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RECENT POSTS

Advocate: Take ‘Times’ Coverage Of Sodium Report With Grain Of Salt

The New York Times‘ coverage of the ‘How much salt is too much salt?’ debate got a thrashing in a Huffington Post column yesterday by the head of a nonprofit health and nutrition advocacy group.

In the column, Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, writes that the Times “bungles” the sodium report in an article and editorial and “misrepresented the findings of a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

salt (/Flickr)

salt (/Flickr)

Jacobson writes that the Times “never told readers that the IOM found insufficient evidence that very-low-sodium diets are risky” and it “failed to inform readers that few Americans consume very-low-sodium diets.” Moreover, he writes:

“The Times imperiled its readers’ health by implying that all advice to cut salt is wrong.

“The panel did not conclude that the average intake of 3,400 milligrams a day is necessarily risky,” said the Times editorial. Of course, it didn’t. The IOM wasn’t asked to examine the risks and benefits of our current sodium intakes. Previous IOM committees concluded that they are harmful. The IOM was asked to look at the effects of intakes in the 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg range. Continue reading

‘Skinny Jeans’ World: How Do We Protect Daughters From Eating Disorders?

By Katy Aisenberg, Ph.D.
Guest Contributor

 “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness” — Galway Kinnell

After years and tears spent treating girls with eating disorders, I found myself pregnant — in my 40s — with a daughter.

Penelope is now 10, and suddenly, everything I’d preached and chiseled and chipped and interpreted in my office is getting put to the test. How was I going to try to prevent my own child from having an eating disorder?  How would I prevail against a culture of young girls in short shorts, strappy tops and frankly lewd fashion, where my 4th grader must choose between “boyfriend jeans” and “skinny jeans”?  As I had told my patients:  “Many girls entertain diets — not everyone gets an eating disorder.”

Still, I reviewed the early dangers for developing such a disorder — flipping through my own brain for knowledge.

1. Genetics
We had some family history of mood disorders but nothing that seemed so severe it couldn’t be tempered by attentive parenting.

2. Home obsession with foods

I made absolutely sure that nothing in my house was low-fat, low-calorie and insisted that dessert was part of the meal if you ate your ‘growing foods” a useful phrase I learned from her pre-school teacher.

(Valeri-DBF/flickr)

(Valeri-DBF/flickr)

3. Range of affect (or, enough feelings)

Yup, no problem there. My house was never one where feelings were suppressed. In fact, I might have spent too much time inquiring what my child thought or felt. I was politely interrupted. “Mom,” she said, “I’m watching the cars outside” or “Making a friendship bracelet” or “Telling myself a story.”

4. Too much affect

Yes, I wanted to tone this down. She neded to learn resilience — that horrible feelings, the dementors of loneliness, sadness and intense anger can be survived. She needed to endure them and learn to soothe herself. I reminded myself of this as I clenched my nails into my hand while she hurled about in her crib.

5. Too much talk about appearance
I failed on this. I could not even try to stop my outpouring of sheer joy at her natural beauty. I was, as C.S. Lewis said, “surprised by joy” in this department. I craved her attention like a jilted suitor. But it amuses both of us — and possibly helped her — that I would joke about my “separation issues.” I believe I gave her the freedom to express those same feelings and a good many more.

6. A sense of purpose  

We are currently working on this. The most effective cure for the most recalcitrant eating disorders is — surprisingly — community service.  Continue reading

How The Media Cover The Brain

A psychologist argues that popular notions of neuroscience often miss the point. (Digital Shotgun/flickr)

Jonathan M. Adler, Ph.D.
Guest Contributor

Did you know that meditating actually changes your brain? So does falling in love. So does playing Tetris, having an ice cream headache and tweeting too much.

It seems that just about every week we encounter another dazzling breakthrough in brain science that promises to reveal the deep relationship between our lives and our brains. My reaction to such flashy headlines is usually: “No duh.” It’s not that I don’t find the capabilities of modern neuroscience astounding, or because I’m not curious about the mysteries of human nature. I just find the conclusion “it’s in our brain” (whatever “it” is) to be, well, obvious.

The brain is our master organ. It is responsible for taking every input we receive and synthesizing this astounding mass of signals to allow us to navigate the world. The brain takes wavelengths of light and allows us to appreciate a Cézanne or a Rothko. It takes an impossible array of social cues and grants us embarrassment and pride. So, how could our most important experiences not show up in the brain? Where else could they be?

A fascinating study published recently in the journal Neuron takes a critical look at the way the media tend to report on neuroscientific findings. The authors determined that media coverage of brain research tends to lead to three exaggerated conclusions: Continue reading

Pediatricians To Parents: Say Good-Bye To Baby Einstein

AAP: Babies under two should not be watching TV

A new edict from the nation’s pediatricians makes things perfectly clear: babies and toddlers under 2 should engage in unstructured play, not in screen time, whether its “educational” programming or not.

Here’s the news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics, meeting in Boston this week:

In a recent survey, 90 percent of parents said their children under age 2 watch some form of electronic media. On average, children this age watch televised programs one to two hours per day. By age 3, almost one third of children have a television in their bedroom. Parents who believe that educational television is “very important for healthy development” are twice as likely to keep the television on all or most of the time.

The policy statement, “Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years,” will be released Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Boston and will be published in the November 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online Oct. 18).

The AAP first provided guidance on media use for children under age 2 in 1999. This consisted of a recommendation in the Academy’s policy statement, “Media Education,” which discouraged TV viewing for children in this age group.

At the time, there was limited data on the subject, but the AAP believed there were more potential negative effects than positive effects of media exposure for the younger set. Newer data bears this out, and the AAP stands by its recommendation to keep children under age 2 as “screen-free” as possible. More is known today about children’s early brain development, the best ways to help them learn, and the effects that various types of stimulation and activities have on this process. Continue reading

Study: Minority Kids Spend Most Waking Hours Plugged In To Media

Study: Minority kids spend up to 13 hours on average plugged in

This is the most depressing story I’ve seen today: a new study found that minority kids spend up to 13 hours a day on average — most of their waking hours — in front of a screen, or plugged in to some kind of media, including mobile devices, video games, TV. White kids spent four-and-a-half fewer hours plugged in, according to the study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University.

USA Today reports:

Among 8- to 18-year-olds, Asian Americans logged the most media use (13 hours, 13 minutes a day), followed by Hispanics (13 hours), blacks (12 hours, 59 minutes), and whites (8 hours, 36 minutes.)
Researchers didn’t say why, but some experts have theories.

“Children may turn to media if they feel their neighborhoods lack safe places to play or if their parents have especially demanding jobs that prevent engagement,” says Frederick Zimmerman, chair of the department of Health Services at UCLA School of Public Health.

Michael Rich, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston tells USA Today that screen time may also be the culprit behind the obesity epidemic among minority kids and contribute to their sleep deprivation:

Growing obesity rates among children, especially minority youth, may also correlate to the high screen time…Rich, who blogs online at Askthemediatrician.org, says he is also concerned about the content of media being viewed, and that children are losing valuable sleep hours to electronics, which can affect school performance and behavior.

I have one question on this: where are the parents?

Truth Squad: NYT Story On Unwashed Masses Stinks

You gotta love Jack Shafer, who trashes the latest New York Times Style section trend story about people who don’t wash as “bogus.”

Granted, the definition of “trend” is somewhat nebulous in journalism: we learned if you could get a mere three examples, that constituted a “trend.” But even under that generous definition, says Shafer writing in Slate, The Times story, “The Great Unwashed,” fails to deliver what it promises when it asserts: “Some people have all but abandoned the idea of soap, shampoo or deodorant and yet still manage to have friends, relationships and office jobs.”

Indeed, the story brims with accounts of its subjects’ washing and deodorizing strategies. The only thing remotely unusual about the story’s subjects is that they don’t wash as often as some other people.

Jenefer Palmer, the story’s first subject, showers three times a week or less. Todd Felix showers daily, but with an unscented body wash. Bethany Hoffmann Becker reports on her Facebook page that she uses wipes after running but showers before getting into bed. Blake Johnson bathes every other day. Tara Freymoyer shampoos with Herbal Essences. And Alice Feiring bathes four times a week. Not a single subject of the story claims to have completely abandoned washing…One of the story’s subjects uses a “natural deodorant” and another uses a “sliced lemon” on her armpits. In my book, anything you rub into your underarms—be it mothballs or gunpowder—to smother smell qualifies as deodorant. If you’re a user, you don’t belong in a story about nonusers.

Blogging For U.S. News & World Report: A Cautionary Tale

blogger: us news & world report crossed a line between journalism and advertising

This borders on inside baseball, but it’s so outrageous, I have to post it:

Here’s the story of Mary Knudson, a longtime medical writer for The Baltimore Sun and author of the book, “Living Well with Heart Failure.”

According to her story here, posted by the science writer Deborah Blum on a PLoS blog called Speakeasy Science, Ms. Knudson happily agreed to blog for U.S. News & World Report about health, specifically heart failure-related matters, her area of expertise. Little did she know that the publication would use her words as advertisements — literally.

Ms. Knudson writes that the first time she scrolled over one of her stories, she was “surprised” to see words highlighted in the text.

“I hovered over them and was shocked to see what jumped out. First was the picture of a man’s face and the message with it told me to support him for senator. Next out came an ad for baby lotion for diaper rash. And then springing from a word in my story on heart failure was a direct link to a website that sells genetic tests. Whoa! I’m sending my readers to a company that sells genetic tests? A journalist could write a story warning consumers to beware of genetic tests because of their limitations and shortcomings. These links from my story to commercial products were unacceptable to me. I couldn’t have ads jumping out of the words of my blog post.”

Later, Ms Knudson found that “the words ‘heart failure’ which likely would appear in each of my blog posts and sometimes more than once in the same post automatically sent a reader to the Cleveland Clinic for an explanation of heart failure. I couldn’t provide my own sidebar on heart failure to link to or choose the site I would send my readers to for more information about heart failure? No. I was told by a producer at U.S. News that the magazine has “a partnership” with the Cleveland Clinic and that all stories across the health section of U.S. News will link to the Cleveland Clinic for certain words including “heart failure.” The producer said the magazine also has “partnerships” with a few other hospitals.”

(Don’t forget what U.S. News is best known for: its wildly popular rankings of hospitals, law firms, schools and many other industries).

Needless to say, Ms. Knudson ended that blogging job pretty fast.

I asked her how she felt on seeing the ads and odd links springing from her words. She sent me this email: “I was so startled when I saw that man’s face jump out of my blog post, I couldn’t get his image out of my mind for a couple of days. My surprise continued when I saw the ad for baby lotion. Then when a word in my blog post linked directly to a company that sells genetic tests, I felt angry and betrayed by a magazine that has the word “News” in its title. This is journalism? I appreciate that news media have to find new ways to survive in this changing era of the Internet. But not at the expense of integrity. I realized that I would feel embarrassed to blog at usnews.com. The magazine hadn’t just betrayed me. It had betrayed journalism.”

And just so you know, CommonHealth will never sneakily embed ads in our content, or send you off to commercial “partners” when you click on certain words in our posts.

At least we hope so.