Saturday, November 26, 2011

Don’t get smacked by Boston's Fat Smack campaign

If you live in Boston and take public transportation, you’ve probably seen the posters in the stations and on the trains that show a young, attractive, African-American teenager holding a bottled beverage and wincing/giggling as they get or are about to get, literally, smacked by a glob of fat.  (I’m pretty sure they’re using fake fat- no real fat was harmed in the creation of this advertisement.) 

In case it’s not clear, this is part of a public health campaign to get kids off of sugary drinks.  It’s true- excess sugar can provide excess calories, which can lead to excess weight and fat.  It’s a reasonable message- I just don’t approve of how it’s being communicated.

Here is a data point from the website: obesity costs our health care system $147 billion per year.  As the site points out, that’s the amount of money it would cost to buy everyone in the country an iPad 2.  Wow- that’s a lot of money!

This is the abstract of the study they used:

In 1998 the medical costs of obesity were estimated to be as high as $78.5 billion, with roughly half financed by Medicare and Medicaid. This analysis presents updated estimates of the costs of obesity for the United States across payers (Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers), in separate categories for inpatient, non-inpatient, and prescription drug spending. We found that the increased prevalence of obesity is responsible for almost $40 billion of increased medical spending through 2006, including $7 billion in Medicare prescription drug costs. We estimate that the medical costs of obesity could have risen to $147 billion per year by 2008.

A couple of things:

First, $147 billion is an estimate. 

Second, the clock of this study starts at 1998.  That’s a very interesting year, because it was in 1998 that the definition of overweight and obesity was revised downward.  With that change, millions of Americans who had been considered overweight suddenly became obese.  In other words, the sample of people you would look at to find health problems attached to the obese population became much larger after 1998.  Did they find more health problems and costs because those people really became legitimately unhealthier, or because there were simply more of them? 

Third, there is another interesting year in the story of obesity: 2004.  That’s the year that the CDC published a study that said that obesity was responsible for up to 400,000 deaths in the year 2000 alone.  Wow!  Well, suddenly, weight went from an esthetic issue to a huge health threat.  Some people might be motivated to lose weight who weren’t before (because, you know, they’re more concerned about their health than they are what other people think about their appearance).  Call me crazy, but that might lead to an increase in prescriptions for weight loss drugs or even stomach reduction surgery, and those just might be factored into the increased costs of obesity four years later in 2008.

There’s just one thing about that CDC study: it was roundly criticized by such varied outlets as Science Magazine, The American Journal of Public Health, and the Wall Street Journal.  In 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study which showed that mortality associated with obesity to be one-fourth (25%) of what the CDC study showed.  (I feel it’s worth noting here that being overweight was NOT associated with mortality.) 

I bet most readers “know” all about how dangerous obesity is, but they hadn’t heard about what Science, the American Journal of Public Health, the WSJ and JAMA had to say on the matter.  Well, we all know if it bleeds, it leads.  But is that fair to the kids who are the target audience of the Fat Smack ad campaign?

There are great reasons to avoid sugary drinks: they’re expensive and they contribute to tooth decay.  If you have a family history of Type 2 Diabetes, avoiding excess sugar is a good idea.  But encouraging a healthy behavior by preying on a fear our young people have about appearance is a bad idea, and using bad science to justify it is even worse.

Let’s do better for our kids.

Deb in the City

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yesterday was a good day

I'm trying to get the kids out of the house more these days.  Being sick for two weeks can really make you appreciate the great outdoors, and here's a shout out to our lousy regulations for creating the conditions that allowed us to experience temperatures in the fifties and sixties this week.  In November.  In the Northeast.  Thanks for thinking of me, peeps!

Don't fret though- it rained yesterday.  A lot.  Because that's what it's going to do before it turns on the winter ugliness (remember the inability to walk on streets because of the piles of snow last year?  I do.). 

Despite the rain, we managed to be out a lot yesterday.  First a trip to Brookline so Jaz could give a piano lesson to a friend of Simon and Jacob's.  They managed to amuse themselves for the hour with the younger siblings, so it was a perfect little playdate.  Afterwards, we walked to the Mass. Ave. Orange Line stop, because we're walkers.  Of course, being children who were exerting themselves, they demanded food immediately, and I caved.  Almost $10 later for snacks, I resolved that we would not be caught like that again.  I am happy to report that today we now have homemade spinach and chocolate croissants, inspired by the Pain Au Chocolat recipe in Babycakes NYC's second cookbook.  (People, I will get absolutely nothing if you buy these cookbooks, but using someone else's recipe on my blog without permission is just wrong- don't let anyone tell you otherwise.) 

We came home for lunch (food, kids, yada yada), but the boys were insistent that they wanted to cash in the coupons they got when we trick or treated at JP Licks.  Since we are NEVER going to trick or treat again- did I mention how sick we got from being out in the cold that night?- I said sure.  But first I insisted we go to the library for their reading and crafting event that takes place every Wednesday afternoon.  They agreed even though it was starting to rain heavily- the power of ice cream.

I love "the event" at our library- I'm not one of those parents that stresses about their child's need to socialize, but I do like giving them activities to do.  And while I do enjoy an hour of quiet alone time, I'm more tickled that they've gotten to the point that they don't need me to supervise them.  Independence feels good.

We walked in the rain to the ice cream shop, and shockingly it wasn't crowded.  (Imagine people not wanting ice cream on a drizzly night!)  The boys enjoyed picking their ice cream flavors (lactose-free vanilla for Jacob and oreo for Simon) and cones.  They found some very nice seats and I watched them carefully eat their cones.  (How independent are they?  There were no ice cream cone mishaps- that's a big deal folks.)

They were excited but content, talkative but not too loud.  They were happy.

If I have to take them out for hours at a time every day to achieve that, I'm happy to do so.

Deb in the City

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vegan, gluten-free cake pops

For the lovely K. E. Bergdoll

First, you should know, these aren't the greatest pictures.  My daughter is an excellent photographer, but there was only so much she could do with the lighting and the admittedly unpolished finished product, especially when she has to work quickly so her "model" won't melt.  But I wanted to get these up here to prove that, indeed, we made vegan gluten-free cake pops.

Jacob developed a little addiction to these things at Starbucks.  (Oh, it's always Starbucks, isn't it?)  He's the one with the dairy and wheat problem, so this is really bad.  And while they're relatively inexpensive as those treats go, I hated paying $1.50 for what amounts to 1/3 of a slice of cake.

I got an inkling that I could maybe do this when I got the first Babycakes NYC book last year and saw the cupcake crumbs recipe, but I wasn't sure.  I had no idea how many websites (!) were devoted to cake pops until last weekend, when I stumbled upon The Kitchn via Apartment Therapy (don't judge me, okay?).  What was one of their top recipes?  Cake pops.

I know when I'm called.

FYI, you can totally do this with chocolate chips alone, but my son likes the ones with the pink coating.  *Sigh*  I could order vegan white chocolate chips, but I hate mail ordering.  So on Friday, on a whim, I checked into The Butcherie in Brookline, the closest Kosher grocery store I know of, and found vegan white chocolate chips.  Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!  That's an "oh my God!" for each bag I purchased.  I had to restrain myself from also buying the coffee chocolate chips and spending a lot of time looking for other goodies.

So you know, these suckers melt very well.  I was nervous because an online reviewer had said they didn't do anything, but he or she was wrong.

This was pretty straightforward.  We used the vegan, gluten-free vanilla cupcakes recipe from Babycakes NYC (go buy the book- I'm not sliming off of someone else's recipe), then let it cool so we could add in coconut oil, salt and agave to make the crumbs (again, it's in the book).  We rolled that into balls (the balls were between 1 and 2 tablespoons), stuck lollipop sticks into them, then froze them while we melted the chocolate.  (If you're really not going to buy the book, go check out some of Babycakes' videos to get an idea of how to make these.)

Update 3/31/2012:  But wait!  You can use my vegan, gluten-free cake recipe to make these cake pops.

(FYI, I found the lollipop sticks at Party Favors in Brookline.  They have so much in their small bakery section, I thought for sure I would find donut pans too, but alas no.  I did score some muffin liners and a new pastry bag and spent a long time staring at cookie cutters.)

We *did* end up using chocolate chips as well as white chocolate, but it wouldn't have been the same (for Jacob) without the white chocolate.  The chocolates were melted- separately- over a double boiler and cut with some coconut oil- we used 1 cup of chocolate to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, but we probably could have used a bit less.  The oil makes it smoother when melted and seems to make it harden more evenly.

After about 20 minutes, we took the cake balls out, dipped them in the chocolates and returned them to the freezer for another 20 minutes.  And then they were consumed as if they were bread crumbs and my children were pigeons.  Who am I kidding?  My children are pigeons.

Are these not the prettiest photos you've ever seen?  They're not- but you try dipping cake balls into chocolate while three children are hovering over you.  Or don't, because I'm sure I will soon.  If they look any better, I'll try to take a picture before they're all eaten.

Deb in the City

Monday, November 07, 2011

Sometimes less is more

Please allow me my random observations.  I'm not well this week.

And I mean random:

I like hot drinks, but caffeine makes me nauseous.  So I'm all about tea, hot chocolate and steamers.  I used to like cafes- I used to like Starbucks- but with four kids I just can't afford them like I used to.  Fortunately, making hot chocolate is not the most difficult thing in the world, and I've been known to do it frequently.  Heat the milk, mix the cocoa with the sweetener and vanilla, then slowly combine.  Oh, what creamy goodness.

Except... the four kids get in the way again.  If they see me with hot chocolate, they want some too.  Which is fine, except that five- or six- hot chocolates usually uses up the majority of a carton of coconut or rice milk.  One time, not surprisingly, I found myself short.  In semi-desperation, I made the hot chocolate with hot water and then added about a third of the amount of milk I usually do.  

You know what?  It was better.

I was kind of astounded.  I am emphatically not in the low-fat camp.  When I ate dairy, I totally went for the full-fat version.  Be satisfied, or don't bother.  (Of course, I should note that I don't have a cholesterol problem or any other chronic health issue, so my observations should be taken as just that.)  I still believe that, but I have to admit that sometimes fat doesn't just carry, it overwhelms flavor.  Huh.

As I said, I haven't been well this week.  (Mental note: don't take children trick or treating next year- as unwell as I feel, Simon is much worse.)  This has led to quite a bit of tea- so much so that by Saturday at 1 PM I had consumed five very large mugs of tea.  Herbal/medicinal tea as well as black tea.  (We ran out of green tea a few days ago, and I don't like the kind of red tea we have.)  Understandably, I wasn't too keen on it yesterday.  

Does anyone else get nostalgic when they don't feel well?  As I was sniffling, I remembered a simpler time in 2006 when I happily wrote about replacing my favorite Starbucks drinks with General Mills International Coffee mixes.  Oh, those were the days, when I could pick something up like that so easily!  It's the simple, stupid things that I can't have anymore that I miss sometimes.

Well, I hate being nostalgic.  After I took Simon to his doctor's appointment, I took him to pick up some soymilk powder at our food co-op.  The next day, after I dropped Jazmyn off at her orchestra rehearsal- there is no rest for the weary if you happen to have children as well- I picked up some instant decaf coffee at Starbucks, then kicked myself when I realized I could have picked up something similar at a supermarket.  Next time.

Once at home, I mixed soymilk powder, cocoa, sugar- yes, sugar- and instant coffee, gave it a stir, and voila- instant mocha powder.  I heated up some water then put in two big tablespoons.  A little more sugar.  Okay.  Hmm.  Something was not quite right, but it was good enough.  

By the third cup- did I mention my cold?- I'd figured it out: my big mug needed one tablespoon not two.  And then it was very good.

Less is more.

Instant Vegan Decaf Mocha Mix

3/4 cup Better Than Milk Soymilk Powder
1/2 cup Cocoa (I used the Trader Joe's brand)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sugar (you decide how sweet you want it)
12 Starbucks Via decaf packets or 1.4 oz of other instant coffee

(Yes, you can use dairy milk powder, or rice milk powder.  Yes, you can use fully caffeinated coffee powder.  Cinnamon and/or nutmeg could be added as well, if you're that way.  If you use fake sweetener, I don't want to know about it.)

Combine well- this can be stirred, it does not need to be blended- and store at room temperature.

To serve, heat 1 1/2 cups water and combine with 1 rounded tablespoon.  

Deb in the City