Friday, August 03, 2007
Pre-teen body image issues
What would you do if your 8-year-old daughter looked in the mirror and said, "I need to be skinny before school starts"? You might gasp. It's a startling statement coming from a very young mind, but it's not surprising, given our culture's emphasis on being thin. As eye-opening as your little girl's statement might be, your response as a parent, experts say, is very important.

The most critical element of your reaction is perhaps the most difficult to pull off: Be calm. Lynn Grefe, the CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, says don't be punitive, or outraged, when you respond to a child who says something about her - or his - body image. She says it is important to determine where the "skinny" statement is coming from. "Find out what the source is - ask, 'I am curious why you would say that and why you believe that? Are you feeling bad about yourself?" Grefe says that in most cases there is usually something else going on. She suggests asking children about the magazines and TV they see and talking with them about what is real (the people they see on the street) and what might not be (the airbrushed and made-up people of magazines, movies and TV). Grefe also says it is important to expose young children to role models of all different shapes and sizes.

Fathers play a particularly important role when it comes to body image issues among girls. Grefe says fathers are often in denial about identifying eating disorders in their daughters. She says they will dismiss concerns, often raised by their wives, and tell their daughters they look great - only reinforcing what could be very bad, and potentially deadly, habits. Grefe says fathers must help fight society's emphasis on appearances. "Fathers should focus their talk on the inside - what is inside their children." Grefe says telling daughters that they ARE beautiful is better than telling them they look beautiful.

Parents should also be careful about their own body image issues. Casual remarks such as "I feel fat" or questions like "Do I look fat in this?" are heard by young ears and can plant the seeds in young minds. Grefe says young, normal-size children should not be dieting. Period. Those who are should be talking to someone, perhaps a professional, about how they are feeling about themselves. Grefe says children should be taught to be healthy and strong, regardless of their size or body type.

Are body image issues a problem among the pre-teen set? How would you react to your daughter if she said she needed to be skinny?
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Institutionalizing people with disabilities
Guest blogger Kay Olson, a self-described thirtysomething disabled feminist who blogs at, offers her thoughts on the institutionalizing of people with disabilities, such as explored in this story on

Guest blogger Kay Olson
by Kay Olson

My personal thought on what happened 40+ years ago is that it was a tragedy for whole families and has undoubtedly had a lasting impact on how we view developmentally disabled people today. That is, we're still living with the legacy of those folks being segregated, made invisible, and devalued. It has impacted how we view developmental disability and the way we think of difference - we have all been taught implicitly by this history that people who are intellectually or developmentally different do not belong among us because they're dangerous, completely incompetent and lack any ability to contribute to society. And those beliefs are not true.

One example of the historical legacy: The institutionalization of developmentally disabled people in the 1950s and '60s happened before Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion, and while I absolutely support full choice in reproductive issues for women, I do believe that the very high rates of abortion of fetuses with known developmental disabilities has some connection to our social history of what has been considered the potential and worth of certain people. Instead of doctors of decades ago telling families who have just had a baby with a disability that they should institutionalize the child, some doctors now are providing the option of never having that child at all. And we don't have much of a modern legacy of integration of developmentally disabled people into our culture to balance those messages with, to make the choices a woman and her family make about these pregnancies complete choices about potential. Because of this history of institutionalization, fear and stigma are a bigger part of that choice than they might otherwise be if acceptance and providing community resources and integration were a bigger part of our social history instead.

And, you know, diagnosing developmental differences is one thing - tricky by itself - but determining how differences affect potential is even trickier. The very act of deciding a person has limited potential can limit their opportunities. I know a few people whose abilities were radically underestimated because of developmental diagnoses, and I've read of or conversed online with dozens of other disabled people whose lives have been seriously affected by judgments - faulty judgments - about their worth and ability.

Overall, I do think things are somewhat better now because institutionalization and abandonment of disabled children aren't considered the obvious solutions for families. And communities are actively struggling with the education of disabled children in public schools, which is a complicated issue but is, I think, much better than silence, shame and automatic segregation.

The daily difficulties that come from raising (or being) a developmentally disabled person and finding the resources and necessary support aren't an aspect of the disability experience I'm intimate with, but my perception is that while things have improved there is still a long way to go.

I think the main thing that nondisabled people don't necessarily know or understand is that developmentally disabled people are not this separate category of human beings. People tend to think, "We can do things. They cannot." And there's no line like that dividing all of us. There are shades of ability, varying talents that surface in surprising places. This is true for physical disabilities as well. Most of us, in the course of our lives, discover we have abilities or affinities for some things and lack talent elsewhere, so this idea that a certain class of people lack value or the ability to contribute inevitably underestimates and wastes a lot of human potential.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Beneath the Carteret Islands
Dr. Sanjay Gupta SCUBA dives beneath the Carteret Islands
This week I did something that I will probably never get to do again in my life. In fact, the government of Buka, Papua New Guinea, could not think of anyone who had ever done it before. I went scuba diving on the coral reefs beneath the Carteret Islands. The reason that no one had likely ever done it before is because the islands are extremely remote, even by Papua New Guinea standards. The reason I will never get to do it again is because the islands are sinking and will soon disappear altogether.

To make it happen, we had to get our dive gear from the town of Port Moresby, which is nearly 700 miles away. There were no dive shops that we could find any closer. Still, we did it because it is important to telling the story of the disappearing Carteret Islands. We really wanted to be able to describe what was happening from three points of view. First, from the air where, with the help of a helicopter, we captured some of the very first aerial shots of Carteret. It wasn't an easy trip, given that for most of the journey there was simply no land around and no possibility of an emergency landing. Needless to say, we were a little nervous until the chopper touched down safely. The second dimension was being able to speak firsthand to the people of the Carteret Islands and understand what they had seen and why they believed their land was being swallowed by the sea. Finally, as the destruction and bleaching of coral is such a large component of the story, we needed to dive deep to the ocean floor to see for ourselves.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta SCUBA dives beneath the Carteret Islands
Of course, as is often the case, especially in remote locations, things didn't go exactly as planned. First off, I am an advanced diver and have been diving for almost 20 years. Neil Hallsworth, our photographer, has been certified since 1993, and Heather O'Neill, the producer for this shoot, has been diving for more than a year now. When we surveyed the equipment, we realized that while there were three sets of fins, there were only two tanks and only one BCD (buoyancy control device). Given that we were in the middle of nowhere and had no other options, we decided to improvise. Heather decided to snorkel near the surface and, most importantly, keep shark watch. Given that these particular reefs had never had divers, we weren't quite sure what to expect as far as wildlife goes. Neil and I traded off the BCD and at times literally carried an air tank under our arm while diving at 60 feet below the surface - Jacques Cousteau style! It allowed Neil to film never before obtained pictures of the Carteret reefs, which we will show you in CNN's upcoming documentary Planet in Peril. It allowed me to see firsthand what happened to the island of Carteret from the bottom up.

For me, this was one of the most adventurous shoots I have done in the last six years. So, what about some of your best adventure stories?
Disappearing Islands
Dr. Sanjay Gupta visits the disappearing Carteret Islands
When I started working at CNN in the summer of 2001, I really had no idea that the job would regularly take me to some of the most remote places on earth. Yet, here I am again, writing a blog from one of those places. Along with producer Heather O'Neill and photographer Neil Hallsworth, I am in the South Pacific for a story on the Carteret Islands - a chain of islands about 1 square kilometer in size with a population of about 1,600. We are here because these islands are slowly sinking back into the sea, and no one is exactly sure why. One thing is clear though, people are being evacuated as their homes disappear.

To get to the Carteret Islands requires five separate airplane flights and a helicopter ride that ended on a very small strip of beach. Our origin was Guangzhou, China in the southern part of the country located in the Guangdong province. From there we had a layover in Hong Kong. We then stopped for a few hours in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. After that, we flew to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Then we flew to Rabaul and finally Buka, Papua New Guinea. For most of the helicopter ride, we were flying over nothing but water - no land for at least an hour in any direction. It was treacherous.

Here we are surrounded by the Solomon Sea, and it is arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Still, we are here as part of CNN's Planet in Peril coverage because the people of the Carteret are being called the world's first environmental refugees. While it will most likely be a few years before the islands are actually completely submerged, the effects of all that water are already being felt. At high tide, the sea washes right over the islands, its salt water ruining the few crops they are trying to grow. The people here are starving and the government of Papua New Guinea thinks it's time for them to leave.

Now if you ask just about anyone living on the islands why this is happening, they will immediately shout "global warming." I was surprised they even knew this term, but they will point north and describe the melting of the ice in Greenland to make their case for climate change. Other people we interviewed described the tumultuous history of the islands, where at one time they used dynamite to fish with resulting damage to the protective coral. They also remind us that the islands are actually part of an old volcano that has a natural history of sinking back into the sea.

To be sure, this remote population of people has hardly any impact on anyone else in the world. Yet, they believe the "rest of the world" is having a huge impact on them. What do you think? Are the Carteret Islands disappearing because of global influences and climate change or is it more of a local phenomenon?
Monday, July 30, 2007
The Tour de France and the human body
After three weeks, 2,206 miles and boundless doping controversies, the 2007 Tour de France ended yesterday. More than 140 men raced to the finish line, as 24-year-old Spaniard Alberto Contador won cycling's biggest event.

I wonder if it was bittersweet for him and for everyone else who finished in Paris? This year's Tour was mired in controversy with teams and top riders dropping out and plagued by positive drug tests and swirling controversy about missing pre-race testing. Even last year's winner, American Floyd Landis, is in racing limbo because he tested positive on his way to the 2006 title.
You can't mention the Tour de France without a nod to seven-time winner Lance Armstrong. He, too, was plagued by doping allegations and rumor, but never tested positive. How did Lance not only battle cancer but also win what is arguably the toughest sporting event of all time?

"In the untrained state he would be about as fit as an average person that trained as hard as he could ever in his lifetime," says Dr. Edward Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas Austin. Coyle measured and studied Armstrong's physiology for more than seven years -- before and after his famous bout with cancer.

Armstrong's heart can pump nine gallons of blood per minute working at its hardest compared with only five gallons per minute for the average person. The champion's lungs can get almost double the amount of oxygen out of every breath that a healthy 20-year-old would. This cyclist has more red blood cells to deliver oxygen to his body, which is key, when racing through the high altitudes of the Pyrenees Mountains. Finally, Armstrong's body can recover at an incredible pace. "An average person when going to exhaustion would have to stay stopped or wouldn't be able to move for 10-15 minutes and Armstrong is able to go right back to maximum in 1 to 2 minutes," says Coyle. All of this begs the question - is Lance superhuman? Obviously not, but the way his body works is extraordinary.

To be sure, the Tour de France is an amazing athletic feat even for Armstrong. "Each day, they put out more energy than it takes to run a marathon. So the 20-stage tour is like 20 marathons in a row," says Dr. Conrad Earnest of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Do you follow the Tour de France? Why do you think cycling is so marred by doping - truth or rumor?
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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