by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Activity

Jun 5 2009

Pediatricians say: let kids move!

I usually don’t say much about the physical activity side of the obesity equation, mainly because overeating calories is so much greater a contributor to weight gain.  But don’t get me wrong.  I favor “move more” as much as “eat less,” especially for kids.

I’m dismayed by how kids these days are basically under house arrest.  So, apparently, is the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has just produced a thought-provoking report about how to create a kid-friendlier “built environment” (public health-speak for sidewalks, playgrounds, and the other ways cities are constructed to discourage physical activity).

My favorite statistic from the report: In 1969, about 41% of kids walked to school on their own.  Today it is 13% on average and just 5% in some areas.

Try this for comparison: When I was 8 years old and living in Manhattan, I walked 6 blocks to school in the morning, came home for lunch, walked back to school after lunch, and then walked home, got my bicycle, and headed off to the park – unsupervised – and lived to tell about it.  I took subways – by myself – to piano lessons.  After school, I was sent out to play and expected to stay out until dinner time.

Well, society has changed and it is hard to imagine letting children so young do that today.  The question is what to do about it.  Pediatricians urge us to ask that question.  And about time, too.

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May 14 2009

Will the FDA start regulating supplements?

If the FDA is now going after health claims (see yesterday’s post), will it also start going after dietary supplements?  These, as I explained in my most recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle, get to make all kinds of unsubstantiated claims without the FDA being able to do much about them.  More and more evidence is coming in suggesting that supplements can be harmful as well as ineffective.   The latest example: antioxidant supplements are said to interfere with the beneficial effects of physical activity.    Will such studies encourage the FDA to insist that manufacturers demonstrate safety and efficacy before they put supplements on the market?  That would be a refreshing change, no?

Jan 24 2009

Update on obesity issues

While the new website was in production, I got a bit caught up on my reading.  Here’s what’s been happening on the obesity front.

Middle-age spread: eat less or else! A new study proves what every woman over the age of 50 knows all too well: you just can’t eat the way you used to without putting on the pounds.  Muscle mass declines with age, calorie needs do too.    Activity helps some, but not enough.  I think it’s totally unfair, by the way, but I’m guessing the same thing happens to men (but they have more muscle to begin with).  Alas.

Turn off the TV: Common Sense Media looked at 173 studies of the effects of watching TV on child and adolescent health.  Of 73 studies examining correlations between TV-watching and obesity, 86% found strong associations.  TV-watching was also strongly associated with such unfortunate outcomes as cigarette smoking, drug use, early sexual activity, and poor academic performance.  Conclusion: if you want to encourage kids to be healthier, turn off the TV!

British government launched an anti-obesity campaign: The UK government’s Change4Life campaign is designed to promote healthier lifestyles.  This is causing much discussion, not least because of its food-industry sponsorship (uh oh).  Food companies are said to view the campaign as good for business (uh oh, indeed). The government wants everyone to help with the campaign by putting up posters and such, and its website is cheery.  Buried in all of this is some good advice, but most of it is phrased as eat better, not eat less or avoid.  That, of course, is why the food industry is willing to fund a campaign which, if successful, could hardly be in the food industry’s best interest.

Jan 7 2009

School interventions work! (Sometimes)

It’s always nice to have some evidence for what you think makes sense.  David Katz and his Yale colleagues analyzed a bunch of studies attempting to improve both school nutrition and physical fitness.  Taken one by one, these studies generally showed negligible improvements in body weight, if any.  But these investigators analyzed a selected group of 19 (of 64) studies that met their inclusion criteria.  Taken collectively, these studies showed that the interventions improved body weight.  The overall effects on weight were small, but in the hoped-for direction.  Katz et al’s conclusion: combined nutrition and physical activity interventions are worth doing, especially when they include parental involvement along with cutting down on TV.

If the link to the paper doesn’t work for you, try the abstract on PubMed.

Oct 8 2008

Be active!

The Department of Health and Human Services has just issued new guidelines for physical activity.  They come with a guide for adults, a toolkit for community organizers, and research information for professionals.  The approach is easy: some activity is better than none; more is better than less.  Seems like good advice (but if you are worried about weight, you still have to eat less).

Jun 21 2008

Physical activity is good for you!

The Department of Health and Human Services has just released the report of a committee that has just spent the last two years reviewing research on the benefits and risks of physical activity for specific population groups.  Guess what?  It’s good for you!  And to summarize all that research: some is better than none, more is better than less, higher intensity is better than lower intensity.  The “some is better than none” part should be an inspiration to everyone to get out there and start moving.

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Jun 18 2008

Obesity is not due to less physical activity

Or so says a new study from Europe. If anything, the study finds that physical activity in Europe has slightly increased since the early 1980s, a result that is consistent with findings of the CDC for Americans (the chart plots the percentage of people who say they never do physical activity; that percentage is declining). What this means, of course, is that people who are gaining weight must be eating more. Big surprise.

May 23 2008

The “verb” campaign, analyzed

In 2001, Congress gave $125 million (a fortune!) to the CDC to develop a marketing program to encourage kids to be more active. The result was VERB (run, jump, dance, play, etc). I was dubious (I thought it was great that the CDC was teaching kids the parts of speech) but lo and behold: while the money poured in, VERB worked. But the funding stopped and the program is now history, and written history at that. Everything about it, from theoretical model to results to interpretation, is now summarized in a supplement to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The overview paper is a good place to start. Encouraging more physical activity is politically neutral; everyone thinks it would be great if everybody “moved more.” So how about giving CDC the funds to see if its program wizards can do the same with “eat less,” particularly of soft drinks and junk foods. Any chance for that happening?

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