this a worthwhile compensation for the personal information I share?”

Is the program in compliance with privacy and other regulations? The Affordable Care Act updated the guidelines for wellness programs, and GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibits collecting genetic (family history) information. Wellness programs are also required to respect medical or disability limitations, and programs may not impose penalties for nonparticipation. In short: the program should offer carrots only, and no sticks. (There is some skepticism about how this plays out, though.)

Is the benefit valuable to you? Rewards can vary from mentions in newsletters, small merchandise, or gym-membership reimbursements to discounts on policy premiums, contributions to health savings accounts, or cash payments. Weigh the value of your information against the reward.

Are you comfortable with the level of disclosure? Program requirements vary from occasional health questionnaires to wearing a tracker that automatically uploads daily step counts to getting cholesterol, glucose, and other tests periodically. (Keep in mind that program offerings could change, with implied pressure to accept new requirements.)

Are you already a nonsmoker who eats reasonably well and gets regular exercise? This may make it sound like you wouldn’t need the wellness program, but in fact already being successful with healthy behaviors is probably the best predictor of benefit from a corporate wellness program: the program could both reward you for what you already do and provide a touch of external accountability to keep you on track.

The wider availability of fitness trackers is accelerating this trend by providing a way for programs to verify some kinds of behavior change in a way that is inexpensive and acceptable to employees. Most of these devices are limited to very simple measurements — and a daily step count is not a particularly sensitive piece of information. (It’s also susceptible to system-gaming.) But sensor technology will improve, and over time wearables will more reliably measure more, perhaps in a way that is difficult or impossible for users to work around or decline to share. This is a good time to get familiar with some of the issues around these programs so you can participate in them (or not) with eyes open.

Previously: “How Does Your Fitness Tracker Work?

Image by Danny Shanahan, published in the New Yorker

The Cost of Getting Lean

See full size at the link below

Many people begin an exercise program excited to “look like their goal body” — often a celebrity or model. The fitness industry and mass media promote this kind of goal heavily, in the way they market imagery and make claims for the recommendations they give, but they often hand-wave the realities behind the photos. Even splashy articles describing how an actor got in shape for a superhero role are often fuzzy about the sheer number of hours in the gym, the personal-trainer assistance, and the food-preparation support the actor gets. Working out — along with rigid eating — is a full-time job for months to prepare for those roles.

This infographic from Precision Nutrition gives a great breakdown of the trade-offs of going leaner and leaner, as well as offering a handy cheat sheet for the kinds of lifestyle changes that support the different levels of leanness. (I don’t recommend pursuing that first “unhealthy” category, though! And in the second, ultra-lean “unhealthy” category, competitors and paid models achieve that level of leanness intermittently during the year, rather than maintaining it all the time.)

No. Don’t do this.

No. Don't Do This

Pain is a funny thing. It covers a vast range from dull ache to riotous crescendo, and can indicate a change from routine, actual damage, or many other things. Some of them are compatible with working out anyway, but you should never ignore pain. If something hurts, especially a sharp pain that limits your normal activities, or a pain that does not resolve with a few days of rest — or gets worse — find out what’s going on. Cleveland Clinic offers a list of “when to see a doctor” items as well as describing post-exercise benign soreness.

Prompt, wise response to pain or discomfort with exercise makes the difference between staying on track and being sidelined, maybe for months (or worse), with a serious injury.

Jogging: Does It Keep You Healthy?
Is There a Wrong Way?
One of These Things Is Not Like the Others
Too Much, Too Soon

Photo by Sherilyn Lee

Which Step Have You Reached Today?

From Resistance to Success

Here is a nice illustration of the progression from resistance to success. Most of us are all over the map with these steps. For some things, we race all the way to the top every day. In other areas, it seems impossible just to face the stairs.

This image was used recently by Girls Gone Strong, a website devoted to strength and health information for women, in an article about one of the most intimidating aspects of fitness: designing your own exercise program. Even if you take instructions from a trainer, you are making some decisions about your needs and interests. Take a look at the article to learn about some of the factors that go into a good, balanced strength program. You may find yourself leaning toward “I want to try it”!