Nutrition in the digital age

A recent study at the University of New Hampshire offers some surprising information about the health and nutrition status of college kids. The study looked at data from more than 800 undergraduates enrolled in a general nutrition course (New York Times / University of New Hampshire).

The findings:

  • Eight percent had “metabolic syndrome,” (predictive of future heart disease and diabetes). More than half had at least one risk factor for it.
  • Almost none got enough fiber.
  • Most women didn’t get enough iron, calcium and folate.
  • Most got less than 30 minutes of activity per day.
  • One third were overweight or obese.
  • Two thirds of the men had high blood pressure.

Yea, you read that right — two thirds of young college men in this study had high blood pressure.

If 18-24 year olds in a nutrition class are this overweight, have this much high blood pressure, and get so little physical activity, what does that say about us digital professionals? Are we really eating better than they are? Are we getting more exercise?

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10 Comments on “Nutrition in the digital age”

  1. Bill Says:

    Excellent that you are focussing on the health aspects of our sedentary job.

    In Australia we are suffering the same increase in the “western diseases” of obesity and its inevitable partner diabeties type 2. While it is a struggle here it would seem from an excellent documentary I just saw “King Corn” http://www.sustainabletable.org/features/articles/kingcorn/ that it is possibly much harder for you in the US.

    According to the doco it seems High Fructose Corn Syrup is added to just about everything you eat in the US. Since the 1970s when its addition to most products was encouraged by Farm Lobby driven Government subsidies there has been a direct relationship with the increase in obesity.

    If you want a sustainable career you must stay fit and healthy. There was an interesting article on the BBC website yesterday on organic foods, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6272634.stm , (sorry don’t know how to hyperlink this). I just thank god I was talked into beginning regular excercise 10 years ago (I row) and living in a medical family I suffer enormous guilt if I stray too far from the good diet. But it is a daily battle in my head and it is not easy and I fail more often than I’d like to admit.

    One of the many benefits of exercise is that it boosts your immune system. The secret for me in continuing with exercise is that I’m part of a team that I will let down on those very cold winter mornings at 5.30 am when the temptation is to lie on in bed. So you go , 3 times a week (mostly). Going that early means I can head off for work just after 7am.

    Despite 10 years of this struggle I’m sure my doctor would tell you I could still be in better shape, however I wonder just what I’d be like without what I’ve put myself through and just how many days I may have failed to get to work especially as I now push into my mid 50’s.


  2. Interesting topic… and I believe unless there are some dramatic changes to the way we live our lives that we will see more studies of poor health and those numbers will only continue to rise.

    The truth is, there is very little room for added sugars and saturated fats in a healthy diet. What I mean is if you follow a healthy diet recommended by the USDA/HHS in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans you will get enough nutrients, you’ll meet your fiber requirement, etc. but in order to stay withing calorie recommendation you really have to limit added sugars and saturated fat — and I mean on a daily basis there is only room for about 250 calories worth of BOTH of those (based on a 2000 calorie diet – so there is even less room if you are dieting or a woman over 30 because your daily calorie needs are really only about 1500). To give you an idea of context, it’s about 8 teaspoons of sugar or 32 grams (which is less than the amount of sugar in one 12oz soda — and some fruit flavored yogurts!)

    So, its no surprise to me (but I am a nutrition professional) that these studies are showing grim results. We waste calories on saturated fats and added sugars (instead of limiting them) and sacrifice important nutrients and eat too many calories so we gain weight. The lack of physical activity just compounds the issue! If you are very active you have more wiggle room in the calorie department to overdo it every once in awhile but most people are not.

    Can I suggest you wear a pedometer to see how many steps you get a day? The goal is 10,000. I metro to work but I have a short commute. I couldn’t believe it when I saw most days I only get 2000 steps. Now it motivates me to try to take a short walk – even a 10 minute break – to try to squeeze in more steps.

    I’ve been meaning to blog about this topic of added sugars and discretionary calories so this post is inspiring me to move forward on that.

    Check out my blog at http://www.rebeccascritchfield.wordpress.com

  3. Steve Says:

    Bill — good post, thanks. In the USA, there are structural, legislative, political reasons that fat and sugar are cheap and plentiful and fruits and vegetables are expensive. The King Corn page you link to is very interesting.

    Rebecca — your blog is great, thanks for sharing.

    As a digital professional, the biggest challenge during the day is lunch. Added fat and sugar is in everything.

  4. Bruce Says:

    I work within the Health Care System, and 20 years ago I was working on Therapeutic Recreation programs for Obese children in Rehab. It was difficult to watch how their weight effected the Social, Physical, and Mental domains of their lives. I now work with the middle age to older adult and see very clearly the results of poor diet, inactivity and stress. Example, just last week, a 53 year old male, little activity, fast/processed food diet, high blood pressure, has a massive stroke. His wife and 2 children are shattered trying to figure out how they will adjust their lives with a dad who is now nonverbal and unable to move. From what I’ve seen, it is never too late to make changes. Tiny changes in activity, diet, leisure will benefit you in the long run. I have worked with many 100+ old seniors teaching them about computers, editing, storytelling and I always ask what keeps them going? They almost always respond with… Get used to change and be able to make changes within yourself, look after your health as best you can, and remember, your friends and family are the only ones that really matter. Personally, I can’t wait to hit a 100 and be cranking out films. Stay Healthy.

  5. Steve Says:

    A 53-year-old with a massive stroke, huh? Sobering.

  6. Norman Says:

    I would also add that, in general, we work in an industry which is increasingly less people-friendly. I always though it was insane that our union contract has a 56-hour base week. That’s our UNION!!!.

    Long work hours, working through lunch, strong pressure to do more in less time… these are pressures that many more jobs are falling into. Our industry seems particularly prone to it.

  7. AndrewK Says:

    I’m not that far out of collage and this really doesn’t surprise me. Mix the timeless invincibility of youth w/the growing trend of needing instant gratification and you have people running themselves into the ground at an early age just because they can.

    The past few years I’ve made a pointed effort to “clean up” my act and eat less crappily and start exercising more (even if it’s just a 20min walk at lunch on busy days). I reach for a bottle of water instead of a Coke and I try to eat more chicken and turkey than red meat (lean ground turkey instead of ground beef for example). I’m trying to avoid the trap of sitting in my bay all day and working thru lunch eating fast food.

    -Andrew


  8. I just want to say how refreshing it is to hear some of these comments. You are all right. It’s small changes that will help yield big results. If you are overweight, even a 10% body weight loss will improve your health. Good nutrition is all about choosing healthy food most of the time — and most importantly in the right portions. A calorie is a calorie whether you are comparing apples, oranges, or soda. Too many calories and you gain weight. Too many poor food choices and you may not get nutrients you need to stay healthy and fight off looming health conditions and diseases.

    What can be done about this crazy work culture? Employers suffer just as much with rising health care costs. They should have an interest in the health and well-being of their staff. Do you think companies could offer more incentives? For example, we get 15 hours a year for volunteer work. What if we got time to exercise credited by our employer. Would that make any difference?

  9. Steve Says:

    I just saw this: a study showing that — big surprise — junk food ads lead kids to eat more calories and to eat more fat and sugar. The effect was most pronounced in overweight kids.

    http://www.commercialalert.org/news/archive/2007/07/watching-food-ads-on-tv-may-program-kids-to-overeat

  10. AndrewK Says:

    From the link you posted Steve:
    “Does food advertising on television make you eat more?

    The question is central to the debate about whether food marketing to children is fueling the childhood obesity epidemic.”

    I think parents letting their kids play video games all day while eating junk food is fueling the childhood obesity epidemic. This kind of passing the buck mentality just gets under my skin.


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