Friday, March 30, 2007
Opening day is (almost) here!
They play ball, I eat cheesesteaks!
Major League Baseball returns on Sunday. The first pitch of the 2007 season will be thrown in Saint Louis where the Cardinals will face the New York Mets . That means Spring Training winds down this weekend. As the final roster spots are being filled, I am fondly remembering a Florida vacation from a few weeks ago: my annual pilgrimage to Spring Training.

For many Americans, spring break means going to the beach. For me it means a more sedentary activity, watching Major League Baseball up close and personal. The minor league ballparks where the games are played are much smaller than their big league counterparts. To me it makes seeing the play of stars like Albert Pujols, of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and 2006 National League MVP Ryan Howard so much more fun. During one game, Mets pitcher Tom Glavine was maybe 10 feet in front of me warming up as his team was playing the Florida Marlins.

Pujols and Howard looked good, as did one of my other favorites Chase Utley. But I have to admit, in addition to watching baseball, I also look forward to the Philly Cheesesteaks at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater and "Dodger dogs" at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, accompanied by a cold one from America's oldest brewery.

As we sat down to watch the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Houston Astros, I secretly hoped to win the "best seat in the house" contest... sitting in a lounge chair behind home plate plus all you can eat access to the ballpark's menu. I didn't win.

We saw 8 games in 7 days. Usually by the 7th inning of these games, I'd be hankering for a second hot dog or cheese steak... and maybe another beer or a Coke. Somewhere during game 3 or 4, I also noticed that as the games wind down, some players start running sprints behind the outfield. I looked at the food in my hand and only saw the empty calories I was consuming, while the athletes were burning calories off. Suddenly I was hit with the realizations that in addition to having a lot of fun, a lot of calories were adding up. I didn't have any new year's resolutions per se, but I was eating more healthfully and managed to lose a few pounds in the first couple of months in 2007. However, those efforts were being erased by the abundance of temptations I was succumbing to.

So baseball's regular season launches on Sunday, and most games will be watched at home, where the temptations are different but still there - in my fridge and pantry. Will the Cardinals retain their World Series title or will the Yankees or Red Sox win it all in the Fall? And will I return to and maintain a healthy diet, maybe even exercise?

Did you set any new year's resolutions for fitness that you sticking to? What tips do you have for sticking to a healthy plan from now until the playoffs?
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Advertising to kids hurts your wallet... and their health?
When my daughter was about 5, we went through, what I called the Simba phase: Simba purse, Simba wallet, Simba sneakers. Everything that child owned had the cute, little, yellow lion from the "Lion King" emblazoned on it. I was Simba sick.

After that it was Belle shorts, a Jasmine umbrella, a Pocahontas backpack. It got to be too much. The characters were on cereal boxes, candy bars, even hot dogs! I was thrilled when she finally traded in Aladdin for Alan, the boy down the street.

Parents are no match for cartoon characters. How to deny your little precious person a singing teapot, or a talking fish? And if that chanting china or stuttering sturgeon eats Popsicles, sorry, you've got to buy those too.

And that's the power of TV food ads for kids. They are just that - targeted at kids. The marketing experts in Manhattan know exactly what kids want. The problem is that many ads on TV depict food products that aren't very healthy - mostly candy, snacks, chips and sweet drinks such as soda. And with childhood obesity skyrocketing, medical experts say that flashing these ads in front of our children on a Saturday morning and after school puts the wrong messages in young, impressionable minds.

This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit, private organization that focuses on major U.S. health care issues, unveiled a survey of close to 9,000 food ads for kids. It's the largest study every conducted on food advertising for children. The results are staggering. During children's programming, one out of every two ads is for food. Of those ads, 34 percent were for candy and snacks, 28 percent for cereal and 10 percent for fast food. Not one advertised fruits or vegetables. And only 15 percent of the ads showed children involved in some type of physical activity. And those public service announcements that push exercise and good nutrition? The average child sees one of them every two to three days! (See full story)

Health experts say that's wrong and that kids' advertising needs to be more balanced. If youngsters are going to be bombarded with poor food choices, they should also get information on what makes a healthy lifestyle.

This is not the first study on children's advertising and food. In December 2005, the Institute of Medicine found that advertising has a direct impact on kids' diets and health and can contribute to childhood obesity. The IOM recommended that if the industry didn’t give its advertising a healthier focus, Congress should enact legislation to regulate TV food ads for kids.

That idea has gotten the attention of food companies. PepsiCo, which own Pepsi, Frito-Lay & Tropicana, says it's changing its ads and pushing only healthier products, such as baked chips, and depicting more physical activities in commercials. Michael McGinnis of the IOM says that's a good first step and that the industry may be getting the hint.

Also those talking fish and singing pots? You see them less often. Major corporations including Disney have decided to limit the use of their characters in ads for foods deemed unhealthy.

So how do we parents limit these ads' influence on our kids? Well, you can turn off the TV, but even an active child deserves a little R&R on a weekend morning. I think we need to take some responsibility. Make sure our kids are active by getting them off the couch. And watch what they eat and check out what they are viewing on TV. If they cry for the candy with the funny sponge man on it, just say no. Or limit what they can have. Try to avoid the Simba phase and take charge of your child's health.

What do you think?
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
"Pop" your vitamins?
Coke and Pepsi have released vitamin enhanced sodas
When I read the statistic from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that Americans drink 50 gallons of carbonated soft drinks a year, I needed a visual.

A 50-gallon fish tank, for example can hold a coral reef and a dozen fish - big ones.

Soda makers themselves are big fish: The industry generates $68 billion a year, but within the last few years sales have slacked off as Americans are bombarded with healthier choices.

Enter vitamin soda.

Yep - soda, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having "minimal nutritional value"... juiced up with vitamins and minerals.

The Coca-Cola company is launching Diet Coke Plus. It provides 15 percent of your daily value for niacin, B6 and B12, according to the label.

PepsiCo, too is launching a drink called Tava, which the company says meets 10 percent of your daily needs for vitamins B & E.

While the drink-makers are careful not to make health claims, critics insist the companies want you to think they're good for you.

"You can make a product look healthier by simply pouring in maybe a penny's worth of vitamins and minerals," says David Schardt, senior nutritionist for CSPI, a nonprofit organization focused on food safety. "Drinking your vitamins in a soft drink is equivalent to taking a little speck of a multivitamin pill."

You'd need to drink almost 7 cans of Diet Coke Plus... and 10 cans of Pepsi's Tava to get your recommended daily values of those vitamins.

In the vitamin-soda-makers' defense, Cadbury Schweppes, which added vitamin C and calcium to 7UP Plus, tells CNN there's "a lot of demand for soft drinks with added benefits."

Real benefits, say nutritionists such as Elisa Zied, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, come from whole foods and drinks, -- milk, for example -- but if you still feel you need a vitamin fix, water with a supplement is better than a swig of soda.

So while most experts think the health benefits of vitamin sodas fall flat - what do you think?
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Stents don't stack up, study says...
Coronary artery stents may be no more effective than medication alone, study says
It was a sunny summer day, and I was at a plastic surgeon's office preparing to shoot a story on new therapies for burn victims. My phone rang, and I politely excused myself. "Hey Dad! What's up?"

"Listen, I don't want to alarm you, but your mother is in the hospital. She's fine, but she's going to have an angioplasty today."

I remember that phone call as if it were yesterday, but in fact, it was almost two years ago.

This morning, I got another phone call from my dad. He wasn't calling to tell me she was back in the hospital, but instead to ask about a new study on angioplasty. He's a physician, so he stays on top of the journals, but he wanted to see how CNN would report it.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that patients with stable coronary artery disease, when treated only with medication fared just as well as those treated with medication and angioplasty. The theory is, if you can accomplish the same thing without surgery, why not just stick to the medication alone? It would theoretically save money for patients and insurance companies, and also avoid surgical risks. (Read the Full Study)

But I had a different take - I told my dad I was glad mom got a stent. Her coronary artery disease wasn't stable. In fact, she went to the doctor's office expecting to get some pain medication for her shoulder, and she left in an ambulance. The shoulder pain was an early sign of a heart attack.

Maybe the idea of a stent seems better to me because you can physically hold it in your hand - you can actually visualize how it would prop open the artery. The drugs do their work microscopically, and I'm sure they do it well, but I guess I'm just more of a visual person.

What do you think? Would you opt for medication alone, or go for the surgical procedure?
Building bigger breasts after cancer
Breast cancer is in the news a lot these days, most recently with the reports of Elizabeth Edwards' Stage IV metastatic cancer. It sparked some discussion among the women of the CNN Medical News unit here in New York. More and more people we know are learning they have breast cancer, and some of them have had mastectomies, which is surgical removal of the entire breast, with or without some other tissues such as the lymph nodes or the chest muscles.

More than half of women who undergo mastectomies also have breast reconstruction, which means that surgeons rebuild the breast area so that both breasts look balanced. Having breasts that look "normal" again can really improve a woman's self-esteem and promote her sense of recovery after cancer. The procedure, which usually takes place in multiple stages, generally has few complications.

Last year more than 56,000 women in America had breast reconstructions, according to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. I was surprised (and a little upset) to learn that only in 1998 did federal law start requiring insurance companies to pay for reconstruction as part of standard mastectomy coverage. Before that, I imagine reconstruction was generally considered more a luxury that you had to pay for out of your pocket, as if you were having breast augmentation by choice. Can you believe?!

But now that it is required, some women are actually deciding to increase their cup size during the procedure. "Consider it a fringe benefit for being in such a horrible position as having to lose your breasts," is how breast cancer expert Dr. Marisa Weiss put it. AND, on top of that, because it's possible for some women to take their own stomach tissue and use it to rebuild their breast tissue (that's called a tissue flap reconstruction, an alternative to implants), it's even possible to have a tummy tuck as well.

We don't have stats on how many women get reconstructions for sizes larger than their original chest size, or on how many get the tissue flap procedure. But I'm asking all you women out there - if you had to lose your breasts to cancer, and you had to have them rebuilt, would you take the opportunity to make them bigger as well?
Monday, March 26, 2007
Chasing Dr. Gupta
"Chasing Life" tells you how to live healthier, longer
Keeping up with Dr. Sanjay Gupta is never easy. If he's not in surgery, he's visiting patients. If he's not at the hospital, he's on the set at CNN Center explaining the latest medical advances and what they mean to you. If he's not on television or at the hospital he might be on the road. Tonight, for instance, he's flying west to work on stories for the Special Investigations Unit that will air on CNN in May. But despite his busy schedule as a neurosurgeon and a journalist, Dr. Gupta has found time to moonlight. For the past year or so, he's been "Chasing Life."

"Chasing Life" is the title of Dr. Gupta's first book (coming April 9 from Warner Wellness books). It also is the name of the Special Investigations Unit program that will air on CNN next month. The book and the hour-long documentary examine what people do to live healthier, longer. Dr. Gupta will show you what works and what doesn't and provide information on what you can do today to age less.

What could Dr. Gupta do to live a longer, healthier life? As one of the people who chases the man who's been chasing life, I can tell you this: He should probably try to get more sleep -- not easy for someone who doesn't like to be still for very long. But I'm no expert. Dr. Gupta, though, has talked to the experts and they've given him a personal prescription. Watch for it and more in "Chasing Life" at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday, April 14 and 15.

In the meantime, I'd like to know what you do to stay young. What are you doing now that you think will help your body and mind to remain active in your later years?
Second thoughts about pet food
The headline popped up on the TV screen and stopped me cold. "Pet food recall," it read. I was in Florida, running around my hotel room, preparing for a presentation. I didn't catch the whole story and even though the clock was ticking, I hopped online to read more. As I logged on, I thought about Esther, my fuzzy, slightly neurotic, four-legged friend. From bad hairstyles to big life changes, Esther is my one constant. No judging, no nagging, just some occasional barking and lots of unconditional love.

Fortunately, Esther doesn't eat the food that was recalled. Still, I have been following the story. Menu Foods has confir the deaths of 16 pets that ate "cuts and gravy" style food that was found to contain rat poison. But Tuesday, a veterinary group reported that more than 400 cases of kidney failure have been reported, and more than 100 of the animals died.

There are few things worse than watching an animal suffer. I am touched by these little victims, with names such as Gumbie and Pebbles. Recently we've seen a number of human food scares, but this one as we say in the news business, "has legs." (Yes, pun intended.) Veterinarians are e-mailing pet owners with lists of symptoms and recall information. People are checking the ingredients in their pets' food. Friends are debating the merits of organic food versus processed.

So we want to know what you think -- has this scare made you reconsider what you feed your pets? Have you switched foods? How far would you go to keep your pet healthy?
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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