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Did you read that title and think “oh boy, here’s a big can of worms?”  I did too – there are so many controversial topics that I feel need to be discussed, and I always file them on my “Blog Ideas” document to save for a day when I can do a better job at posting my thorough, complete thoughts.  Well, as the list piles up, I’m starting to realize that that day may never come, so I might as well just get my thoughts out there and get the discussion going! 7 Thoughts about governmental health regulations

Trust me, I don’t want to turn this into a political blog (I’m not educated or convicted enough to sustain that!), but today’s post covers ways that governmental regulations make us healthier (or attempt to do so).  I’m purposely leaving off the debate about posting calorie counts on menus, because that deserves a post of its own.  And I know this is far from a complete list of things governments everywhere are doing to increase health … these are just a few things that have caught my eye recently.  Most importantly, I want to hear what YOU think about these topics … a one way conversation is not the intention! one way conversation(picture source)

  1. Trans Fat Ban: This one is the most recent, and probably the most surprising to me (in a good way).  As the prevalence of trans fats in foods we consume daily (including fried foods, baked goods, and many processed and packaged foods) has skyrocketed, we’ve also learned about the dangers of trans fats, which increase LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) and contribute to heart disease.  In the past, the FDA has allowed manufacturers to report “0g trans fat” when the levels were less than 0.5g per serving, but given that any amount of trans fat is dangerous, eating several servings of “og trans fat” items that actually contained 0.45g per serving was an un-labeled risk.  There are easy ways to make the same foods without trans fats – cities like New York and Philadelphia that have already banned trans fats are surely not lacking in fried foods or baked goods.  However, the FDA is now stepping in to potentially eliminate trans fats all together. I do understand the argument that eliminating trans fats all together is a bit too interventionist for some, but to me, anything we can do that improves the health of citizens so dramatically (without decreasing the quality of life or reducing the choices available to these citizens) is a win; I support this potential ban.  (By the way, Amy did a great post about this, extending the discussion from just trans fats and to overall responsibility for health … check it out!) trans fat comic(picture source)
  2. Smoking: I’m not intending to make light of any of these situations with comics like the above, only to keep you entertained.  The comic does bring us to our next topic … smoking.  A recent study showed that smokers cost private employers an additional $5,816 per year in smoking breaks and excess health expenses.  Now, the Affordable Care Act (a serious can of worms in itself, which I won’t discuss here) is allowing employers to charge smokers up to 50% more in premiums.  I am against charging for pre-existing conditions (although I agree the term “condition” is debatable here), so my personal preference would be to re-frame this in a positive light: offer helpful, hands-on smoking cessation programs to all smokers, and only charge extra if they do not comply. stop smoking(picture source, which also contains great resources on smoking cessation!)
  3. Open Space: Australian researchers found that those who lived in areas with more green and open space had significantly lower rates of Type II diabetes and obesity, and higher rates of physical activity.  I realize that public space maintenance is expensive, but I strongly believe that providing free-of-charge access to public parks is a great way for governments to improve appearance of cities and make the population healthier. park(picture source)
  4. Fruit and Vegetable Prescriptions: This is one of my favorites!!  As a college economics major, of course my mind immediately goes to the economic impact of a program like this, but I feel confident that the increases in health will make the program economically viable.  After all, only 1.5% of Americans currently meet recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake … and it’s certainly not doing any favors for our healthcare costs!  Two hospitals in New York are offering patients prescriptions for “Health Bucks,” which are good for $2 vouchers per person per week, to spend on produce at Farmer’s Markets.  Another program called “Wholesome Wave” has been providing similar vouchers at $1 per person per day, and has shown amazing results (55% of participants increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and 38% of child participants decreased BMI!).  I believe that this program is a great way to get all those who argue that eating healthier is too expensive started on healthy living, while supporting local farmers! fvrx(picture source)
  5. Making healthy living fun for kids: It sounds silly, but I’m all about health education in any form we can get it.  A former-Rockette and current Registered Dietician named Helen Butleroff-Leahy is teaching kids about healthy living by engaging them in a 45-minute musical production, complete with dancing and healthy-living rap music (the article has some of the lyrics and will make you smile!).  She’s been to 52 New York City schools so far, and the kids are loving the program.  Teaching children about nutrition and exercise at an early age is the key to setting them up for a healthy lifestyle in the future, so I’m all about programs like this! nutrition and exercise musicals in schools(picture source)
  6. PE classes: Did you know that only 6 states require the recommended amount of daily activity for kids in their elementary schools?  Only 2 states require these 150-minutes per week of activity for middle schoolers, and no states require the amount for high schoolers.  My grade-school self is absolutely cursing my future-self for saying this (I hated PE because I was never picked first for kickball and was always towards the back-of-the-pack in the dreaded mile test!!), but I do think we need to prioritize physical education for kids.  Not only is it a great outlet for their excess energy (to allow them to focus more in the classroom), but teaching them at an early age that moving their bodies is an important part of every day life is critical.  I’ll throw a bone to the old-Megan, though … let’s focus on finding something they like to do rather than making it feel so dramatic for those who get picked last! kids pe(picture source)
  7. What do YOU think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics!

So tell me in the comments … Which one of these regulations is your favorite and why?  What’s one way your government is doing a great job (or could do a better job) at increasing the health of the citizens of your country?  Did you love or hate PE as a kid?

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11 Comments

  1. Michael Anderson on November 17, 2013 at 10:53 am

    As someone who carries scars of elementary school gym instructor taunting, I am very sensitive to that … and my kids confirm that in our school budget limited world, gym teachers are pretty much always coaches of at least one sport, usually more.

    The athletes are their favored kids (just like the smart kids in other classes), so it ends up being torturous for those who hate competitive sports and getting to show off their lack of certain prowess in public.

    And our country is structured in such a way that making fun of people based on weight and physical prowess is accepted (some would say celebrated), yet people flaunt their ignorance and lack of education regularly …

    Aside from gym, I think most of this stuff is actually pretty good – this year we’ve seen trends start to change on childhood obesity, so maybe some of this stuff is sinking in? I really hope so.

    The problem I have is how much the operation of our government is controlled by ‘big money’ – the corn & sugar industry has constantly targeted ‘fat’ as the root of all evil … and yet obesity is MUCH more linked to HFCS in everything and corn-based fillers than anything else – but due to farm lobby and the ‘big sugar’ money we will never really see that change. Yet it doesn’t just make people fat – it really messes with their systems.
    Michael Anderson recently posted…My Take on the WSJ Stafko ‘Running’ ArticleMy Profile

    • Megan Lyons on November 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      Oh wow, I’m so sorry you dealt with the taunting, Michael. It’s sad that the gym teachers have “favorites” in class, and that it creates a negative experience for the other kids. I completely understand the lack of “prowess,” as I definitely had that in PE class, but was never taunted. I have to think, though, that there’s a good way to encourage physical activity without making it a negative experience? At least I hope so – I really do believe it’s important to teach this to kids at an early age. I am completely with you in hoping that “some of this stuff” is sinking in, and I actually do believe it’s true. We need to keep working on spreading the message, though! Also agree on HFCS and other subsidies … although I do think we will see a change in our lifetime. Thanks, as always, for your thoughts!

  2. Lora @ Crazy Running Girl on November 17, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I love the idea of fruit and vegetable prescriptions! I don’t think people realize how much these type of foods help your health.

    • Megan Lyons on November 17, 2013 at 9:51 pm

      I know, Lora! I am such a believer in “adding in” fruits and veggies as a first step to health, rather than “taking away” the other things. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Davida @ The Healthy Maven on November 17, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    When I was working in NYC there was a farmer’s market just outside the hospital every Tuesday. The hospital was not in the best neighborhood but I was always impressed they offered a discount program to families from the area! I can’t pretend I didn’t wish I could get in on the discounts, but it was definitely a wonderful resource for a lot of families. A step in the right direction, but a looooong way to go!
    Davida @ The Healthy Maven recently posted…{MIMM} Weekend Recap 11/15-11/17My Profile

    • Megan Lyons on November 17, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      I hear you, Davida … it sure is a double-edged sword. You are a hard-working person, so why shouldn’t you get a discount on healthy food, too? Should you be punished just because you know enough to spend your money on healthy produce even without the subsidies/ prescriptions? Such a tough topic. All I want is for EVERYONE to have access to fruits and vegetables, and have the education to be able to prepare them in delicious ways … wish that wasn’t such a lofty goal! Every positive step we take, though, is something to celebrate, so even if they’re not perfect, let’s celebrate the farmer’s markets and discounts and education programs!

  4. Arman @ thebigmansworld on November 17, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Great post and what I love most is to contrast it with Australia- two countries which you would think would be on similar wavelengths!

    Some of those figures you presented are really quite shocking- but its great to see the government making steps to reduce the incidence and prevalence of them!

    Sort of off topic but something which frustrates/confuses me is how different states have different laws regarding certain aspects. e.g. here only in some states are ‘food programs for primary children’ implemented and not the entire nation- its so frustrating!

    I hated PE as a kid/teenager- unfit + always being picked last lol!
    Arman @ thebigmansworld recently posted…Marvelous Apple Cinnamon SunButter Muffins + Giveaway!My Profile

    • Megan Lyons on November 17, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      It’s really interesting that many of us bloggers were the ones “picked last” in PE as kids … goes to show a few things: that they may not be finding a way to engage all kids and develop a passion for physical activity in the best way, that there IS hope for the unfit kids and it’s never too late to start being active, and that maybe our passion is stemming from how we knew we felt without the physical activity. I agree that it’s frustrating that there are such dramatic differences between states. Thanks, as always, for your insights, Arman!

  5. Be The Change | The Lyons' Share Wellness on November 18, 2013 at 5:27 am

    […] Yesterday’s post got me thinking .. it’s such a positive step to be starting the discussion around what changes we’d like to see in the world and to compare thoughts with others.  (By the way, if you haven’t gotten a chance to share your thoughts, please do!  I want to know what you think about trans fat bans, physical education in schools, public parks, and more!)  Even though it’s great to start the conversation, if that conversation is not inciting passion in ourselves to actually DO something, it’s less valuable than it could be. […]

  6. Caitlin on November 21, 2013 at 10:01 am

    i absolutely hated PE until i got to high school where they offered PE options for us. i think that more schools need to do this to show kids different ways they can move that are fun for them. i hated PE when it was focused on team sports because i have awful hand eye coordination and the boys in class always got to participate more. in high school i was able to take racket sports and that made all the difference. i actually enjoyed that kind of play! and now my high school offers even more choices including dance and martial arts, both of which i would have been all over. however i know that many schools barely have any budget for teachers let alone extra “fancy” PE options. maybe government subsidies to fund these sorts of options can happen some day.
    Caitlin recently posted…Ellovi Body Butter – Giveaway!My Profile

    • Megan Lyons on November 21, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Now THAT is the kind of optionality that I was looking for when I said there must be a solution! I love that your school offers choices that appeal to a wide range of preferences. I think it’s so easy for kids to think they hate all physical activity just because they don’t enjoy kickball or the mile or whatever other activity is done regularly in “standard” PE classes, but I think that, if given variety, there may be something that appeals to almost everyone! What a great concept for the kids in your school.

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