Thursday, August 07, 2008

Health nuts Slam Chain Restaurants for Unhealthy Kid-Meal Options

There is no basis for any of this in the double blind studies. It is all just attention-seeking behaviour based on epidemiological speculation. The "low-fat=good" claim embodied in it is KNOWN TO BE FALSE. See here, here and here. And calories are bad! How awful! All food contains calories. All that matters is how much you eat. You can eat moderately anywhere.

Parents looking for healthy meal choices for their children are likely to find slim pickings on the menus of the nation's top restaurant chains, according to a report released this week by a nonprofit public health group. Nearly every possible combination of the children's meals at Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box and Chick-fil-A are too high in calories, the report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest said, the AP reports.

The report looked into the nutritional quality of kids' meals at 13 major restaurant chains. The center found 93% of 1,474 possible choices at the 13 chains exceed 430 calories - an amount that is one-third of what the National Institute of Medicine recommends that children ages four through eight should consume in a day. For example, Chili's Bar and Grill has 700 possible kids' meal combinations, but 658, or 94%, of those are too high in calories. While there are some healthy choices on restaurant menus, "parents have to navigate a minefield of calories, fat and salt to find them," the report said.

Subway's kids' meals came out the best among the chains examined in the report. Only six of 18 "Fresh Fit for Kids" meals - which include a mini-sub, juice box, and one of several healthful side items such as apple slices, raisins or yogurt - exceed the 430-calorie threshold. But Subway is the only chain that doesn't offer soft drinks with kids' meals, which helped lower the calorie count. The report notes that eating out now accounts for a third of children's daily caloric intake, twice the amount consumed away from home 30 years ago.

"Parents want to feed their children healthy meals, but America's chain restaurants are setting parents up to fail," CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan said in a statement. "McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and other chains are conditioning kids to expect burgers, fried chicken, pizza, French fries, macaroni and cheese, and soda in various combination at almost every lunch and dinner."

The report also found that 45% of children's meals exceed recommendations for saturated and trans fat, which can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, and 86% of children's meals are high in sodium [By sodium they mean salt. Kids can and do die from the lack of it. See here and here. "Hyponatremic" means "not enough salt"]


More cellphone nonsense

Please put your cell phone in the "calm down" position. Dr. Ronald B. Herberman may or may not have been seeking international attention when he, as director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, sent a memo to about 3,000 faculty and staff to limit their cell-phone use because of the possibility of a link to cancer. But Herberman's warning traveled at seemingly the speed of light, because his memo drew swift reaction.

The response ranged from alarm to deep skepticism. The warning hit the news, and fears and questions flew. Every cell-phone user wondering about the safety of cell phones should know that the latest conclusive evidence is that the evidence is inconclusive. Sometimes, the best scientific answer to a question is, "We don't know yet." That's the best answer here.

Herberman certainly prompted phone calls among families and associates with his warning, although one must assume many of them were conducted on landlines. But if people are looking for the real skinny on cell phones and cancer, there simply is not enough evidence to make that call. If it helps, the largest single published study to date, which involved 420,000 Danish people and was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2006, found no increased risk of cancer among those who used cell phones.

Herberman believes in early information in a still unpublished study, and he cites the lack of speed in getting such information out as the basis for his warning to the faculty and staff at the institute. Herberman's opinion should be respected. He seems quite serious in his concern. But there is no large, substantiated study showing a direct link between cell-phone use and cancer. Such evidence may emerge one day, but it hasn't happened yet. The best advice is to be practical. People should use their own common sense. If they believe the warning in Pittsburgh has merit, they should do what they have to do to reduce cell-phone use. If people see no basis in the warning, they will react by doing little to change.

There are, however, broad principles to remember when assessing such issues. For example, be skeptical of any study that might be funded by a cell-phone company. A conflict of interest is always possible when researchers believe their financier wants a particular outcome.

As with many health issues, it might be prudent to pay even more attention to science as it pertains to children. Kids' development can be quite different from effects on adults in a wide range of medical issues. The Pittsburgh warning is naturally causing increased concern among parents whose children use cell phones. But again, there is not enough information to make a case, either way, on what to believe. It is always good to urge government regulators to get the facts and be aggressive in protecting consumers. The public deserves reliable regulation.

The cell-phone controversy is reminiscent of a claim in the early days of color television that radiation from the color TVs was dangerous. Some people may still have that concern. It is also a reminder that, for a long time, cigarettes were not considered dangerous. Tobacco companies even advertised about brands' soothing effects. The world now knows the truth about tobacco.

Herberman's warning is certainly worth attention, but the bottom line on cell phones and cancer is that not enough is known to make the determination that a link exists. But it's certainly right to say scientists need to get a definitive answer for everyone, whatever that answer might be.


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