Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: Food and Drink

TV and children: Ads for fast food are up, ads for sweets and cookies are down

July 5, 2010 |  1:30 pm

Children television TV isn’t the same as it used to be, especially when it comes to children’s shows.

Though friendly faces such as Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur used to be popular among kids, hyper-active animated samurais and brightly colored creatures from the Gabba gang now rule the small screen.

The same can be said about television food advertisements. Something has definitely changed…

Using television rating data from Nielsen Media Research for 2003, 2005 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed trends in exposure to food advertising by age and race for children and adolescents, and came up with some interesting findings.

Whereas in 2003, cereal was the most frequently seen food product in kids' food advertisements, by 2007 fast food ads were the most frequently seen ads for children of all ages.

Why is this not shocking?

On a more optimistic note, however, the study found that the overall number of food ads seen daily fell rather drastically from 2003 to 2007, especially among audiences aged 2 to 5 and 6 to 11 years old. (The number of candy bar and cookie ads also fell in all age categories, a statistic that is sure to make mothers happy.)

The study, which placed viewers into one of three categories by age — 2 to 5, 6 to 11, and 12 to 15 --  also looked at their exposure to food ads by race. African American children in all age categories in all three years of ratings saw more food ads per day than their white counterparts, the scientists found.

Further troubling was the seesaw change in food advertising trends, in which a victory in one area signaled a defeat in another.  For example, although the greatest percentage increase in beverage ad exposure was for bottled water (Yay for health!), exposure to diet soft drink ads also increased significantly, just not as much.

“It’s a little disturbing,” said Lisa Powell, lead author of the study and associate professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “On the one hand, the number of advertisements selling sweets and soft drinks to kids has decreased quite substantially -- but on the other hand, you see that the number of ads for diet soda drinks, and racial targeting has also increased.”

Planning to take the study further, Powell said that she will now add 2009’s ratings into the mix. And she  wants to start monitoring the nutritional contents of products advertised to children.

The study is published online in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: By 2007, fast food ads were the most seen ads for children of all ages. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Added sugar may be the mystery ingredient causing hypertension, researchers say

July 1, 2010 |  2:01 pm

Blood pressure has been rising in the United States for more than 100 years. At the turn of the last century, about 5% to 10% of American adults were diagnosed with hypertension; today, the figure is about 30%. Why?

added sugars raise risk of high blood pressure hypertension Perhaps it’s because there’s so much more added sugar in our diets now than there was a century ago. Studies have linked consumption of fructose – the ingredient that makes up 50% of table sugar and 55% of high-fructose corn syrup – to high blood pressure in rats. But in people, the link has been elusive.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver checked to see whether added sugar intake was linked to blood pressure among the thousands of representative Americans who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2006.

By comparing the diets and systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) of all the volunteers, they found that those who ate and drank more fructose from added sugars (as opposed to healthy sources like fresh fruit) had higher blood pressure than those who didn’t. They also discovered that volunteers with higher blood pressure tended to have larger waistlines.

Overall, those who consumed at least 74 grams of fructose per day from added sugars were more likely to be hypertensive. Compared with a healthy blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg, those with diets high in added sugar were 77% more likely to have blood pressure of 160/100 or greater. (The NIH considers anything over 140/90 to be high blood pressure.) The association between added sugars and blood pressure held up even when controlling for other factors, such as total calories consumed, physical activity, other health problems and consumption of salt, alcohol and carbohydrates. 

So, how much junk food do you have to eat to hit 74 grams of fructose? Drinking 2½ 20-ounce bottles of Coke would do it. Among the volunteers in the NHANES study, half consumed more than 74 grams of fructose from added sugars each day.

Why worry about high blood pressure? It’s a risk factor for a whole bunch of health problems you’d probably rather avoid, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, stroke and chronic kidney disease. The World Health Organization estimates that hypertension causes 7.1 million deaths each year.

The good news, the researchers said, is that it’s easy to reduce your risk. Simply cut back on foods with lots of added sugar.

The findings were published online Thursday by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Sugary foods aren’t just bad for your waistline, they may threaten your blood pressure too. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Drink during pregnancy and your sons may suffer, researchers say

June 29, 2010 |  2:21 pm

Women who drink during pregnancy may be reducing their chances of someday becoming grandparents.

Wine Danish researchers examined the sperm counts of 347 young men whose mothers participated in the “Healthy Habits for Two” study while they were pregnant in the mid-1980s. At the time, the women completed a questionnaire about their lifestyle habits, including their consumption of beer, wine and spirits.

Linking the data on alcohol exposure in utero with sperm counts as adults, the researchers found that sons of mothers who consumed at least 4.5 alcoholic drinks per week during pregnancy had sperm concentration of 25 million per milliliter. That was 32% lower than the 40 million/mL measured among sons whose mothers had fewer than one drink per week while they were pregnant. (One “drink” was defined as 12 grams of alcohol – roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce beer or a small glass of wine.)

The World Health Organization said last year that it considers sperm concentration of about 15 million/ML to be normal, so everyone who participated in the Danish study would seem to be fine. But Cecilia Ramlau-Hansen, one of the researchers, pointed out that the lower one’s sperm count, the lower the odds of conception.

Ramlau-Hansen, a senior researcher at the Aarhus University Hospital’s department of occupational medicine, discussed her study Tuesday at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, which is underway in Rome. She said the link is merely an association, not proof that alcohol is to blame for the reduced sperm counts observed in the study, but the finding warrants further study.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: This is a dangerous habit for pregnant women who want to have grandchildren someday. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

Twinkies should be the new cigarettes, David Lazarus says

June 29, 2010 | 11:36 am

What to do about the obesity epidemic? Here's a thought: Substitute "tobacco" for "junk food." That provides a pretty clear road map about what government authorities should be doing to safeguard public health.

Twinkie That’s the opinion of David Lazarus, our colleague in the Business section who writes a column focused on consumer issues.

He’s certainly not the first to propose taxing soda, Twinkies and Big Macs as a way of forcing Americans to cut back on these fat-, salt- and sugar-laden foods that we all know are bad for us but still can’t seem to resist. Experts at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and elsewhere have been advocating a tax for sugar-sweetened beverages for some time now.

The idea that junk food can be ostracized, as with cigarettes, through taxes and stigmatization is irresistible to many people. The logic of it seems undeniable – when something costs more, people will buy less of it. But as we have explained in the Los Angeles Times and on Booster Shots, the real-world data shows that taxes implemented to date have not led to any weight loss, even in cases in which the tax did prompt people to reduce consumption of the specific item taxed.

At least Lazarus’ argument doesn’t rely entirely on taxes. He applauds the efforts to get sodas out of schools and suggests a similar strategy for buildings occupied by grown-ups:

… a good place to start would be government buildings — eliminate all bad-for-you foods and beverages. Instead, make healthful alternatives available. Gradually, if the political will can be found, expand the junk food ban to all workplaces, just as smoking bans spread from the public to the private sector.

Lazarus also makes an argument heard often from Booster Shots readers – get rid of the subsidy to corn farmers and they might produce less high-fructose corn syrup.

You can read his entire column here.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Think of these Twinkies as oversized cigarettes. Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Book Reviews: 'The No Om Zone,' 'The Yoga Body Diet' and 'Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain'

June 26, 2010 |  2:57 pm

Some people use yoga to strengthen, stretch and relax muscles; others delve into its lifestyle and spiritual aspects. Here are three new books with varying approaches to the 5,000-year-old practice.

Noomzone “The No Om Zone” bills itself as a “no-chanting, no-granola, no-Sanskrit practical guide to yoga.” This book by Kimberly Fowler, founder of the L.A.-based YAS Fitness Centers, is geared to athletes and others who want to improve muscle tone and flexibility, take away aches, alleviate pain and calm the mind. Fowler promises you won’t have to go sit on a mountaintop and chant to achieve these results.

The former triathlete started doing yoga in 1983 to rehabilitate after an injury and became a fan after seeing the benefits to her body and athletic performance. She was turned off, however, by "elitist" classes targeted to the few who could do pretzel poses and handstands. Today, the motto in her yoga classes is “safe, fun and effective.”

Her book offers short workouts for 13 parts of the body, including the neck, arms, core/abs, lower back, hips and knees. Each body part gets its own chapter describing and showing the anatomy of the area, common injuries, recommended yoga poses for it and a workout routine typically lasting about 10 minutes. Poses are accompanied by photos, step-by-step guides, difficulty ratings, descriptions of benefits, tips and modifications to make them easier.

Fowler does manage to slip some mind-body material into the book. The first body part addressed is the head, for example, and here she talks about the benefits and practice of meditation and describes how to do yoga breathing.

This is a good book for those who want yoga workouts targeted to individual body areas as opposed to a one-size-fits-all workout. Fowler also offers a "No Om Zone" DVD containing three 15-minute workouts.

Yogabody “The Yoga Body Diet,” by Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, is everything “The No Om Zone” is not. Not only is it not a no-granola book, it even includes recipes for granola.

Dollard, digital director at Self magazine, is a yoga teacher and former editor of Douillard directs LifeSpa, an ayurvedic retreat center in Boulder, Colo., and has written and produced numerous health and fitness books, CDs and DVDs.

Their pretty book – generously illustrated with colorful pen-and-ink drawings – says it can help you get a “yoga body” in four weeks through eating, exercising and de-stressing according to the principles of yoga and ayurveda.

The book describes ayurveda as yoga’s sister science, one of the world’s oldest medical systems practiced by 80% of India’s population today. Dollard and Douillard say their mission is to present “ayurveda’s greatest hits” and teach you how to use it for weight loss.

“Yoga Body” kicks off with a quiz to determine what ayurvedic “type” you are: vata (airy), pitta (fiery) or kapha (earthy). Each type is told what kinds of foods to eat and avoid, yoga moves to do and lifestyle changes to make. Recipes for chai tea, pad Thai, roti pizza and other dishes include variations for each ayurvedic type.

The book’s illustrated yoga pose guide is easy to follow, with about 75 positions that range from the simple corpse pose to the more challenging revolved half-moon.

The book at times has the feel of an overly simplified greatest hits compilation as it offers its take on ayurvedic practices. Some of the recommendations – such as to stop snacking and eat only three meals a day – may not work for some or even have proven benefits. But those interested in the ayurvedic philosophy may find the book an approachable starting point to determine whether they want to go further into the practice.

Healingyoga “Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain” zeroes in on the area of the body where many people feel the effects of stress. Author Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., writes that neck and shoulder tension, tightness and discomfort are the top complaints of her students. Krucoff says she’s been successful in helping people find lasting relief with yoga, though it doesn’t happen overnight.

Krucoff, a former Washington Post journalist, looks at the practice of yoga through this lens, exploring the science of neck pain and yoga; the anatomy of the spine, shoulders, neck, face and jaw; the role of stress and emotions in neck and shoulder pain; and the best postures for sitting and standing.

She explains how, where and when to do yoga; how to breathe properly; and how to do 38 poses to help the neck and shoulders. Simple line drawings illustrate the mostly gentle exercises. Some of the stretches can be done in an office chair. 

“Healing Yoga” is a good introduction for those who want to focus on this part of the body, or ease into yoga for physical reasons or lack of familiarity with the practice. The book’s production values are basic, but the writing is clear, informative and inspiring.

Krucoff writes that the best healing comes when people bring the lessons of yoga into their daily lives.

“Rather than muscle your way into a yoga pose, you learn to relax into it -- using the tools of gravity, patience, and the breath -- to allow the pose to deepen and unfold,” she says. “Over time, with regular practice, the lessons learned on the yoga mat begin to influence how you live in the world.”

-- Anne Colby

Photos, from top: "The No Om Zone: A No-Chanting, No-Granola, No-Sanskrit Practical Guide to Yoga," Kimberly Fowler, Rodale Books, $19.99; "The Yoga Body Diet: Slim and Sexy in 4 Weeks (Without the Stress), Kristen Schultz Dollard and John Douillard, Rodale Books, $21.99; "Healing Yoga for Neck & Shoulder Pain: Easy, Effective Practices for Releasing Tension & Relieving Pain," Carol Krucoff, New Harbinger Publications, $17.95


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Wow! Can raw cane juice really do all that? Science suggests, 'No.'

June 25, 2010 |  4:07 pm

Sugarcane With a stereotypical population of thin, fit and nutrition-obsessed people, Los Angeles is by many counts a mecca for healthful living and eating – a city where nonfat frozen yogurt shops pop up overnight and where at least one yoga studio per block seems mandatory. And Angelenos themselves are hungry for anything that will give them energy, keep them looking young or reverse the side effects of their younger, more self-destructive days.

If you tell an Angeleno that sticking a sprig of rosemary up one’s nose will reduce hair loss or improve complexion, be prepared to see someone with a sprig of rosemary up his or her nose. People here, it seems, will do anything, try anything, drink anything, for the sake of health.

Which is why this new raw cane juice trend -- and the health claims about it -- are perhaps to be expected ...

Popping up at farmers' markets throughout the city, raw cane juice -- the sweet liquid squeezed from sugar cane -- is the latest food fad. Aside from its "raw" appeal, cane juice is reputed, depending on your source, to: soothe sore throats, cure jaundice, prevent cold and flu, fight breast and prostate cancer, maintain normal kidney function and provide strength to the heart, eyes and brain.

"Wow," you may be thinking, "what a miracle drink! I must head to the nearest farmers' market immediately to pick myself up a bottle!"

Not so fast. Lest we get caught up in hearsay, we decided to get a health expert’s opinion on the juice.

(Now would be a good time to remove your keys from the ignition.)

When questioned about the purported miracle properties of raw cane juice, Roger Clemens, adjunct professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at the USC, replied, quite firmly: “No studies have proven these health benefits.”

When asked whether raw cane juice could help soothe a sore throat or energize the body, he replied: “I’ve been working in this field for 40 years, and I’ve never seen any evidence for any of this.”

What about so-called alkalizing properties that can help fight breast and prostate cancer? “Nothing in science backs it up.”

How about raw cane juice as an energy drink – maybe it could, at the very least, serve as a pick-me-up to get you through the 4 o’clock slump at work? 

“There’s a difference between nutritionally rich and calorically rich,” Clemens said. “The bottom line is there isn’t any scientific evidence to support these purported claims.”

So there you have it, folks. Drink raw cane juice if you like the taste – but don’t expect miracles. Or much at all.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo: A man chops sugar cane, from which an L.A. food fad is derived, in Cuba.

Credit: Associated Press

Give it up, Americans -- just go ahead and cut back on the salt

June 24, 2010 |  4:26 pm

Salt Salt. Cigarettes. Salt. Cigarettes. Don't see a connection? You will. In fact, you might as well start reducing your salt consumption now. Not only would it improve your health, you're just going to be nagged incessantly until you do.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined the you're-consuming-too-much-sodium chorus, releasing an analysis of salt-consumption data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  

This is the high point: "Overall, 9.6% of all adults met their applicable recommended limit."

Everyone else got too much. 

The report comes on the heels of other recent statistics, warnings and admonitions about our salt consumption:

USDA's new dietary guidelines restrict salt, sugar and saturated fats

Food companies sign up for war on salt

FDA calls for salt cutbacks

Less salt, fewer health issues, studies say

Federal panel sounds alarm on national hypertension 'emergency'

And those are just from the last few months.

Don't want to be hasty? Rather wait for more alarming data? Hope all those doctors and public health officials will change their minds?


But when you ask for the salt shaker at a restaurant -- and you're sent outside to the patio or, maybe, the street corner to season your food -- don't say we didn't warn you.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Getty Images

What's in your shopping bag? Bacteria. (But, hey, it's natural!)

June 24, 2010 | 10:20 am

Shopping bags Way to go, all you planet-saving shoppers who've made the switch to reusable bags! But consider: "Reusable" doesn't mean "self-cleaning." 

Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University queried shoppers headed into grocery stores in California and Arizona, asking them if they wash those reusable bags. The researchers were likely met with a lot of blank looks. Most shoppers -- 97%, in fact -- reported that they do not regularly, if ever, wash the bags.

Further, three-fourths acknowledged that they don't use separate bags for meats and for vegetables, and about a third said they used the bags for, well, all sorts of things (storing snacks, toting books). You can see where this is going.

The researchers tested 84 of the bags for bacteria. They found whopping amounts in all but one bag, and coliform bacteria (suggesting raw-meat or uncooked-food contamination) in half. And yes, the much-feared E. coli was among them -- in 12% of the bags.

Here's the full report, Assessment of the Potential for Cross Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags. And more on food-borne illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers wrote in their discussion of the findings:

"It is estimated that there are about 76,000,000 cases of foodborne illness in the United States every year. Most of these illnesses originate in the home from improper cooking or handling of foods. Reusable bags, if not properly washed between uses, create the potential for cross-contamination of foods. This potential exists when raw meat products and foods traditionally eaten uncooked (fruits and vegetables) are carried in the same bags, either together or between uses. This risk can be increased by the growth of bacteria in the bags."

The study, funded by the American Chemistry Council, is being offered up as context in discussions about a California bill, AB 1998, that would ban single-use plastic bags, which -- it must be acknowledged -- do tend to have little potential for bacterial contamination.

But the researchers also assessed the effectiveness of washing the bags. Way to go, researchers! Good news on that front: Machine washing or hand washing reduced bacteria levels to almost nothing. 

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Visitors to an Earth Day event in Los Angeles carry reusable tote bags. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times 

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Is there anything the new dietary guidelines say we shouldn't eat? [Updated]

June 21, 2010 |  1:20 pm

Want to get to know the federal government’s proposed new Dietary Guidelines for Americans and win a prize? Check out this contest over at La Vida Locavore.

USDA dietary guidelines foods to avoid contest Sustainable-food activist and author Jill Richardson points out that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are eager to tell people to eat more healthful foods (such as fruits and vegetables) but never seems to name specific foods that we should not eat. Food ingredients such as sodium, sugar and saturated fats are in for a finger-wagging, but when it comes to potato chips, cupcakes or French fries, the advice is simply to “choose wisely.”

So Jill poses this challenge: If you can find an example of the USDA and HHS telling Americans to eat less of a specific food or food group, you’ll win a free book about food (she’ll send you a list of choices).

Since the contest began Tuesday, Jill has named two winners:

In Part B, Section 3, “VK” finds that the guidelines tell Americans to “avoid sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Meanwhile, “Count” notes that page 2 of the executive summary advises readers to “lower intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are coupled with added sugar, solid fat, and sodium.”

OK, Booster Shots readers, there are hundreds of pages of dietary guidelines. Can you find any more winners?

Update: This post originally gave the USDA sole credit for producing the dietary guidelines. It is actually a co-production of the USDA and HHS.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: If you can find where the USDA says we should skip the cupcakes, you'll be a winner. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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Book Review: 'Gold Medal Fitness' by Dara Torres

June 19, 2010 |  3:31 pm

GoldMedalFitnessFINAL JACKET

Dara Torres was 41 when she won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, beating women years her junior and becoming the oldest swimming medalist in the history of the Games. Her wins were a victory for older athletes everywhere. 

In "Gold Medal Fitness," written with Billie Fitzpatrick, Torres answers the question many have asked her since: How did she do it?

Her new book -- a follow-up to her memoir, "Age Is Just a Number"  -- outlines the fitness program that she says remade her body and helped her win races long past the age at which most competitive swimmers hang up their goggles.

"Gold Medal Fitness" shows readers how to replicate her type of workouts and perhaps experience greater success in their own athletic endeavors. It describes the swimmer's approaches to goal-setting, diet and exercise; offers 35 days of simple menu plans; features pictures and descriptions of the kinds of exercises and stretches that are a mainstay of her workout; and gives tips on cardio and recovery.

Torres says she has become stronger, leaner and more efficient through a type of strength training she learned from Andy O'Brien that works on three planes of movement to strengthen core muscles. She says most exercise equipment is designed to strengthen one or two muscle groups at a time on a singular plane, whereas most life activities and sports work on multiple planes: up and down, forward and back, side to side and rotating top and bottom.

Though she says the "deceptively simple" exercises shown in her book can be done by people at any level of fitness, they do require equipment and a commitment to learning the proper form. Access to a gym -- as well as a workout partner or trainer -- is probably a given, since exercises call for a BOSU trainer, a Swiss ball, a medicine ball, dumbbells, a cable machine and an incline bench. 

Torres has attained her flexibility, she says, from a resistance stretching program called Ki-Hara that she learned from Steve Sierra and Anne Tierney. Ki-Hara incorporates eccentric training, which contracts and lengthens muscles at the same time. Torres says this type of training builds more muscle power, helps create fast-twitch muscles and speeds recovery. She says Ki-Hara has "literally changed" her body so that she's become faster in the pool and more in balance. These exercises don't require equipment, though a yoga mat, towel and Swiss ball can be used.

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