Let’s Move! Is Making A Difference

Yesterday I was on the phone with the White House.

Well, with Sam Kass. Who, as you may know, is personal chef to the Obama family and Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which is celebrating four years of programs aimed at decreasing childhood obesity.

True, true, it wasn’t just me on the line with the esteemed and accomplished Mr. Kass. It was a bevy of bloggers, invited by BlogHer (one of the many, many reasons I just love BlogHer.) Mr. Kass spoke about the programs Let’s Move! has launched in the past four years – programs like partnering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to help kids get more exercise after school, and breakfast in schools – and how these and other programs hare are combatting childhood obesity.

He also referenced the Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the US, 2011-12 study which was recently published in JAMA and showed, “There was a significant decrease in obesity among 2- to 5-year-old children” between 2003-2012. In fact, a 43% drop, which is huge.  In real numbers: in 2003-04 nearly 14% of children age 2-5 were obese and that fell to just over 8% in 2011-12.


And while there was not a drop in obesity among the general population or kids in general, the significant decrease in young children is important. As Sabrina Tavernise reported in the New York Times, “children who are overweight or obese at 3 to 5 years old are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.”

Now, no one is really clear exactly why there was a huge decline in obesity among 2-5 year olds. Conjectures include: a decline in calories from sugared beverages, healthier habits from the Let’s Move! initiative, and changes to the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which subsidizes food for low-income women.  Indeed, in the past several years, the WIC program has reduced funding for less healthy choices like fruit juice, cheese and eggs – and increased funding for whole fruits and vegetables. Which, um, makes sense to me.

While all this is heartening, I asked Mr. Kass if there was any evidence that these lower obesity rates also included better cholesterol levels in kids. He answered that the study just published did not include cholesterol data, but agreed that the healthier eating and boost in exercise among kids should reduce cholesterol and diabetes along with obesity.

So I did some digging myself.  And found some interesting information that points to heartening news for cholesterol in kids as obesity rates decline.

In August 2012, JAMA published Trends in Serum Lipids Among US Youths Aged 6-19 Years, 1988-2010.  And this study shows that total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides have fallen among American youth.

Gory details attached below for those who love charts but the topline is this:  for kids aged 6-19 there was not much change in Total Cholesterol, LDL (bad) Cholesterol or Triglycerides (which increase with sugar and junk food consumption) between 1998 and 2002.  BUT there was a significant decline between 2002 and 2010 in Total Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides.

Sure, it can’t be tied directly to the Let’s Move! campaign.  But clearly something is helping American kids’ cholesterol in the past eight years.  And my guess is the focus on healthier foods and more exercise in the Let’s Move! initiative is helping turn the tide.

Thanks to BlogHer for the opportunity to participate in a call with Sam Kass of the White House today – and for the new-found hope that maybe the next generation of kids will have a reduced risk not only of obesity but also of heart disease.

Tables from JAMA:

Total Cholesterol:

Trends In Total Chol Kids 6-19 from 1988-2010







LDL and Triglycerides:

Trends LDL and Triglyc Kids 6-19 from 1988-2010






Endnote:  Some may be asking, “Is cholesterol in children really an issue?”

The answer, plain and simple, is yes.  In fact, according to the CDC, “High cholesterol can develop in early childhood and adolescence, and your risk increases as your weight increases. In the United States, more than one-fifth (20%) of youth aged 12-19 years have at least one abnormal lipid level.” For more information, see my Answers.com article, “High Cholesterol In Children.”



Heart Surgery

I mentioned in my last post, Losing Lox, that my folks were staying with us for a few weeks. What I didn’t mention was why.  And heart surgery is the reason.

My step-father had an aorta valve replacement nine years ago. The ‘epic’ valve that was supposed to last 15+ years didn’t even make it 10. Epic Fail. (Sorry, could not resist).

So now, at 82, it was clear that he needed open heart surgery, again. Fortunately he is in great shape (other than the so-very-leaky aorta valve) and was thus a candidate for surgery — if he was diabetic or overweight, surgery might not have been an option. More fodder for eating well and exercising daily. But more on that later.

We found ourselves both grateful and worried. Grateful the condition could be fixed. Worried because this was a significantly more complicated surgery than the first valve replacement – so much so that his much-trusted cardiologist in Sarasota counseled he should NOT have the replacement of the replacement valve surgery done in Florida. He needed a surgeon and hospital with more expertise.

After a month of searching we concluded the best option would be for them to come to stay with us in Connecticut so the surgery could be done at NY Presbyterian – one of the top 3 cardiac hospitals in the country. They arrived in mid-January for the surgeon consult, surgery was scheduled ASAP which in this case was nearly three weeks later on February 4th (this surgeon is BUSY) and they need to stay here, near NYC, until the post-surgery follow up appointment on 2/27 where he will be cleared to fly home.

It’s been a long – a very long – process.  Personally, I was more worried before the surgery that his very compromised heart would give out while waiting for the surgery. And now post-surgery, his vitals and color look so much better that I feel palpable relief. My mom is the reverse — she had been living with him with his compromised heart so long that that was ‘normal’ — she was worried, of course, but it was what she was used to. And in a way, she’s more worried now, after the successful surgery, because everything is new and scary. Why is he suddenly hot, then cold? Why no appetite?  Why so much napping and not a lot of energy?  Me, I see he actually has more energy than before, but it can be hard for others to see that.

So we read and then re-read the excellent material provided by New York-Presbyterian (if you ever need heart surgery and live near NY, get thee to NY Presbyterian – they were amazing on all fronts) to see what normal was. And though the visiting nurse said the ‘feeling cold from the inside’ is something she does see as a symptom, it’s still hard not to worry.

So I am trying to channel the worry into action. One of the things they harp on in the hospital is ‘walk your way to health.’  Seriously, after a 5 hour open heart surgery, they have the patients sitting up in chairs THE NEXT DAY and walking within 1-2 days.  It’s astonishing.

And the at-home walking program is very clear.  The NY Presbyterian folks want their heart patients to walk 0.1 miles, two-times a day –  the FIRST day they are home from the hospital.  Day two that is upped to 0.2 miles, twice a day.  By day 7 — yes, just 1 week after returning home from open heart surgery — my dad must walk 0.3 miles, twice.

He and my mom thought this was too much.  So they didn’t do it the first day. Well actually, they did try.  They walked a few feet – three different times.

I explained that wasn’t good enough.  That the reason the doctor wants him walking ever-longer each day is to build cardiac strength.  That to build cardiac strength, it’s vital to walk the amount he’s supposed to walk – ALL AT ONCE.

They stared at me in disbelief.

And then, metaphorical whip in hand and cheerleading all the way, I told my mom to wipe that concerned look off her face, put on her ‘you can do it’ smile and help.

And we all three did it.  On day 2 home from the surgery, my Dad walked the 50o feet (0.1) mile all at once.  And said he felt better!

Not only that, his pulse rate barely increased and his color got better — all clear indications that the walking was doing him good.

Day 2 there was no argument.  Just ‘how many laps, Karen’ and off he went.  And again, he felt good while doing it.

Today the cardiac PT person is coming to the house and my Mom plans to ask what h/she thinks about how much my Dad should be walking. Sigh. I know she’s concerned and she has every right to ask. But I will be there to chime in — that he should be walking the program his surgeon provided. That every time he does the prescribed walk, his pulse goes up only 10-12 beats per minute and he is not out of breath. That he NEEDS to walk.

All that said, it’s still a difficult recovery.  My dad has no pain (amazing) but he is weary and bored and tired of it all. Which is totally understandable.

The thing my dad keeps saying to my husband and myself is to ‘take care of your heart – you don’t want to end up like this.’  And he’s right. Never have I had a more visceral visual representation of the benefit and importance of living lo-co.

Frankly, some of this is genetic (which is why I mentioned he’s my step-dad – the heredity part of this doesn’t apply to me.) But a lot is related to cholesterol and lifestyle. My dad takes fish oil and a statin for high cholesterol, along with blood pressure meds.  So, continuing eating lo-co – and doing a better job than I have been – is important.  But watching the exercise literally help breathe life back into him is miraculous – and more motivation for my own exercise program.

Elliptical, here I come.


Losing Lox

My parents are staying with us for a few weeks, and my Mom recently asked about my daily bagel and lox habit.


I know it’s probably not what I should be eating every day. But I do love it so. And really, how bad could it be?

You might recall that I tried to answer this very question nearly two years ago in my Oatmeal vs. Lox post. That was when I discovered lox has a lot of sodium (yes, it’s ridiculous this was news to me. But it was. Truly.)  But I also found solace in the fact that lox also delivers omega 3 fatty acids and lean protein – good for lowering cholesterol.  So while I concluded that I should switch to cereal or oatmeal, I guess it never felt like an emergency.

Because, you know, there was good along with the bad.

But now my Mom’s question had me thinking. So I delved into the numbers. For real this time. I did about 2 hours of research.

The answer is not pretty.

It’s ugly actually.

This time, I calculated the actual nutritional value of what I am eating.  My bagel and lox habit consists of one-half of a bagel topped with 1 TB of whipped cream cheese and 0.5 oz of lox. I input this into My Fitness Pal and compared it to the oatmeal breakfast I would actually eat if forced to eat oatmeal (1 packet of Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar oatmeal made with 3/4 cup of organic skim milk).

Full details in this spreadsheet. Here are the couple of take-aways that I found surprising:

  • My bagel and lox breakfast is BETTER than oatmeal in the sugar category – but this is the ONLY nutritional value where lox is better. Sigh. And if I wasn’t such a huge baby and could manage unsweetened oatmeal (ugh) rather than the childish Maple & Brown Sugar, probably my bagel and lox would not be a huge winner here either.
  • On the sodium front, these two breakfast options are about the same!  I guess Quaker puts a lot of sodium in (with the huge amount of sugar) for a flavor punch.  Ouch.
  • The difference in FIBER was not huge.  This was quite surprising – because I thought I should be eating oatmeal because of the fiber.  Which is certainly better than my bagel and lox.  But it wasn’t a huge amount better.
  • In the end, it turns out I should be eating oatmeal (made with skim milk) not only because of the fiber.  Also because the oatmeal breakfast has less saturated fat, similar protein, less dietary cholesterol, and a lot more vitamins, calcium and iron than my beloved bagel and lox. (Damn that skim milk.  If I made the oatmeal with water, I bet the bagel and lox numbers would be far closer.)

If you’d like to see the full details, here is a PDF of the spreadsheet I created which compares the nutritional comparison details of these two breakfasts, for those so inclined.

Now that I know that the oatmeal with skim milk option is a far healthier choice than my half-bagel with a smidge of whipped cream cheese and one small slice of lox, perhaps I’ll start with the oatmeal again.

And if that doesn’t stick, maybe I’ll research some cold cereals.  That Special K with cinnamon pecan isn’t bad…