Miscellaneous News

Food Marketing to Children

Are SpongeBob SquarePants, Shrek and the Disney Princesses the new Joe Camel? According to “Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?” a report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the answer is “Yes”. Prepared at the request of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a critic of food advertising, the report accuses food marketers of spending billions of dollars to lure children away from good diet choices in favor of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods and beverages. These choices, the report alleges, are at the center of the rising obesity rates among the young. The report urges the food industry to work voluntarily with government to encourage better diets. To that end, marketers are asked to discontinue the use of licensed characters in connection with junk food, a recommendation eerily similar to the one used in the battle against Camel Cigarettes’ cartoon character Joe Camel. Instead, licensed characters should be used to promote food and beverages that “support healthful diets”. Marketing and industry officials question the report’s findings which, they say, don’t take into account the recent trends in the food industry towards healthier foods and food choices. Nevertheless, there is reason to take the report seriously: if voluntary efforts to shift children’s advertising away from junk food yield no substantial change in the way food is marketed to children within the next two years, the report calls for Congress to enact legislation “mandating the shift on both broadcast and cable television”.


Fish Oil Linked to Lower Alzheimer’s Risk

Scientists have found that people with the highest blood levels of an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic, or DHA, were about half as likely to develop dementia as those with lower levels.  DHA is one of several omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and in some meats (in smaller amounts).  The substance is also found in fish oil supplements.  According to a study published in the November issue of The Archives of Neurology, people who ate two or more servings of fish a week reduced their risk for dementia by 39 percent.  The finding that DHA alone reduces risk, the authors write, is consistent with earlier data showing high levels of DHA in healthy brain tissue and low levels of DHA in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.  The authors of the study caution that the study doesn’t prove that eating fish oil prevents dementia.  Also eating fish is not a guarantee of having high levels of DHA.  The kind of fish consumed is important.  Fatty fish is best and frying causes the DHA to deteriorate.  The authors also point out that there are no published human studies of the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements.  Although the FDA doesn’t endorse DHA or fish oil capsule consumption, it recognizes that doses of up to 3 grams a day of fish oil is generally safe.  High intakes of fish oil can cause excessive bleeding in some people.


Secret for the “French Paradox” Discovered?

It’s red wine, of course…at least, if you’re a mouse.

With its rich cheeses, buttery pastry, and sauces laden with butter and cream, French cuisine could well qualify as one of the most artery-clogging on the planet.  And yet, despite enjoying a diet much higher in fat than that of the typical American, the French suffer far less heart disease—the so-called “French Paradox”.   Researchers have long suspected that the secret lay in red wine. 

A study by the Harvard Medical School and the National Institute on Aging has recently zeroed in on resveratrol, an ingredient found in the skin of grapes and in red wine, as the possible key.  In the study, it was discovered that obese mice living on a high-fat diet lived longer, healthier lives--without dieting--by adding huge doses of red wine extract to their diet.  Obesity-related deaths dropped 31 percent for overweight mice on the supplement, compared to fat mice that got no treatment, and there were lower rates of diabetes and liver problems. 

According to the study, the mice that got the supplement also lived longer than expected.  Furthermore, the organs of the obese mice treated with resveratrol looked normal and healthy.  Preliminary work shows that resveratrol has promise in extending the lives of the normal mice as well.  According to Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School, leading author of the study, “If we’re right about this, it would mean that you could have the benefit of restricting calories without having to feel hungry.  It’s the Holy Grail of aging research.”  A caution, though – these are mice; there is no guarantee that this will work on humans.