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heart-stethoscopeInstead of just offering advice or handing them a pamphlet about the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, new recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) say health care practitioners could be doing more to help their overweight patients lower their risk of heart disease.

In particular, patients with excess weight coupled with key risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar levels would do better with “intensive behavioral counseling,” according to a recent review of nearly 75 different studies focusing on lifestyle intervention techniques for overweight individuals with heart risk factors.

According to the USPSTF, patients who met with their doctors more frequently and who had recurring sessions with trained nutritionists, dieticians and other health educators were able to lose more weight and significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. The key, said USPSTF Chair Dr. Michael LeFevre, is the ongoing one-on-one counseling, which helps to assess each patient individually and reinforce healthy habits such as regular exercise.

The new recommendations are similar to those issued by the USPSTF in 2012 (which focused solely on obese patients without heart disease risk factors). However, according to LeFevre one of the biggest limitations when it comes to providing such intense counseling is that unlike the larger health organizations, many smaller, solo practitioners lack the time and resources necessary to provide this level of focused treatment. Still, he encourages health care providers to do what they can to promote heart-healthy living.

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soft-drinkWhen it comes to added sugars, sweetened beverages are one of the biggest offenders. Still, Americans today are consuming more sugary soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks than ever before—on average about 2.6 glasses a day.i But as awareness increases about the health risks of a high-sugar diet, some beverage companies are working to significantly reduce their sugar content in the name of public health.

Coca-Cola will soon introduce their green-labeled Coca-Cola Life in the United States as an alternative for cola drinkers. The lower-calorie cola is sweetened with a blend of sugar and stevia and will contain a third less sugar and calories than the traditional red can. “We are committed to working with others across society to promote well-being and help address the public health challenge of obesity,” said Jon Woods, general manager of Coca-Cola UK and Ireland.

Another popular soft drink brand, PepsiCo, is also looking for ways to reduce the sugar content in its soft drinks in the name of public health. According to their website, “We removed approximately 370,000 metric tons of added sugar from our total beverage portfolio in North America since 2006.” They have also stepped up their research and technology efforts to work toward developing naturally sourced sweeteners and flavorings, which they say are “…the best paths to a meaningful reduction in added sugars.”

While these are commendable steps being taken by both companies, the reality is that even with lower sugar content, beverages sweetened with sugar—especially added sugars—still miss the mark. There is hope that the new drinks will raise awareness about the extreme sugar consumption in this country, but we still have a long way to go to truly make a difference.

Just recently the World Health Organization (WHO) cut their sugar recommendations in half, saying the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has contributed to a nationwide rise in obesity and obesity-related disease, including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. According to WHO officials, our daily sugar intake should amount to only 5 percent of our total calories (about 6 teaspoons for an adult of normal BMI). A single can of soda may contain up to 10 teaspoons of hidden sugar.



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