Thursday, February 15, 2007

Child obesity rate is 'likely to double'

Australia's obesity epidemic is reaching crisis point and the number of overweight children will rise to 60 per cent within 30 years unless the Government invests billions, according to a health expert.

Kevin Norton, professor of exercise science at Sport Knowledge Australia, accused state and federal governments of failing to stem rising obesity rates, which could cripple the national health system.

In the first study to look at the weight of Australian children over the last century, researchers found that obesity rates jumped from 4 per cent in 1901 to more than 30 per cent in 2003.

The study found that in 30 years' time the number of overweight or obese children will double, matching the current rate of adult obesity.

Professor Norton likened the seriousness of the problem to that of climate change and said failure to act now could have devastating consequences.

"We are going to need new money — in the same way we've done with the climate change issue — for interventions to tackle the problem," he said. "If we're going to have an impact we'll need hundreds of millions, if not billions … because we're running out of money and the health-care costs can't continue."

The report, published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, took in data from 41 studies since 1901 that weighed 500,000 Australian children aged five to 15.

The figures reveal a low, steady rate of obesity until the 1970s when the rate increased.

Professor Norton said the spike coincided with a decline in physical education in schools, and called for compulsory classes from year 1 to year 12.

"It's got to be put in the same bracket as maths and English and reading and writing skills. If we do national testing for that surely we should educate our kids about their health through physical activity and nutrition programs in schools," he said.

"Last year's estimates of direct financial costs placed the obesity epidemic throughout Australia at somewhere around $3.5 billion."

The Age revealed last year that Australia has the fastest growing rate of childhood obesity in the world.

Professor Norton described recent Government prevention measures — such as a ban on soft drinks in Victorian state schools — as little more than "tinkering".

Professor Norton said policies such as adding half a cent per litre to the price of petrol could generate enough money to put one physical education teacher into every school in Australia for a year.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chimp "Stone Age" finds are earliest nonhuman ape tools

Humans might not be as pioneering as we're cracked up to be.

That's one possible explanation for new evidence that West African chimpanzees learned to use stone tools on their own to crack nuts at least 4,300 years ago.

The research pushes back chimpanzee tool use thousands of years. It casts into doubt the long-standing theory that direct human ancestors were the only animals to independently develop tools—and that chimps learned to use stone tools by watching humans.

Instead both humans and chimps could have inherited the ability to crack nuts with rocks from a common ancestor, Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary in Canada and co-authors report in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Or chimps may have developed the behavior on their own. In either case, it's no longer likely that chimps learned to use stones as tools only by imitating humans.

At 4,300 years old, the chimps' tools correspond to the late Stone Age of human history—before the advent of agriculture in West Africa.

"Until recently people used to say that among modern-day chimpanzees the behavior came from imitation of farmers," Mercader said. "That assumption is no longer valid. What we present predates the presence of farming."

Mercader and colleagues found subtly altered rocks in the Ivory Coast in Africa at a research site that houses the only known prehistoric chimpanzee settlement.

The excavated stones resemble those used by ancient humans and modern chimpanzees to smash nuts—showing evidence of flakes, chips, and worn edges.

Also, several types of starch grains were found on the stones, which the researchers say is residue from cracking local nuts.

Some experts had believed that the chimps at Mercader's study site learned to crack nuts by watching people break apart the seeds of African palm oil trees and other tropical species.

Agustín Fuentes, an anthropologist at Indiana's University of Notre Dame, said he's not surprised by the new research, but he's happy about it.

"It puts the nail in the coffin on those who say chimp tool use is atypical," he said.

"Most people have already bought into that. But now you can say, Look, you've got a 4,000-year-old tradition."

The most primitive human stone-tool sites are in Olduvai Gorge in East Africa. Tools there date back to 2.6 million years ago, when people were deliberately modifying stone tools by flaking rocks to create razorlike edges. Chimps today don't change the shapes of the stones they use as nutcrackers.

But the chimps' stones may be similar to stone tools used by humans before our ancestors began to chisel rocks for specific purposes.

Today in Côte d'Ivoire's Taï rain forest, mother chimpanzees still teach their infants the art of nut cracking.

It takes young chimps about seven years to master the technique. To split a nut without pulverizing it, the chimps must apply 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of force.

Fuentes said that Mercader and colleagues' work emphasizes that the difference between chimps and humans is not the ability to use tools, but the ability to modify the tools and share that information.

For Fuentes, the research "knocks humans off the pedestal of tool use," but it affirms our unique ability to communicate.

A chimp mother might teach her offspring to crack nuts, but chimps are not really communicating about how to use tools and where to get them, he said.

"Nothing," he said, "goes to the level of information-sharing and technology that humans are capable of."

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Paleo Diet Newsletter

I've been meaning to blog about Dr. Loren Cordain's website and free e-newsletter for a while now. Here are some valuable links for you, my Hunter-Gatherer friend.

Dr' Cordain's website,

Paleo Diet Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue 1

The Paleo Diet Newsletter Courier, Vol. 2, Issue 5

The Paleo Diet Newsletter, Vol. 2, Issue 4

The Paleo Diet Newsletter Courier, Vol. 2, Issue 3

The Paleo Diet Newsletter Courier, Vol. 2, Issue 2

The Paleo Diet Newsletter, Vol. 2, Issue 1

The Paleo Diet Newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 3

The Paleo Diet Newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 2

The Paleo Diet Newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 1

Dr. Cordain is also the author of one of the better books on Paleo nutrition: The Paleo Diet. He has also written The Paleo Diet for athletes and The dietary cure for acne. I haven't read the latter two yet, but the first one was one of the texts that first opened my eyes to this way of life.

Fat Men Can't Hunt

One of the more interesting shows (potentially) for Paleo eaters is a new show on the BBC in Britain called "Fat men can't hunt". It's a four part series shot in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia. From the BBC website is the following:

If you can't kill it and cook it, you'll be going hungry...
Most of us love our convenient Western lifestyles - supermarket shelves groaning with every possible type of food known to man, takeaway deliveries only a phone call away, and handy fridges to keep everything fresh.

However, our Stone Age ancestors lived on a hunter/gatherer diet - and many of the health problems that we in the West currently face can be linked directly back to the change in the way we eat.

In some parts of the world, people still need to hunt, kill, prepare and cook all of their own foodstuffs. Just how would a group of overweight, out-of-condition Brits cope with having to search for their supper?

Fat Men Can't Hunt is a four-part series that follows a group of eight men and women to see if they can live among the San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia.

The men will have to join hunts, spending days at a time foraging for food. Meanwhile the women will have to stay in the camp, living their lives according to the strict social rules that govern local women.

Isolated in one of the world's harshest environments, will our brave volunteers adapt to their new lifestyle or end up begging to be airlifted to the nearest kebab shop?

It looks to me that it has the potential to be a "reality" show that's actually worth watching. I hope it come on the TV in Australia very soon. Perhaps channel 9 can do an Aussie version in the Aussie desert with some local indigenous people.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dog's breakfast - so what's a dog really meant to eat?

If you thought human nutrition was a minefield of conflicting information, it's no easier if you're a pooch. At one extreme of the dog diet spectrum is the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (or BARF diet) - this is the canine equivalent of the human Paleolithic diet which recommends a raw food diet that's as close as possible to what wild dogs evolved to eat - at the other are those who argue dogs do just fine on a vegetarian diet; and somewhere in the middle are the vets who recommend a healthy mixed diet.

If research into the effects of dog ownership on human health is to be believed, dogs deserve the right diet - whatever that might be. Owning a dog appears to be good for human health, helping lower blood pressure and cholesterol. But while they're busy protecting us from heart disease, living with a human is no guarantee for good canine health - otherwise why would vets be running weight-loss programs, or a canine anti-obesity drug be poised for release in the US? So what should - and shouldn't - go into a dog's dinner?

Off the menu for all dogs are foods known to be toxic to them. These include grapes, raisins, chocolate, macadamia nuts, tomatoes, onion and garlic (there goes garlic's reputation as a natural flea repellant). Cooked bones can splinter and injure the dog.

Raw bones are fine and don't feed salty foods to dogs who are overweight or have problems with their heart or blood pressure.

Like overweight humans, overweight dogs are prone to diseases like diabetes, arthritis and cancer - to keep them around longer, keep them active and don't overfeed.

I suggest a mixed diet that includes a good quality dried food, together with raw beef or lamb and vegetables. Dried food is a more concentrated source of nutrients (compared with canned food which can contain as much as 60 per cent water) - but provide lots of water.

Vegetables like raw broccoli and carrots are good to add extra nutrients and fibre. Raw chicken wings mimic a wild diet and provide calcium and other nutrients. As for fruit, not much is known about fruit and dog nutrition, though some dogs enjoy it. I know mine certainly does! She collects dropped apricots from the tree (they're too high to reach) and she actually picks peaches from the tree!

If beagles are anything to go by, a little fruit might be a good thing - a University of Toronto study found older dogs whose diet was supplemented with fruit and vegetables did better at learning new tasks.

Not everyone agrees with feeding dogs commercial dog food. The BARF diet, developed by Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, recommends a diet based on raw muscle and organ meat and vegetables - and no grains. Meanwhile, many vegetarian organisations, including the Vegetarian Network Victoria, believe dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet.

So tell us what goes into your dog's bowl to keep them in good shape? Have you tried BARF or even a vegetarian diet?

Previous posts on canine nutrition: 1,

Eat A Tasty Animal for PETA Day (EATAPETA)

Ingrid Newkirk's PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) claims to be an animal rights group, but their outrageous headline-grabbing tactics are rarely more than criminal thuggery laced with fits of blatant bloody-handed hypocrisy.

In response to the "Holocaust On Your Plate" media campaign that mocked the Holocaust, blogger Meryl Yourish responded with "Eat A Tasty Animal For PETA Day" (EATAPETA) campaign on March 15, 2003. Bloggers and non-bloggers are invited to revolt against PETA's ham-fisted tactics by eating animals on this day.

This year will be the Fifth Annual International Eat an Animal for Peta Day.

So, how can you join in the fun?

Sure, you can eat animal food products all by your lonesome, but you are encouraged to organize and promote your own gathering place to celebrate the carnivore side of your omnivorous nature.

I intend to organise a BBQ at home with some close friends. On the menu will be Prawns (Hey, I'm an Aussie so apparently I have to have crustaceans on the BBQ), lamb chops, Pork chops and rump steak. My wife will make up an egg salad.

That covers seafood, sheep, pigs, cows and chickens. I think I'll act like Noah and have two of every animal ..........

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

McHealthy meals win National Heart tick

FAST food giant McDonald's has secured the National Heart Foundation's tick of approval for several low-fat meals to be added to its menu this month.

But leading dietitian Rosemary Stanton says this may just encourage more people to buy McDonald's - and not necessarily the healthy meals.

The foundation gave nine new meals - switching the winning chips-and-soft drink combination for salad and juice - a tick.

Big Macs missed out, but McNuggets and Filet-o-Fish burgers can wear the tick when paired with the healthy side-dishes.

Foundation chief executive Lyn Roberts said the firm had spent a year reducing trans fats and sodium and adding vegetables to meal combinations.

McDonald's follows Qantas in tick-approval since the foundation introduced the scheme for meals eaten out. Ticks previously only went to supermarket foods meeting strict nutritional standards: companies paying for the privilege.

Tick scheme national manager Susan Anderson would not say how much McDonald's would pay but said it would only cover foundation expenses.

McDonald's was charged $330,000 for 12 Months of approval. In a forum I contribute to, another user (that claims to work at the National Heart Foundation) has this to say on the subject: (The post has been edited only to correct spelling mistakes)

Let me clarify this for everyone because I actually work at the Heart Foundation.

The license fee charged to manufacturers is based on a proportion of expected revenue. This money is used to cover costs only - the money stays inside the tick program and is not released to any other part of the Heart Foundation. In the case of McDonalds 2 restaraunts will be tested per week for 12 months to check their food is meeting the strict standards set by the Tick program, this includes clinical analysis, human resources etc. This is where the $330,000 is going. The Tick is granted only to the nine meals that will be released later in the month, and it does not apply to the whole of McDonalds. The meals are no longer tick certified if you change them in any way. Obviously if you buy fries with a Tick meal you are not eating according to Tick guidelines.

The Heart Foundation "Tick" of approval is nothing short of a pathetic joke. McDonald's can get the tick for a "heart healthy" meal, yet there is no tick of approval for fruit and vegetable growers or livestock producers.

The truth is, the Heart Foundation's "Tick of approval" is purely a revenue raiser for a pathetic government - it has nothing to do with the food being heart healthy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mars bars not to be marketed to under-12s

CONFECTIONERY giant Masterfoods, which owns the Mars, Maltesers, Topic, Revel and Snickers candy bar brand names, has said it will stop marketing its "core products" to children under the age of 12 by the end of this year the first time a big foodmaker has set such a high global age limit for products.

The policy will apply to all advertising, including online and new media, The Financial Times reported.

"We have decided to make an official policy change to a cut-off age of 12 years for all our core products," read a Masterfoods letter to the European Commission's director-general for health and consumer protection Robert Madelin, according to the business paper.

Core products reportedly include snack foods and confectionery.

The newspaper said that while Masterfoods already had a policy of not advertising to children younger than six, rivals Nestle and PepsiCo do not have a global age limit for targeting children.

According to the paper, CadburySchweppes does not advertise to children less than eight, while Kraft does not advertise to children younger than six, though it said that it only markets "better for you" products such as fruit juices and wheat crackers to children between six and 11.

The measure reflects mounting concerns about the links between advertising and childhood obesity and follows moves by some public authorities to bring in tighter food regulations.

Parents blind to fat children

Most parents don't think their overweight children are fat - and heavy parents are the worst judges of them all, a study has found.

A survey of more than 1,200 Melbourne families has revealed the majority of caregivers believe their kids are of normal weight when they are overweight or even obese.

Parents of 5 to 6-year-olds were the worst, with 90 per cent wrongly judging their overweight child.

And 63 per cent of parents of overweight 10 to 12-year-olds made the same mistake.

Deakin University researcher David Crawford said the findings, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, were alarming given Australia was in the grip of an obesity epidemic.

"These are quite troubling results and suggest that current obesity prevention campaigns are not hitting the mark with parents," said Prof Crawford, head of the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research.

"Parents are part of the front line in the battle to reverse the trend of obesity in children.

"It is therefore essential that they are armed with information and practical strategies that they understand and can easily build into their daily lives."

He said the results were not surprising because waistlines were expanding across the whole population, making obesity harder to recognise.

"Almost one in two people are overweight now ... so it's almost more usual than unusual," Prof Crawford said.

Children are also growing quickly, making it hard to judge weight, and many parents also believe their child will grow out of it which, research shows, is not the case.

Mothers in particular tended to judge a weight problem on whether their child was teased at school - a poor marker of overweight.

Interestingly, it was the overweight adults that were least likely to recognise their child's weight problem, probably because they don't recognise it in themselves, Prof Crawford said.

Despite not recognising the problem, most parents said they took care to promote a balanced diet and physical activity and cut back on junk food in the home.

But few parents boosted fruit and vegetables intake, limited television viewing or stopped children drinking high energy drinks to control weight.

Parents need to follow the pyramid below and encourage (insist!) that their kids do the same.