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Study increases suspected link between TV, obesity in youths

The connection between an alarming rise in childhood and adolescent obesity in the United States and increased television watching may be even stronger than formerly suspected, according to a recent article in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association.Following up on a study they published five years ago that showed incidence of adolescent obesity increased 2 percent for every hour of daily television watched, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Tufts New England Medical Center now have data that indicate the chances of remission decrease 6 percent for each additional hour of television watched per day. In other words, children who watch a lot of television are not only more likely to get fat, they are also going to have a harder time reducing that fat.

Television itself, of course, is not the culprit - but the inactivity that watching television represents can lead to the development of weight problems at early ages.

"Everybody associated physical activity - vigorous exercise - with reducing incidence of obesity. But we've now seen that inactivity is a very distinct factor in promoting obesity," says Steven L. Gortmaker, a co-author of the study.

At one time, overweight youngsters were a comparative rarity in America's playgrounds. Not any more. Medical statistics show that obesity - a 20 percent or more overweight condition that already affects one in four adults - is growing fast among children between ages 6 and 17.

According to Charles Sekers, president of Physicians Weight Loss Centers, between 1963 and 1980, obesity increased 54 percent among children between ages of 6 and 11, and rose by 39 percent among those from 12 to 17 years old. Statistics also indicate that 40 percent of obese 7-year-olds and 70 percent of obese adolescents will become obese adults.

Obesity can mean a shortened life span, risk of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and other medical conditions. Important, too, is the "fatso syndrome" - young children being taunted and teased at school because of their physical appearance.

How can parents help their overweight children?

"Even though we live in a high-tech society, nothing takes the place of physical activity," says Lee Anne McConnell, clinical dietitian at Cottonwood Hospital and a member of the Utah Dietitian Association.

McConnell encourages parents to do three things:

- Limit TV and other after-school sit-down activity to no more than two hours a day.

- Encourage physical activity and exercise. Family walks have great value as a basic activity. These can be supplemented with cycling trips, backyard volleyball and basketball sessions and other sports.

- Choose healthy snacks: fruit, graham crackers, crackers with low-fat cheese.

It's important, she says, that parents not go too far is restricting a child's diet, there are important nutrients needed for growth. But they can also cut out some of the excesses. Parents should also set a good example as far as diet and exercise go.


Chromium may help prevent start of middle-age diabetes

Some of the latest research notes from the Agricultural Research Service:

- Middle-age diabetes doesn't happen overnight. Blood glucose and insulin levels creep ever higher as the hormone loses its effectiveness in metabolizing sugar. Finally, the body may stop producing insulin altogether.

A new study indicates that getting enough of the trace mineral chromium can nip this process in the bud. Research is continuing, but it appears that chromium plays a role in keeping glucose levels where they should be.

What are the best sources of chromium in the diet? Cold cereals, especially those fortified with vitamins and minerals; broccoli and grape juice.

- Cholesterol-conscious consumers with a craving for ice cream could soon get a triple bonus from a new product that reduces the fat and calories in America's favorite dessert while fighting blood cholesterol.

The new product, dubbed oatrim, is made from soluble oat fiber. And because it replaces most of the saturated fat, it turns ice cream into a low-calorie, low-fat frozen dessert without sacrificing taste.

A four-ounce serving of vanilla oatrim frozen dessert has 135 calories, less than 1 gram of fat and 4 milligrams of cholesterol. By comparison, a similar serving of premium vanilla ice cream has 298 calories, 22 grams of fat and 85 mg of cholesterol.

Oatrim can easily be used in a variety of other dairy products and prepared foods, say researchers at Montana State University, including yogurt, breads, cookies, salad dressing, sour cream and mayonnaise.

- Edible coatings made from milk and other farm products could keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer in the market and at home.

So far, experiments with a nearly invisible coating made from casein, milk's major protein, seems promising. A small amount of vitamin C is added for increased protection against browning.

A coating that improves upon nature's packaging of fresh foods would allow more types of produce to be pre-sliced and packaged.

- Add a little spice to your life; it may improve your blood sugar level. Tests show that cinnamon, apple pie spice, cloves, bay leaves and turmeric can do more than just enhance the flavor and aroma of foods. Extracts of each of these spices tripled insulin's performance in getting glucose metabolized. Researchers have purified the active ingredient in cinnamon to about 95 percent, but don't yet know what it is. How much of these spices are needed to improve a person's blood sugar level is also unknown. In the meantime, adding some extra spice to healthful foods certainly won't hurt.


List reveals convenience items that were hits and flops in '90

Each year hundreds of new products are introduced by manufacturers, as both they and consumers continue the search for the perfect food, the ultimate diet, the greatest convenience.

Last year will be remembered as the year the food industry's role in the environment became more pronounced, notes The Lempert Report, a food industry analysis newsletter. But there were advances as well as setbacks.

Each year, Lempert compiles a list of what it believes are the year's greatest hits and misses - the products that present innovative solutions to consumer demands and best satisfy consumer appetites for new and interesting foods, as well as those that fall far short of the mark.

Among the products chosen for 1990 are:


- Elan Frozen Yogurt Bars. These dipped-in-chocolate confections are reportedly flying off the shelf in supermarkets. Taste is a factor, but the fact that they are lower in cholesterol and calories than the competition in the premium ice cream category doesn't hurt either.

- Downy Refill. Proctor & Gamble's introduction of a crushable, paper-based refill package for its Downy Fabric Softener was long overdue. The carton uses 75 percent less packaging material and allows consumers to reuse the large Downy bottle.

- Shady Brook Farms Marinated Fresh Turkey. This concept takes into account consumer desires for healthful foods that are tasty and a cinch to cook. Each 5-ounce turkey breast cutlet has less than 160 calories with less than four grams of fat. Dinner can be on the table in seven minutes.

- Peanut Butter M&Ms. This is a hot entry in the candy category - variation on the traditional M&M theme.

- Frieda's Habanero Chile Pepper. The success ofthe "hottest chile in the world" says much about the changing American palate. Frieda's of California, a marketer of specialty produce, says the excitement generated by the introduction of this chile was beyond anything it has experienced in 18 years of business.


Among the products and companies that didn't live up to their potential, says Lempert, were:

- Hefty Bags. The Mobil Co. made what many people regard as rubbish claims when it touted the degradability factor of its Hefty brand garbage bags. Not only has the company backed off from the claim, in many states the products have been pulled from the shelves.

- Russian foods. Last year, Lempert predicted that glasnost and perestroika would combine in increased interest and sales in Russian foods. But it hasn't happened. This may be due to the richness of many foods, such as pirogi, which don't quite hit the mark for diet-conscious consumers. Or it may be poor marketing.

- Aunt Jemima's Pancake Express. With a real stretch of the imagination, this product may have a place on camping trips. But in the kitchens of typical consumers, this product epitomizes how marketers play to the laziness in all of us. The benefit to the consumer is that he or she doesn't have to wash a bowl - just add water to the bottle and you have pancake batter and another addition to the solid waste pile.

- Lunchables. The concept of providing a complete lunch, napkin included, in a handy packet, may have some merit. What Oscar Meyer has done, however, through its thoroughly overpackaged "Lunchables" is attain a new height in environmental chutzpah. The tray and heavy plastic containers are hardly necessary for wrapping deli meats, cheese and crackers.


From another source, Glamour, comes a list of foods and products that are "culinary underdogs" - things that consumers may be overlooking in the quest for good and healthful eating:

- Tap water. Still the best thirst-quencher there is - and one of the few drinks that doesn't contain such extras as caffeine and calories.

- Canned beans. A terrific source of fiber, carbohydrates and protein.

- Fig Newtons. Good-for-you cookies that are low in fat and high in fiber - which makes them incredibly chewy and satisfying, says the magazine.

- Just plain ice cream - which has half the calories and less than half the fat of premium brands with foreign-sounding names.

- Kiwi fruit. At about 45 calories each, kiwis have as much vitamin C as oranges and a sweet-tart taste that takes you by surprise.

- Beets. Fresh beets are entirely different from canned beets and have a "crisp texture, earthy flavor and wonderfully ruby-red color." To enjoy them at their best, recommends the magazine, microwave or bake beets and steam the greens; together they're a nutritional powerhouse.

- Vinegar. Herb and wine vinegars can add a delicious zing to sauces without adding fat.

- Doughnuts. The doughnuts you no longer allow yourself may actually have fewer calories than the muffins you replaced them with. As muffins have gotten bigger they've added calories. The amount of fat in muffins and doughnuts is about the same, but most large muffins have twice the calories as an average-size doughnut, particularly if you choose the plain variety.