#280 Obesity and Politics
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When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it."

Clarence Darrow

Fat Stance: Presidential Candidates on Obesity

By Joe Wilkes

Childhood ObesityThis Election Day we thought we'd take a look at the slate of presidential contenders and check out their platforms for an issue near and dear to our heart—obesity. America is in the grip of an obesity epidemic. Over 32 percent of Americans are now considered obese (more than twice the percentage of 25 years ago) and 66 percent are overweight. Obesity is a contributing factor in hypertension, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary disease, gallbladder disease, and stroke. And this week a new study has been released linking obesity to six types of cancer—esophageal, pancreatic, colorectal, endometrial, kidney, and breast. It is now believed that obesity is almost as predictive a cancer risk as smoking.

Aside from the cost of human lives, the economic impact of obesity is huge, costing America billions of dollars each year. While the issue of obesity has been somewhat subsumed by the debate over universal healthcare, how we confront the issue of the fattening of our society could affect the quality of our future as much as combating global warming or the spread of HIV/AIDS. Childhood obesity is another (literally) growing problem. According to the Centers of Disease Control, among children under five, the obesity rate has almost tripled in the last 25 years (from 5.0 to 13.9 percent). It's also gone up for children aged 6 to 11 (from 6.5 to 18.8 percent), and for teenagers, obesity has almost quadrupled (from 5.0 to 17.4 percent). Whoever is elected president in 2008 will have a huge influence on the national policies that affect nutrition and obesity. Here's a look, alphabetically and by party, at what we could expect from some of them on the issue.

THE DEMOCRATS

Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware)

Joe BidenSenator Biden's healthcare plan has four main planks, the last of which is "Encouraging Prevention and Modernization" (the other three involve covering all children, ensuring access to healthcare for adults, and reinsuring catastrophic cases). His plan promises to: "Increase funding for existing programs that promote awareness and prevention of chronic diseases and obesity."

Also encouraging was that in a recent online debate with Slate.com, when asked to rank coal-polluted air, terrorist strikes, and high-fructose corn syrup as the deadliest threat to America, Biden ranked corn syrup second behind air pollution.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York)

Hillary ClintonThe first plank of Senator Clinton's healthcare plan is to: "Prioritize Prevention to Reduce the Incidence of Disease that Impose Huge Human and Financial Burdens." She is recommending that doctors provide more advice on weight, nutrition, and exercise to prevent chronic diseases caused by obesity. The first step of her "7-Step Strategy to Reduce Health Costs" is to: "Install a Groundbreaking National Prevention Initiative to Reduce the Incidence of Obesity and Diseases Such as Diabetes and Cancer that Impose Huge Human and Financial Costs." To accomplish this, she would require all insurers participating in federal programs to cover prevention services.

Senator Clinton also cosponsored the FOOD (Food Outreach and Opportunity Development) for a Healthy America Act in May 2007. The bill would improve access to healthy foods by bettering nutrition education, increasing food assistance programs, supporting farmers' markets, and introducing new food distribution methods. It is currently in committee. As president, she has also pledged to increase funding to the Carol White Physical Education program by 50 percent, targeting communities with the highest prevalence of childhood obesity.

She also has personal experience with the obesity issue, as her husband, former President Bill Clinton and well-documented Big Mac aficionado, has undergone quadruple bypass surgery due to coronary disease related to his own diet and obesity issues. His William J. Clinton Foundation has prioritized combating childhood obesity. Hillary helped promote C. Everett Koop's Shape Up America early in her role as First Lady and has been involved in various nutrition-related projects throughout her career. In her recent campaign commercial spoofing the Sopranos finale, she pointedly orders carrot sticks for Bill instead of onion rings.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut)

Chris DoddSenator Dodd's universal healthcare plan includes a plank which focuses on prevention. According to the plan, "People who make personal choices to improve their health through smoking cessation, weight loss, and exercise will have access to plan rewards and incentives." Among his Congressional highlights, Senator Dodd sponsored a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative to provide low-income senior citizens with locally grown fruits and vegetables. He also introduced the Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (IMPACT) in 2002, which devoted millions of dollars to reduce obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes through better nutrition and exercise.

Former Senator John Edwards (D-North Carolina)

John EdwardsFormer Senator Edwards has pledged to " . . . boost public health funding, work with schools to remove unhealthy foods, invest in physical education, and promote wellness and fitness in communities and workplaces." In the interest of cancer prevention (his wife Elizabeth suffers from stage IV breast cancer), Edwards has pledged to "launch a national research program to identify environmental risks, as well as promoting healthy lifestyle changes that could reduce risk. Those include smoking cessation, improving diets at schools, and bolstering exercise to combat obesity." He has also pledged to "form a national taskforce to address school nutrition guidelines that emphasize healthy food options for kids." Edwards' healthcare plan will also give tax initiatives to employers that provide wellness programs and gyms for their employees in the workplace. His healthcare plan also promises to "establish a nationwide healthy lifestyles campaign to promote individuals' healthy choices."

Former Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska)

Mike GravelFormer Senator Gravel recently rose to Bill Maher's bait to affirm that Americans were "getting fatter and dumber" than ever before. At a speech in Boulder, Gravel maintained that, "If I become president, I'm going to do something about obesity . . . ." Stay tuned.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)

Dennis KucinichRepresentative Kucinich has the distinction of being the only vegan candidate. He's probably not going to get the endorsement of the Beef Council. In Congress, he voted NO on The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (aka "The Cheeseburger Bill"), which would have prevented civil lawsuits against the food industry for obesity claims (the bill subsequently died in committee in the Senate). He has also committed to a "full disclosure" health education system wherein nutritional value and health risks associated with food would be clearly labeled.

Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois)

Barack ObamaSenator Obama has introduced two major pieces of legislation in his brief tenure as Senator—the Healthy Places Act and the Healthy Communities Act, designed to fund state and local initiatives to assess health impacts of new policies and programs. Obama's healthcare plan includes an important plank about school nutrition: ". . . to get junk food out of vending machines in schools and improve nutritional content of lunches through financial incentives, increase grant support for physical education, expand federal reimbursement for school-based health services, and provide grants for health educational programs for students."

Governor Bill Richardson (D-New Mexico)

Bill RichardsonGovernor Richardson was the only candidate of either party to attend the Obesity Society's Public Policy Conference. At the conference, he stated, "As president, I would fight obesity every day . . . I would launch a national obesity prevention effort. We must help people understand that this is a disease, not a behavior." As Governor of New Mexico, he enacted several initiatives in an effort to create healthier lifestyles, including banning junk food from schools and increasing physical education. The Center for Science in the Public Interest ranked New Mexico second nationwide for food availability and fourth for nutrition policy. He has pledged to enact similar initiatives nationwide as president.

Next week, the Republican candidates—so tune in!

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Joe Wilkes If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Boost Your Immune System Naturally

By Steve Edwards

Flu ShotIf you didn't get a flu shot this year, it could be a good thing. An ever-increasing amount of data is suggesting that these may not be all they're cracked up to be. In one study, even among the target audience, the elderly, the efficacy rate was less than 30 percent. If you did get one, don't be alarmed. There is no definitive research showing that these harm you at all. The point of this article isn't to bash flu shots; it's to show how you can take a more active role in naturally boosting your immune system.

Some of us use our flu shot as a crutch, which is where the harm comes in. Whether you get immunized or not, research has shown that lifestyle, more than any other factor, influences the effectiveness of your immune system. Let's look at how we can change both our behavior and diet to maximize our body's ability to defend itself.

Behavior Changes

  1. SleepGet plenty of sleep. Sleep is vital for all human performance. When you don't get enough, the first thing to fail is your ability to fight off illness. Pathogens exist in all walks of life and fighting them off is an essential part of our well-being. A rested body is a recovered body, and when yours is strong, it functions with more efficiency.

  2. Exercise. "Yeah, yeah," you're probably thinking. "Exercise is on every list you guys make." True, but that's because our bodies are made to exercise. If we don't, we begin to fall apart. Throw a few pathogens into the mix and it'll exacerbate this inevitability, and rapidly. Sure, the act of exercise breaks you down. But this breakdown requires that you build yourself back up stronger. That's why we promote everything from Hip Hop Abs® to Yoga Booty Ballet®. Sleeping well and exercising are the two most important things you can do to keep your body healthy in almost every respect, including number three.

  3. StressAvoid stress. This one is more difficult because stress tends to find you, not the other way around. But at least part of this is controllable, especially how we deal with it. We all have stress. What sets us apart is how we react to it.

  4. Wash your hands. A very simple act that's highly effective when it comes to keeping you healthy. You don't need fancy antibacterial soap for this to work. Any simple soap will do. Just do so often because most of the things you touch, especially in public, are covered in germs. To make this easier you can now find waterless hand sanitizers, which were popularized by travelers in countries where the water was unsafe.

  5. Enclosed SpaceAvoid enclosed spaces. This one is toughest of all, since most of us work or go to school in enclosed spaces. But just because you're forced into a space doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do about it. We should all take more breaks at work anyway. Our bodies and our minds will perform better if we give them a break every hour or so. This is why classes tend to be about an hour long. Moving outside of your enclosed space helps you recharge with healthy elements, such as clean air, sunshine, and vitamin D.

Dietary Changes

Healthy ChoicesEating a healthy diet enhances all of the above and everything else that you do in life. Staying hydrated, in particular, is also very important for your immune system. This tends to get compounded because the flu season begins as the weather cools, which is when we feel like drinking the least amount of water. Supplementing during times of high stress, and when you're forced to stay in an enclosed place for long periods (such as in an airplane), has been shown to reduce your chances of getting sick. But these are all obvious things, right?

What is less obvious is that many natural foods and herbs have been shown to improve the body's immune system. None of these are "proven" medical remedies but all have a long history of anecdotal lore that probably has some relevant meaning, even if the AMA hasn't blessed them the same way it has pseudophedrine. Whether they work or not, all of these foods have other healthy benefits to supplement your diet, so file them under the "why not" category. With that disclaimer, here are ten foods that may boost your immune system.

  • GarlicGarlic. From staving off vampires to its antiviral and antibacterial properties, garlic has been a wonder food of holistic medicine for as long as we've been writing about it. Just eat it in its natural form—there's a reason you've never seen anyone defend themselves against Dracula with garlic salt.

  • Citrus fruits. They're not just for scurvy anymore. Citrus fruits are all high in vitamin C—the vitamin most commonly associated with a strong immune system.

  • EchinaceaEchinacea. Another one long on lore but short on science; its anecdotal history in antiviral medicine should not be discounted, though. This herb is best used only in times of severe stress.

  • Berries. These fruits contain exceedingly high amounts of antioxidants, which are directly responsible for fighting off would-be illnesses.

  • ZincZinc. Not a real food, but with the popularity of zinc lozenges who would know? There is good science behind zinc supplementation but, again, it's a high-stress supplement only. Don't make sucking on these a part of your daily diet.

  • Oysters. For those who want to take their zinc naturally, nothing beats oysters. And to think all this time we've only thought of them as aphrodisiacs.

  • Shiitake mushrooms. Long used in Japan for their antibacterial and antiviral qualities, we're lucky that they're now a common ingredient in haute cuisine.

  • YogurtYogurt. One of the few foods that's been a cornerstone of an entire region's diet, as it was for most everyone living between eastern Europe and Central Asia for about 4,000 years, the bacteria in yogurt help us digest other foods better as well as fight off many dangerous bacteria.

  • Carrots. High glycemic index be dammed, there is no negative research associated with carrot eaters and plenty of positive. They are exceptionally high in beta-carotene, one of the most influential factors in a study on children's school attendance.

  • Astragalus RootAstragalus root. Another popular herb used in traditional Chinese medicine that's picking up steam under the scrutiny of Western science. The only downside is that, unfortunately, it's not yet found its place in haute cuisine.

Related Articles
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Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Test Your Presidents IQ!

By Monica Gomez

Who said this? Match the president with the corresponding quote.

  1. George Washington"I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world."—George Washington. The first U.S. president, who served two terms, was born February 22, 1732 in Wakefield, Virginia. He is the only president to have been inaugurated in two cities, in New York and in Philadelphia. The wooden-teeth-wearing pres was also the first who did not live in the White House during his presidency (President John Adams—the second U.S. president—was the first to occupy the White House). In fact, he lived in Mount Vernon—known as the "Mansion House Farm"—an 8,000-acre plantation divided into five farms. With that much acreage, I'd rather live there too.

  2. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."—Franklin D. Roosevelt. Going against President Grover Cleveland's advice to him as a boy to never become president (a five-year-old Roosevelt visited the White House with his father and met the U.S. 22nd and 24th president), FDR first took office on March 4, 1933 as the 32nd U.S. pres. He served three consecutive terms, longer than any other president, and was also the first president to appear on television and have a presidential aircraft. At 39 years of age, FDR contracted polio, which left him paralyzed for the rest of his life. It is said that this was a turning point in the leader's life, a turning point that gave this "fear not" leader strength and courage.

  3. John F. Kennedy"Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all."—John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy, the 35th president, died just two years, 10 months, and two days into his presidency, becoming the only president to have been survived by both his parents. His gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery remains among the most visited locations in Arlington. His widowed wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and two of his children with her are buried alongside JFK. Kennedy was the youngest elected president and the first Roman Catholic. Other notable credits include winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for his book Profiles in Courage, a book describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight U.S. Senators from throughout the senate's history, and his "Ask Not What Your Country Can Do You" inaugural address.

  4. "Governments tend not to solve problems, only to rearrange them."—Ronald Reagan. The 40th president's favorite food? Jelly beans. The jelly bean eating, Illinois-born pres moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, where he became an actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). By the end of 1939, "the Gipper" had appeared in 19 films—he acquired this lifelong nickname for his role as George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American. His final work as a professional actor, from 1964 to 1965, was as host and performer on the television series Death Valley Days. As president of SAG and a strong opponent of communism, Reagan testified before HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) regarding the influence of communists in the motion picture industry.

  5. George W. Bush"Everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear."—George W. Bush. Not very popular at the moment, but nevertheless, the current and 43rd president of the U.S. During his senior year at Phillips Academy, an all-boys school in Andover, Massachusetts, Bush served as head cheerleader and played baseball. He later became captain of the baseball team at Yale University and a Major League Baseball owner (the Texas Rangers). He is one of only five presidents elected whose closest opponent received more popular votes (sharing that honor with John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and Bill Clinton).

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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