Sept / Oct Newsletter

Spending on technology equals more obesity, study shows

By Maggie Fox
From Fitness on

Lots of things are making people fat — what we eat, how we eat and a lack of exercise. Now a report tries to tease out the precise effect of technology such as the TVs and computer screens that keep us sitting still instead of moving around. It comes up with a surprisingly consistent statistic: For every 10 percent rise in what a country spends on information and communications technology, there’s a 1 percent increase in obesity rates. Technology doesn’t just keep people in their chairs and on sofas, according to the report from the nonprofit Milken Institute. It changes the way people eat, also – adding even more pounds than the lack of exercise alone would. It’s not all bad news. The report also points to programs being run by employers and by state and local governments that can help counteract the effect, from installing bike lanes to providing free, healthy snacks at the office.

“Many factors contribute to obesity. In our research, we controlled for several independent variables: physical activity, caloric intake and type of diet, growth of urban population, carbon-dioxide emissions, women in the labor force, alcohol consumption, and smoking,” economist Anusuya Chatterjee and Ross DeVol, chief research officer at the Milken Institute, write in their report. They found a 1 percentage point increase in the number of physically active people can prevent a 0.2 percentage point rise in obesity.

DeVol says the report tries to get past common wisdom and put some actual numbers on the effect. “Common sense says if you sit around in front of the screen, don’t exercise while you are working, change your diet…you are going to gain weight,” he said in a telephone interview. “There’s been little cross-country work showing the connection is a causal fashion as opposed to common sense.”

Chatterjee and DeVol studied the economies and obesity rates for 1988–2009 in 27 countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

It took years. “It was a huge undertaking just trying to collect all this data,” DeVol says. But they came up with a fairly precise pattern. “For every 10 percentage point increase in information communications technology investment as a share of gross capital formation, the obesity rate climbs 1.4 percentage point on average—or roughly 4.2 million people in a nation the size of the United States,” Chatterjee and DeVol wrote.

“To reach that conclusion, we used the direct effect of less strenuous work and more sedentary home behaviors (1.0 percent), and the indirect effect of higher caloric consumption during screen-time activities (0.4 percent).”

The lag time? About five years or so, DeVol said.

The report looks at the 14 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which focuses on boosting economies. “All member nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have witnessed greater prevalence of obesity in their populations over the past two decades, but the United States tops the list,” says the report.

“In America, about 1 in 3 adults (33.8 percent) is obese, followed by Mexico (30 percent), New Zealand (26.5 percent), Australia (24.6 percent), and Canada (24.2 percent).” More than two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, which raises the risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, arthritis and several types of cancer.

Developed countries need to be aware, but DeVol said developing nations such as China and India should really take note. “When you start looking at just a 1 percent increase in obesity rates in a country like China, it translates into 10 million more people,” he said.

So what can help? The nonprofit think-tank’s report points to some approaches that have worked.

Dow Chemical, for example, pays for every penny of weight loss counseling for workers and their families, including face-to-face visits with dietitians and membership in groups such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.

General Mills provides fitness facilities at many of its offices and factories. “Another innovation is the introduction of ‘nutrition centers’ at its research and development facilities that offer free healthy food,” the report reads.

Governments can do a lot as well. In the Netherlands, bicyclists have generous, separated lanes with their own traffic signals. Walk Denver is a non-profit group dedicated to helping people incorporate walking into their daily lives by making streets safer, providing shops and other attractions for walkers, and coordinating “walking school buses” to encourage children to walk to school.

“Employers must realize that they have a vested interest in providing behavioral modification counseling and offering financial and other incentives to workers,” the report says. “Governments must invest in infrastructure to induce biking. Policymakers must create policies and programs that encourage walking and physical activity overall.”

People need to be better educated about their health, and programs at the local level are essential, DeVol and Chatterjee say.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy Lunches at School

By Rachael Grant Dixon
From Poway Patch

I wrote an article last year talking about how to create healthy lunches for your kids. Since making lunches is on a lot of people’s mind right now, I thought I would reinforce some of the key components of a healthy lunch.

Start with water. In general, children don’t drink enough water during the day in comparison with how much fluid the body uses during the school day. If they don’t drink water at lunch, they are really depriving their brain and body, which can lead to sluggish learning. Avoid sugary drinks like soda and artificially flavored juice drinks. Loading your kids up with sugar drinks just sets them up for a sugar rush, followed by a sugar crash.

Once you get the water going, think about the main staple of the lunch. For most kids that is some kind of sandwich. Whole grain bread is best. I know my daughter doesn’t really like whole grain bread; she likes potato bread the best. Just to compromise, I use one slice of potato and one slice of whole grain and when she eats it she puts the potato side up and doesn’t even notice the whole grain. Try to include a protein of some kind, whether that’s peanut butter or deli meat and get the veggies in where you can.

The hardest part for me as a parent is the supplemental parts of my daughter’s lunch. I am not going to send her with chips and cookies, but I get frustrated with the minimal “healthy snack” options for kids. There are two rows of chips, cookies, crackers, soda and candy devoted at the grocery story, and a half an aisle of packaged healthy snacks. I would suggest hitting up some alternative stores like Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, and Jimbos for a larger selection of healthy granola bars, apple sauce, dried fruit and nuts.

Now, I don’t think that kids need to go without a little sweet treat in their lunch. After all, they are kids. However, look for treats that are low in sugar and fat. If you can, send homemade treats instead of store-bought cookies; that way you know what ingredients are in them. Betty Crocker homemade oatmeal raisin cookies are a hit at my house.

Parents, the bottom line is your kids will eat what you provide for them. Choose wisely and select foods that will foster a lifestyle of health for your children.

About this column: Rachael Grant-Dixon, a mother of three and longtime San Diego County resident, shares different perspectives on health, fitness, sports and overall wellness. Rachael is a sport psychology consultant and licensed Brain Gym instructor in RB. She has a masters degree from San Diego State University in sport and exercise psychology.

Middle-Aged Adults Help Their Hearts With Regular Leisure-Time Physical Activities

By ScienceDaily
From ScienceDaily

Middle-aged adults who regularly engage in leisure-time physical activity for more than a decade may enhance their heart health, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

In a new study, more than 4,200 participants (average age 49) reported the duration and frequency of their leisure-time physical activities such as brisk walking, vigorous gardening, cycling, sports, housework and home maintenance.

“It’s not just vigorous exercise and sports that are important,” said Mark Hamer, Ph.D., study lead author and associate professor of epidemiology and public health at University College in London, U.K. “These leisure-time activities represent moderate intensity exercise that is important to health. It is especially important for older people to be physically active because it contributes to successful aging.”
At the baseline assessment in 1991-1993, researchers analyzed two key inflammatory markers, C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Researchers again assessed physical activity and inflammatory markers in 1997-99 and about 11 years later.

Physically active participants at baseline had lower CRP and IL6 levels. The difference remained stable over time compared to participants that rarely adhered to physical activity guidelines during 10-year follow-up.

“Inflammatory markers are important because we have shown they are a key mechanism explaining the link between physical activity and the lower risk of heart disease.” Hamer said. “The people who benefited the most from this study were the ones that remained physically active.”

Overall, 49.1 percent of the participants met the standard physical activity recommendations for cardiovascular health (2.5 hours per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity). The rate reached 83 percent in subsequent phases of the study.

“The percentage of exercising participants jumped quite a bit because they were entering their retirement during the last phase of the study,” Hamer said. “We have shown that retirement seems to have a beneficial effect on physical activity levels.”

Those who changed from inactive to active exercisers achieved lower inflammatory markers at follow-up.

“Previous studies have looked at the association between physical activity and inflammatory markers in cross-sectional and short-term studies, but none have done this using longitudinal data,” Hamer said. “Our data is much stronger than the previous shorter or cross-sectional studies, adds to prior evidence and confirms the importance of physical activity for its anti-inflammatory effects.”

The participants were part of the ongoing Whitehall II study, which included more than 10,000 British civil service participants in 1985 to investigate social and occupational influences on cardiovascular risk.

Co-authors are Severine Sabia, Ph.D.; G. David Batty, Ph.D.; Martin J. Shipley, M.Sc.; Adam G. Tabak, M.D., Ph.D.; Archana Singh-Manoux, Ph.D. and Mika Kivimaki, Ph.D.