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    11 Ways to Ruin Oatmeal

    In what should come as a surprise to no one, McDonald’s self-proclaimed “bowl full of wholesome” is anything but.


    This week, Mark Bittman’s NYT column focused on the the fast food giant’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal. As Bittman notes, the oatmeal itself contains seven ingredients, the “cream” that’s added contains an additional seven ingredients, only two of which are actually dairy, and a single serving of the menu item contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.

    McDonald’s is hardly at the forefront of the “Eat Real Food” movement. The fact that they’ve managed to take something as healthy and basic as oatmeal and turn it into chemical-laden garbage is hardly newsworthy. After all, this is the company whose salads are loaded with saturated fat, sodium, and mega calories.

    I agree with Bittman in that the problem here is McDonald’s marketing tactics. They’ve taken something that the population considers healthy, and they market it to the hilt as healthy and “wholesome.”

    But it’s not.

    Yes, it’s our job as consumers to read labels and research the nutritional components of the food we eat. We have the choice not to eat at McDonald’s, or Burger King, or their many counterparts.   

    And yet some don’t. And many of these people do not have the food education necessary to arm themselves against the ubiquitous giant of McDonald’s, of which there are four within five minutes of their home. These are the people most harmed by deceptive marketing techniques aimed at making them believe they are making a healthy choice when they are not.

    In an ideal world, we would all be label-savvy. We would all eat real food. We would all eschew McDonald’s and live hip to the fact that when they say “wholesome” what they really mean is “wholly addicting and bad for you.”

    But that’s not the world we live in. The obesity epidemic, to which fast food is a contributor, is not going anywhere, and when people make poor food choices (either because they don’t care about their bodies, or because they believe what they’re eating is healthy because McDonald’s told them so), we are all affected from the strain placed on health care costs.  

    So why not place limits on deceptive advertising? Why not make it illegal for a company like McDonald’s to use words like “wholesome” (whose Merriam-Webster definition is “promoting health of the body”) to describe their oatmeal, which contains, as Bittman says, “11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

    What do you think about McDonald’s marketing techniques? Have you tried their oatmeal? I promise, I won’t tell a soul.

    Are Hamburgers the New Heroin for Kids?

    Halloween is fast approaching, and frankly, the thought of all the candy my four-year-old and twin two-year-olds are going to haul into the house is making me break out in hives.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love Halloween. But the holiday is so focused on trick-or-treat fare that I dread the candy battles my daughter and I will have over her stash. In previous years, we were able to give away or throw out a significant amount of her loot. This year, she’s four, and much more aware of what’s going on around her.

    I’m fine with my kids having the occasional Halloween treat. But I’m also aware that it’s not healthy for their bodies or their teeth. Treats are generally saved for special occasions. We don’t often have dessert. And while most of my large Italian family believes I am denying my children their childhood because cookies and cake don’t follow every meal, I tend to believe I’m doing their little bodies a favor instead of a grave injustice.

    Which brings me to this video, which is generating a lot of buzz on the interwebs this week.

    This is an Australian PSA, created to address the childhood obesity epidemic.

    Here’s what I think:

    It’s dark and it’s chilling. This PSA is not easy to watch. But I think that’s exactly what its producers were aiming to accomplish.

    It’s flawed. The hamburger is not necessarily the enemy. The boy is eating a  fast-food burger, complete with “sesame-seed bun,” but as fellow Midtown member Christina LeBeau said in her post on this topic on Spoonfed, her awesome and Jamie Oliver-recognized blog that focuses on educating kids about food, “there’s a world of difference between a fast-food burger and a homemade pastured burger.” I would have liked to see the boy eating a doughnut, candy bar, or other sugar-laden snack, since the addictive qualities of white sugar are on par with that of cocaine.

    It achieved its goal because it made me think about the childhood obesity epidemic in this country, and exactly why it exists. The answers are myriad and complex and I don’t pretend to know them all. But I do know this:

    One third of children and teens are now overweight or obese.

    One third.

    The food served in school cafeterias is loaded with calories, fat, and processed beyond recognition in many cases. Schools nourish students’ minds with knowledge, and yet serve them food so unhealthy it’s making them ill. Kids turn on the tv, flip open a magazine, and walk into grocery stores, and are targeted by ads trying to sell them food that is literally killing them.

    And there’s also the widespread idea that junk food is somehow “owed” to kids. That to moderate treats is to zap all the fun out of childhood.

    But this is a different world than the one in which we grew up. The health climate is much more perilous. Our food has been drastically changed for the worse by the addition of high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, food dyes, hormones, and toxic chemicals. Kids and adults are more sedentary than they were even 10 years ago. And numerous studies have proven that junk food is highly addictive.

    So yes, this video is disturbing and extreme, but I believe there is a connection between the negative effects of unhealthy food and those from using drugs.

    What do you think about the video?

    Spanx for Men: Ridiculous or Revolutionary?

    Women have been stuffing themselves into corsets, girdles, and girdle-like garments since the beginning of time.

    For the last ten years, many women have worshiped at the altar  of Spanx, that miracle-working undergarment that promises to “promote comfort and confidence in women” while simultaneously cutting off our supply of oxygen.

    Image courtesy of spanx.com

     But, what price beauty, right?

    And now it’s the guys’ turn.

    Meet Spanx for men.

    Before you laugh and come down firmly on the side of “No Man Will Ever Wear These,” you need to know that, Spanx for men are a huge hit. They are selling out of stores as soon as shipments arrive, and as you might suspect, online sales are even hotter.

    Of course, unlike some of the garments in the Spanx for women line, the men don’t have the traditional tummy-sucking and thigh-squeezing shapers.

    Instead, they have undershirts, as modeled by men who, interestingly, do not need to wear Spanx, given the fact that they are currently sporting six-packs.

    Image courtesy of spanx.com

    Spanx claims the undershirts feature “powerful compression zones” and are “physique-improving” and “game-changing.” The men interviewed in this article seem to support the claims, saying that the super-tight undershirts gave them “pecs…definition” and “confidence,” in addition to back-pain relief.

    It seems a bit unfair that men love their Spanx. Women are held to physical standards of beauty that men are fortunate to avoid. And while we love our Spanx too, they are a necessary, and often uncomfortable, evil: pregnancies change our bodies, our breasts succumb to forces of gravity beyond our control, and losing weight has always been more difficult for us than it is for men. If we want to even approach these unattainable beauty standards, we must look a certain way.

    So guys: Can’t you pretend to hate them just a little, for our sakes?

    Regardless of who’s wearing the Spanx, “shapewear” has become a hugely popular (and profitable) industry.  Much like the multi-billion dollar diet industry, which peddles quick-fix weight-loss miracle cures that do not touch the underlying causes of the American obesity epidemic, shapewear offers a similar short-term solution.

    What do you think of Spanx for men? Guys, would you wear them? Would your boyfriend or partner wear Spanx?

    And what do you think of shapewear in general? Harmless figure-enhancers or dangerous fads?

    Wanting It

    There is depressing news from the CDC this week. From 2007 to 2009, 2.4 million more people became obese. This means that 72.5 million Americans, or 26.7 percent of the population, now have this dangerous and costly medical condition.

    In addition, nine states (concentrated in the South and Midwest) now have an obesity rate of 30% or more, as compared with just three states in 2005.

    And then there are the results of the Nurses Health Study, which came out at the end of June. 18,000 women in their 30s and 40s answered questions about their medical, exercise, and living habits, and it was found that women gain an average of 20 pounds over 16 years, but that those who bike or walk briskly were able to better control their weight.

    Doctors blame the usual suspects:

    Image courtesy of Super-Beader

    I happen to think these startling obesity and weight-gain statistics can also find their causes in the recession.

    Unhealthy food is cheaper than good food. McDonald’s “restaurants” are popping up in low-income neighborhoods across the country.

    And with regard to the weight gain in women over a 16-year period spanning the study participants’ 30s and 40s, it’s no secret that this is the time when many women are getting married and more susceptible to the so-called “love chub.” Women in this age group are also busy raising young children.

    Finding time to exercise and eat correctly while knee-deep in diapers and preschooler tantrums is no small feat.

    But as someone who has spent years trying to convince a certain loved one that a healthy lifestyle change is needed, I can honestly say that when all things (education, socio-economic status, and physiological makeup) are equal, it basically comes down to one thing.

    You have to want it.

    I think a lot of Americans are simply okay with being overweight. They don’t exercise. They don’t belong to a gym. They choose to eat garbage food regularly. In many ways, they’ve just made a conscious choice not to make their health a priority.

    But then their bodies begin to fail. They develop Type 2 diabetes or sleep apnia. They have strokes and heart attacks. Their doctors tell them that their behaviors are shaving years off their lifespan.

    It’s only then that they begin to make the changes necessary to save themselves.

    Don’t get me wrong. These people deserve credit too. It is hard work to lose weight. Hard when you have 10 pounds to lose. Even harder when you have 50 or more pounds that must come off. Choosing to take control of one’s life, even after health problems have surfaced, shows a willingness to stop the cycle that’s created the deterioration in the first place.

    I know it’s not as simple as putting down the fork and picking up the free weights. I know mitigating factors make it supremely difficult for some people to get healthy.

    Image courtesy of AnandaBlue

    Image courtesy of AnandaBlue

    But I believe in many cases, it’s the drive that’s missing.

    It’s the drive that motivates the athlete in marathon training to rise at 6am and run long for three hours. It’s the determination of the college student to take group exercise classes to look fabulous in her bridesmaid gown at her sister’s wedding. It’s the desire of the beer-and-chips-loving dad to drive himself to the gym after work so he can see his youngest child graduate from college.

    And unfortunately, the way I see it, too few Americans have it.

    I would love to know why.

    What do you think about the latest obesity findings? Besides the usual culprits of poor diet, lack of exercise, and limited food education, why do you think Americans are so unhealthy?

    Ronald and Shrek: Boogeymen at Large?

    Image courtesy of boston.com

    Image by boston.com

    Two news stories about kids and nutrition have caught my eye recently.

    The first article reported the findings of a Yale University study in which it was discovered that children found snack foods with pictures of popular cartoon characters on the front of the package tastier than the same foods packaged without the characters. Obviously, Shrek, Dora, and their pals have a powerful influence over kids that extends beyond their television choices, and the results of this study are hardly surprising. Unfortunately, most of these character images appear on junk food and not on healthier choices, making it difficult for parents to encourage good nutritional choices.

    The second article told of a possible lawsuit against McDonald’s on behalf of a consumer-advocacy group. The group is charging that McDonald’s deceptively markets toys to children via its Happy Meals, which leads to kids nag their parents to take them to McDonald’s, where the food is less-than-healthy.

    I’ve written here before about my strong dislike of the garbage food available to kids in restaurants and school cafeterias.

    But I’m torn regarding my feelings about the study and the lawsuit. I believe that ultimately parents have the most influence over what their children do and don’t eat. Children cannot drive themselves to fast-food restaurants, and they can’t pay for their meals. Kelloggs, Nabisco, and other food-industry giants are in the business of marketing and selling their products. We make the choices over what we buy for ourselves and our families and what we don’t.

    But I also find more than a little disturbing expensive marketing campaigns blitzing children with alluring messages that use their favorite characters to entice them to buy something that’s not good for them. Kids should be able to watch television or play a game on the Internet without being bombarded with food ads whose intent they don’t understand.  

    And do the majority of consumers know what’s really in their food, or understand how to read a food label? I haven’t been inside a McDonald’s in over 10 years because I know how unhealthy their food is, but even I was surprised (not to mention disgusted) to read this week that Chicken McNuggets (incidentally, the main course in one of only two ”healthier” Happy Meals that McDonald’s pledged to advertise to children younger than 12) actually contain an “anti-foaming agent” found in Silly Putty. Interestingly, Chicken McNuggets in the UK do not contain this delicious-sounding chemical.

    Do you think it’s parents or the food industry (or both) who shoulder the responsibility for the childhood obesity epidemic and related health problem crisis we have in this country?

    Is the pending lawsuit against McDonald’s a frivolous waste of court time, or is it an important step toward corporate accountability?

    Would Nutritional Information on Menus Change Your Choices?

    I have a confession.

    I used to order the Chicken Crispers meal at Chili’s on a regular basis.

    Before we had children, my husband and I would eat out frequently. Chili’s was a favorite of ours, and given that my eating habits were once more like that of a five-year-old than the 20-something I was before I started running and eating more healthfully, chicken fingers were always a draw.

    In case you’re not familiar with this “entree” at Chili’s, allow me to describe it for you: questionable chicken parts are  liberally coated with bread crumbs and then deep-fried in hot oil and placed atop a heaping helping of seasoned French fries. Half an ear of corn accompanies the dish, but blech, corn is a vegetable, so I never touched it.

    I stopped eating Chicken Crispers over seven years ago, but I’d like to think I wouldn’t have eaten them at all had I known exactly how many calories, how much fat, and how many carbs were in the meal. A few year’s back, while doing research for an article on unhealthy restaurant meals, I came across this article in Men’s Health, which listed the Chicken Crispers meal as one of the “20 Worst Foods in America.”

    2,040 calories

    99 grams of fat

    240 grams of carbs

    (Incidentally, Men’s Health also named Chili’s “Pepper Pals Country-Fried Chicken Crispers with Ranch Dressing and Homestyle Fries” as their Worst Kids Meal of 2009: 1,110 calories, 82 grams of fat, and 56 grams of carbohydrates. To give you an idea of just how nutritionally unsound this meal is, the average preschooler needs between 1,200 and 1,600 calories a day. )

    If I hadn’t been doing research, however, I never would have known exactly how unhealthy a meal I was actually eating. Of course, I had no delusions that my Chicken Crispers meal equated to an organic red leaf lettuce salad with sliced free-range, grass-fed chicken, but I can honestly say that if I had seen the nutritional information printed beside the meal on the Chili’s menu, I would have chosen something else.

    And now, thanks to the new health reform law, it seems that we’ll actually have this information available to us when we dine out.

    According to this article, chain restaurants with more than 20 outlets must print calorie counts on their menus, along with the recommended number of calories a person should take in each day. Vending machines will have calorie counts posted too.

    Research done in test cities (New York and Seattle) has shown that menu labeling works in helping people make smarter choices when eating in restaurants. And that’s a good thing, considering the growing obesity problem we have in this country.

    What do you think about menu labeling? Would it make you think twice before ordering a high-calorie meal, or do you think that any attempt to change health-related behavior in the U.S. is an impossibility? 

    Deep-Sixing the DS

    My three-year-old daughter received her first “big-girl” bike last week. Too big for her tricycle, she received a two-wheeler, complete with a backpack that attaches to the handlebars, a water bottle, and training wheels.

    She is in love, and has wanted to do nothing but ride this bike constantly. And I’m glad, because the CDC recommends that in order to stay healthy, children should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

    However, looking at their guidelines and the three types of physical activity the CDC recommends kids perform, I wonder how many kids are meeting this requirement. And perhaps more importantly, how easy it is for them to do so, given the largely sedentary environment in which so many children grow up and the myriad unhealthy temptations that exist everywhere they go.

    One of the main reasons I chose my daughter’s preschool was because the children go outside to play on the school’s playground every single day (barring a rainstorm or other prohibitive weather). She’s enrolled in swimming lessons this summer at the club, and is attending her preschool’s outdoor summer camp (in addition to two others through my town’s recreation department). And eating healthfully is something she’s grown up with, so she’s completely unaware that kid-targeted fast-food restaurants even exist.

    But she’s three. She doesn’t watch commercial television. We don’t have a video game console. Her computer time is limited to the preschool-level Clifford game at the library. And the Golden Arches are just a giant yellow letter “M” to her. I have no delusions that it will be this easy to keep her active and eating well in another year or two, when her world will open up and she’ll begin to beg for things to which she currently has no exposure.

    And I’m scared.

    But I’m also really lucky. And you are too.

    We belong to a club that makes a healthy lifestyle easy for us, and for our kids as well. The hours accomodate virtually every schedule. Classes are tailored for a wide range of fitness levels and interests. And from Kidtown’s 4,000 square feet of wide open space to encourage movement to Camp Midtown, the club’s four-day Summer Sports Camp for kids, to Tennis and Yoga Camps, the club is focused on helping the entire family stay active.

    The childhood obesity rate in this country is skyrocketing, so clearly encouraging our children to get up off the couch, away from the DS, and out from behind the computer is something we need to do. It’s heart-breaking to think of the results of this new study, which has proven something many of us know already: overweight kids are 63% more likely to be bullied in elementary school.

    But how do we combat the mixed messages they receive when they’re out of our care?

    If you have kids or work with kids, how do you help them stay active?

    And what do you think of Santa Clara County’s effort to ban on toys in fast-food meals as a way to combat childhood obesity?

    Pink Milk and Pizza: What’s for Lunch in Your Child’s School?

    The food kids are served in school cafeterias is, for the most part, junk.

    That’s what celebrity chef Jamie Oliver thinks, anyway. And I happen to agree with him.

    I have watched with rapt fascination the ABC television show ”Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” and while very little about the state of this country’s nutrition surprises me anymore, what this show is documenting has.

    The premise of the show is this: Jamie is attempting to change the way Americans eat, and more specifically, the way American children eat. Considering that nearly 1 in 5 preschoolers is obese, and a staggering 17% of all children and adolescents ages 2-19 are considered obese, I’d say this is a problem that needs addressing, and quickly.

    He sets up camp in Huntington, West Virginia, recently named by the CDC as the “Unhealthiest City in America,” and heads into the school system to see what the kids are served in the cafeterias. He finds the elementary school kids being served pizza (eggs, sausage, and loads of cheese) for breakfast, and processed, breaded chicken nuggets and french fries for lunch. The students wash down their meals with chocolate and strawberry milk, which the kids overwhelmingly choose over plain white milk, and which contain more sugar than a can of Coke.

    He finds virtually the same scenario in the high school cafeteria. French fries are in huge demand there, and when Jamie yanks the fries in one episode, the teenagers are not happy.

    There is a complete dearth of freshly prepared food available for the kids to eat in school.

    Perhaps more frightening than what the kids are eating is their inability to identify even the most basic of vegetables. Jamie enters a first-grade classroom armed with broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and other produce. When asked to identify these veggies, the kids are completely stumped.

    And this? Makes me want to cry.

    Yes, Jamie Oliver chose a region of the country that struggles to overcome cultural stereotypes. And yes, there is not enough talk of exactly WHY the kids are eating pizza for breakfast and processed nuggets with a five-page, completely unpronouncable ingredient list, and iridescent-pink milk for lunch (much of it boils down to the lack of money for fresh-food initiatives and a completely convoluted USDA food classification system where French fries are considered a vegetable), but the bottom line is this:

    This kind of food is what is contributing to the childhood obesity problem in this country, and it needs to stop. Now.

    Jamie Oliver is shining the spotlight on Huntington to expose a problem found in every school in the country. He is attempting to completely revamp school cafeteria food, so that students are offered healthy, freshly prepared meals every single day.

    But the problem is bigger than school lunch food. We have to change not only what we’re feeding our kids in school and at home, but also the way our kids think about the food they eat.


    Midtown member Christina Le Beau, author of Spoonfed, a blog that focuses on ways to help parents empower their children to make healthy-eating choices, says, “We shouldn’t be treating our kids like mindless eating machines who aren’t worthy of real food. Children need nutrition, not government-subsidized calories disguised as nutrition. The only reason kids get stuck in the rut of eating so-called ‘kid food’ like chicken nuggets and colored milk is because that’s what adults think kids eat. And adults think that because food marketers have made it so easy to turn off the common sense and reach for the quick fix.”

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter has never eaten a chicken nugget. She eats edamame by the handful, and recently recoiled at the chocolate chip cookie the nice woman in the Wegmans bakery offered to her, because she wanted the fruit flats she was used to receiving instead. Kids can learn to make good food decisions. I won’t say it’s easy (and my children certainly do not eat 100% healthfully every single day), but we can guide them in the right direction and help them understand why potato chips and deep-fried Twinkies are not good for their little bodies.

    I recently read Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food, written by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen. This pair founded Bean Sprouts, a kids’ cafe and cooking school in Middleton, Wisconsin. The authors are on a mission to encourage kids to get excited about healthy eating by offering them nutritious food in a fun and hands-on atmosphere. The book is fantastic because it teaches parents how to involve their children in making their own healthy food that’s so appealing kids are certain to gobble it right up. My older daughter loves the  dragonfly sandwich made from whole wheat pita, one baby dill pickle, slices of turkey breast, fresh fruit, and other yummy ingredients.

    We can’t afford not to make the effort for good nutrition. Our children’s lives are at stake.

    As Midtown members, you’re undoubtedly committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for yourself and for your family.

    So I’m curious. If you’re watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, what do you think about the show?

    If you have children, what are your thoughts about the school lunch program in their school? How do you feed your kids when they’re at home?

    How does your family stay fit and healthy?

    Kristi Gaylord est la directrice, média sociaux pour TCA. Auteure prolifique, elle se passionne pour la course longue distance et la nutrition des enfants.

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