In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the decision by many school districts to abandon the federal healthy lunch programs due to low student participation and lack of revenue. 

After all of the initiatives by local, state, and federal governments to curb obesity in our children; after all of the alarming statistics from years past indicating that the coming generation could have a shorter lifespan than the generation before it; after all of the encouraging data from diverse cities and school districts indicating that public school health programs were actually curbing the childhood obesity rate – school districts around the United States are actually abandoning the healthy lunch program that has been so touted by nutritionists, doctors and public health officials.

The healthy lunch program isn’t without its flaws; the menus often don’t reflect what the kids were actually receiving; kids are squeamish about trying new types of food; some of the lunches don’t have enough calories to sustain the truly active, athletic students. However, the fact that a federal school lunch program exists and will continue to exist should spur us, as taxpayers, to try to modify the output in healthy and sensible ways so that we can at least be sure that our tax dollars aren’t actually contributing to health issues in our kids. The healthy lunch program is definitely worth trying honestly and vigilantly – otherwise, what is the point of having a lunch program at all?

The failure of the healthy lunch programs has many sources. One reason that the healthy lunches are being rejected by the kids is that they are wholly reluctant to eat healthy foods because their palates have been programmed by processed, sugary, fatty junk. They don’t seek remediation of hunger when they eat; they want pleasure and comfort. The fact that they are so glutted with junk food has made their brain chemistry react poorly to whole foods.

Another reason for the failure of the program is the slack application of program standards. A young boy in New York actually filmed a documentary about the healthy lunch program at his public school and how it has consistently failed to live up to the established standards. The menu would list certain menu items, while the cafeteria would distribute completely different things.

Some of the items simply weren’t robust enough for healthy, active growing children. While sedentary children need fewer calories than active ones, athletic children – children who are a part of sports teams and train rigorously – need quite a few calories to maintain their energy and grow healthy muscle mass.  While the low calorie options were likely appropriate for kids who don’t get much exercise at all, there needs to be supplementary items for kids who burn a lot of calories.

Unfortunately, there is always a period of adjustment for any new program, governmental or otherwise.  We cannot let our hysteria overwhelm our common sense when it comes to feeding our children well.  Just because the school lunch offerings of fish sticks, chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers and pizza were contributing to the national health crisis doesn’t mean we have to abandon everything that the kids found familiar; we don’t have to frantically switch to quinoa and baked sweet potato croquettes.  More vegetables, lean protein and whole grains – less fat, sugar and salt.  What’s difficult about that?

Julian Omidi discusses the studies that suggest canned vegetables are approximately as nutrient-rich as their fresh counterpart.

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard exclamations such as, “Eat your veggies! Fresh vegetables have more nutrients than canned! Remember that the vitamins in vegetables and fruits are in the skin at some point throughout your life. While fruits and vegetables are essential to a healthy diet, the evidence regarding how they should be consumed has changed. New studies are showing that the nutritional content of vegetables remains more or less consistent, whether it is whole, peeled, fresh or canned.

Even though the skins of red apples and grapes, for example, are rich with antioxidants, the rest of the fruits are nonetheless full of benefits. The flesh of the apple is full of potassium, fiber and vitamin C.  Vegetables and fruits with both red skin and flesh, such as bell peppers, tomatoes and red berries, are excellent sources of lycopene throughout.

If you’ve never learned to enjoy the skin of the sweet potato, don’t fret; the nutrient content of the tuber isn’t significantly compromised by the skin’s absence.

Canned vegetables have also gotten a bad rap for the past few decades. Granted, many canned vegetables simply aren’t as tasty as their fresh alternatives (many veggies tend to get mushy or limp during the canning process), and water soluble vitamins can degrade. Nevertheless, on the whole, canned vegetables are still quite nutritious. This is because the vitamin content of fresh vegetables diminishes after they are picked, and since fresh veggies and fruits must often travel hundreds of miles before landing in the supermarket produce department, their nutrients have actually degraded more than vegetables and fruits that were preserved immediately after being picked. [1]

While obesity is a huge problem among the youth of the United States, many obese children are actually malnourished, since their diets consist of high fat, sugar, salt and carbohydrate convenience foods.  Although it is generally believed that fresh fruits and vegetables are economically prohibitive in many lower-income households, the option of canned fruits and vegetables could provide a nutritious and inexpensive alternative. 

In order to get the best quality canned vegetables and reap the greatest benefits, nutritionally speaking, select low sodium and sugar canned fruit and vegetable products. While the flavor isn’t as concentrated in certain canned vegetables as it is in fresh, there are examples of canned products that are often superior in taste to the fresh versions. Canned tomatoes, for example, are often quite good in sauces, and are reliably flavorful even in colder seasons when ripe fresh tomatoes are difficult to find. Canned beans are intensely nutritious, and take far less time to prepare than traditional dried beans (even though dried beans are, in fact, less expensive than canned when measured in cost per lb.).  Incorporating canned vegetables in soups and stews is an excellent and cost-effective way to incorporate vegetables into the diet.

By Julian Omidi

[1] O’Conner, Anahad: Really? The Claim: Fresh Produce Has More Nutrients Than Canned New York Times 5/27/2013 http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/really-the-claim-fresh-produce-has-more-nutrients-than-canned/?ref=health

Does eating breakfast make a difference in your overall weight? Julian Omidi looks at evidence that the type of breakfast eaten could make a difference in how hungry you feel throughout the day.

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and to an extent, it is true.  A good breakfast gives you the nutrients and energy that enable you to function efficiently throughout the day. While the evidence that people who eat breakfast are slimmer overall than people who do not is scant, a new study does seem to indicate that eating a high protein breakfast might lead to less high-fat and high sugar snacking later on in the day.[1]

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that the consumption of a breakfast high in protein (as opposed to a high-fiber breakfast of cereal) resulted in a reduction of brain wave activity that led to the craving of high fat snack foods. 

The study was conducted on 20 overweight or obese women between the ages of 18 and 20. The participants were given either a high protein breakfast, a low protein breakfast, or were told to skip breakfast entirely, and told to fill out surveys regarding their feelings of satiety throughout the day. The subjects also had blood samples taken, and submitted to MRI scans. After six days the researchers found that the participants who had eaten a high protein breakfast not only reported feeling fuller for a longer amount of time, but also experienced a change in brain chemistry that reduced cravings for snacks.

Even though the importance of eating breakfast has been stressed for decades, this is the first study that suggests a correlation between a specific high-protein breakfast and feeling satisfied for a longer stretch of time. According to study author Heather Leidy, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri:

“These data suggest that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one potential strategy to prevent overeating and improve diet quality by replacing unhealthy snacks with high quality breakfast foods. Eating a protein-rich breakfast impacts the drive to eat later in the day, when people are more likely to consume high-fat or high-sugar snacks.”

A survey taken in 2011 indicated that approximately 31 million Americans skipped breakfast every day. It is estimated that roughly one third of United States residents can be classified as overweight or obese. In our struggle to combat obesity, every available weapon is certainly needed.  If we make this one fairly simple change, we might be able to succeed in reducing the desire to eat potentially dangerous, high calorie snack foods.

By Julian Omidi

[1] The Huffington Post: High Protein Breakfast Helps Prevent Unhealthy Snacking Later, Study Says 3/28/2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/28/protein-breakfast-prevent-snacking_n_2971476.html

DC Entertainment has announced the second phase of their charity initiative "We Can Be Heroes." Julian Omidi discusses what this initiative has done in the last year and what it looks to accomplish in the coming year.

Roughly a year ago DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers started their We Can Be Heroes campaign in order to help the people in the Horn of Africa to provide clean water, healthcare, and food. Since then the campaign has helped to raise more than $2 million dollars to support organizations Mercy Corps, International Rescue Committee, and Save the Children.

Their new initiative utilizes popular crowdfunding platform Indiegogo in order to raise funds, with a variety of rewards offered to fans for participating at various levels of giving. [1]

The initiative will be rolled out in four phases which will be themed around DC's most popular individual characters (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) as well as the superhero team the Justice League.

The current campaign is focused around Batman and will attempt to raise a minimum of $50,000 before May 17. Rewards are provided at various levels of giving include:

  • 5 Batman Comic Downloads for $10
  • A signed copy of Arkham City for XBOX 360 at $100
  • Have yourself drawn into Batman: Earth One Vol. 2 by artist Gary Frank at $5,000

This is a great way to help support the impoverished in Africa. Join the fight at DC Entertainment We Can Be Heroes Indiegogo Page.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Hudson, Laura. "DC Entertainment Launches ‘We Can Be Heroes’ Charity Fundraiser on Indiegogo." Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 31 Mar. 2013. <http://www.wired.com/underwire/2013/04/dc-comics-charity-indiegogo/>.

March 22, 2013 is World Water Day. Julian Omidi discusses the awareness that is provided through the day and what cooperation can do to help provide water to those in need.

The Unied Nations is using World Water Day 2013 to highlight water cooperation. With water being one of the most basic and essential human needs, access for all of the people of the world to clean water is crucial in helping to eliminate poverty and improve health.

Lack of access to water can be an issue that directly correlates to poverty, but it can also be a purely geographic issue with uneven distribution of clean, fresh water through various areas of the world, making cooperation across countries imperative.

Not only is the increased demand for fresh water (more than 7 billion people globally require clean and fresh water), but in many nations political and social unrest can also affect water access. Climate change to is also having an affect on the supply of clean water around the world and all of these factors contribute to the 783 million individuals that lack access to safe water. Not only are there three-quarters of a billion people who lack a basic human need, but roughly 2.59 billion people (37% of the world's population) have no access to sanitation, resulting in disease and death for many in developing nations.

Other problems directly related to water include:
  • Women and children spend 40 billion hours each year collecting water. Imagine what these women and children could accomplish in their lives if these hours could be spent in school or as part of the workforce.[1]
  • Scarcity of water contributes to major food shortages.
  • Water-related illnesses, specifically diarrhea, accounts for 3,000 deaths every day in children under the age of 5. In 2002 the United States saw roughly 1,500 deaths as a result of diarrhea, while in India the same year roughly 456,400 diarrheal deaths occurred, a huge discrepancy. [2]
There are several charities that work to provide assistance in the provision of clean water including:
To learn more about World Water Day 2013 and the goal to encourage water cooperation, view the message from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon below.

By Julian Omidi

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/22/world-water-day-2013-facts_n_2927389.html?utm_hp_ref=impact
[2] http://rankingamerica.wordpress.com/2009/03/24/the-us-ranks-72nd-in-death-by-diarrhea/

The Los Angeles Marathon provides people and organizations with opportunities to raise funds and awareness for charity. Julian Omidi looks at the novel approaches being implemented in the LA Marathon for charity. 

The 2013 LA Marathon will be held Sunday, March 17th and not only will individuals be racing the 26.2 miles for personal achievement, many will be racing for philanthropic purposes as well. 

In February, Jennifer Jimenez noticed a message on the Facebook page of Team Spina Bifida asking for help to find more participants to race and help raise funds. This message inspired Jennifer and her husband Jesse of Stockton, California to participate in the race with their children Enrique and Jiya, both born with spina bifida. Despite this being their very first marathon, and signing up with less than two months to train, the family set out to raise $3,000. With almost a week left until the race the family has already achieved their goal and raised $3,165 for spina bifida. 

Team ARC will also be participating again this year in the LA Marathon in order to raise funds for their programs. Team ARC partners with individuals to run or walk in events to raise money for people with developmental disabilities. Those with disabilities also participate in the events as active members in order to promote awareness of the issues. In 2012 Team ARC had four athletes with developmental disabilities complete the LA Marathon, and this include the first two women with Down syndrome to complete the marathon. You can still help Team ARC raise money in the event before the race takes place and learn more about their programs at their website. 

According to the Asics LA Marathon website, less than 250 slots are open for the event. Luckily, whether you participate in the event or not, you can still help noble charities raise funds and build awareness. 

By Julian Omidi

Julian Omidi examines New York City public schools’ gifted and talented programs admissions progress, as well as the department of education’s attempt to develop admittance exams that test a child’s natural cognitive advancement.

The New York City Department of Education announced recently that it would be changing the admissions testing criteria for its gifted and talented programs, since it is suspected that the parents of the children who are admitted prepare the kids so aggressively that success on the tests is not a reflection of the children’s advanced cognitive abilities.[1]

Competition for seats in kindergarten gifted programs is fierce, and test prep companies have capitalized on parents’ intense desire to gain their children admittance in the most prestigious schools.  The number of children who qualified for a slot in the gifted and talented program in New York City public schools has more than doubled in the last five years, and education department officials are beginning to believe that it has more to do with children of higher socio-economic backgrounds getting advantageous preparation sessions and effectively “cramming” for years before the test date, than it does with children demonstrating unusually high cognition.  It is common for several children to be dropped from consideration because they answer the questions correctly before the examiner has finished asking.

It may seem perfectly reasonable for a parent to do everything he or she can to ensure acceptance in to the best schools; if it means extra study time and preparation, then what’s the problem? 

According to education department officials, the entire point of the examination is to determine which children possess the natural ability to reason and analyze, not study and memorize.  Kids who are able to develop improvisational, effective solutions to difficult problems posed by the testers are the caliber of kids that are estimated to be poised for greater achievements, regardless of the ability of the parents to afford expensive test preparation tools.

The new test system, of which the NNAT (Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test) comprises a significant part, examines children’s nonverbal analytical skills through a series of puzzles wherein the tester must select the most appropriate sequence of shapes in order to complete the proposed visual pattern.  Many parents are finding the test hard for their children to comprehend, and the examination process can be trying for a four-year old.  Many parents are finding the NNAT sequence of puzzles and problems difficult to understand.

Although success for the new NNAT is dependent upon the test taker’s nonverbal reasoning skills for which it is difficult to prepare, test prep companies are already issuing preparatory exams and classes for the new round of examinations, despite the school district’s efforts to reduce the influence of test prep.  There are already links to the new practice tests and guides on one of the company websites.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Anderson, Jenny: Schools Ask: Gifted, or Just Well-Prepared? New York Times 2/17/2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/18/nyregion/new-york-city-schools-struggle-to-separate-the-gifted-from-the-just-well-prepared.html?ref=education&_r=0

In today’s article, Julian Omidi discusses a recent study that found the human brain might be able to retain information received from a Facebook post more readily than it can from a traditional publication. Julian Omidi asks the question, "Is Facebook good for your memory?"

We read books and take classes for our edification. We work to commit the teachings of highly respected academics to memory, and do our best to train ourselves to remember facts, names and dates for exams when we are in school. The traditional methods for memorization and study are reading, recording lectures and listening to them a second or even third time, and jotting down notes on flash cards. However, perhaps reading the information we would like to retain in the form of a Facebook message would help us to learn and retain information with greater ease and efficacy.

It appears that Facebook message posts and tweets might linger in our memories longer than perhaps we intend or even want them to.

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Scranton, a group of 280 undergraduate subjects was tested for their ability to retain different forms of text. They were asked to read 100 Facebook message posts and 100 sentences culled from authors of published books. The subjects were then given a follow-up list of sentences and asked to determine whether or not any of the sentences were in the original group. The test group was not only able to recognize more of the Facebook sentences, but they did so with a higher degree of confidence than the sentences written by published and edited authors.

The recall for the Facebook sentences versus the traditionally published sentences was so much higher that it could be compared to the memory of a normal individual versus someone with amnesia, according to the study authors.

The length of the sentences was not a factor in the subjects’ ability to retain them; the Facebook sentences were, on average, longer than the published ones.

The test subjects also had a stronger recall for Facebook phrases than for human faces. In a subsequent study, half of the students were given a series of Facebook sentences, while the other half was given a sequence of pictures of faces.  After the subjects had read the sentences and looked at the images, they switched activities. Like the original experiment, the subjects were able to not only recall more Facebook posts; they were able to do so with a higher degree of confidence than the human faces.

There are several theories as to why this phenomenon has occurred. Perhaps the brain can more easily absorb the relatively simple text of a Facebook message than the more complex philosophical musings of an experienced writer.  Maybe we have trained ourselves to value the commentary of our peers more highly than unfamiliar authors in order to facilitate a kind of social togetherness. Perhaps we are more able to relate to the stream-of-consciousness or conversational style of a Facebook post than we can to the careful editing of a writerly sentence. While it may seem to some as though the human brain could be devolving due to the culture’s high saturation of digital media, this new data could be useful in determining new and effective teaching methodologies that could benefit everyone.

By Julian Omidi

Healy, Melissa: Facebook entries more memorable than polished prose or human faces Los Angeles Times 1/16/2013 http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-facebook-prose-memory-20130116,0,4953315.story

Julian Omidi looks at some helpful weight loss tips that you can employ in the New Year. 

Our desire to look good on the beach or fit into a new pair of jeans sometimes takes precedence over our desire to achieve physical fitness and overall health.  Every New Year, we resolve to lose a few pounds in preparation for the revealing clothing of spring and summer, and we join gyms, install weight loss apps on our computers and begin the traditional weight loss grind.  However, more often than not, we try to lose weight for purely aesthetic purposes, and whatever health benefits that might be gleaned from getting strong and fit are completely secondary (often, they don’t even rank that high; many of these fad diets and cleanses are actually bad for you).  If you are interested in losing weight in order to look toned and fit for the coming warmer months, then the following tips will help you achieve your goal healthily and effectively.

Eat more, not less.

When the body is deprived of food for extended periods, it goes into what is commonly termed “starvation mode,” wherein the metabolic rate drops sharply in order to conserve fat for an extended famine.  Obviously, this is the exact opposite of what anyone wanting to lose weight wants to happen.  In order to stave off this evolutionary phenomenon, it is important to consume sufficient nutrients throughout the day so that the metabolism stays active.  Try to eat small portions of nutritious but low calorie foods several times (two or three) throughout the day, in addition to normal meals.  Snacks can include handfuls of nuts, fresh fruit, raw veggies skim milk and lean protein (all of the usual suspects).  Also, remember to drink lots of water; being properly hydrated helps curb the appetite.  And speaking of water…

Drink plenty of water.

Not only does water provide the above-mentioned appetite suppressing benefits, it is essential to maintaining proper bowel function and ridding the body of toxins.  It is also important to maintain proper levels of hydration to ensure efficient muscle function.  When the muscles are deprived of water, electrolyte levels diminish, and muscle fatigue is the result.  When the muscles are quickly fatigued, the body is unable to perform at optimum levels, and workout sessions do not yield maximum benefits.  Drink 10 to 15 oz of water two hours before a workout and approximately 8 oz during the workout to replenish fluids lost through perspiration.

Weight train.

Aerobic exercise raises the metabolism and improves cardiovascular health, but weight training is essential to building lean muscle, which helps burn fat even when the body isn’t active.  Adding weights to aerobic exercise sessions helps accelerate muscle building and increases calorie burn.  Women who are concerned about bulking up shouldn’t worry—weight training doesn’t build competition level muscle without extreme effort. 

Don’t give up! 

The most important thing to remember when beginning a weight loss journey is to keep going.  Even if you slip up, eat a piece of cake or miss a workout, don’t despair—it isn’t the one piece of cake that thwarts progress, it’s the complete abandonment of the routine that results in failure.  Make sure you pick up where you left off and begin again, because the only way to fail to reach your destination is to give up the journey.

By Julian Omidi

While looking at the state of poverty around the world, Julian Omidi notes the striking rise in poverty rates in Europe. Julian Omidi discusses these findings and what they mean for the global fight against poverty. 

Whether developing or developed, nations across the globe contain people suffering from poverty and Europe is no exception. Poverty in Europe was recently shown to affect almost 120 million people, equivalent to approximately one-fourth of the overall population of the European Union. 

Some of the hardest hit countries have included Bulgaria, where almost half of the population are near or below the poverty level, Romania, and Latvia (where the impoverished or near-impoverished make up roughly two-fifths of the population), and Lithuania. In countries like Greece and Spain the number of those impoverished was higher than the EU average, but a few countries such as France have managed to keep poverty levels below that average. These figures have seen a significant rise when compared to the numbers for 2008 and 2009, when the percentage of those in poverty hovered around 23.45%. 

In the United Kingdom, over 13 million residents live below the poverty line, which accounts for about 20.75% of the population. That means that about one in four people living in the UK are currently experiencing poverty. The recession (which has affected more than just the United States and its inhabitants) took a significant toll on those in Europe as well, with an increasing number of people turning to foodbanks in the nation in order to avoid starvation. 

Food poverty affects people on both sides of the poverty line, many of whom are employed and many of whom are trying to support families. It is estimated that only about 5% of the people assisted by foodbanks are homeless and that the majority are working families who are struggling to make ends meet, especially around the holidays when there is an expectation to spend money on gifts for children. Additionally, winter brings with it an increased need for utilities such as heat and with rising energy costs, many will struggle to stay warm and fed let alone be able to splurge on toys. 

The UK has a number of different charities of their own to help combat poverty, including the Trussell Trust's Foodbank Network, which is a community-based and run project that provides a minimum of three days worth of nutritionally balanced food to those experiencing a food crisis. Trussell Trust has been rolling out three new foodbanks per week for some time in order to accommodate the needs of those who are in desperate need of food. 

There are people suffering in every corner and country of the world as a result of poverty and the only thing that we as global citizens can do is assist in worthy charities no matter where they are located. Join the discussion via social media and share this article to spread awareness and encourage charitable giving, especially around the holidays. 

By Julian Omidi