The Boy Scouts of America banned overweight scouts from this month’s 2013 Jamboree. Their intention was to encourage the scouts to lose weight and shape up before the Jamboree—where the boys enjoy outdoor activities and learn new skills. But banning overweight kids is a mistake. They are exactly the kids who need guidance and support.
I was an Eagle Scout myself, and I remember how supportive scouting can be. But too often the organization gets the wrong end of the stick—or in this case, the fork. Instead of being banished, overweight scouts should be encouraged to come to camp and get lessons on healthful nutrition and cooking. They should be taught that the healthiest foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. They should learn that overweight comes, not from a lack of exercise, but from meaty, cheesy, sugar-laden diets. Given the chance to prepare and taste healthful foods, it could change their lives.
The potential benefits go beyond slimming down. New research from Thomas Jefferson University shows that the percentage of boys in the United States ages 8 to 17 with high blood pressure has increased from 15.8 to 19.2 percent. Girls also saw an increase. And according to a study published this month in JAMA, teens’ risk of developing hardened plaque in their arteries increases 2 to 4 percent each year they are obese. Healthier foods could prevent and reverse these problems.
It’s unfair for scout leaders to serve bacon and eggs in the mess hall and hot dogs around the campfire, and then blame scouts for being overweight. Instead they should send a clear message that a nutritious diet is part of an overall healthful lifestyle.
So let’s not ban kids who are having trouble. Instead, why not award a special merit badge to every scout who learns and practices the basics of vegan nutrition? These kids will save their own lives, and many more as well.
The Physicians Committee recently hosted its second standing-room-only “Healthy on the Hill” luncheon on Capitol Hill for more than 120 staffers, interns, and journalists—and even a couple members of Congress—interested in learning more about the benefits of a plant-based diet. The presentation featured a vegan lunch and an interview with 9-year-old vegan chef Noah Koch, who recently won a White House recipe contest. Here is Noah Gittell, our director of government affairs, recapping the event:
Noah Koch isn’t your average 9 year old. Sitting at the front of a political briefing room packed with people three times his age, he looked perfectly at ease. “I fist bumped, shook hands, and high-fived the president!” Koch exclaimed. Most likely, this is more than any of us have done. But actually, it’s the least of his accomplishments. Just this year, Koch won the White House’s nutritious food contest sponsored by the “Let’s Move” campaign. Not only was his recipe absolutely delicious, it was also healthy and completely vegan. Koch’s Vegan Powerhouse Pesto Pasta recipe is truly a winning recipe that combines pasta, pesto sauce, vegetables, and avocado to make a delectable dish for the most discriminating diners. But as soon as the image of his Vegan Powerhouse Pesto Pasta was illuminated on the projector screen, he quickly clarified to all, “The picture is incorrect.” He pointed out that not only were the vegetables sliced improperly, but “then there’s Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, which I do not like.” Noah is a perfectionist, and he won the contest for making a perfectly tasty, healthy, and nutritious meal without adding fatty cheese. But there was more to the event than young Noah. We debuted our new Healthy on the Hill: A Guide to Veg-Friendly Fare on Capitol Hill (PDF) brochure that shows Hill staffers all of the great restaurants that serve inexpensive, plant-based foods just steps from Capitol Hill. We raffled off some of Dr. Barnard’s books and a copy of the popular Forks Over Knives DVD. Finally, we showed attendees how easy it is to make delicious, nutritious food at home, even with their busy schedules. Ten easy breakfast, lunch, and dinner options were demonstrated in 10 short minutes. Our practical demonstration worked alongside Noah’s charm and dedication to show the audience how these simple nutritional changes can bring about life-altering transformations in health, both personally and nationwide. I look forward to seeing Noah lead a generation of young people who can change destructive food policies. So Mr. Koch, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep running your 5Ks, eating a fantastic diet, and enjoying your childhood. Although it may not seem like it now, you are setting a wonderful example for your friends, parents, teachers, and even members of Congress! With your efforts, it won’t be long before schools across the country begin offering vegetarian and vegan choices for children looking for healthier alternatives. So from one Noah to another, I’m sending a fist bump, handshake, and high-five your way.
Each year, colorectal cancer kills more than 50 thousand people in the United States. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Coney Island. Processed meats, like hot dogs, have been so strongly linked to colorectal cancer that no amount is considered safe for consumption. Even one hot dog per day can raise your risk of colorectal cancer 21 percent. Last 4th of July at Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, Joey Chestnut won the contest by eating 68 hot dogs. But what did he win, exactly? 20 thousand dollars—and 20 thousand calories, 400 grams of saturated fat, 48 thousand milligrams of sodium, and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Even Americans who aren’t gorging themselves for money will eat 155 million hot dogs on the 4th of July alone. On a day when we celebrate our independence as a country, we should also declare independence from unhealthful cultural fads. Many people get together with family and friends in celebration, not realizing that what they put on the grill can have a lasting impact on their loved ones. With the 50 thousand victims of colorectal cancer in mind, maybe this year Nathan’s Famous should switch to veggie dogs, and the winner should donate a portion of their prize money to preventing cancer. Improving the future health of our nation is something truly worth celebrating.
Fast food is causing the dementia boom—and it’s projected to get worse. Almost 3.8 million people 71 or older have dementia, according to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. The rise in Alzheimer’s is partly due to the aging of baby boomers. But there is another reason. When these senior citizens were teenyboppers, the fast-food craze was just taking off: The first KFC franchise opened in 1952, the first Burger King in 1954, and the first McDonald’s and Dunkin’s Donuts in 1955. As these foods caught on, America’s meat and cheese intake soared. Today’s dementia boom can be attributed to the saturated fats and trans fats that began inundating the American diet with the rise of fast food. Saturated fats—in Big Macs, fried chicken, and other meat and dairy products—appear to encourage the production of beta-amyloid plaques within the brain. The Chicago Health and Aging Study reported in the Archives of Neurology in 2003 that people consuming the most saturated fat had more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who generally avoided these foods. Trans fats, found in doughnuts, snack pastries, and often in french fries, have been shown to increase Alzheimer’s risk more than fivefold. These “bad fats” raise cholesterol levels and apparently increase production of the beta-amyloid protein that collects in plaques in the brain as Alzheimer’s disease begins. There’s no sign that fast-food restaurants will stop slash-and-burn growth tactics. Today, McDonald’s has more than 34,000 restaurants in 119 countries. While McDonald’s and other fast-food corporations make billions, they leave Americans paying a huge health toll. The total cost of dementia in 2010 was $215 billion. By 2040, 9.1 million people in America alone will suffer from dementia and it will cost the country $511 billion. Now that generations have been raised on Whoppers and glazed donuts, what can we do? Put down the fast food, as well as other sources of meaty, cheesy, fat-laden fare. People who generally avoid saturated and trans fats—skipping the cheese, bacon, and doughnuts—have had remarkably low rates of Alzheimer’s disease in research studies. Alzheimer’s is incurable. But there’s time for the Millennial Generation—and even Baby Boomers—to halt it before it starts.
Imagine how a key works with a lock. If the lock is jammed with gum, the key won't work. Diabetes occurs when fat—from cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and other junk foods—gums up cells. That fat stops insulin from moving sugar out of the blood and into muscle, fat, and liver cells—where it’s needed. It also increases the risk of heart disease, amputations, and blindness. There’s a simple way to treat the 100 million Americans who suffer from diabetes and prediabetes. And it doesn’t come in a syringe or pill bottle. My NIH-funded clinical research proves that a low-fat plant-based diet is the way to prevent and reverse diabetes. I recently spoke at a TEDx conference about the diabetes dilemma and how we can fight it in the United States and stop exporting it overseas. Take a look:
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