Partial junk food ban brings positive results in California

Five years after California started cracking down on junk food in school cafeterias, a new report shows that high school students there consume fewer calories and less fat and sugar at school than students in other states.

…The study found that California high school students consumed on average nearly 160 calories fewer per day than students in other states, the equivalent of cutting out a small bag of potato chips. That difference came largely from reduced calorie consumption at school, and there was no evidence that students were compensating for their limited access to junk food at school by eating more at home.

While a hundred calories here or there may not sound like much, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the United States in the last four decades, and many researchers say that most children and adolescents could avoid significant long-term weight gain by cutting out just 100 to 200 extra calories a day…

California students had the lowest daily intake of calories, fat and, especially, added sugars. And it seemed clear that their eating behaviors at school played a large role. California students got a lower proportion of their daily calories from school foods than students in other states: about 21.5 percent, compared with 28.4 percent among students elsewhere…

Still, California’s students had not suddenly become health nuts. They were still eating junk food — just slightly less of it than their peers in other states. And their vitamin and mineral intake was similar to that of students in other parts of the country.

…Dr. Daniel Taber said…said that schools could take an additional step by replacing some of the junk food being filtered out with healthy options like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Iowa, for example, began requiring in 2010 that at least half of the foods available outside meal plans contain whole grains. Other than that, no state has laws that require whole, unprocessed or fresh foods to be available outside of school lunches for high school students…

Dr. Taber realizes that school-based rules are limited. Students consume about 25 percent of their calories at school. Looking for a magic switch to turn off won’t change the whole problem. The battle for healthy kids is going to require strategies that take the message home.

But, changing the landscape in school – ceded to the junk food trade years ago – is a healthy step forward. These are verifiable results.

Paul Krugman says GOP economic policies are “medieval”

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said Saturday that Republican-backed austerity measures — such as cutting government spending and reducing public services — were self-defeating

“We are very much like medieval doctors who thought the treatment for illness was to bleed you, then when the patients got sicker they bled them even more,” he said on Reuters TV. “We are doing incredibly destructive stuff that is not working.”

Krugman said the real economic problem was mass unemployment.

“I would say shelve the deficit discussion,” he said.

While Congress has been debating how to cut the federal deficit, “more than 3.9 million Americans have been out of work for more than a year,” Krugman added. “Think about what that means. That should be overwhelmingly our priority. We should be focusing on the clear and present danger, and not wasting a lot of time on what might happen well down the pipe.”

Krugman deserves his international reputation in economics. Though I dare to disagree with his political analysis from time to time – it ain’t anything he’d notice. 🙂

I think he has this discussion spot on.

How chemicals disrupt and change our biological systems

Scientists are observing with increasing alarm that some very common hormone-mimicking chemicals can have grotesque effects.

A widely used herbicide acts as a female hormone and feminizes male animals in the wild. Thus male frogs can have female organs, and some male fish actually produce eggs. In a Florida lake contaminated by these chemicals, male alligators have tiny penises.

These days there is also growing evidence linking this class of chemicals to problems in humans. These include breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early menstruation and even diabetes and obesity.

Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, says that a congenital defect called hypospadias — a misplacement of the urethra — is now twice as common among newborn boys as it used to be. He suspects endocrine disruptors, so called because they can wreak havoc with the endocrine system that governs hormones.

Endocrine disruptors are everywhere. They’re in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and A.T.M.’s. They’re in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you’ll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies.

In this campaign year, we are bound to hear endless complaints about excessive government regulation. But here’s an area where scientists are increasingly critical of our government for its failure to tackle Big Chem and regulate endocrine disruptors adequately.

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Why Social Security is not going broke

Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty?

Why, Social Security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.

That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

So why all the talk about Social Security “going broke?”…The reason is that the people who want to kill Social Security have for years worked hard to persuade the young that the Social Security taxes they pay to support today’s gray hairs will do nothing for them when their own hair turns gray.

That narrative has become the conventional wisdom because it is easily reduced to a headline or sound bite. The facts, which require more nuance and detail, show that, with a few fixes, Social Security can be safe for as long as we want…

Now let’s look at how that $2.7 trillion Social Security surplus arose. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan sponsored an increase in Social Security taxes, changing the program from pay-as-you-go to collecting much more taxes than it paid in benefits. The idea was to have the Boomers prepay part of their old age benefits. The extra tax was supposed to pay off the federal debt and then be invested in federal bonds. Instead, Reagan ran huge deficits, violating his 1980 promise to balance the federal budget within three years of taking office…

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New lighter, smaller, cheaper bombs for UAVs — Woo-hoo!

Lockheed Martin’s new Shadow Hawk weapon is deceptively small considering the influence it will likely have on warfare from this point forward. The era of unmanned warfare is about to go to a whole new level. The Shadow Hawk is an 11-pound class, 2.75-inch diameter, 27-inch long drop-glide munition released a mile or more above the target by the equally diminutive unmanned RQ-7B. It may not seem like a major leap forward in weapons technology but it most certainly is, because the Shadow Hawk munition now arms an entire fleet of RQ-7s for the US Marines and Army that could previously only be used for reconnaissance, and it does so with a much smaller and cheaper weapon…

The significance of this breakthrough is that precision-guided bombs can now be dropped at a lower cost than ever before – by using a far-more-plentiful, smaller, unmanned “delivery vehicle” and a much smaller and cheaper weapon…

The major leap forward in weapons technology enabled by the Shadow Hawk is that it now arms the significantly-sized next level of small UAS systems that could previously only be used for reconnaissance and surveillance…

The Shadow RQ-7B which was used to deliver the weapon in the initial tests, is not very large, being just 11.8 ft. long with a wingspan of 20.4 ft with a maximum gross take-off weight of 460 lb…

The RQ-7 is one of the most common unmanned systems in theater with over 100 in service and another 300 + ordered and the new capability afforded by the Shadow Hawk munition will be the lowest cost solution in the entire U.S airborne arsenal…

For only pennies on the dollar, we can kill more people with greater accuracy than via anything available up to now. Just think of the cost savings per dead body.

If and when we get to calling in unmanned strikes, say, on Woodstock 2069 – our robot police will be able to selectively cull people on skin color alone. Or which side they part their hair on.

OK. Do I think this is going to happen? No. Let me repeat that. Do I think this is going to happen? No!

Could it happen? Yes. Otherwise I wouldn’t suggest it as a possibility. And I think most people would give me a snap answer and agree. Even though it’s one of the least likely directions our nation could ever go.

It would take civil war for our constitutional democracy to devolve into bombing the populace. But, we had one of those — remember? A chunk of the people who worry about our government, our police bombing us, are the types who welcomed the last civil war we had. The Confederacy leftovers. The people who would vote in a Mississippi minute for Rick Santorum — for example. They hate and fear government, they hate and fear a significant portion of our whole country, their fellow citizens, whether they would admit it or not. Because lying about hating people because they’re a different color or fall in love different from what your father’s preacher says is OK or maybe just look different from your cousin Ernie — is what you do most of the time. Unless you’re sitting around having a beer with your buddies.

But, Santorum and Hayley Barbour will say it’s OK out loud.

Most of everyone else who would agree says it because we know as human beings that our species is capable of doing the worst to each other. We have the wars to prove it. And they don’t reflect upon what it takes to have a civil war or a truly fascist government.

And there’s a small portion of this nation who look at life from the Left and are knowledgeable enough, well enough educated to reflect upon what corporate fascism is and can be — and worry that it could come to the United States — even though it isn’t especially likely. Inertia, political ennui is just too much to aid rightwing nutballs and corporate flunkies getting that much power even though there are sufficient cowards in Congress and the White House [sometimes] to allow it.

But, I still have to say it. That’s part of the process of prevention. That’s part of defending our Constitution and the rights we still have.