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Your Health

Are Americans Eating Themselves Sick?

Aired October 21, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Today on YOUR HEALTH, eating yourself sick. Caught up in an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Why aren't we getting the message about the importance of good nutrition?


KATHLEEN ZELMAN, AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION: There's sabotage everywhere you go, every movie theater, gas stations, giant portions in restaurants.


ANNOUNCER: Plus, the psychology of overeating, how our emotions affect what we eat, and how just talking about it can help.

And running on empty while growing up -- the challenges of teaching active, junk food-loving teens that food is fuel for life.

ELIZABETH COHEN, HOST: Hello, and welcome to YOUR HEALTH. I'm CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Today we're taking a look at food and the role it plays in our health.

Look around you. Food is everywhere. In fact, it seems eating has become our favorite pastime. We use it to celebrate, to medicate, and to give us the energy we need to get through the day. The problem is, we're simply eating too much.

For decades, it's been the mission of the American Dietetic Association to get us to eat better, but some say the ADA has close ties to the food industry and so isn't sending out the right message.


(voice-over): Here at the 83rd annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association, a symposium on heart disease is sponsored by the pork industry. A big gala celebration is sponsored by the beef industry. A nutritional symposium opening day, Kellogg's.

And that, say critics, is a problem.

DR. ANDREW WEIL, AUTHOR, "EATING WELL FOR OPTIMAL HEALTH": I think the ADA has taken money from a lot of big manufacturers in the food industry and consciously or unconsciously, that, I think, affects the content of the information that they put out.

COHEN: He points to literature distributed by the ADA. "Chocolate: Facts and Fiction," for example, is supported by a grant from Mars, Incorporated, the chocolate company. The fact sheet on pasta, supported by a grant from the National Pasta Association. The one on milk, supported by the milk industry.

MARGO WOOTAN, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: It's hard to criticize your friends, and even harder to criticize your funders.

COHEN: The ADA says it gets only 9 percent of its money from the food industry, and the money doesn't influence their message.

KATHLEEN ZELMAN, AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION: We don't endorse foods. We don't endorse any kinds of foods, because we believe strongly that all foods can fit in a healthy diet.

COHEN: She says it's true Americans keep getting fatter, but it's not the ADA's fault. She points instead to societal circumstances.

ZELMAN: There's sabotage everywhere you go, every movie theater, gas stations, giant portions in restaurants.

COHEN: And she blames Americans themselves.

ZELMAN: The messengers have delivered the information. It's really the personal responsibility of the individual to make those changes.

COHEN: The ADA's message is this.

ZELMAN: At the American Dietetic Association, we preach the philosophy that there are no good or bad foods, just bad diets.

COHEN: Book author Dr. Andrew Weil says this message doesn't work.

WEIL: It's -- it simply adds to the confusion. It does not give people helpful, practical advice. It's too generic.

COHEN: Dr. Weil says the ADA doesn't get more specific about which foods to eat and which to avoid for fear of angering sponsors and biting the hand that feeds them.


Still to come in our special edition of YOUR HEALTH, they're young and still growing. How one school is trying to teach teens to eat right.

But first, your genetic makeup may be responsible for your weight. Now the search is on for the magic pill to change it.


Weight Control: Obese people are generally defined as those weighing 20 percent more than their ideal weight, or "set point." Heavy people actually burn calories faster than underweight people because their metabolism speeds up as they put on pounds, and slows if they try to take them off.


COHEN: Welcome back to our special edition of YOUR HEALTH, all about weight control. Many of us know what we need to do to keep our weight in check. The hard part is being disciplined enough to do it. We need to eat healthfully, limit our portion sizes, and exercise regularly.

But scientists say our weight is not completely under our control. Genes play a role too. And as CNN medical correspondent Linda Ciampa tells us, the sequencing of the human genome is providing new answers.


LINDA CIAMPA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, robots scan thousands of samples of human DNA. It's one of the first steps needed to develop obesity drugs specific to a person's genetic makeup.

LOU TARGATLIA, MILLENNIUM PHARMACEUTICALS: When a patient sees a doctor 10 or 15 years from now, they'll actually do analysis of several of his genes to try to predict which of the several obesity drugs that will be available at that time will be most effective for that person.

CIAMPA: The sequencing of the human genome has led scientists to believe that there are at least several genes responsible for obesity.

DR. JULES HIRSCH, THE ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY: Many genes acting together can produce the obese state or be a major factor in the production of it. And it's understanding these little pieces now that becomes the important issue. In other words, of putting together the whole machinery of how in the body we store fat.

CIAMPA: Scientists at Smith-Kline Beecham are also using genetic research to develop obesity drugs.

CHRISTINE DEBOUCK, SMITH-KLINE BEECHAM: Because of the multitude of approaches that is especially facilitated by the sequencing of the whole human genome, you can how pursue more than one approach, and therefore you increase the likelihood of success.

CIAMPA: One target the company hopes will bring success, genes that make melanin concentration hormone and its receptor. Both are important in appetite control.

And while it'll be years before the research leads to weight loss drugs specific to genetic code, the market for those products could be huge. Experts say as much as two-thirds of obesity is linked to genetics.

Linda Ciampa, CNN, YOUR HEALTH.


COHEN: Still to come on YOUR HEALTH, how the Internet is providing a wealth of information to help keep your diet on track.

But first, a quick look at some of the stories making health headlines this week.

Plus, in feeling fit, the battle of the sexes, how gender affects fitness.



ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to YOUR HEALTH, with this week's Health Headlines.

Shift work may not only make people grumpy and miserable, it may also increase their risk of heart disease. Researchers say alarm clocks and artificial lighting may fool the mind, but organs like the heart don't respond well to being forced to work in the middle of the night.

In a study published in the journal "Circulation," scientists found that nerve and chemical messages that control the heart's activity follow a regular 24-hour pattern that disregards changes in daily sleep patterns. Researchers say that could mean the heart is unprepared to adapt to the stress of changing shift work.

A new drug is showing promise in calming the tremors of Parkinson's disease. A two-year study found patients taking the drug premapexole (ph) developed one-third fewer involuntary spasmodic hand, arm, and leg movements, called dyskinesias, than patients taking the current standard drug, leva-dopa.

However, premapexole had some notable side effects and was not as effective as leva-dopa at controlling the disease's early-stage symptoms. Nonetheless, scientists say, the new drug could give patients a valuable choice.

That's a look at this week's YOUR HEALTH headlines.


COHEN: When YOUR HEALTH continues, getting to the bottom of why we overeat, how talking about your feelings can help you shed the unwanted pounds.

But first, our Doctor Q&A from our CNN Health Web site.


Doctor Q&A: Why is it important to eat three meals a day?




Doctor Q&A: Why is it important to eat three meals a day?

Eating one big meal during the day and nothing else places physical stress on your body. The body needs regular refueling to replenish its energy supply.


COHEN: Welcome back.

If you're tired of the diet roller-coaster, perhaps it's time for a new approach. It could be that talking about your feelings and trying to understand why you overeat could help you stop the cycle of stuffing your emotions down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (inaudible) close your eyes.

COHEN (voice-over): It hardly seems at all like a weight-loss program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have some feelings of anger and fear. And lots of happiness, and I feel loved.

COHEN: In fact, it seems more like group therapy. There's no special diet or exercise plan, no foods to buy, no pills to take. The theory, overeating is all about emotions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many people eat when they're lonely?

COHEN: So you have to figure out why you eat so much.

LAUREL MELLIN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-SAN FRANCISCO: The way we do it is gently to go inside of ourselves and practice these skills of self-nurturing and effective limits until those drives to overeat are gone.

COHEN: Participants keep journals and call each other when they're tempted to binge. There are 150 groups in the United States that use this program, called The Solution. They meet every week with a psychologist and dietitian. It's recommended patients stay with the program for a year, which costs about $2,300. It's not usually covered by insurance.

At the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association, being held this week, the program is announcing some promising results. In the study, 19 people were in the program for about four months. They lost weight, but what some experts find particularly impressive is that they kept it off. Six years later, participants were 17 pounds lighter than before they'd entered the program.

(on camera): Some diet experts are wary. They say the study is small and preliminary, and the results sound more anecdotal than scientific. But others are impressed.

BARBARA MOORE, SHAPE UP AMERICA!: Six-year data is very unusual in this field, and I think that Laurel Mellin is breaking new ground in that respect.

COHEN (voice-over): Part of the reason for the success, patients say, is simply the support. They say it's easier to lose weight when you know you're not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, if you made one community connection, please stand.


COHEN: If this approach isn't for you, or if it's too expensive, there's plenty of free help on the Internet. There are hundreds of Web sites offering everything from recipes to meal plans to exercise advice, and more. Here are a few tips to get you started.


(voice-over): Americans are spending more time than ever sitting at their computers, an activity that won't help you burn calories unless, perhaps, you click on a diet site.

JEANNE GOLDBERG, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: There appears to be a burgeoning of sites that are offering diets on the Web of all kinds.

COHEN: Web sites like offer customized meal plans, chat rooms, online shopping, exercise routines, and 24-hour expert advice.

DONNA DECUNZO, EDIETS.COM: We decided that we would develop a plan that's based on sound nutrition, will enable you to lose weight, also will enable you to change behaviors that have caused the weight problem.

COHEN: Janice Roberts lost 12 pounds using

JANICE ROBERTS, DIETER: I thought, after looking at it, I thought it was a very healthy plan. They have, you know, registered dietitian, they have doctors, psychologists, and so that really grabbed me, I guess.

COHEN: It costs about $10 a month to join Other sites are free. Use the same criteria for choosing Web diets as you would for choosing any other kind of diet.

GOLDBERG: It should be balanced, it should really represent a variety of basic foods. It shouldn't promise more than it can deliver.

COHEN: Look for sites that warn about fad diets that don't work. And there are sites that evaluate online diets. They'll give you some guidance as you surf for the best way to lose weight.


Coming up on YOUR HEALTH, making good nutrition a family affair.

Plus, tips on how to get your finicky teenager to eat right.

But first, this week's edition of Feeling Fit takes a look at another important part of staying in shape, exercise, and how gender fits into the equation.


HOLLY FIRFER, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pound for pound, inch for inch, are men really stronger than women? The upper body region of a man, like deltoids and triceps, tend to be stronger. But the lower body region of a woman, the quadriceps and hamstrings, can be as strong as a man's.

Men tend to engage in sports that involve the upper body, like baseball and weight lifting, women with the lower body, like tennis. This is why women tend to have more knee injuries, while men tend to have more upper body injuries.

But the good news for women, men are more likely to suffer from sports injuries. Why? Not only do men participate in more contact sports, but women are generally more flexible. The secret to flexibility comes from the female hormone estrogen, which also helps maintain bone density.

But man or woman, the best way to prevent any sports injury is to stretch, gradually build up to maximum exertion, and warm up before you turn up the heat.

For Feeling Fit, I'm Holly Firfer.




Regular physical activity is important to maintaining good overall health and can also reduce obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Setting lifestyle patterns during childhood is key to establishing a healthy lifestyle in adulthood.


COHEN: Welcome back to YOUR HEALTH.

Experts agree that eating right should be a family affair. After all, when they're young, your children will most likely follow your example at the dinner table. But then, once they become teenagers, they'll develop minds all their own.

CNN's Toria Tolley looks at how to get teens to eat right.


TORIA TOLLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This school is proud of its emphasis on sports, but the food fueling these young athletes could actually be doing more harm than good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten chicken nuggets, an order of fries, order of cookies, chocolate milk, Gator-Ade, and 20 packets of ketchup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wasn't hungry today. I just didn't bring lunches, so I (inaudible), I do that occasionally.

TOLLEY (on camera): Any vegetables? Never?

(voice-over): Instead of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and low-fat proteins, many of today's active teens are lured by starchy, fatty, sugary foods, and that, according to the football coach at this Georgia high school, could eventually sideline some of these budding stars.

BILL WATERS, HIGH SCHOOL COACH: They know that nutrition's important for that growth of their muscles and everything else. A lot of them won't take advantage of it. A lot of them -- others will just simply do what other high school kids do and they'll eat the junk.

TOLLEY: Recent studies have shown that teens are not getting enough calcium, a nutrient that plays a crucial role in building strong bones. And now these young athletes may be at a much greater risk of breaking those bones. Nutrition expert Nancy Clark sees a dangerous trend.

NANCY CLARK, ATHLETE NUTRITION EXPERT: So many of the people that I counsel sleep through breakfast and then, perhaps at school lunch, they eat lunch, but maybe they don't eat lunch, maybe they spend their money on some candy or some soft drinks, or maybe they eat nothing. And then they try to practice sports for the afternoon. And they're just running on empty.

TOLLEY (on camera): Experts say there are several reasons that active teens in particular need a balanced diet. First of all, it keeps them healthy, and if they are injured playing sports, those injuries usually heal a lot quicker. It also prevents fatigue, leaving them with a lot more energy for the sports they decide to play.

(voice-over): School lunch is a perfect time to fuel the body, from the cafeteria line or from a lunch packed at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm, like, having a turkey and cheese sandwich and a apple cinnamon nutrient bar. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like to go with the school lunch. I find that it is -- it has all the nutrients I need to get through a hard day.

TOLLEY: Both Coach Waters and Nancy Clark would like to see schools hiring nutritionists and setting up a mealtime training table for student athletes. In the meantime, they urge healthy meals with breakfast mandatory, not nutritional supplements and diet drinks that promise energy.

Toria Tolley, CNN, YOUR HEALTH.


COHEN: Most experts agree, diets don't work. They say only a long-term lifestyle change will help you shed the pounds and keep them off. That means exercising at least 30 to 60 minutes a day at least three to four days each week. And as far as diet is concerned, the American Heart Association recommends eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and eating two servings of fatty fish, such as tuna or salmon, a week.

The HA doesn't recommend high-protein diets, saying they don't work long term.

That's all we have time for today. If you'd like more information on our story about emotions and overeating, just click on our Web site at It's produced in conjunction with WebMD.

From the entire CNN health team, I'm medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Thanks for watching.



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