Only in America - Childhood Obesity
Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - We live in a crazy world and no where’s crazier than the USA, with its own special kind of maladies. In an age where half the world is starving, Childhood Obesity is one such example.
Difficult choices indeed, especially in poorer areas - which coincidentally also have the highest concentration of fast-food joints - and where it is almost impossible to find anywhere within walking distance that sells fresh produce of any kind. So other than starvation, the options are few: McDonalds, KFC, I-Hop, Burger King, Denny's, Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, or any of the other fast-food franchises that infest such areas. Insurance issues are the apparent reason why supermarket chains are reluctant to open stores there.
But it is a sad fact that many of the families worst afflicted wouldn't know what to do with fresh produce if they could spot it. If it doesn’t come in a bag or a box, doesn’t need defrosting or reheating in the microwave, it is a mystery. Cooking would seem to be a lost art.
Living in Europe, where I buy fresh food and cook all the time, I come to the US two or three times a year and have enormous difficulty grocery shopping. Nothing tastes the way it’s supposed to - or at least not like I’m used to. Meat is watery and bland; fruit and vegetables, although huge and glossy, have little flavour, and just about everything else is sickeningly sweet. This, I have since discovered, is due to the addition of fructose and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial, commercially-refined sweeteners that have nothing to do with fruit - as consumers have been led to believe - and which have only actually been in existence for the past 20 years. Since the widespread introduction of HFCS, (a highly-refined liquid derived from corn starch), which has been banned in Europe together with other genetically modified foods of N. American origin, US obesity rates have hit the roof.
Massive amounts of hidden fructose and HFCS are to be found in almost all processed foods and beverages, including Coca-Cola, Snapple, fruit punch, fruit cocktails and Kool-Aid, which commonly contain at least 11% HFSC. From the manufacturing standpoint, it is sweeter than sucrose, has a longer shelf life, is easier to process, and cheaper to produce. Its manufacturers claim, “It's clean microbiologically, it contains few sodium ions, and it's more stable than sugar.” According to the results of 25 years of scientific study, however, high fructose consumption is a key factor in heart disease and likewise believed to accelerate aging. Yet fructose is still regarded as generally safe by the FDA, the government institution whose job it is to ensure food safety. “Fructose is part of sucrose sugar. We do not have any safety studies on it,” said an FDA spokesperson, “If a safety issue had come up, it would be big news.”
I spend an enormous amount of time fruitlessly scouring the supermarkets for products with no additives or anything taken away. The broad selection of fat-free, fat-reduced, half-fat, skimmed, lactose-free, calcium and/or vitamin A + D enriched milk, or soya milk substitutes, is depressing. The same applies to butter. (Could it be Butter? Butter It's Not, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!). I even found some fat-free yoghurt - there seems no other kind - that contained minus .01% cholesterol - which is less cholesterol than if you ate nothing at all. Explain that one to me. This forces me to shop at the so-called health or “organic” stores, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, where every item only costs $20 more than anywhere else and tastes pretty much the same. Every time I cook it’s an adventure.
But enough about my culinary problems. Back to childhood obesity. The administration, together with certain, as yet unnamed, public health professionals and private companies, plans a multi-pronged approach to the problem, the first of which is product labelling.
What’s in a name?
By year end, the FDA will begin collaborating with merchants and manufacturers to implement new consumer-friendly package labelling, “giving 65 million parents easy access to the information they need to make healthy choices for their children". Providing, of course, that they can read in the first place, or are even vaguely interested in such mundane matters as package labels. I personally know few who are more influenced by the contents than they are by the price. The cheaper the product, the more likely they are to buy it - especially if you’re poor to start with.
And anyway, how do they plan to label a banana, or a chicken?
When it comes to beverages, although the average soda contains 110 calories, most US kids guzzle at least one or more jumbo, fizzy, HFCS-loaded, soft drinks a day. In an attempt to induce calorie awareness in kids and their parents, the American Beverage Association has freely offered to put calorie labels on cans, bottles and vending machines. Within two years, labels will state the total amount of calories per container and many decision-makers feel confident that this will make an enormous difference.
I, for one, do not. And neither, probably, does the ABA, whose honourable intentions do not alter the fact that soda vending machines are located in most school corridors and cafeterias, because Coca Cola, Pepsi and other beverage conglomerates have donated and/or invested heavily in educational institutions, in order to gain unlimited access to their prime target group. If the government wants to make a significant difference, then soda vending machines should be banned from schools altogether.
According to data provided by the BRFSS (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System), the highest rates of obesity occur within the poorer Black and Hispanic communities; with Blacks and Hispanics having a 51% and 21% higher rate of obesity, respectively, compared to whites. Seen regionally, thirty-two states had a rate of 25% and higher, six of which (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) went over 30%. As many of those affected are also sometimes illiterate, or unable to read English, I doubt that package labelling will help them a whole lot.
The Truth and Nothing but the Truth
And even if it did, how can we be sure that what the label claims is true? The word ORGANIC is bandied about liberally, never mind such terms as HEALTHY, FREE RANGE and ALL NATURAL, and the addition of these terms seems to be more of a justification to charge higher prices than a true description of the goods.
Consumers rely on product labels for the information they need on the food they are going to buy. Certain statements on the packaging are mandatory, others are not. One would think that a label declaring a product to be ALL NATURAL or 100% ALL NATURAL would be subject to governmental control and that the product must meet specific quality criteria. This is not the case. For example: Arizona “100% All Natural” Green Tea with Honey contains high fructose corn syrup, as does Snapple “All Natural” Iced Tea.
Watching TV in fascinated horror, I am constantly amazed to see how little control there seems to be in the US on what advertisers are allowed to claim. This would suggest that being pro consumer-protection is tantamount to being against free trade. And free trade is what made America great.
In the weeks prior to the president’s announcement, the First Lady exhorted American parents to switch off their TVs, drink more water, and stuff less food into their already corpulent kids. Laudable: but until some fundamental changes take place in America’s awareness, attitudes and policies towards food, health, exercise, and consumer protection, there is likely to be little change.
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The COTTON BALL DIET is especially popular in Alabama and is just what its name implies. You eat cotton balls, either dry or soaked in gelatin. The idea is that cotton balls contain few calories but are very filling, so you won’t have much room for anything else. They are also high in fiber, which would be good if it was the kind of fiber you needed. Possible Side Effects: Exceedingly tedious, dry and disgusting. Contains no vitamins or nutrients of any kind. Leads to constipation and violent vomiting.
The CABBAGE SOUP DIET also called the “Russian peasant diet,” the “Sacred Heart diet,” and the “TJ miracle soup diet,” consists of eating nothing but cabbage soup for a week. Claimed to generate a 10 pound weight loss, which is refuted by most experts. As most weight lost on this diet consists of water, the loss is temporary. Possible Side Effects: High sodium content and extremely low protein lead to feelings of weakness, and horrendous flatulence. (The FARTO speciailty drug store can provide relief for the latter).
The CAVEMAN DIET also known as the Paleolithic Diet, revolves around mimicking the diet of Stone Age man, (who had an average life span of 15 years). The only food allowed is what can be hunted and gathered, and consists of leaves, berries, roots, nuts and bushes. Lean meat and fish can be eaten, as long as you hunt and kill it all yourself, which is guaranteed to give you plenty of exercise. Grains, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and oils are strictly off-limits. Possible Side Effects: Serious injuries can be sustained when running away from dangerous animals or eating the wrong bush.
The TAPEWORM DIET is almost too revolting to contemplate and involves ingesting tapeworm-infested raw or rotting meat (preferably beef) and then letting the parasite do its thing for up to 10 weeks. Then taking antibiotics to get rid of the things. Possible Side Effects: The little buggers won't go away.
And if none of these diets appeal to you, then I suggest my old time-tested, weight-loss favorites POOP-IT-OUT and CHUK-IT-UP, which work best taken after a liberal dose of hot sauce. I can specially recommend the ones featured below.
Or better still - to find out lots of dietary stuff you never knew, or already did but were trying to suppress, read THE DIET JOKE - A REPROGRAMMING GUIDE FOR PERPETUAL CONSUMERS by Lisa Padace, published by Big Shot Press, San Diego, or order directly online from http://www.thedietjoke.com/
And finally, if we are what we eat, then that explains this:
The Airline Misery Continues...
There are some hot contenders for this month’s Airline Misery Award, but it looks like American Airlines is all set to win. The airline has been accused of serious deficiencies in maintenance by two separate federal agencies. The penalty could be anything from $10 to $20 million, unless AA gets its act together. This all stems from faulty wiring in the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft which, in April 2008, forced AA to temporarily ground its entire MD-80 fleet, resulting in flight cancellations affecting more than 300,000 passengers. Equipment made by McDonnell Douglas (which merged with Boeing in 1997) is among the most antiquated still in use around the globe and has an accident rate of 14 per 1,000 aircraft.
According to an article that appeared in last May’s Journal of Business and Economics Research, researchers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Fla., studied 476 accidents that occurred between 2000 and 2007, excluding those caused by weather or terrorism, and found that more accidents occurred in old planes (between 15 and 24 or more years old) operated by Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
So what puts American Airlines ahead of the game this month? Well, those passengers who can still consider trying to actually get some sleep during a longish flight after reading this will be delighted to hear that, as of May 1st, coach passengers (“scum” class, remember) on American domestic flights of more than two hours’ duration, as well as flights to Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, will have to cough up an extra $8 for a blanket and inflatable neck pillow - which can double up as a flotation device, so it's probably a good investment.
More airline misery!
However, this month’s Airline Misery Award, has to go to Northwest Airlines (or its new owner Delta), after the botched Xmas day suicide attack on NWA flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, with 290 on board. The incident occurred around noon, when 23-year old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national with suspected al-Qaida affiliations, tried to blow up the plane with a chemical incendiary device he had smuggled on board. Fortunately, he was quickly subdued by passengers and crew, who managed to extinguish the flames in time. Officials are investigating just how he had managed to get explosives on board in the first place, despite heightened global security controls since 9/11.
Wise, as always, after the event, it was reported that US authorities had known of the bomber’s terrorist connections for over a month, after his own father, concerned about his son’s extremist behavior, had alerted them in November. Nevertheless, Abdulmutallab, a former engineering student at
But the failed attack has nonetheless resulted in worldwide airport misery, as further, more stringent security measures are implemented: bomb-sniffing dogs, extensive frisking, and horrendously long lines and delays. Passengers have reported that they now have to remove everything from their handbags and pockets (including Kleenex), and have been barred from using any electronic devices, or even getting out of their seats to visit the toilet during the last hour of flight.
The US and British governments are seriously toying with the idea of installing pre-boarding, “naked” body scanners, which should make air travel even more delightful. The scanners, while allowing security personnel to spot any weapons or explosives hidden beneath clothing, also reveal breast implants, false limbs, piercings, and clear outlines of genitalia. Which should at least help them to stay awake, I suppose.
Lehman Brother victims go on the march
In Germany, for example, about 40,000 security-oriented investors, among them a notable number of senior citizens were divested of their life savings. To serve their own interests and earn high commissions, many of the country’s major banks and building societies, including Citibank, Dresdner Bank, the Postbank, as well as the Frankfurt and Hamburg Sparkassen (Savings Banks), aggressively “advised” their trusting clients, many of whom had been customers for decades, to purchase the worthless Lehman paper. Which, in many cases, was pitched as a AAA security. It is unrealistic to suppose that the banks involved were not at least partially aware of the actual value of these securities at the time.
Here in Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital, “Lehman victims” from all over the country refuse to take it lying down. To mark that gloomy day, they are gathering and going on the march to protest against their situation and disappointment at the banks, financial institutions and overall political stance. Denying all responsibility or accountability to their clients, the banks and building societies continue to entrench themselves behind individual and unsatisfactory “good will” or “ex gratia” settlements, without any admission of guilt or acknowledgement of debt - forcing their clients to take legal action. As there is no such thing as a class action suit under German law, these lawsuits are being dealt with one-at-a-time by the German courts. A long and wearisome process, the banks are dragging it out for as long as they can, possibly in the hopes that some of the plaintiffs may just pop off before getting to court.
At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 15, dressed in black, Lehman casualties from all over the country will be gathering outside the Frankfurt District Court building. From here, the demonstrators will continue along the Zeil to Konstablerwache and the Hauptwache, to assemble outside the former Lehman Brothers branch in the Rathenauplatz. On the way, they will be stopping off at the branches of the various banks and building societies involved, to give loud voice to their frustration and discontent at their business policy. At Rathanauplatz, a mobile Information centre will be set up to explain the actual situation and demands of the Lehman victims to the public and the press. The victims are demanding a complete reversal of the Lehman transaction and full restitution, to compensate for the often proved malpractice and deliberately misleading advice supplied to them by their banking institutions.The demonstration is scheduled to wind up at approx. 5:00 p.m. following a closing event and press conference.
But this is just one activity of many. In addition to the major demonstration in Frankfurt, further regional campaigns will be taking place simultaneously in Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin. And let’s not forget the rest of the world. Small investors have suffered similarly in the US, Belgium, Austria, England, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, the UAE, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, where a demonstration is likewise planned.
One year along, the recession seems under control, the stock markets are picking up and the banks are reviving with the aid of billions of dollars of government bailouts. But the memory of Lehmans and its downfall will take a long time to diminish.
The Terrors of Flight
Frankfurt (Weltexpress) - Although I usually like to take a comedy poke at the world’s airlines, there’s not much amusement value I can contribute about them right now and can only suggest that we travellers do our best to avoid the Airbus.
Two of them have gone down in less than four weeks, the most recent being the Yemenia Yemen Airways Airbus A310 (Flight Y626) en route from Sana’a in Yemen to the Comoros Islands, which crashed in the Indian Ocean on June 30, with only one survivor out of the 153 passengers and crew onboard. Without a life jacket and unable to swim, 12-year-old Bahia Bakari managed to cling to the debris, surviving for three hours in shark-infested waters before being saved from the wreckage.
Although bad weather is believed to have been the main cause of the crash, serious concerns about this particular aircraft were raised by French transport authorities following safety checks in 2007. But, as always, it takes a true disaster to get anybody’s attention. The A310 went into service 19 years ago and had accumulated 51,900 flight hours. Basically, it should not still have been in the air.
Turbulence is also purported to have been a contributory cause of the June 1 crash of Air France Flight 447 - an Airbus A330-200 - en route from Rio to Paris, which went down in the Atlantic about 930 miles off the cost of Brazil, well out of radar range.
Although it had initially been supposed that the plane had broken-up in midair due to defective airspeed sensors feeding inconsistent readings to the cockpit, which can cause autopilot shutdown or malfunction, chief accident investigator Alain Bouillard has since reported that “the plane was not destroyed while in flight. It appears to have hit the surface of the water in its flying position with a strong vertical acceleration.” Plunging 35,000 ft. within seconds, the discovery of un-inflated life jackets floating all over the crash scene in the Atlantic suggests that none of the 228 onboard even had time to fasten their seatbelts, let alone make a grab for their life jackets. The remains of 51 people have been recovered so far.
Airbus and Air France have said that there is no firm evidence linking the speed monitors and the crash, stating that the airspeed sensors were a “factor but not the cause”. They might have iced over, say experts. Nevertheless, Air France has upgraded all its sensors, known as Pitot tubes, on its A330 and A340 fleet as a precautionary measure following protests from pilots.
But the cause of the tragedy is still conjecture and likely to remain so, as the black box flight recorders will probably never be found, let alone retrieved. And without them, the cause will never be known for sure.
“There’s really no link between these two accidents,” said an Airbus spokesman. As well he might.
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Protests in the Streets of LA
Los Angeles/Santa Monica (Weltexpress) - About 2,500 to 3,000 demonstrators gathered on the streets of LA on Thursday afternoon protesting against the recently passed ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8.
The crown convened at 2.00 p.m. outside the Los Angeles California Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to protest against the Mormon support of the proposition and moved west, blocking off Santa Monica Boulevard and tying up westbound traffic.According to Lorri L. Jean, head of LA`s Gay and Lesbian Center, the Mormon Church donated more than USD 15 million to support the ban. "It is a travesty that the Mormon Church bought this election and used a campaign of lies and deception to manipulate voters in the great state of California," he said, "No one`s religious beliefs should be used to deny fundamental rights to others. Our civil rights are inalienable."
The Salt Lake Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints published a statement setting forth its opposition to same-sex marriage. "It is important to understand that this issue for the church has always been about the sacred and divine institution of marriage - a union between a man and a woman, " going on to state that, "Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the church were and are simply wrong."
Just last May, the California Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to limit the state of marriage to unions between men and women, resulting in 18,000 same-sex marriages over the past six months: Proposition 8 now puts the legal status of these couples in jeopardy. Already three petitions have been filed with the state Supreme Court contesting the validity of Proposition 8 since it was passed on Tuesday.
Although the demonstration was peaceful, with only four arrests for disorderly conduct, judging by the turn out, LA`s finest were obviously expecting trouble.
- Autor: Geraldine Blecker
Abfassungsdatum: 07.11. 2008
Photo: © Geraldine Blecker
All rights to the author
Update: Berlin, 07.11. 2008
An Historic Day for the United States
Barack Obama elected as America`s 44th President and America goes from Red to Blue
Los Angeles (Weltexpress) - Barack Obama won a historic victory of 338 to 156 electoral votes, (52.3%) in an unprecedented voting turnout - more than 130 million - and has been elected as the first black President of the United States.
For many voters (approx. 60%) the economy was a determining factor, while 90% maintained that neither race nor age were an issue. But almost all of America feels that it has taken part in an historic event; the moment being especially emotional for many African-Americans.
After capturing the majority in the key states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, Obama went on to take California and, more surprisingly, Florida, Virginia and Colorado - all solid Republican states - finally turning much of the US map to blue. At the same time, the Democrats added five seats to their majority in the Senate, and also boosted their majority in the House of Representatives, representing the strongest Democratic majority in Congress for more than thirty years.
"Yes, we can," was the motto of the moving speech the President Elect gave before tens of thousands of euphoric supporters in Grant Park, Chicago, many of whom were weeping with joy, "It's been a long time coming, but tonight - change has come to America."
This was preceded by a most gracious speech by his opponent John McCain, conceding defeat and offering his wholehearted support, likewise encouraging that of his party - in my opinion, one of the most articulate and sincere of his entire campaign. President elect Barack Obama warmly praised his Republican rival, calling him a "brave and selfless leader," who "has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine." He had words of gratitude and affection for his family, promising his daughters that that they "have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."
But he went on in a more serious note, "Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century." A presidential election that has crossed all barriers of race and class, "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. But America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there," said Barack Obama. He went on to say, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
- Autor: Geraldine Blecker
Abfassungsdatum: 05.11. 2008
All rights to the author
Update: Berlin, 05.11. 2008