Friday, November 14, 2008

Childhood Obesity: Finding the Source

In my previous post, I mentioned the rising number of obesity cases in America, especially prominent among younger age groups. Though many are already aware of this growing epidemic also known as childhood obesity, a recent study that took ultrasound images of seventy obese children yielded disturbing results regarding their heart and vascular (vein and artery) health. The American Heart Association posted a news release on November 11, stating some of the major findings of the study: the plaque buildup in the children's neck arteries is comparable to the amount found in middle-aged adults, equating their "vascular age" to about forty-five years. Though the outcome of the study was not necessarily surprising to health experts, they did nonetheless view it as alarming and worthy of increased attention. Researchers concluded that obese children, though young, should be treated as high risk patients for cardiovascular disease, because their "prematurely aging," over-worked, stiffened, and thickened blood vessels are dangerously prone to various forms of vessel blockage, which can often result in fatal heart attacks, strokes, or death of muscle tissue. In fact, according to Dr. Geetha Raghuveer of the University of Missouri at Kansas City who led the study, "it is possible that [obese children] will have heart disease in their twenties and thirties." Because it is both worrisome and discouraging that such young individuals are already experiencing serious health problems, this week I explored the blogosphere to find reasons behind the increased numbers and younger ages of those afflicted with obesity and what people can do to change these statistics for the better. The first entry I commented on, "Obese Kids Have Arteries Like Typical 45-Year-Old," from the blog MyFamilyExercise, pointed responsibility in the direction of the children's parents. The second blog I chose was Serious Eats, and its recent entry written by Erin Zimmer, "Should Children's Books Discuss Childhood Obesity?" discusses a book designed for children that directly targets unhealthy eating patterns. While I responded directly on each blog, I have also provided my comments below.

"Obese Kids Have Arteries Like Typical 45-Year-Old"
Thank you for your post on an issue that is becoming increasingly problematic in the health arena. While obesity was once a topic found mostly under adult health, it is now a challenge that younger demographics face as well. When it comes to the reason behind this change, you hold a strong position based on the idea that parents have the most control over the health of their children and that while some do a great job in setting a wholesome example, others "need to improve a little...or a lot." I must say I agree with you on this point, because not every child has the innate ability to determine what is healthy and what is not, so proper guidance is necessary for one to develop favorable eating and exercising habits. As a college student living away from home, I have noticed myself doing many things the way my parents do, whether or not they explicitly taught me to. These behaviors, some as simple as the way I organize the bathroom or how I cook my eggs, are indisputably modeled after my parent's actions. I have even become accustomed to avoiding fried foods and have trained myself to enjoy eating carrots, once one of my most disliked vegetables, all as a result of my parents' eating patterns. Therefore, from my own experience, I can safely say that parenting plays a large role in shaping a child's daily habits. However, it is possible that some people were simply born with genes that do not allow them to be thin. Believers of this idea would assign primary responsibility to the family's unfortunate biological background, and blame Mother Nature for a child's inherited build. Because your stance is very clearly for nurture in the nature versus nurture conflict, how would you respond to a mother or father who thinks it hopeless to try to change his or her child's natural shape? I believe an issue of over-controlling parenting can potentially come into play here if a safe balance between fear of obesity and body acceptance is not found. With that in mind, what is your opinion on how far parents should go in trying to control their child's weight?

"Should Children's Books Discuss Childhood Obesity?"
Erin, thank you for introducing the book I Get So Hungry (pictured lower right), which delivers the message that "kids are influenced by eating patterns, especially emotional eating, and need guidance from adults as to what's 'healthy'." A recent study has revealed the troubling results that obese children have nearly the same arterial health as middle-aged adults, so your discussion on ways to prevent childhood obesity is especially appropriate. Many of us are familiar with children's books that are written specifically to convey moral messages to the youth, encouraging them to practice ethical deeds, such as treating others nicely, sharing, or being honest. Truthfully, I have always been skeptical as to whether these stories actually affected the way their readers acted after being exposed to the material. My same doubts also apply to I Get So Hungry. Can a story about "Nicky Thicky" and her obese, hospitalized schoolteacher really change a child's eating or exercising patterns? I have not read the book myself, but I assume that the book can potentially be used as a scare tactic to steer a child away from complacency if the individual is, indeed, overweight. However, when you mention, "though children should continue chasing ice cream trucks, drinking juice boxes, and picking out snacks...learning about moderation early [through this book] can't be a bad thing," I can not help but wonder that if children are still practicing such unhealthy habits, are they really learning moderation? Some claim that it is a parent's duty to guide and encourage healthy habits. Personally, I believe there must be a combination of both proper parental guidance and helpful outside material such as the above-mentioned storybook to truly make a difference in a person's diet. While a book can do its best in providing facts and instilling just the right amount of fear in its readers, if the child's home environment does not match the ideal situation portrayed in the book, very little progress can be made. With the same token, when one goes to school and is away from his or her mother's watchful eye, it is up to that child and the academic environment in deciding what goes into the individual's mouth. In your opinion, which has the greater effect: parenting or schooling?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Healthy Multi-Tasking: Working Out on the Job

As a student trying to balance schoolwork, a part time job, a social life, as well as a healthy diet and exercise routine, I find it difficult to find time for the less immediate obligations. Unfortunately, exercise has found its way near the bottom of my list of priorities. It would appear that I am not alone, for with today's fast-paced schedules, limitless responsibilities, commitments, and checklists of things to do, it is easy to forget the most important thing we need to accomplish these other goals: our health. So it is encouraging that researchers like Dr. James Levine for the Mayo Clinic, whose website I discussed in a previous post, have taken this reality into consideration and accordingly created the treadmill desk (pictured right), which can be literally translated as a "moving treadmill that serves as both desk and computer platform." Though the product is not necessarily cutting-edge or inventive, as it has, in a sense, simply combined a regular, office computer desk with a familiar piece of exercise equipment, it represents an effort to provide time-constrained Americans with a source of physical activity that may not be obtainable otherwise. With its potential to help employees get in shape without taking focus away from their work, the treadmill desk may be an answer to America's rising health problems.

Dr. Levine's extensive research as an endocrinologist has supplied him with expertise in how humans use their energy. His findings, published in the journal Science in 2005, show that a person's "non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)" is a key factor in determining the tendency to be either lean or overweight. NEAT refers to the energy used in everyday activities such as walking, shopping, dancing, and cleaning, which, as a whole, Levine claims is far more effective than formal high energy-expending exercise. By including more overall movement in one's day-to-day routine, metabolism and calorie-burning rates will increase, lessening the likelihood for developing obesity. While this is feasible for those lucky enough to not have to work long hours, many, including myself, do not have the luxury to burn a sufficient number of calories by shopping or dancing on a daily basis. Therefore, the treadmill desk provides an opportunity for people who are normally sedentary for the majority of the day to quite easily meet the ten thousand steps-per-day recommendation by the Surgeon General, variable upon the machine's adjustable speed settings. In fact, walking at what Levine calls an "ideal speed" of 0.7 to one mile per hour and assuming that one walks and works simultaneously for eight hours per day on a full-time schedule, the weight loss amounts to one hundred to one hundred thirty calories burned per hour and fifty seven pounds lost per year.

Speaking from my own experience while studying for finals in multiple-hour blocks of time, sitting in a chair with barely any muscle movement, besides possibly the fingers for typing, can deplete a person's energy level and increase the already threatening chances of falling asleep mid-reading or writing. The constant body movement required by a treadmill workstation creates continuous blood-flow through the body and brain, allowing workers to remain focused, increase productivity, and avoid the typical dozing off effect that tedious work can have. If businesses realize the advantages of an office environment like the one Dr. Levine has successfully developed at Mayo Clinic, flush with treadmill desks, walking tracks in meeting rooms, hands-free phone headsets, and "Mayo-designed standometers that [...] tell how much more activity [is needed] in order to meet the individual's activity goals for the day," the idea of the traditional, cubicle-based office will soon be obsolete. Instead, what we will hopefully see included in more office inventory lists is these both fitness- and work-geared desks, which will cater to the sometimes neglected health of hard working employees.

Though hopeful, I realize that this exciting and innovative workspace that aids people in burning extra calories, gets their hearts pumping, and raises hopes for healthier living, will undeniably present huge changes for both employees and employers alike. Workers must adjust from a primarily desk-bound job to a more dynamic one, which can be challenging both mentally and physically. Also, switching from the standard roller chair to a treadmill desk that can cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars each, can be financially difficult for many employers. However, what some companies who have purchased this product have realized is that helping employees get in shape on the job is profitable in the long run, not only as it brings in more revenue through increased productivity, but also because it lowers the risk of health problems linked to obesity, driving down expensive health care costs paid for by the company. These monetary gains are in addition, of course, to the healthier and happier lifestyle many workers would experience, which is significant in today's overweight America. Therefore, though the implementation of such workstations in offices nationwide may initially be seen as an unrealistic investment, especially in our current economic state, the movement towards a more health-oriented workplace through these treadmill desks is promising in boosting the energy, efficiency, and health of many Americans.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dangerous Tans: What is Keeping the Industry Alive?

In my last post, I discussed the rise of indoor tanning and the health threats ultraviolet radiation imposes on clients of the industry. As previously explained, it is true that the sun's rays stimulate beneficial vitamin D production; however, patrons of the business insist upon abusing this argument to continue their sales, despite proven correlations between ultraviolet exposure and skin cancer. Unfortunately, recent popular trends have not helped the situation. While my personal high school and college experience allows me to safely say that tanned skin is one of the highly sought-after traits for young women, the Skin Cancer Foundation also supports this by indicating that "teenagers and people in their twenties, especially women," are the demographic targeted by the tanning industry. With today's celebrities who have "perfect brown tans that match perfectly with their expensive clothing," and as far back as the 1920's when Coco Chanel declared tanning in vogue, suntanned skin has been viewed as a symbol for "health, youth, and status." Therefore, although getting some sun does have its health gains, the actions of indoor tanning businesses over-emphasizing the benefits of vitamin D combined with the perceived glamour behind tanned skin help to further market the industry's services. To explore these ideas as reasons for the popularity of intentional ultraviolet irradiation, this week I searched the blogosphere and found two blogs that recently posted on topics closely related to mine. The first post, titled "New Reports from Doctors Show Vitamin D Could Prevent Cancer, Heart Disease" and written by Ciniva Seo for the Sundays Tanning Resort Blog, stresses the wellness associated with tanning. The second blog, Style List, is centered around fashion, and its recent post titled "Tom Ford Unveils $475 Tanning Goggles - Things We Can't Afford," written by Josh Loposer, though short, introduces an interesting fashion aspect to indoor tanners. Though I responded directly on the individual blogs, I have also provided my comments below.

"New Reports from Doctors Show Vitamin D Could Prevent Cancer, Heart Disease"
I want to thank you for your post on the benefits of exposure to sunlight and other forms of ultraviolet radiation, such as that from tanning beds. It is important for people to be fully aware of both the pros and cons of coming into contact with ultraviolet rays, especially because this light can strengthen our bodies against problems such as osteoporosis and "reduce risks for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease," as you mention. Because in researching this topic I have read several articles mentioning only the health risks of too much sun exposure, I appreciate your contrasting outlook that explains the advantages of sunning and the quantifiable amounts of vitamin D required for healthy living. Also in my research I learned that the vitamin can be obtained easily through one's diet (pictured left), leaving tanning as an adequate, but unnecessary alternative. Therefore, what I found most interesting in your post was the fact that "adults would have to drink more than 8 glasses of milk a day to get the recommended amount" of vitamin D, putting into perspective the true need for sunlight in satisfying the required daily dosage, which really cannot be fulfilled very easily through eating fish or drinking milk. However, your claim that "light given off by the sun and tanning beds is the most efficient way" to derive the nutrient is a bit unclear, seeing as the rays of the sun differ from those of indoor bulbs. I am interested to know your thoughts on the difference between the two types, and, in turn, which you would recommend as the better source of the vitamin. Further, though delivered with helpful motives, your proposed solution of "10 to 15 minutes per day in a tanning bed, such as those at Sunday's Blue Box Tanning Resorts" to ensure proper defense against harmful diseases, may mislead people to think that tan sessions are safe and completely health-promoting. What your readers could be missing is the fact that with the advantages of ultraviolet exposure also come several skin cancer risks, and they therefore may trivialize important warnings of radiation harm because so much emphasis was placed on its benefits. In your opinion, do the pros outweigh the cons?

"Tom Ford Unveils $475 Tanning Goggles - Things We Can't Afford"
First off, I would like to thank you for your humorous spin on pricey brand names and how they have reached the tanning eyewear market. As a fan of Tom Ford sunglasses, I am aware of the incredible price levels some brands can reach, but am nonetheless continuously surprised by some of the new products these designers decide to slap their labels on. By creating a pair of nearly five hundred dollar goggles (pictured right) that probably no one but the buyer will see - though it sounds crazy to us - Tom Ford must have had his faith in at least a few consumers. It is appropriate that you mention the buyers of this product would most likely be "extravagantly wealthy," seeing as we are in the midst of an economic downturn, and the average consumer probably would not be running to the store to purchase the latest protective tanning eyewear. This is also true because most salons typically provide their own, cheap versions for their clients that are just as effective protection-wise as the more expensive kind. You go on to say, "we have to question anyone who's willing to drop 500 bucks on a pair of goggles just to wear in a glass capsule full of man-made UV rays," which I think makes an interesting point and highlights a rather significant phenomenon regarding the demographic most known to frequent these indoor salons. What I am interested in is the type of person Tom Ford had in mind - one who is both likely to visit a tanning salon and able to afford such expensive eye accessories. Is there some sort of implicit status-tag that tanned skin provides, much like carrying a designer handbag? An article I recently read referred to Coco Chanel's declaration of tanning as "in" in the 1920's and golden skin's representation of youth and status that came forth in the years following. Do you think there is an implied portrayal of wealth behind having a certain complexion that helps the business advertise to a particular subset of the population? As a blogger on style, what are your thoughts on the possibility of tanning as a fashion statement that markets to upper to middle class consumers?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bronze Beauty: Challenging the Indoor Tanning Industry

Though many celebrity-following bloggers condemn stars like Lindsay Lohan for their obviously faux spray-on tans, it is imperative to note the benefits of such artificial means over the common tanning bed ultraviolet irradiation. While it is true that accidental orange streaks from self-applied bronzing lotions and sprays are not aesthetically pleasing, when our own bodies are forced to produce an excess of color in the skin, health problems more serious than the embarrassment of washable streaks come into play. Despite certain claims by the tanning industry, tans come from ultraviolet light damage to DNA in the skin, which sends a message to pigment cells to create more color. Simply put, a tan is the result of impaired DNA. As a Californian, I am familiar with the desire for golden complexion and enjoy sunning for color myself; however, I also believe that patrons of indoor tanning salons should be fully aware and not be deceived when it comes to the risks associated with their bed sessions.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the $5 billion a year tanning industry, which markets its indoor beds to both men and women searching for the perfect skin tone, is one of the major causes of the yearly increasing number of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnoses in the United States. Most unsettling is the fact that this cancer is one of the most preventable types of tumors, yet it is still the leading form of malignant carcinoma in our country today. The rising popularity of indoor tanning booths may be a result of the myth that the ultraviolet exposure from these bulb-saturated beds (pictured right) is safer than the rays emitted by our natural sun. As stated by Melissa Stoppler, M.D., assistant professor of pathology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, the sun's beams consist of a mixture of UV-A and UV-B rays, while these bed bulbs give off predominantly UV-A radiation. Though both UV-A and UV-B forms are known to cause premature skin aging and increase the chances of developing malignant melanoma, UV-A light, the chief element in indoor tanning machinery, "penetrates more deeply into the skin [than UV-B] and can adversely affect the cells involved in the body's immune response in addition to raising the risk of developing... cancers of the skin." Nonetheless, whether by means of regular sun exposure or booking a bed session at the local salon, it is clear that ultraviolet irradiation has its proven dangers and is not the best route to achieving an enviable shade. The indoor tanning industry would beg to differ.

A press release this past spring by the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) demonstrates their willingness to mask these perils by launching an "aggressive nationwide campaign encouraging the public to rethink sun-tanning and criticizing dermatologists and the sunscreen and cosmetics industries for scaring Americans away from the sun." In this release, Sarah Longwell, spokeswoman for the ITA, describes attacks by health professionals on tanning as "junk science and scare tactics." This devious move by the ITA urged people to question the link between tanning and skin cancer, claiming that ultraviolet light promotes healthy living by allowing for the production of vitamin D in the body, which can ultimately protect against other diseases. While it is true that the production of this nutrient is stimulated by irradiation and serves to strengthen bones, protect against autoimmune diseases, and even reduce tumor growth, board certified dermatologist Dr. Benabio, M.D. writes in his blog that vitamin D can just as effectively be obtained through one's diet. He goes on to say that it is formed in the skin only from UV-B light, which is an important point, considering the earlier mentioned fact that tanning booths use primarily UV-A rays, which has no effect on the nutrient's production. A close examination of the ITA website's frequently asked questions section shows considerable emphasis placed on the benefits of tanning with little to no mention of its risks, and the posed questions seem to be specifically structured to yield responses favorable to the industry's beliefs. In this page, ITA ridiculously claims that "anti-tanning lobbyists falsely refer to [tans] as 'damage' to your skin, but calling a tan 'damage' is a dangerous oversimplification... [that is] much like calling exercise 'damage to your muscles.'" The fact is, there is an indisputable link between ultraviolet light and non-melanoma carcinoma, and ITA's attempts to confuse the public in order to increase its industry's revenue at the expense of public health is disappointing and painfully obvious.

So, if tanning raises risks for skin cancer and avoiding the sun keeps us from achieving our desired skin tone, are we all doomed to choose between health and beauty? According to the doctors for MayoClinic, sunless tanning products are the way to go (results shown left). They normally run from gels, creams, lotions, to sprays, and serve to darken skin color without the use of ultraviolet's harmful rays. The main ingredient in these items is FDA-approved dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which "reacts with dead cells on the outermost layer of skin to temporarily darken the skin's appearance." When these cells finally fall off of our bodies, the color fades and no harm is done. Thus it is evident that though ultraviolet energy from either the sun or man-made bulbs may produce the most natural looking tan, artificial self-tanners are a much safer substitute. The consequences of irradiation, though trivialized by tanning advocates, are both serious and unfortunately misrepresented; therefore an awareness of such alternatives is necessary.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Building Bridges: Connecting Media, Health, and Beauty

This week I probed the web to find sites relevant to the topics discussed in my blog. As the purpose of this blog is to balance health and beauty, I used the Webby Awards and IMSA criteria to provide my readers with websites covering health news, nutrition and fitness tips, and media messages underlying much of today's health issues. While these resources range from blogs to informational sites, I categorized them into the three above-mentioned groups and will evaluate them here, beginning with health news. First is the New York Times Well Blog, which provided inspiration for my previous post on energy drinks. This blog is organized and updated frequently with applicable health news; however, the amount of text in the sidebars is a bit overwhelming. Similarly, while WebMD provides a plethora of health information ranging from healthy snacks to Alzheimer's, its dense sections of linked headlines allow the margin's streaming ads to steal the reader's attention. Though Diet Dish provides valuable posts on current health topics such as nutrition labels on fast foods and Wii Fit as a source of exercise, the top search bar is crowded by a large advertisement, and the site lacks focus until the reader reaches the articles below. MedNews displays concise descriptions of recent health news that later link to full articles, which makes navigation simple and quick. However, while practical, the site lacks images to accompany its news summaries, which could draw more attention to the content. Oppositely, the images coupling's Healthy Living news summaries provides the aesthetics that add to the site's connections between health and expectations of beauty. However, advertisements along the top and side margins distract readers from this material. World Health Organization is dedicated to health projects within the UN, making its content transcultural and informative. Though it provides a convenient A-Z list of health topics to browse, the site's globally reaching nature makes it difficult to narrow a search down to a regional topic.

While there are hundreds of sites dedicated to health tips, I chose the few that I found helpful and pertinent to our culture. The American Dietetic Association, maintained by nutrition and food professionals, advocates public health through research. Though the site provides beneficial nutrition fact sheets, each must be downloaded as PDF files, which slows the momentum of navigation. Diet-Blog filters diet news to provide readers with useful nutritional information for realistic application. Though appropriately chosen images accompany the posts, the sidebar contains an unchanging image of raw meat linked to a video titled "Meet Your Meat," which could distract and even turn readers away. FitSugar's informative articles on fitness are enhanced by its optimistic tone and use of vibrant colors; however, the entire bottom half of the homepage advertises other "Sugar" sites, which takes attention away from the runner's diet article and onto the latest gossip on Grey's Anatomy. The well-known MayoClinic has images embedded in its text, making the site visually stimulating but difficult for the reader to distinguish between advertisements and polls or search tools. Nonetheless, the site is useful in self-diagnosing minor medical conditions by assisting the reader in matching symptom with cause. The blog Breaking the Mirror is written by a recovering anorexic and gives advice on self-image in an informal tone, which makes the material personal and engaging. However, because the only images in the blog are of advertisements, it is easy for readers to lose focus. Similar in content, Something Fishy offers assistance to those struggling with body image issues. Though the sidebar links are well organized, the site's bland colors and lack of center gives it a scattered feel.

The last group of resources deals with media and the need to control its detrimental effects on self-image. My favorite is About-Face, a site for women that provides "tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect self esteem and body image." Though its eye-opening gallery of offenders section is fascinating, the layout of the site is not clear, as there are no "next" links, but rather a small line of almost unnoticeable linked numbers that the reader must follow. A similar site, MediaWatch, provides news and videos to raise awareness of and challenge the media's biases. The site has a clever remote control navigation guide, but the rest of the site is somewhat disorganized and unprofessional-looking. Big Fat Deal is a blog that covers "fat" topics and offers a section for commenters in support of the movement towards fat acceptance; however, most of the posts are comments on outside material rather than first-hand discussion. Celebrity Cosmetic Surgery keeps track of celebrities rumored to have undergone cosmetic surgery. Though the material is undeniably entertaining and perfectly demonstrates how beauty allows people to compromise health, the validity of the material is questionable as its main basis is gossip. Similarly, the blog Truth In Cosmetic Surgery includes interesting videos on cosmetic surgery and encourages browser participation through polls, but its content lacks consistency and overall focus as the post material ranges from celebrity gossip to surgery demonstrations. Another blog, Junkfood Science, provides a scientific outlook on food, health, and weight to uncover the truth about what is and is not discussed in the media; however, structurally, the blog's wide margins make the page very long and the scroll bar inconveniently small. Though Mind on the Media lacks the volume of information and attractive design found in other sites, it offers a refreshingly candid fact list on the threats that advertisements and other forms of media have on body image. Lastly, The F-Word is an anti-dieting blog discussing the interconnectedness of weight, fashion, politics, economy, and culture. Though the blog is designed to cover topics related to body acceptance and "Health at Every Size (HAES)," its latest posts seem predominantly political with limited connection to the purpose of the blog. In conclusion, this web search allowed me to gather resources that will not only invigorate the material in my blog, but also hopefully promote healthy living for my readers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Energy Drinks on the Rise: Can Labels Make a Difference?

With what seems like countless new energy drink brands entering the beverage industry, this week I explored the blogosphere to discover what issues bloggers are currently discussing in the energy drink arena and left comments to contribute my opinions. As an energy drink consumer myself, I have decided to blog about the increasing popularity of energy drinks and some of the health risks that have many researchers worried. While it is possible that these health risks can be easily identified by the average consumer, many drink manufacturers fail to emphasize them. By marketing to a variety of consumers with designer brands (pictured lower right), packaging techniques, and celebrity endorsers, energy drink companies have gained a sizable and rather faithful consumer base. However, this popularity does not arise solely from good advertising. Studies show that caffeine can boost physical and mental performance, and energy drinks can "improve or maintain mood and performance during tedious and mentally demanding tasks". Thus, not only have energy drinks become a relatively recent trend among young consumers, but they also serve as a necessity to some students and even some dedicated party-goers in need of an energy boost. But when moderation becomes excess, caffeine can threaten the body with rapid heart palpitations, insomnia, tremors, nausea, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pains, inflammation in the small intestine, and the standard jolt-and-crash effect. Despite these health risks, energy drinks have found a comfortable home in the refrigerators of many teens and young adults. In fact, the prevalence and popularity of these drinks is demonstrated by the first blog I decided to comment on, which is a blog dedicated entirely to energy drinks. This blog is titled "Energy Drink Ratings" and is written by Oshburg, who rates and reviews energy drinks based on kick, taste, and price as a resource for the energy drink-consuming public. I commented on Oshburg's latest post, "Playboy Sugar Free Energy Drink Review", which provides a detailed and personal view on the drink's strength, taste, and overall rating. Though the post focused only on the Playboy drink, I took a more general approach and offered some of my thoughts regarding the purpose of the blog and its significance to the energy drink craze. The second blog I chose to comment on was a health blog for the New York Times written by Tara Parker-Pope, titled "Well". In her recent post, "Warning Labels for Caffeinated Energy Drinks", she discusses the recent insistence by researchers that energy drinks should carry labels warning consumers of dangerous caffeine levels. While I published my comments directly on their blogs, I have also provided the comments below.

"Playboy Sugar Free Energy Drink Review"
I would like to thank you for your honest and descriptive blog posts reviewing the many energy drinks on the market today. As evidenced by your consistent posts, it is clear that you are an energy drink fan and are dedicated to providing the best information for your peers. As a student, I am familiar with the need for an energy boost while studying for an exam, so I can see how the details you provide are beneficial to energy drink consumers. Truthfully, I did not know until recently that there were entire blogs dedicated to reviewing the hundreds of energy drinks being sold, so my enthusiasm for your blog is new. Viewing this from a business angle, the mere fact that your blog exists and is being sponsored by different energy drink companies emphasizes the relevance of energy drinks to our culture. While I enjoyed your playful approach to the marketing advantage that Playboy has in attracting consumers, I wonder what your thoughts are on how energy drinks may be targeting certain groups by making their products trendy, but failing to mention the health risks associated them. I am not sure if you have heard about the recent study done by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, which came to the conclusion that caffeinated drinks, such as the energy drinks reviewed in your blog, should sport warning labels that include caffeine doses and alert consumers of potential health risks. I see that in your review you included the ingredients of the Playboy Sugar Free Energy Drink and their respective amounts, but there is no mention of the drink's actual health risks. I am interested to hear your opinion on whether you think a section for health risks on your blog or warning labels on the drinks will make an impact on the sales of energy drinks. Are sales high because people are not aware of the risks? If this is true, labels would be of great value to the public's health. Or, with the habits of today's youth and the undeniable popularity of the drinks, will these warnings be ignored and serve useless except to annoy energy drink manufacturers?

"Warning Labels for Caffeinated Energy Drinks"
Thank you for your highly informative blog post on the recent study done by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. With the increasing popularity of energy drinks, it is important to raise awareness of the health issues regarding such a huge industry that markets to so many consumers everyday. I thought the specific effects and health risks of energy drinks, especially when consumed in addition to alcohol, that you included in your post were not only frightening but also very real in light of how many young adults consume these drinks on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I found your comparison of the caffeine amount in energy drinks, cola drinks, and brewed coffee especially interesting and useful in seeing the true content differences among the beverages. However, from that piece of information I also noticed that although the caffeine content of energy drinks reaches much higher levels than those of coffee, some of the less caffeinated energy drinks contain less caffeine than the average cup of coffee does. With that said, does this mean that coffeehouses should also include on their coffee cups the warning labels that the Johns Hopkins researchers are so adamant about? Though we rarely hear about teens going to the hospital for caffeine overdoses from coffee, are the health risks of consuming too many energy drinks really much different from consuming too much coffee? With their successful advertising campaigns, energy drink companies continue to expand and consumers continue to buy their products. This brings me to my next question: will these warning labels really have an effect on consumers? With the bulk of energy drink consumers being young adults, combined with the idea that rebellion is characteristic of youth, might these recommended labels be futile and go unnoticed or ignored? I am a part of that large percentage of college students who consume energy drinks, and even with a career goal in pharmacy and a blog dedicated to health promotion, I still resort to energy drinks come exam time. So I wonder what must be done to truly grab the attention of young adults if, in fact, these labels are not enough.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pregnant Women: Eating for Two

According to modern American standards, women can always afford to shed a few pounds, even at a weight considered normal to most health professionals. While some choose to exercise and eat healthy to achieve what they believe is an ideal thinness, others resort to a quicker fix: fad-dieting and restricting calorie consumption. Though most people are aware of the health risks associated with certain diets, the situation becomes doubly complicated when the dieter is a pregnant woman. Not only is she jeopardizing her personal health, but she is also compromising her baby's current and future development. One of the most obvious dangers of insufficient calorie-intake during pregnancy is malnourishment and literal starvation within the womb. According to professionals at T.J. Clark supplemental vitamin company, deficiencies in nutrition, "coupled with low birth weight, is the underlying cause of more than half of all deaths worldwide of children under five years of age." What is most discouraging about these statistics is that they sometimes depend on a woman's security with her body. Though it is understandable that some mothers are selective about food during pregnancy, they should not allow an obsession over self-image to get in the way of properly caring for their babies.

When a pregnant mother limits her body to certain types or amounts of food and therefore is not getting an adequate number of calories, the fetus adapts to these scarce conditions inside the womb, leading to the less obvious and rather ironic risk of impending obesity in the baby. David Barker, director of the Medical Research Council's Environmental Epidemiological Unit at Southampton University, conducted a study following 14,000 women for several years, including their years of pregnancy. Barker found that one-third of all women eat unbalanced and nutrition-deficient meals, and from that group, those who are pregnant consequently deprive their unborn children of proper development. From the results of his study, Barker concluded that an undernourished fetus will likely develop into an adult with a "thrifty metabolism" that will try to squeeze every possible calorie out of every ounce of food and store every spare calorie as fat." Given this modified metabolism, even when the baby is fed a perfectly healthy diet after birth, his or her starved experience as a fetus will still manifest itself as the child is likely to become overweight in later years. Further, because such babies were not fed properly in the uterus, they will go on to develop smaller and weaker organs, which, as the American Heart Association explains, when paired with an unusually fat-loving metabolism and a possible inactive or stressful future, may cause serious risks for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Therefore, an overly image-conscious pregnant woman presents a problem with two sides, also known as the "double burden" of under-nutrition and over-nutrition. The weight-shedding intent of a mother's diet is followed by her child's early malnourishment, resulting in an obesity-prone future. The trigger that sets this domino effect of bad health in motion can be pointed towards the mother's actions, as she is, quite simply, placing the importance of her own looks above what is best for her growing baby. With this understood, the nine months of pregnancy is a time when a woman should be excused from society's judgmental eye and not feel conflicted to give up the desire for thinness out of love for her child. Because it is easy for some mothers to lose track of the line between feeling fat and feeling healthy for both herself and the baby, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attempts to steer away from dieting mishaps by claiming that a pregnant woman should consume three hundred more calories per day than the average woman. Also, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) insists that mothers should expect to gain twenty-five to thirty-five pounds during pregnancy.

Despite the given information, America's fixation on image still fuels this dangerous thin-seeking phenomenon. Beauty has developed into one of the most sought-after qualities, and it has quite often overshadowed the importance that must be placed on health. The situation worsens when the increasingly popular gossip blogs honor those pregnant celebrities who hardly gain weight in places other than the belly and describe normal pregnant women as "[bloating] to parade float proportions." In such a media-dominated culture, it is no wonder that women would so comfortably threaten their own health as well as their babies' to look as celebrities do. Those affected by unrealistic images of ideal pregnant bodies such as Nicole Kidman's or Angelina Jolie's (pictured right) are known to have what is called "pregorexia." Though it is common to see such photos of pregnant actresses looking as skinny as they did pre-pregnancy excepting a mere bump for the baby, we must remember that these people are at an advantage. Not only have most of them become stars through their enviable genes, but they also have more time and money than the average person to hire the best nutritionists and personal trainers. Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to not lose sight of what a successful pregnancy consists of: a healthy mother and baby. There is no shame in wanting to achieve a certain level of beauty, but this goal must be realistically and carefully sought out as it can easily compromise the health of two lives.
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