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belly-fatObesity continues to be one of the greatest health challenges in the United States. More than a third of all adults are overweight or obese, and roughly the same goes for our children and teens. If we keep heading in the same direction the impact on our national health could be devastating, which is why experts continue to examine the cause and effect of carrying excess weight in the hope of finding a solution. Here are two new obesity studies making headlines:

Obesity Shortens Life Expectancy
Scientists in Canada recently determined that being obese can take years off your life—and the younger you are obese, the worse off you may be. Using data gathered from national health survey results, a team of researchers developed a computer model to project disease outcomes in overweight and obese adults (compared with those of normal weight) between the ages of 20 and 79.

They focused in particular on heart disease and diabetes and found that obesity is associated with a higher risk of both, which significantly reduces not just life expectancy but the years of “healthy life” an individual should have. Those who were overweight (with a BMI of 25) lost between 0 to 3 years, while obese people (BMI 30+) lost 1 to 6 years and the severely obese (BMI 35+) saw their life expectancy decreased by 1 to 8 years. Not only that, but the long-term effects were more severe in younger overweight and obese people.

Experts Urge Policies to Reduce Childhood Obesity
Focusing on childhood obesity in particular, results of a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine offer specific interventions for reducing obesity among children and adolescents. Of the 26 recommended policies examined, three were chosen based on projected effectiveness: after-school activity programs; an excise tax on sodas and sugary beverages (which, in turn, would channel money toward obesity prevention programs); and a ban on fast food ads aimed at children. Experts determined that all three policies, if put into action, would reduce childhood obesity prevalence in America by 2032.

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gmo-signsNanotechnology sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie—not something that should be on your plate. The same goes for genetic modification, but a new study shows a large number of American consumers are fine with adding them to the menu as long as it makes their food safer or more nutritious. In fact, they would even pay more for such foods.

The study was a collaborative effort between North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota. Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 randomly selected consumers and asked them to participate in a survey about whether or not they would consider purchasing nanotech or genetically modified (GM) foods if it meant gaining certain benefits.

Participants were divided into four specific groups based on their responses: those concerned mainly with price (23%); those who preferred to avoid such modifications unless there were proven safety benefits (19%); those who would not buy nanotech or GM foods at all (18%); and those who would buy such foods if they were told they were safer or more nutritious. This last group, dubbed the “benefit-oriented” group, had the largest number of respondents at 40%.

In terms of food, nanotechnology means using nanoparticles (microscopic particles) in the production or manufacture of food to alter how it looks, tastes, and even how long it will stay fresh and edible. Genetic modification refers to changing the genetic makeup of a crop in a way that would not occur naturally. But how do we even know if these practices are being used? And are they really as beneficial as manufacturers claim?

In the United States, mandatory labeling of GM foods is not required, though many state and national initiatives have been proposed. Current law only requires food labeling when there is a substantial difference in the nutritional or safety characteristics of a new food.i (Interestingly enough, genetic engineering does NOT fall under that definition, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.) Likewise, nanotech foods are not subject to any special regulation with regard to manufacture and labeling.

As consumers, we can make healthier choices by doing our research and paying attention to the products we buy and the companies we buy them from. Web sites such as the Non-GMO Project and The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Consumer Products Inventory can help shoppers determine which companies are making GM and/or nanotech foods.

i P. Byrne, Colorado State University Extension agronomy specialist and professor, soil and crop sciences; D. Pendell, associate professor, agricultural and resource economics; and G. Graff. associate professor, agricultural and resource economics. 10/2014.

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