Posts Tagged ‘Health’

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What If We Lost Seattle

January 10, 2011

Imagine if you woke up on January 1, after a fun New Year’s night, made your coffee, tuned in the news and heard every person (man, woman, and child) in Seattle, Washington suddenly died, roughly 616,000 people gone from the planet forever.  It would shock our nation; it would shock the entire world.

Describing the instant magnitude of such a loss is beyond the power of words.  What if the loss spread out over the course of a year, is it any less devastating?  Take Afghanistan, our emotional house would be no less devastated if we lost the 100,000 or so U.S. service members currently serving in a year, much less a number like 616,000.  No, spreading such a massive loss over a year does nothing to negate the impact.

So why is it, in our society, we happily ignore the loss of a Seattle’s worth of population every year?  Over 1,800 people a day, every single day, lost!  The major news organizations do not bother to report it, at least not with the same sensationalism a 22-year old idiot with a gun commands.  Do not misunderstand, the unfolding tragedy in Arizona, with its senseless brutality, requires immediate coverage if we, as a people, wish to understand it.  The question is, given the overwhelming magnitude of loosing over six-hundred-thousand Americans yearly, why we show it such little concern.

Now, Seattle is in no more danger than any other place, in fact, it seems less likely something dire happens there than in other cities.  Seattle simply has a convenient population size to compare to the number one killer of Americans – heart disease.  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), in 2007, the most current year for such data, 616,067 people died in the United States from heart related issues[1].  Seattle’s population, in 2009, reported in at 616, 627 making it the 23rd most populous city in the country[2].  In other words, enough Americans die each year from heart disease, alone, to populate any city in America except the top 22.  For example, heart disease kills more Americans, each year, than live in the following cities:

o  Atlanta, Georgia – 540,922 people

o  Omaha, Nebraska – 454,731 people

o  Miami, Florida – 433,136 people

o  Washington, DC – 599,657 people

o  Sacramento, California – 466,676 people

o  Cleveland, Ohio – 431,369 people

[Population figures taken from U.S. Census data[3]]

Oddly enough, we already have the answer to reduce the impact of heart disease.  It does not require some newfangled program, discovery, invention, or billions of tax dollars.  What we need is awareness and the ability to correct our behavior (easier said than done for sure).  Perhaps that is the reason heart disease receive the relatively low attention it does, the answers are with individuals and not in some pill.  According to the Mayo Clinic’s website[4], here are five easy steps to reduce the risk of heart disease:

  1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. By now, everyone knows the danger of smoking.  It leads to atherosclerosis as well as introducing as many as 4,800 chemicals into the body, but the danger does not end with smoking tobacco.  Snuff and chewing tobacco present a danger to the heart as well.  Nicotine restricts or narrows blood vessels making the heart work harder to supply oxygen to the body.  Not to mention, smoking also increases the chances of the number two killer in America – cancer.  In other words, want to kill yourself, smoke like a chimney.  It may not be the most pleasant way to go but you cannot argue with its success.Another point, car companies spend millions, if not billions, to make safer cars.  In 2007 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 41,259 car related deaths[5].  That is less than 10% the number of deaths by heart disease.  While not all heart disease related deaths are attributable to smoking, large portions are.  How much money do tobacco companies spend to make their product safe?
  2. Get active. Participating in physical activity for at least 30-minutes on most days of the week provides benefits in just about every aspect of life.  It reduces the chances of developing conditions that place strain upon the heart, conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  While these condition carry problems all their own, they also adversely affect the heart.Remember, things like gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog all count.  You do not have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits.  Need another reason to exercise?  Many study show moderate exercise improves the sex life.  Who needs more reason than that?
  3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. There are many diets and plans out there, most focus on dropping weight rather than improving heart-health. Eating a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)[6] can help protect your heart as well.  Following the DASH diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt.  The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that can help protect your heart.  Following this diet along with being active will reduce your weight as well.The Mayo also goes on to say “Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though.  Most people, for instance, need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day.  Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease but also may help prevent cancer.”  What does all that mean, people do not have to starve to lose weight and have a healthy heart.
  4. Get regular health screenings. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels.  But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions.  Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight lends itself to a healthy heart.  Carrying too much weight is simply all around bad for the body.  It stresses the joints, lungs, and circulation as well as the heart.  A modest reduction of 10% is beneficial for heart health.  According to The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a couple of key guides are Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist size[7].  As muscle weighs more than fat, the index can give high numbers for people with a healthy weight.  For that reason, waist size also comes into play.  Anything over 40” for men and 35” for women is overweight when the BMI is over 25.  Here are the basic guidelines:

o  Underweight = <18.5

o  Normal weight = 18.5–24.9

o  Overweight = 25–29.9

o  Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

While these steps are not a guarantee in preventing a heart attack or developing a heart related disease, they do greatly reduce the risk as well as provide for a generally healthier life.  So often, in today’s world, we depend upon science or some invention to solve a particular problem.  In this case, there is no need to wait.

Heart disease, being the number one killer of Americans, is something we can address without the help of technology or waiting for some pharmaceutical miracle drug.  It is up to us, through our individual action, to change the reason for heart disease not being in the news from apathy, to its being only a minor cause of death.  Let’s make it a story with no need to cover in the first place.


[1] “FASTSTATS – Deaths and Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm>.

[2] “Population Estimates.” Census Bureau Home Page. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.census.gov/popest/cities/SUB-EST2009.html>.

[3] ibid

[4] Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Heart Disease Prevention: 5 Strategies Keep Your Heart Healthy – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease-prevention/WO00041>.

[5] FARS Encyclopedia. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx>.

[6] The DASH Diet Eating Plan. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www.dashdiet.org/>.

[7] “Calculate Your BMI – Standard BMI Calculator.” Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/>.

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Warning! This Article is About to Expire

March 15, 2010

Here’s the situation:  You’ve had a craving for something fresh to eat all day.  After work, you stop at your local grocery store and start looking for anything tasty.  Fruit, yogurt, and a big bag of salad are scanned, paid for, and sacked; you’re on your way.  At home you prepare the fruit, wash the bag of salad, only then does the problem start – you open the yogurt and it’s rancid.  Disappointment sets in.

Everyone comes across spoiled food from time to time, even if you do your due diligence, inspecting it and looking at the date stamped on it.  We simply put it into the “stuff” happens category and move on.  Regardless of effort, from time to time something goes wrong in the delivery chain and an item is spoiled.  For the most part, time is the enemy of freshness.  That is why providers do things like date products, to aid in knowing how long we have to enjoy our tasty treat.  That brings up another problem, just what does a date mean when it’s on a product in the grocery store?

The answer is it depends on the words that accompany the date.  In this case, words really do matter.  The most common date is the ubiquitous “Sell By” date.  Did you know that the government does not require any food to carry a sell-by date?  It is merely a guideline indicating freshness and there is no regulation regarding it.  Stores have no obligation to remove items that are beyond their sell-by date from shelves.  For them, it is simply a public relations issue.

What about the other dates we see, “Use By,” and “Best Before” for instance?  Use-by does have regulation around it but only where baby food is concerned.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates baby formula and requires the date to ensure it meets nutritional levels that are appropriate.  For poultry, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates it and they only require the display of the date packaged.  They allow other dates, as sell-by or best-before, but in addition to the packaging date.  For most other products, dates are simply window dressing.

Now before anyone out there gets the idea I am suggesting we hire a bunch of food Nazis to oversee the national food supply, I am not.  It is in the best interest of companies to supply food that is safe, fresh, and tasty.  The point is to give the consumer understanding of the date used on labels.  Perhaps it would help if they used some standards but they don’t. At best a general guide can be provided, but it in no way is definitive:

Date Description Meaning
Sell By If sold by this date, the product, like milk, will remain fresh for the expected time to consume it at home, 5 days, or so.
Use By Depends on product, on baby formula it means use by this date to receive the minimum nutritional value allowed.  On other products it is more a guideline.
Packaged Used on meat products to indicate the date it was literally packaged in the container you see.  It does not tell you how fresh the product is before packaging.
Best Before Basically a statement used by the maker to say if you use it by this date, it will taste fresh.
You may find many other labels for dates.  Other than the few required by regulation, they are only indications of relative freshness.  That is the fact to keep in mind.

Besides taste, there are other important reasons to seek out fresher food.  Of great importance are bacteria.  The longer food sits around, the more bacteria grows; it is unavoidable.  Proper handling reduces the growth but cannot eliminate it.  Obviously this is a greater threat with produce, dairy and meats than with packaged foods.  While grocery stores do a good job of maintaining proper temperatures for particular foods, our home refrigerators do not.

It is not a design problem with refrigerators but simply our use as a general storage that creates the issue.  Meats need colder temperatures to retard bacteria, temperatures that damage fresh vegetables.  At home, we strike a balance of sorts but it is not open-ended.  Regardless of any date placed upon meats, if not stored at the proper temperatures, they will spoil.  The best practice is to freeze them unless they are to be used within the next day or two, at the most.  Pallavi Gogoi wrote a wonderful article for Business Week (click here to read) that covers the matter in greater detail.

Another reason to seek out fresher food, all food looses its nutritional value over time.  The longer it sits the less benefit your body receives from it.  Research conducted by Penn State (click here to read report) showed spinach looses over 50% of its folate (vitamin B) and carotenoid (vitamin A and anti-oxidants) levels in just eight days.  That is not eight days from when it reaches the store but eight days after its harvested.  Think of it this way, if its picked today and packaged, shipped to a supplier tomorrow, then moved to a distribution center the next day, then on to a store the next, stored for a day, put on the shelve the next day, bought by you the day after that, then used the following day that’s eight days. Perhaps it is best for fruits and vegetables to use a “Picked On” date but fat-chance for that to happen.  If ever you needed justification to buy locally grown vegetables, here it is!

In the end, product dates are really just guidelines to help us understand freshness.  The point is to check dates and always buy the freshest products possible.  Understand that most dates are not drop-dead dates for food but speak only to its freshness.  After all, freshness is the key – it limits bacterial growth while increasing nutritional value.  Always look for the date, figure out what it’s really telling you, then buy the freshest foods you can.

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