Saturday, September 30, 2006

Town planning blamed for obesity (!)

Poor town planning which limits opportunities for children to take exercise has been blamed for fuelling an increase in obesity. Leading US paediatrician Professor Richard Jackson called for a rethink in the way towns and cities are developed. He said living in a walkable neighbourhood helped people keep off an average of seven pounds (3.17kg). Professor Jackson made his comments at a lecture at London's Institute of Child Health.

He said humans were so adaptable that they quickly adjusted to the environment in which they found themselves. However, while this was an advantage in evolutionary terms, it spelled bad news when that environment provided little opportunity for exercise. Humans were designed to keep active, he said, and they were not designed for the modern, sedentary lifestyle that had become the norm. He said the environment should support people to make healthy choices, but increasingly children were not given the option of walking. "Prescribing a minimum of physical activity is useless if there is nowhere to exercise," he said. "How a neighbourhood is designed dictates how people get around, for example walking or bicycling versus automobile use."

Professor Jackson, who is professor in both public health and urban design at the University of California at Berkeley, said technology had brought both "good" and "bad" news. He said: "Technology has eliminated a lot of the really backbreaking labour from our lives. "But we have also "designed" a lot of incidental exercise out of our lives, such as walking. "In 1969, 48% of American students (90% of those who lived within a mile) walked or bicycled to school. "In 1999, only 19% of children walked to or from school and 6% rode bicycles to school."

Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said Professor Jackson was "absolutely right". He said: "The development of obesity in the past 30 years is a direct result of environmental change. "The fact that environment sustainability and health are inextricably linked needs to be recognised by politicians and public health officials and definitive action taken. "Then, and only then, will we see decreases in levels of childhood obesity in this country."


Trans fat frenzy in NYC too

Three years after the city banned smoking in restaurants, health officials are talking about prohibiting something they say is almost as bad: artificial trans fatty acids. The city health department unveiled a proposal Tuesday that would bar cooks at any of the city's 24,600 food service establishments from using ingredients that contain the artery-clogging substance, commonly listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated oil.

Artificial trans fats are found in some shortenings, margarine and frying oils and turn up in foods from pie crusts to french fries to doughnuts.

Doctors agree that trans fats are unhealthy in nearly any amount, but a spokesman for the restaurant industry said he was stunned the city would seek to ban a legal ingredient found in millions of American kitchens.

"Labeling is one thing, but when they totally ban a product, it goes well beyond what we think is prudent and acceptable," said Chuck Hunt, executive vice president of the city's chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association. He said the proposal could create havoc: Cooks would be forced to discard old recipes and scrutinize every ingredient in their pantry. A restaurant could face a fine if an inspector finds the wrong type of vegetable shortening on its shelves.

The proposal also would create a huge problem for national chains. Among the fast foods that would need to get an overhaul or face a ban: McDonald's french fries, Kentucky Fried Chicken and several varieties of Dunkin' Donuts. Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden acknowledged that the ban would be a challenge for restaurants, but he said trans fats can easily be replaced with substitute oils that taste the same or better and are far less unhealthy. "It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient," Frieden said. "No one will miss it when it's gone."

A similar ban on trans fats in restaurant food has been proposed in Chicago and is still under consideration, although it has been ridiculed by some as unnecessary government meddling. The latest version of the Chicago plan would only apply to companies with annual revenues of more than $20 million, a provision aimed exclusively at fast-food giants.

A few companies have moved to eliminate trans fats on their own. Wendy's announced in August that it had switched to a new cooking oil that contains no trans fatty acids. Crisco now sells a shortening that contains zero trans fats. Frito-Lay removed trans fats from its Doritos and Cheetos. Kraft's took trans fats out of Oreos. McDonald's began using a trans fat-free cooking oil in Denmark after that country banned artificial trans fats in processed food, but it has yet to do so in the United States. Walt Riker, vice president of corporate communications at McDonald's, said in a statement Tuesday that the company would review New York's proposal. "McDonald's knows this is an important issue, which is why we continue to test in earnest to find ways to further reduce (trans fatty acid) levels," he said.

New York's health department had asked restaurants to impose a voluntary ban last year but found use of trans fats unchanged in recent surveys. Under the New York proposal, restaurants would need to get artificial trans fats out of cooking oils, margarine and shortening by July 1, 2007, and all other foodstuffs by July 1, 2008. It would not affect grocery stores. It also would not apply to naturally occurring trans fats, which are found in some meats and dairy. The Board of Health has yet to approve the proposal and will not do so until at least December, Frieden said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring food labels to list trans fats in January. Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard University School of Public Health, praised New York health officials for considering a ban, which he said could save lives. "Artificial trans fats are very toxic, and they almost surely causes tens of thousands of premature deaths each year," he said. "The federal government should have done this long ago."



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.


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