Friday, March 23, 2007
Ok, I know originally this was supposed to be health news, but it's so hard to leave this alone. When we go to a restaurant, we rely on the the restaurant having been inspected by the local health inspectors. We expect that they can pass these health inspections. We expect that the food will be cooked to the correct temperature and that we won't get sick from the food that we eat there. Generally health inspections are done on a twice yearly basis. At the end of last month, there was a news report about a person working for a catering company that was diagnosed with Hepatitis A after working for several celebrity parties. At the end of last year, there was an E Coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants around the nation. We as a nation are worried about food safety and the possibility of getting food poisoning. Yet a new report out by the Department of Agriculture shows that only about 10% of our nations school cafeterias have even one health inspection done each year. That's 1 in 10 school cafeterias that have health inspections at all! If less than 1 in 10 of our nations restaurants were getting health inspections, there would be a major public outcry. Yet the cafeterias where our kids eat their school lunches aren't getting inspected. The findings on those that are getting inspected are quite scary. The milk isn't staying cold, the food isn't staying hot. If you read the Safe Handling Instructions on a food container, it says keep raw meats and vegetables separate from cooked food. Yet this isn't happening in some schools either. Floors are filthy and need repair or handwashing stations are either not there or are not what is needed. All of these things leave the possibility of the food going bad, and our kids to get sick. Possibly very sick. According to the article on MSN (here) the number of inspections varies by state. Granted, 61% of school cafeterias got at least 2 health inspections, in New Mexico, there were no school cafeterias that went through any health inspections at all. In many states, it's not that there is no interest in doing a health inspection in the school cafeterias. There isn't enough money in the budget for the inspections to take place. Congress passed a bill requiring more health inspections, but the state budgets weren't increased to compensate. Now, school cafeteria workers are better trained than say your local McDonalds worker, but that's not to say that no one gets sick from eating at a school cafeteria. With how finances are in most states, I can understand why the needed changes haven't been made. We seem to have a recession coming, and a lot of states are running short in their budgets. However, we need to do something to make sure our kids are safe. Our kids are more vulnerable to getting seriously ill from food poisoning.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Walk through the grocery store and you see foods with all sorts of additives like high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Even the peanut butter has partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in it to keep it mixed. We've gotten so used to the sugar in our food that when it's not there, we miss it. Though we choose these foods, the special interest groups are trying to pass a law keeping these foods from our schools. It seems like the government is trying to step in and decide what we can and cannot eat. New York passes a trans fat ban, and several other cities are moving to follow suit. Now they want to control what the kids can get for food outside of the school lunch program. In theory it sounds like a great idea. However, the parents are the ones who should be deciding what their kids are eating. Because of the special interest groups lobbying congress, we haven't been given a decent directive on how to eat healthy. Too many companies are worried about their bottom line for us to get anything other than the opinions you will find if you walk into a bookstore. What is truly ironic about the whole bill to control what goes in the vending machines is that the school lunch program isn't exactly healthy. Take the meat portion, let's use 'beef fries' as an example. These items are marked as the beef must be no more than 30% fat at the most. Then other ingredients are added, the mix is formed into stick shapes, battered and breaded, then deep fried at least long enough to set the breading. By the time the finished product comes out, 62% of the calories come from fat. Another example, let's try a fully cooked burger. That winds up being 70% of the calories coming from fat. Granted, growing kids need fat, but if we are trying to make the schools more healthy, we should start with something that all of the kids and most of the teachers eat, except for those who are smart enough to bring their own lunches. Let's not even get into Lunchables. Yes, there are guidelines set by the USDA school nutrition program. These guidelines are strict and all companies who sell to the schools must follow this program. However, the guidelines simply do not go far enough for the nutrition. They just keep track of the number of servings of meat (or meat alternates such as soy), bread, fruit and vegetables that are served at lunch. They do not figure out the number of calories served to these kids. Figures keep coming out saying that America's kids are getting fatter. We need to take a real honest look at how we're feeding our kids and contributing to their growing problem.
Friday, March 16, 2007
NY Times Story -- Unhappy Meals Many years ago, well not many, just in the 1970's, there was research done into the food groups and how we should eat. Their results were quite simple. We need to eat less red meat and dairy products. Unfortunately, nothing in politics is that simple. The dairy and meat lobbyists found out about this research and the results. They put pressure on the senators to keep this information from being released. They couldn't tell the American public to eat less red meat or dairy products. So instead we were told to eat more fruits and vegetables. No problem. Americans increased the amount of vegetables on their plate, but increased the amount of meat and dairy to compensate. Instead of just eating more vegetables, we just ate more. And the country got fatter. Now we get so much conflicting information that it's difficult to know what we are supposed to eat. Our food is stripped of its nutrients, processed and then they add nutrients back in. We have bleached enriched wheat flour, which has no fiber in it. We have white rice that is so processed that there is no nutrient value in it. Our best bet for a healthy diet is the simplest. Fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen. Whole grains, complex carbohydrates. You know, the kind that actually has fiber in it. We see the ads on tv for fiber supplements. You know the one I'm talking about, there's one that has a woman walking by with a cart full of milk and a cart full of broccoli. There's another with people constantly munching on vegetables throughout the day. It doesn't have to work that way. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains makes it easy to get the amount of fiber we're supposed to get. One small apple has 3 grams of fiber. A cup of raw chopped broccoli (half cup cooked) also has 3 grams of fiber. One potato about the size of your fist has 5 grams of fiber. The food companies would love for us to believe the latest hype about whatever they're marketing this week. Don't believe it, stick to whole foods and you'll be feeling better all the time.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
With all the furor over Merck's new HPV vaccine, several things seem to have been totally forgotten. Many people are in favor of this vaccine as it is supposed to protect against cervical cancer. At least that's what they're saying. That's not quite true. This vaccine is supposed to protect against 4 out of 100 types of HPV. These 4 types of HPV are supposed to cause 70% of the cervical cancer outbreaks in the US. So, Merck found a way to protect against these 4 types of HPV, then they pressure the lawmakers to mandate that all girls entering the 6th grade need to have this vaccine. Wait a minute here. This vaccine hasn't even had long term trials yet. But, they want us to make it mandatory for our young girls to have this vaccine? What happens if in 10 years, they find out that there are some rather dramatic side effects of this vaccine? What do we tell the girls that got this 'mandatory' vaccine? That we're sorry we let the drug company do their testing on them? In the US, they suggest yearly checkups once a woman becomes sexually active. With these checkups, not only do they do a pap smear, which is still the best way to detect abnormalities and precancerous cells (remember that other 30%?), but they can do testing for other STD's. Now, if you are not having unprotected sex, you are not exposing yourself to STD's, but you are also not exposing yourself to these 100 types of HPV. It seems to have drawn a line in the US. The religious groups feel that having mandatory HPV vaccinations send our kids the wrong message. That we are telling them they can have unprotected sex as much as they want since they won't end up with cervical cancer from it. Many who don't follow that thinking seem to think that the vaccine is a good idea. My vote, keep pushing the abstinence, but tell Merck that they need to go back to clinical trials until they know what the long term effects of their vaccine are. The last thing we need is another drug like Vioxx. They may feel it's worth the risk of having to pay a class action lawsuit down the road with what they earn right now with this drug, but I don't feel that our kids should have to pay the price. If adults choose to do so, that's their choice.