December 2009

We keep hearing that over-use of antibiotics is helping drug-resistant strains of bacteria to develop. Now it appears that this is not the only culprit – we can also blame the incessant use of “disinfectants” sprayed everywhere, from homes to hospitals.

We’ve seen the disinfectant commercials on TV for decades. Kills 46 different kinds of bacteria and viruses on contact. But the random few it misses regenerate and the new crop may be able to romp through spray disinfectant like a kid running through a summer sprinkler in the backyard.

A new study says disinfectants may also “teach” bacteria and viruses how to shrug off antibiotic medications, such as the broad spectrum ciprofloxacin. This can happen even though the germ is never actually exposed to the ciprofloxacin itself.

The study was published in the January issue of the journal, Microbiology by a team of researchers at the National University of Ireland in Galway.

The real problem is in hospitals, where disinfectants aren’t used in high enough concentrations to completely kill bacteria on surfaces. These germs can infect patients with weakened immune systems, such as those with diabetes. And if the bugs have become resistant to ciprofloxacin, that makes it tough to get those infections under control.

Another problem is that hospital staff sometimes use the same disinfectant wipe on different surfaces, which can actually spread the germs around.

As for disinfectant use at home, the Centers for Disease Control has already raised red flags on this issue. At the time this CDC paper was written, there were more than 700 antibacterial products on the market, from antibacterial window cleaner to antibacterial chopsticks.

Not only can they help antibiotic resistant germs to develop, they can also lead to increased risk of allergies in children, the CDC says.


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Santa came early to the Senate as Democrats pushed through their health care reform package, 60-39. But it wasn’t a gift to the American people, or even to President Obama and the Democratic Party.

Sure, the legislation was a handout to the insurance industry, but that’s not all. This bow-wow of a bill was a gift to the Republican Party. Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck must have jumped up and did a little jig when they heard the results of the vote.

Combing through some of the blogs on Thursday, I saw that many Democrats were gleeful. One poster said he was happy because it meant conservatives would have a bad Christmas, stewing over this Democratic “victory.”

This is an example of something that’s been pointed out before: American politics is now viewed like any other national sport. The Democrats are looking forward to being 1-1 on health care, finally able to say they’re playing .500 ball.

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, ask the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the Detroit Lions.

But this isn’t a game. The big losers are the American people who will ultimately be forced to dole out big percentages of their income to insurance companies for what may end up being dubious coverage.

Oh yes. That’s a topic for another column, but believe me, there are ways to come up with legal, saleable insurance packages that will be almost entirely toothless.

If you think federal regulations are going to protect people against this, I’ve got some property in the Everglades I’d like to show you.

Remember, too, that this is not Barack Obama’s insurance plan. This is Mitt Romney’s insurance plan. He’s the one who dreamed up this rancid gravy train for the insurance industry as governor of Massachusetts – Obama just conveniently hopped on.

According to surveys by the Harvard School of Public Health, since the Massachusetts law mandating health insurance purchases went into effect in 2006, 51 percent of those required to buy coverage saw overall health care costs actually rise, and 60 percent said it was financially damaging to them.

And by the way, although higher income people (those making more than $75,000) support the law, few than half (49 percent) earning under $50,000 support it.

So, the Republicans already have the higher income brackets in their pocket. Who do you think the rest of the electorate will turn to when they find out they’re going to be fleeced via Democrat-ordered insurance payouts?


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We expect celebrities to be decent role models for our children, and for society as a whole. When they behave in unhealthy ways, they are called to account by our watchdog media, always on the prowl to expose hypocrisy.

This time, it was Santa himself who got nailed.

Mr. St. Nicholas was called out last week by the British Medical Journal for bad health habits, including obesity and alcohol consumption. I think I’ve seen him with a pipe occasionally, too, although this may only be something he does off-season.

The BMJ piece was written by Australian public health doctor Nathan Grills, of Monash University in Victoria, Australia. The research, published Dec. 16, was titled, Santa Claus: A public health pariah?

Grills would like to see a slimmed-down Santa not so reliant on his sleigh for every little side trip. He also needs to be less of a homebody. Whenever you see a picture of the guy, he’s always vegging inside his house at the North Pole. He gets about as much exercise as a potted plant.

Venturing out once a year to sit on your well-padded duff behind eight tiny, overworked reindeer does not constitute a healthy lifestyle.

Grills is not happy with pictures of Santa holding up a can of Coke, which he believes sends the wrong message to impressionable youngsters.

“The advertising aspect of Santa is very big but the original St. Nicholas idea is all about giving and generosity, it’s not around Santa being the chief marketing executive of Coca-Cola,” Grills told Reuters News Service.

“There is a potential for someone who is as widely recognized around the world as Santa to influence people, especially children, and to show that it’s okay to drink, okay to be obese.

“It’s a very small risk, but one that is spread very widely.”


I’ve written a lot about junk food lately. So I was interested to see this item on a Web consumer blog:

“The ‘Worst Food Product Ever’ May Have Been Found.” It’s canned pork brains in milk gravy, and it supplies 1,170% of your daily cholesterol allowance per serving.

I know what you’re thinking. Please don’t leave a can of this out on the kitchen table for Santa on Christmas Eve. Not even as a joke.

Above photo:


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That’s the question tumbling from the lips of many media mental health therapists, at least those practiced in treating sexual and family dysfunction.

And if he is, well then, is he really to blame for the whole sordid mess that turned him from media marvel to totally busted bad-boy, practically overnight?

To address this important question, we check in first with Drew Pinsky, the “Sex Rehab” doc and addiction specialist on the VH1 show of the same name.

“It’s safe to say that sex addiction might be a part of his problem,” Pinsky told Entertainment Tonight.

Next, it’s on to David Smallwood, therapist to the stars at London’s Priory clinic. “He displays a number of the pointers such as seeking highs from outdoor sex and having many mistresses,” he told a Brit paper. “I would implore him to get help. But I see him as ill, not bad.”

Well, if the guy is sick, why all the Tiger Woods bashing in the media? Let’s say that, instead, he’d been diagnosed with a cardiovascular illness. Would National Enquirer photographers impersonate hospital staff in order to get a shot of him taking a stress test?

On the other hand, Judy Kuriansky, a psychologist and sex expert, told ABC News: “There are a lot of people out there calling him a sex addict. But you have to ask is this really the behavior of an addict, or this the behavior of a very rich, powerful, celebrity, man, who has been given lots of opportunities?

“Once you medicalize it, once you call it ‘sex addiction’ then the guy has an excuse; he gets a pass. Years ago, if you called someone a sex addict, that would be a big shame. But now someone can hold up that diagnosis and say, ‘I can’t control my behavior.’ Then he goes into rehab and the public gives him a pass.”

In other words, maybe he’s just a jerk.

* * * * * * * *

Tuesday’s post on backyard chickens elicited a response from an organization called Farm Sanctuary. The group is “urging municipalities throughout the U.S. not to allow backyard flocks and exhorting those that are already zoned for this practice to establish and enforce strict regulations for the care of these birds.

“In the past year, all of these organizations have been inundated with calls to take in chickens, especially roosters, the main victims of this growing trend. As these groups have limited resources and space, it has become increasingly difficult for them to house or otherwise place the hundreds of roosters who are abandoned at local shelters or dumped needing homes.”

See the full news release here.

My comment: It would seem that backyard chicken coops are a lot more humane than huge corporate chicken farms, where all the animals are kept in cramped cages. I’d keep a few birds myself, if I had the space.

Several people also said they were confused about the difference between chickens, hens and roosters. To help clear things up, here’s a quick primer.

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At a recent wedding, I ran into some family members from Chicago who were crowing about their latest hobby: keeping chickens.

The main advantage, the family members all agreed, is that the fresh eggs they gather are fantastic. No comparison at all to the store-bought version.

“You’ve never had an omelet until you’ve had one with fresh eggs,” my nephew told me.

My nephew’s wife, Carol, writes: “The yolks are a much darker yellow, almost orange. The eggs stand up much higher in the pan when you break them open and the white is much more viscous. As far as texture, when you eat them (whether in cooking or scrambled or fried) they are much smoother in the mouth and the flavor is more rich.”

The health benefits of fresh eggs are pretty dramatic. They contain, on average, 25 percent more vitamin E than supermarket eggs, 33 percent more vitamin A and 75 percent more beta carotene.

Urban chicken raising, I’ve since learned, has become downright trendy and fashionable, even in places you’d never expect, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Enthusiasts are actively promoting the idea to their city councils, and a lot of them are listening.

Backyard chicken operations usually consist of just a few hens, and no roosters, which can be noisy. But kept clean and healthy, keeping chickens in your backyard isn’t much different than having a couple of dogs or cats, advocates argue.

Some of the cities that allow backyard chickens include Fort Collins, Colo., South Portland, Maine, and Madison, Wis.

The issue has grabbed headlines in Sacramento, Calif., where an underground chicken-keeping movement has been brewing for years.

City Councilman Kevin McCarty would like backyard coops legalized, with a three-hen limit, according to Sunday’s Sacramento Bee.

“If you’re only talking about the ones that don’t make noise and if you have a limit – they’d have to be in your own yard, not wandering around and getting out – then I think the upsides are pretty great,” he told the paper.

Naturally, the urban chicken movement has carved out a place in cyberspace, with several blogs on the topic.

A photographer in Brooklyn, NY writes The New Green Blog with lots of info about urban gardening, as well as her three chickens.

Urban Chickens is a blog that maintains links to backyard chicken news stories, and has a pull-down menu with information about local ordinances in cities and towns across the country.

As for my family’s (slightly more elaborate) backyard chicken “ranch” outside Chicago: They have 13 hens and average about 10 eggs (brown) a day. Chicken feed in the summer runs them about $5 a month – it consists of corn and other grains.

Carol reports: “I feed them this in the morning while I clean the hen house, which takes about 15 minutes a day. I let them out of their pen (about 20 x 40 ft) for the day and they spend the rest of the day eating bugs and vegetation they find on our property.

“During the rest of the year (about seven months) they are penned up to keep them out of the road in their never-ending search for bugs and vegetation that is no longer there. I spend a little more on feed during this time – around $12 a month.

“Our hen house has electricity. a few hours of light inside keeps them laying all winter. (They need 12-14 hours of light a day to lay). When it is really cold out I turn on a heat lamp.”

OK. I’ve tried to spare you most of the puns. But I think it’s fair to say that this is a trend that’s definitely sunny-side up.

Photo 1: Example of an urban chicken coop via Flickr
Photo 2: Family chicken farming outside Chicago.

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My wife went out into the kitchen to make some popcorn with our new hot air popper, which does a nice job. I heard the familiar popping sounds, building to a crescendo and then tapering off as the bowl was filled.

A few seconds of silence. Then I heard a completely new and unfamiliar sound: “Pffffft! Pffffft! Pffffft!” Curiosity got the best of me and I jumped out of my chair and headed for the kitchen to find out how this new noise related to popcorn preparation.

Turned out, my wife was standing over the bowl holding a spray bottle – of something called “Olivio Buttery Spray.” Fat: 0; cholesterol: 0; sodium: 15 mg; carbs: 0; protein: 0.

So what’s in this stuff? Water, liquid soybean oil, olive oil, salt, sweet cream buttermilk. OK so far. And then: xanthan gum, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, lactic acid, potassium sorbate, calcium disodeium EDTA, maltodextrin, natural and artificial colors, vitamin A palimate, beta carotene.

All essential elements of a healthy 21st Century diet.

The incident stuck in my craw because I’d just seen a health & wellness blog item on the Six Weirdest, Scariest, Processed Foods. Topping this writer’s list was spray can cheese which, when you think about it, really is out there on the lunatic fringe of convenience snack foods.

I mean, you can’t take a second to pull a knife out of the drawer and cut a few slices of real cheese?

But it’s no surprise that Americans relish convenience foods. It takes two and even three incomes per family just to hold things together. Who has time to play Emeril Lagasse?

Spray cans are ideal for everything from butter spreads to cooking oil to artificial whipping cream. They now have flour you can spray on to a baking pan so you don’t have to go through the messy hassle of taking a scoop out of the flour bag.

Here’s a new way to make pancakes with a spray can. It’s even organic. And the jingle when you load the page is a toe-tapper that’ll keep spinning through your brain all the way to work.

I’ve also noticed that more products are being sold in bags. Tuna fish, for one. Why take the time to open up a can when you can just tear off the top and dig right in? And then of course you can store it in the same bag.

Baby food comes in bags now too. Each bag is prepared with a consistency appropriate for a specific age group, whether it’s 3 or 6 months. Take the guesswork out of new mothering.

Here’s a beaut: frozen banana slices. Rather than go through the arduous, time-consuming task of peeling a banana, taking a knife out of the drawer and cutting slices for your cereal, you can just open the bag and drop a few slices – all of them measured to proper machine-cut specs – on your corn flakes.

And then you don’t have to stand there with the peel in your hand wondering: “What now?”

Indeed. The convenience culture has evolved in ways once only imagined by our greatest science fiction writers. It allows us to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen, so we can hurry into the TV room to watch our favorite shows, such as ….

… Well, Emeril Live, on the Fine Living Network, for example ….

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Some types of jobs breed unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits. A career in the newspaper business illustrated the point for me: breakfast on the run, lunches out, a desk drawer full of Snickers bars, a late dinner picked up at the drive-through on the way home.

But a new survey in Britain reaches a different conclusion. Chefs are the country’s unhealthiest workers, according to the UK Telegraph. The report was based on interviews with 3,000 workers by a private company called Medicash.

Despite preparing fine cuisine for their customers, chefs stuff themselves daily with potato chips, cookies, candy bars and takeout food.

On top of that, the average chef smokes 58 cigarettes a week and downs eight alcoholic drinks.

“It may be surprising to see chefs at the top of the list, since you would expect them to be in the know when it comes to preparing a nice, healthy meal,” says Peter Lauris, Medicash marketing director.

“But in reality, it’s probably the last thing they feel like doing when they get home from work. After spending the day in the kitchen for work, I imagine they simply want to put their feet up when they get in at night.”

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 unhealthiest professions: farmer; electrician; insurance agent;. builder; banker; call center worker; truck driver; engineer; and travel agent.

The top 10 healthiest: ad rep; teacher; human resources assistant; accountant; lawyer; secretary; IT worker; researcher; nurse; and the rather vague category, shop assistant.

Since Americans are more obsessed with weight than they are about overall health, I found a comparable study here in the U.S. that identifies professions in which you are most likely to find obese workers.

For men, the worst jobs are public administration (where 38 percent of workers are obese); people working from home (37.7 percent); bus drivers and other motor vehicle operators (35.9 percent); and computer equipment operators (33.1 percent).

Women: Heavy equipment operators, including truckers and conveyor belt operators (52.6 percent); bus drivers and other motor vehicle operators (42.6 percent); health service personnel (36.6 percent); computer operators (32.1 percent); and factory assemblers (30.7 percent).

An explanation of the first category: of the 8 million heavy equipment operators and support staff, 15 percent are women and more than half of them are obese, according to this survey by the American Journal of Public Health.

Regarding people working from home: I find it can actually lead to improved physical health – fewer lunches out, and daily runs (or whatever your routine may be). You can also put a little more effort into preparing better evening meals.

Even if you’re working on a project, you can put something on the stove to simmer while you get back to the task at hand. In offices they call this “multi-tasking.”


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Today, we discuss modern music, which is not really a health concern, unless…

Well .. unless you follow the public information releases from the Boston Public Health Commission, which recently published a list of the Top 10 unhealthiest songs of 2009.

“The next time you’re ready to download that song from iTunes, you may want to check out how healthy it is for you,” the commission said in a release titled: Commission Unveils Nutrition Label for Rating Music.

Click here to see the list of the 10 unhealthiest songs of the year.

Obviously, I’m not going to take up the space in this column to comment on the songs assessed by the fine folks up at the Boston Public Health Commission. Having grown up in the 1960s, I am so far removed from the current pop music scene that it would be ludicrous (Ludacris?) for me to pretend to know what I’m talking about.

But I will say this. I’m parked at a stop light, and a guy pulls up blasting some pounding rap CD, my first response is to roll up the windows and flip the fan over to high, regardless of the weather.

As my father used to say: “Regarding your music – and I use the term loosely ….”

But as ancient as my parents were – and they were an anachronism – they never tried to regulate what I listened to. So, I managed to stumble my own way through music, literature, and movies.

We all had some bad influences, and that includes my predecessors. What kind of example does Frank Sinatra set in One More for the Road? (It’s a heck of a song, but what’s he doing in a bar at quarter to three? Wouldn’t it have been healthier to talk it out with a friend over a cup of decaf?)

Casey Corcoran, director of the Boston Public Health Commission’s “Start Strong” Initiative, said: “Music, like food, can feed our brains and give us energy. But songs can affect our health and the health of our relationships.”

And the commission’s announcement goes on to talk about “The Tool,” which helps parents decide whether a song is healthy.

The commission says: “The tool, patterned after common food nutritional labels, invites consumers to become song lyric nutritionists by helping them identify relationship ingredients that make up a song.

“Using printed song lyrics as a guide, users can tally the number of healthy relationship themes, such as respect, equality, and trust, which are present in the song. And, like fattening calories, unhealthy relationship themes – possession, disrespect, and manipulation – are also counted.

“The number of times these themes are mentioned also factor into to the song’s total nutritional value. Corcoran recommends consuming lots of ‘healthy relationship’ ingredients for a balanced media diet.”

Fine. Here’s the problem though. Art – whether you’re 13, 30 or 70 – is reflective of life; it’s not designed to be promotional. In other words, it paints a picture of the way things actually are, it doesn’t propagandize in favor of the way things ought to be.

Believe me, I understand that teens can be troubled and in need of guidance. I know it’s tough. I’m not trying to downplay it. But to expect them to find therapeutic messages in the music of the day is just not reasonable.

Parents looking for leadership to shape their family’s behavior should consult the mirror, not their kids’ iPod.

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The United States careening toward certain destruction. Americans begging the Chinese to save them.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it may be because you read one or more of our economic doomsday bloggers, someone like Marc Faber, for example. Or, it may be that you spent three hours at one of November’s top box office hits, 2012.

Faber’s unofficial title – Dr. Doom – is good marketing, for sure. But he and other economic disaster predictors are tapping into a sentiment that has been growing in the United States.

Ditto for director Roland Emmerich, who destroys the White House in 2012 for the second time in his career following the epic, Independence Day in 1996.

And I believe this sentiment is lately reaching new highs, despite the happy talk about stock market gains by CNBC, or the wire services promoting a lackluster Black Friday shopping day. Most Americans believe something is rotten in both Wall Street and Washington.

It shouldn’t be terribly surprising, by the way, that Sony Pictures estimated that 52 percent of the 2012 audience has been male, with 55 percent age 25 and up. This group is probably most pessimistic about the future of the country, with the Wall Street Journal tagging this downturn as a “He-cession,” with an unemployment rate of 11.4 percent for men compared to 8.8 percent for women.

In a post-Thanksgiving commentary, the Journal’s David Paul Kuhn wrote: “As of the end of October, the U.S. had lost 7.3 million jobs in this Great Recession. Men account for 5.3 million of that loss. The shift is so dramatic that women now constitute 49.9% of the work force and will soon outnumber men.”

Pessimism, though, cuts across gender lines. Financial analyst Meredith Whitney told CNBC on Nov. 16 that the U.S. was going through the most powerful credit contraction in its history – trumping even the episode seen during the Great Depression.

“That credit contraction is accelerating,” she insisted. “There’s nowhere to hide at this point.”

Back to the movie, which is, of course, based on a geologic disaster, not an economic one. But that makes for better theater. Who’d go to a disaster movie in which the main character finds out that he can only sell a mortgage backed security (MBS) for 10 cents on the dollar?

Disaster movies have been feeding off of social angst with apocalyptic storylines since the 1950s, when people became increasingly nervous about nuclear catastrophe. They took a slightly different turn in the 1970s with movies like The Towering Inferno. Later, movies like Mad Max found an audience.

Few films feature the unrelenting destruction, though, of 2012. And lots of people watched it unfold with a certain satisfaction.

The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick said: “I don’t know about you, but I’d gladly pay $12 to watch Los Angeles gloriously sliding into the Pacific like so much rubble ….”

Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum: “God forgive me, but I enjoyed the nerve-racking silliness of this newest, loudest exercise in destruction. (And God help us all, now more than ever I think cities could crumble and oceans could rise.)”

Polls in November show that 57.2 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. That’s an average – it’s as high as 61 percent in a Rasmussen Report poll.

Still, President Obama clings to a 50 percent approval rating. There is still time, in other words, for him to right the ship and restore some hope for the future again before … well, 2012.

Photo credit: 2012 (Sony Pictures)

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