Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Obesity

Singing the blues about red meat

Red Meat counter
It might be smart to take the new data against red meat -- a study links the consumption of even a small portion daily to a higher risk of dying -- with a grain of (possibly blood-pressure-raising) salt. Not that red meat should get a pass: Overconsumption has been tied, over and over again, to poor health outcomes. And the fact that your grandfather ate 12 ounces every day until his 102nd birthday is no argument against the study; lots of people who smoke cigarettes live to a ripe old age. But there is no getting around the number of people who would live to much riper ages if they abstained from tobacco.

Still, this study was correlational, meaning that we know red meat is tied statistically to higher death rates within the time range of the Harvard study. If that's even so: The study didn't examine what people ate; it asked them what they ate. The question is, did the red meat cause the deaths? Was it all of the reason for the deaths, most of it, a small part of it, or perhaps an indicator of other factors? And is it the meat itself, or perhaps substances used in the raising of cattle or in cooking? Processed meat was linked to still-higher death rates.

Maybe people who avoid red meat are more likely to live healthier altogether. Considering the warnings over the years about beef, that's entirely possible. People who heed health warnings might be more likely  to eat vegetables, exercise regularly, meditate occasionally, fasten their seatbelts and, of course, not smoke, since cigarettes are still the No. 1 cause of premature death.

That would help explain the seemingly nonsensical finding that people who partake of red meat only occasionally and sparingly are less likely to die of any cause -- not just heart attack, diabetes or other ailments associated with poor diet but, say, in accidents. The only way a hamburger is more likely to cause a fatal accident is if it's being held in one hand by a driver.


California, a bad bet for business

Goldberg: Obama's pump debacle

Red meat will kill you? Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

--Karin Klein

Photo: Red meat. Credit: Dave Thomson / AP Photo

Would a plastic-surgeon Lego set be OK?

Oh sure, Mitt Romney and his taxes is big news. Along with Newt Gingrich's rise to the top of the GOP presidential race. And of course there's President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

But for really big news -- albeit in a small package -- nothing beats sexist Legos.

Perhaps you missed that story. Certainly the mainstream media has allowed Romney, Gingrich and Obama to skate on the whole issue.

Here it is in a nutshell:

Denmark-based Lego Group has introduced a Lego Friends line of toys for girls, which includes a Butterfly Beauty Shop and a Your Fashion Designer Workshop. The company said the line was in response to consumer demand.

Another response, though, came from groups such as the International Assn. of Eating Disorder Professionals, which said the toys were "devoid of imagination and promote overt forms of sexism."

Even someone from Malibu weighed in:

The new line, whose characters sport slim figures and stylish clothes, will contribute to gender stereotyping that promotes body dissatisfaction in girls, said Carolyn Costin, an eating disorders specialist and founder of the Monte Nido Treatment Center in Malibu.

The toys send girls a message "that being pretty is more important than who you are or what you can do," Costin said in a statement.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that Legos are without faults.

For example, what parent hasn’t cursed Denmark after stepping on one of those little pieces in his or her bare feet? Who hasn't known the sick feeling of completing a Star Wars Death Star only to have your kid notice the six pieces left over? Who doesn't have a tub full of Legos in the garage, poignant reminders that your children are grown and you spent a fortune on stuff they no longer care about?

And let's not even think about that parental torture chamber of a theme park. 

But when someone from Malibu, of all places, is alarmed that a toy is telling girls "that being pretty is more important than who you are or what you can do" -- well, all I can say is: Stop pulling my tiny square plastic legs!

Are they really sexist? Is Barbie? Is Ken? Is GI Joe? (OK, I'm willing to give you those three.)

But what's so wrong with a beauty salon? The woman who cuts my hair owns a nice home with a pool, and two nice cars, and a boat, and an RV, and has two kids she's putting through college. (And neither she nor her kids seem to have body image issues.)

My bottom line on the new Lego ladies? They're toys. If you don't like them, don't buy them.

And if you want to buy your daughter a Barbie and let her dress it like a hooker, that's OK. Or, if you want to buy her a train set, or your son an Easy-Bake Oven, I say go for it.

And if you want to buy Legos: Well, I have a tub full in my garage that I'll make you a good deal on.


The Supreme Court and the slaughterhouse

Good news for gay marriage in Washington state

New York education, played to the tune of Race to the Top

-- Paul Whitefield

Men at the market: It's a lost cause

Grocery shopping men
Hey guys, wanna get together and go grocery shopping?

Didn't think so.  But according to The Times, more men are doing exactly that

Seems that the trend of men doing the grocery shopping has been growing for years, but then the recession put more men out of work, leaving them at home to handle domestic chores.

Sorry, I'm not buying it.

Now, I don't really have a lot of formal research to back me up on this.  

What I do have is "man's intuition" -- you know, the same thing men use to find their way when they are lost, or when they need a birthday gift for their wives/girlfriends, or when they want to lay down a few bucks on the Packers vs. Steelers in the Super Bowl.

It's not that I've never been grocery shopping.  Of course I have. Here's how it works:

My wife gives me a list of what to get.  I go to the store and wander the aisles. I see many of my favorite things: Cheetos, English tea cookies, Whoppers, Diet Coke. None of those are on the list.  I get them anyway. 

Then I find that I've lost the list somewhere in the store.  So I buy what I think was on it.

When I get home, my wife says: "Where are the eggs?"

And it's back to the store for the eggs.

The Times' story says some stores are creating "man aisles" to make it easier on guys.

This isn't new. There's always been a man aisle.  That's where the magazines are.  We used to stand there and read Road & Track or Hot Rod while our moms or sisters or girlfriends or wives shopped. 

Sadly, now it's mostly magazines with stuff about Kim Kardashian, and who wants to read about some poor guy getting dumped before the gifts have been unwrapped? (Maybe he refused to do the grocery shopping?)

Anyway, I also have anecdotal evidence to refute this man-grocery-shopping myth. And you can try this  yourself.

Next Mother's Day, go to the market, early.  Watch carefully.  Hundreds of husbands, some with kids in tow, will be wandering the aisles, seeking ingredients to make their wives breakfast in bed.

If they are lucky, the dads will have daughters.   They'll know where the stuff is.

Otherwise, it's ugly.  By the time they finish shopping, you can forget breakfast. 

How about a nice brunch in bed, honey?

You want to know what else happens when men grocery shop? Check out this excerpt from The Times' story:

On the food side, Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Foods Inc., said the company selected several products to market to men in 2011, with solid results. The Northfield, Ill., company developed, packaged and marketed MiO, bottles of liquid flavor droplets to make water more enticing.

"Guys, when it comes to shopping and cooking, they love to customize and add their own personal touch," Calpino said, adding that the interest also extends to beverages.

That's right.  We like to buy stuff to make water "more enticing."  And we "love to customize."

So, working women of America, when you get home tonight, be sure to compliment your man on the "enticing" water and the "customized" cheeseburgers. (I think Cheez Whiz is even better than that silly sliced stuff, don't you, honey? 

Who knows.  Maybe we'll at least solve the obesity problem.


Inside the mating economy

Battle of the sexes: Where men still win

Christopher Hitchens gets the last laugh

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: A man shops at a discount grocery store in Reading, Pa., in October. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

California kids -- not quite as unfit as you're led to think

Time for the annual alarm bulletin from the state Department of Education about the allegedly woeful state of physical fitness among California students. Fewer than a third, it tells us, passed the state's physical fitness test this year.

And it will be time for Californians to take this seriously when the state devises a reasonable system for determining who "passes" the test. Right now, students have to be up to par on all six segments of the test to be considered passing. How many tests do you know that call anything less than 100% a failure?

Able to run a marathon and do stomach curls all day, but lacking in flexibility? You're a failure. Able to jump, twirl and bend for a couple of hours straight in a high-energy dance class, but lacking in upper-body strength? Another failure.

Looking at this a little more realistically, let's examine the pass rates of ninth-graders,  who were the most fit of the three grades -- five, seven and nine -- tested. Only about 37% passed all six tests, but 59% passed five of the six. Five out of six is, in percentages, an 83%, or a B. Close to 80% passed four of the six tests. That would still be a passing grade, though a low one, on, say, a math test.

It's not helpful to the public, students or educators to measure fitness this way, and it tends to mask the more serious problems among the state's youth. In all tested grades, for example, less than 60% of students were within the target range for healthy body composition, and the scores were the worst among the youngest students. Is this a marker of a growing obesity problem among the youngest students? If so, it doesn't represent a failure among school physical education programs, but it's a matter for societal worry. No matter how many pushups an overweight child can perform, serious health problems are more likely to be in his or her future.

The state should set aside its annual headlines of disaster and start measuring fitness in reasonable and informative ways. We can almost always measure results in ways that make schools look like failures, but that's not helping us develop a realistic picture of the ways in which schools should improve. 


Teachers and test scores

Teachers who just don't care

Ex-porn star Sasha Grey in the classroom -- or not

Back-to-school night: A shift away from 'passion for learning'

--Karin Klein

Photo: Students at Van Nuys Middle School do an exercise called the "can can" as part of a self-defense class, one of several fitness classes offered. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Cigarette labels: Too much of a good thing

Do new cigarette warning labels go too far?
I get it.

Smoking is really, really bad for you. It can make you sick; it can kill you. It can make those around you sick. It can kill them.

I get the picture. I just don't need the pictures.

As The Times' Amina Khan reported, the Food and Drug Administration had ordered that, beginning in fall 2012, all cigarette packs would carry new labels that "would cover the top half of a cigarette box and include the number to a smoking-cessation hotline."

Among other graphic images, the labels show a man blowing smoke out of a tracheotomy hole in his neck, a pair of diseased lungs and a dead man with autopsy staples in his chest.

Nice. Too bad there's no room for video. Think of the possibilities: Death throes of an ex-smoker.

If there can be too much of a good thing, surely there can be too much of a bad thing. And these labels are both.

On Monday, a federal judge agreed. As Khan reported:

Five of the six largest tobacco companies sued the FDA on free-speech grounds and asked for a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the images, set for fall of 2012. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in their favor Monday.

"It is abundantly clear from viewing these images that the emotional response they were crafted to induce is calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never to start smoking -- an objective wholly apart from disseminating purely factual and uncontroversial information," Leon wrote in court documents, the Associated Press reported.

Well, duh. Of course the images are intended to cause you to quit or to not start smoking. I mean, we crossed that Rubicon a long time ago.

We've been passing laws for decades intended to force people to quit -- to make it so hard to smoke that they'll give up in frustration, if nothing else. You think all of those folks puffing away as they stand outside in Chicago in December just want fresh air? 

But why only smokers? Why not, say, pictures of car-crash victims on beer cans, to cut down on drunk driving? Or shots of clogged arteries on that package of steak at the market, to warn of the dangers of too much red meat?  

No, seemingly our do-gooder, nanny-state instincts have been reserved mostly for smokers.   

But enough is enough.

By now, everyone knows the dangers of smoking -- the old warning labels spell it out for you.

And if you choose to ignore those warnings?

As we used to say: It's a free country.


SCOTUS: "Nine oligarchs in robes"?

The right of citizens to videotape police

Cigarette label rules: Legitimate warning or "compelled speech"?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Two of the nine graphic warning labels that cigarette makers would be required to use by the fall of 2012. Credit: Associated Press

Chris Christie and the cult of governors as presidential candidates

Chris Christie

So the breathless speculation about a Chris Christie presidential bid is finally over (unless things look bad for the Republicans a few months from now). What has received little notice, perhaps because the phenomenon is taken for granted, is that the New Jersey governor has not been the, or even a, spokesman for his party on national issues. That's typical of governors aspiring to the presidency, but it's an odd phenomenon -- surely you want the parties to nominate national leaders who have been opining about national issues (and voting on them) while governors have been busying themselves with state budgets and union-busting.

In Britain, the opposition leader is the designated prime minister in waiting. When a David Cameron becomes prime minister, he needs no crash course in national issues; he has been debating them with the former prime minister for years. By contrast, governors-turned-presidents are at the mercy of their advisors, especially on foreign policy.

One candidate who was not a governor was John McCain, who was more conversant with national issues than any of his primary opponents and arguably better informed than his opponent, President Obama. But both were more logical national leaders than a governor, however charismatic.

-- Michael McGough


Rx for the GOP: You should own universal healthcare

Rick Perry and the offensive sign: What's the worst case?

Nebraskans -- and the rest of us -- can't afford Keystone XL

Photo: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., Sept. 27. Credit: Jason Redmond / Reuters

Sweet news about teens and soda

centers for disease controlcigarettescolafoodgatoradeobesitysmokingsodateateenteenagerwater

Soda The good thing about America's unhealthy eating habits -- what can you say about a country where about a quarter of the population eats the recommended amount of veggies, and when they do, it's most often in the form of french fries? -- is that it doesn't take much to constitute improvement.

So it is with a new report out of the Centers for Disease Control finding that a quarter of American teenagers drink a soda every day. That's a lot of kids downing a lot of sugar. But really, according to public health officials, that sentence should have said that only a quarter of American teens quaff a soda daily -- because a decade ago, the number was three-quarters.

Horrible to think, but what can you expect when public schools were practically shoving soda at teenagers, forging lucrative deals with bottling companies to place their brands in vending machines and school cafeterias and holding rallies to promote their products and logos?

Perhaps the best news in all this is the awareness that Americans can be persuaded to change their consumption habits through more awareness, just as the nation has made major strides against smoking after anti-smoking campaigns changed the way society viewed cigarettes. Teens said they were drinking more water and tea because soda wasn't good for them. Who says today's kids aren't learning anything?


The soda tax fallacy

LAUSD's flavored milk ban

Should there be a 'fat tax'?

The Lap-Band and teenagers

--Karin Klein 

Photo credit: David McNew / Getty Images



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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