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Obesity rate plummets for young children / NYTimes



Federal health authorities on Tuesday reported a 43 percent drop in theobesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The drop emerged from a major federal health survey that experts say is the gold standard for evidence on what Americans weigh. The trend came as a welcome surprise to researchers. New evidence has shown that obesitytakes hold young: Children who are overweight or obese at 3 to 5 years old are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.

A smattering of states have reported modest progress in reducing childhood obesity in recent years, and last year the federal authorities noted a slight decline in the obesity rate among low-income children. But the figures on Tuesday showed a sharp fall in obesity rates among all 2- to 5-year-olds, offering the first clear evidence that America’s youngest children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic. About 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004.

“This is the first time we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group,” said Cynthia L. Ogden, a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the lead author of the report, which will be published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, on Wednesday. “It was exciting.”

She cautioned that these very young children make up a tiny fraction of the American population and that the figures for the broader society had remained flat, and had even increased for women over 60. A third of adults and 17 percent of youths are obese, the federal survey found. Still, the lower obesity rates in the very young bode well for the future, researchers said.

There was little consensus on why the decline might be happening, but many theories.

Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999. More women are breast-feeding, which can lead to a healthier range of weight gain for young children. Federal researchers have alsochronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls, but health experts said those declines were too small to make much difference.

Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has tracked American food purchases in a large data project, said families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.

He credited those habits, and changes in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for the decline in obesity among young children. The program, which subsidizes food for low-income women, reduced funding for fruit juices, cheese and eggs and increased it for whole fruits and vegetables.

Another possible explanation is that some combination of state, local and federal policies aimed at reducing obesity is starting to make a difference.Michelle Obama, the first lady, has led a push to change young children’s eating and exercise habits and 10,000 child care centers across the country have signed on. The news announcement from the C.D.C. included a remark from Mrs. Obama: “I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans.”

New York City under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also made a major push to combat obesity. The city told restaurants to stop using artificial trans fats in cooking and required chain restaurants to display calorie information on their menus.

Many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work, but proponents of the programs say a broad set of policies applied systematically over a period of time can affect behavior.

Continue reading the main story

The obesity rate for preschoolers — 2- to 5-year-olds — has fluctuated over the years, but Dr. Ogden said the pattern became clear with a decade’s worth of data. About one in 12 children in this age group was obese in 2012. Rates for blacks (one in nine) and Hispanics (one in six) were much higher.

Researchers welcomed the drop but cautioned that only time will tell if the progress will be sustained.

“This is great news, but I’m cautious,” said Ruth Loos, a professor ofpreventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital in New York. “The picture will be clearer when we have a few more years of data.”

Still, she added that the 2- to 5-year-olds “might be riding a new wave,” in which changes in habits and environment over many years are finally sinking in. She noted that people who are now 60 years old caught the beginning of what she called the obesity wave that carried the next generation with it.

“Once the obesity epidemic emerged in the 1980s, it took us a while to realize that something bad was happening,” Dr. Loos said. “We’ve been trying to educate parents and families about healthy lifestyles, and maybe it’s finally having an effect.”

Tom Baranowski, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, said there was not enough data to determine whether the decline would spread to older children. Since 2003, the rate for youths over all — ages 2 to 19 — has remained flat, said Dr. Ogden, author of the C.D.C. report.

But 2- to 5-year-olds are perhaps the most significant age group, as it is in those years that obesity — and all the disease risk that comes with it — becomes established, and it is later very difficult to shake, said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta.

“You have to say maybe some real progress is taking place at the very time it can have the most impact,” Dr. Koplan said. He said he believed the decline was real, as the finding followed several studies that detected patterns of decline among young children, including one by researchers in Massachusetts and the large study by the C.D.C. of low-income children.

“The weight of evidence is becoming more marked,” he said. Still, he cautioned that the age group was only a small slice of American society: “One blossom doesn’t make a spring.”

Explaining Obamcare to Kids


• Most people who currently have health insurance can keep it.

• Young adults can stay on their parents plan until 26.

• If you don’t have coverage, you can use the new Health Insurance Marketplace to buy a private insurance plan.

• Open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace goes from October 1st, 2013 to March 31st, 2014.

• If you don’t obtain coverage or an exemption by January 1st, 2014 you must pay a per-month fee on your federal income tax return for every month you are without health insurance.

• In 2014 the fee is $95 per adult ($47.50 per child) or 1% of income, whichever is higher. The family max is $285.

• The cost of your marketplace health insurance works on a sliding scale. Those who make less, pay less.

• American making less than $45,960 as individual or $94,200 as a family of 4 may be eligible for premium tax credits through the marketplace. Tax credits subsidize insurance premium costs.

• If you are able to get qualified health insurance through your employer you won’t be able to receive marketplace tax credits unless the employer doesn’t cover at least 60% of your premium cost, doesn’t provide quality insurance or provides insurance that exceeds 9.5% of your families income.

• Up to 82% of nearly 16 million uninsured young U.S. adults will qualify for federal subsidies or Medicaid through the marketplace.

• You don’t have to use the marketplace to buy insurance, but you should fill out an application to see if you qualify for assistance before shopping for insurance outside of the marketplace.

• The ACA does away with pre-existing conditions and gender discrimination so these factors will no longer affect the cost of your insurance on or off the marketplace.

• You can’t be denied health coverage based on health status.

• You can’t be dropped from coverage when you are sick.

• Health Insurers can’t place lifetime limits on your coverage. As of 2014 annual limits are eliminated as well.

• All new plans sold on or off the marketplace must include a wide range of new benefits including wellness visits and preventative tests and treatments at no additional out-of-pocket cost.

• All full-time workers who work for companies with over 50 employees must be offered job based health coverage by 2015. Employers who do not offer coverage will pay a per-employee fee.

• Small businesses with under 50 full-time employees can use a part of the marketplace called the SHOP (small business health options program) to purchase group health plans for their employees.

• Small businesses with under 25 full-time employees can use the marketplace to purchase subsidized insurance for their employees.

• Medicare isn’t part of the marketplace. If you have Medicare keep it!

• Medicaid and CHIP are expanded to provide insurance to up to 16 million of our nations poorest.

• When you apply for the marketplace you’ll find out if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). You’ll also be made aware if you qualify for Medicare.


Explaining Gridlock

Source: National Journal 



This Is What Congressional Gridlock Looks Like in 1 Chart

By  and Ella Krivitchenko
November 13, 2013

If you’re looking for a quick fact to explain congressional gridlock, it’s this: In the 113th Congress, only 59 members have voted with the majority of their party less than 90 percent of the time (20 Republicans and 39 Democrats).

The trend over the last 30 years is that Congress has become increasingly sorted into political blocs that vote only with each other. According to National Journal’s vote ratings, 30 years ago most lawmakers had records that put them somewhere in between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. Now there are just a relative handful.

As you can clearly see in this chart of the 113th Congress House votes, most representatives vote with the majority of their party (data viaOpenCongress). That lonely blue dot at the bottom is Jim Matheson of Utah, a Democrat, who represents a conservative district.

House Members by Percentage of Votes With Respective Party Majority
Roll over a circle for more information or click and drag on the chart to zoom into a specific area.


Download this graphic and more at National Journal’s Presentation Center.

Civics for Kids

You might wonder what an article about twin pandas has to do with politics? It’s here because there are two of them just like there are two parties in our political system – the Republicans and the Democrats. I think it’s a great analogy that is more than a little inspiring given how low the odds were for their mutual survival. 

Meet Mei Lun and Mei Huan! The names of these twin male giant panda cubs were announced Wednesday at Zoo Atlanta. Lun Lun, a 15-year-old giant panda, gave birth to the cubs on July 15, 2013. Zoo officials followed Chinese custom and named the brothers after waiting 100 days. Until now, they were simply known as “Cub A” and “Cub B.”

Mei Lun and Mei Huan are the first twin panda cubs to survive in the United States. “We’re delighted to finally be able to place names with two youngsters who have not only made a mark on the history of Zoo Atlanta, but who have also made history in the U.S.,” Raymond B. King, the zoo’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Name that Cub!

Zookeepers have Lun Lun care for one cub at a time to ensure that each cub gets proper attention from mom.


Zookeepers have Lun Lun care for one cub at a time to ensure that each cub gets proper attention from mom.Zoo Atlanta teamed up withGood Morning America this month to put the pandas’ names to a public vote. China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding provided the choices of names. In just 13 days, 51,000 votes poured in to the show’s website.

Zoo Atlanta teamed up with Good Morning Americathis month to put the pandas’ names to a public vote. China’s Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding provided the choices of names. In just 13 days, 51,000 votes poured in to the show’s website. 

The winning names, pronounced may loon and may hwaan, come from the ancient Chinese saying “Mei Lun Mei Huan.” The phrase was used to describe buildings that are tall and magnificent. It has come to mean “something indescribably beautiful and magnificent.”

A Playful Pair

Under a deal between China and the U.S., giant pandas originally from China are only loaned to foreign zoos for scientific study for several years. Zookeepers at Zoo Atlanta are giving updates of the twins’ progress in an online blog. They say each of the cubs weighs about 8 pounds and that both are becoming more active every day. The brothers are described as “squeaky” and “squirmy” as they scoot around their nursery. They are playful with each other and have bonded with their mother, Lun Lun. Mei Lun and Mei Huan are the fourth and fifth offspring of Lun Lun and a male giant panda named Yang Yang.

The pandas are expected to make their debut in a U.S. exhibit later this fall. For the past three months, the online world has watched the twins grow strong and healthy. “We share this joy with our colleagues in China and with the cubs’ fans around the world,” King said.

Panda fans can follow Mei Lun and Mei Huan on PandaCam at

Explaining the Shutdown to Kids

How to Explain the Government Shutdown to Kids

BY   |  WEDNESDAY, OCT 02, 2013 2:00PM  |  COMMENTS (24)

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With many adults not truly understanding the government shutdown (and the Affordable Care Act), it is difficult to explain it to our children. Our friends over at  Here There Everywhere: News for Kids have a really great explanation for kids:


You may be hearing a lot of talk about the government partially shutting down.

It’s true.

What does that actually mean? How did it happen? And will you feel it?

It’s pretty complicated (understatement), but here’s the shutdown in a nutshell:

The federal government in Washington makes decisions on how to spend the country’s money. A lot of that money is actually from taxes your parents pay. There’s supposed to be a budget each year that decides how that money is spent.

In general, Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas on how to best use that money. They actually have different ideas on the role the federal government should have in people’s lives. Democrats generally believe in a bigger role than Republicans. Those differences come into play when they’re trying to figure out how to budget the nation’s money.

In order to pass the budget, Congress — the Senate and the House of Representatives — need to agree, or at least come to a compromise. Currently, the Senate is controlled by Democrats and the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans. And they’ve found it maddeningly difficult to work together.

The government shutdown happened largely because of a huge sticking point over a healthcare program called Obamacare (it’s technical name is the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act). It passed into law a few years ago, but it went into effect Tuesday, the same day as the deadline to pass a budget.

House of Representative Republicans don’t want to fund this big new national and mandatory health care program. They’re the keepers of the government checkbook and budget legislation originates with them. In the budget they proposed they said they won’t write checks to fund Obamacare. The Senate responded to the House of Representatives saying they won’t sign the House of Representatives’ budget because it doesn’t fund Obamacare. Total impasse.

This went back and forth … until their deadline to figure this out by Monday at midnight came and went. And now both sides blame each other.

The consequence of missing the deadline is that the government partially shuts down until Congress figures it out. Keep in mind, you have your state and local government as well and they’re not part of this.

Members of Congress continue to get paid but the people most hurt by the shutdown are every day Americans — it’s their tax money AND they elected Congress to figure these things out for them in the first place. Regular citizens will also feel the impact of the government shutdown most.

The Role of the UN Ambassador / ABC News

What Does the U.S. Ambassador at the United Nations Do?
June 20, 2005 —

The U.S. mission to the United Nations was formally established on April 28, 1947. The United States has its own representative with the title of ambassador. An ambassador is a diplomatic official accredited to a foreign country or government, or in the case of the United Nations, an international organization, to serve as the official representative of his or her own country.

What does the United States ambassador to the United Nations do?

Simply put, U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations — or “permanent representatives,” as they are called — represent U.S. interests. The No. 1 duty is to keep the U.S. State Department informed of events at the United Nations. The ambassador then makes recommendations to the State Department and the president as to what course of action the United States should pursue.

How are they chosen?

U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations are approved by the Senate after being nominated by the president.


Are American Teens Getting Healthier?

The Teens Are Alright (Healthwise, at Least)

U.S. teens are getting healthier, and, it seems, are doing what they’re told when it comes to eating right and exercising more.

Between 2001 and ’09, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows, teens became model health citizens. According to a national survey involving 9,000 students in grades six to 10, adolescents were more physically active, enjoyed more fruits and vegetables, ate breakfast, limited dessert and watched less TV. And all those healthy habits paid off.

While body-mass-index (BMI) measures (an indication of body fat using weight and height) of U.S. adolescents grew between 2001 and ’06, it remained stable from 2006 to ’09, suggesting that average BMI readings among teens are leveling off.

Weight stabilized for both boys and girls although there were slight differences between gender. Boys were more physically active than girls, but girls spent less time in front of the TV or computer.

The authors of the report say campaigns to promote exercise among adolescents and decrease screen time may be responsible for some of the positive behavior changes; pediatricians who discussed the benefits of lifestyle changes with their patients also helped. Improving interactions between doctors, nurses and their teen patients can potentially accomplish even more in helping adolescents to understand the importance of making lifestyle changes to their health — and sticking with them for a lifetime.

MORE: To Help Teens Lose Weight, Fold Talk Therapy into Health Class


Read more:

Reducing Prejudice in Kids / NPR

To Reduce Prejudice, Try Sharing Passions And Cultures


Sharing passions can help erase ethnic prejudice. No word if that includes a passion for NCAA basketball.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

People can become less prejudiced, but it’s not entirely clear how we make the journey from hatred to acceptance.

Something as simple as a shared passion for The Catcher in the Rye can help, researchers say. So does getting an inside look at the other person’s culture, even if only for a few minutes.

Researchers at Stanford University set up an experiment where a Caucasian or Asian student met a Latina student. Unbeknownst to the Caucasians and Asians, the Latina student was part of the research team. She had been given detailed information about the other student’s interests gathered weeks before. And the info was quite specific about that person’s passions, like a rare documentary or a particular song, not just general things like, “Oh, I like Harry Potter.”

Other studies have found that even sharing a birth date is enough to make people feel positive about someone, and that was the case here, too. The students who shared a passion felt more socially connected than those who didn’t have a shared interest.

Simple enough. But what the researchers really wanted to find out is if learning about a person’s culture and actively participating in it would affect ethnic prejudice. “Culture tends to be so rich,” says Tiffany Brannon, a postdoctoral student in psychology at Stanford who led the study. “It’s a source of meaning, self-motivation and pride.”


Would coming up with a new idea for a video for Camila make you less prejudiced about Latinos?

To find out, the researchers asked 58 of the students to work with their new Latina friend to design a new music video for a pop song. The students were given a choice between a Canadian rock band and a Mexican band, Camila. They all chose Camila.

Some students were told the group was popular in Portugal and given information about Portuguese culture, like dance moves, while others learned about aspects of Mexican culture, like the fact that the band’s music was used in a telenovela. The students who were socially connected to the Latina student and learned about Mexican culture reported less anti-Latino prejudice after the experiment, even though the video project only took 15 minutes.

But wait, there’s more! The researchers then repeated this experiment with another 58 students, the only difference being they were told that they had to use the band Camila. That didn’t go over so well. The students who were given the chance to choose the band were less prejudiced after the experiment. They were also more enthusiastic about Mexican culture.

“Sometimes when people come up with multicultural activities in the classroom or in the workplace, it does feel forced,” Brannon told Shots. “I’m doing this because I have to, rather than it’s something that I’m interested in.”

The researchers tested participants’ attitudes six months later, as part of a survey on a variety of issues. The students who had been socially connected with the Latina student and were involved in Mexican culture continued to express enthusiasm for learning more. The resultswere reported in the journal Psychological Science.

“We’d like to get some evidence on how this would work in a real-world setting,” Brannon says. “Does becoming involved in another group’s culture reduce prejudice in the real world?” She’s also looking into whether the experience is positive for the person who’s the ethnic minority, too.

Most States lack Disaster Evacuation Plan for Kids / Andrew Miga AP


Eight years after Hurricane Katrina, most states still don’t require four basic safety plans to protect children in school and child care from disasters, aid group Save the Children said in a report released Wednesday.

The group faulted 28 states and the District of Columbia for failing to require the emergency safety plans for schools and child care providers that were recommended by a national commission in the wake of Katrina. The lack of such plans could endanger children’s lives and make it harder for them to be reunited with their families, the study said.

The states were: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

“Every workday, 68 million children are separated from their parents,” Carolyn Miles, Save the Children’s president and CEO, said in a statement with the group’s annual disaster report card. “We owe it to these children to protect them before the next disaster strikes.”

After Katrina exposed problems in the nation’s disaster preparedness, the presidentially appointed National Commission on Children and Disaster issued final recommendations in 2010 .calling on the states to require K-12 schools to have comprehensive disaster preparedness plans and child care centers to have disaster plans for evacuation, family reunification and special needs students.

Idaho, Iowa, Kansas and Michigan do not require any of the four recommended plans, the study found, while D.C. and the remaining states each require one or more of them.

The number of states meeting all four standards has increased from four to 22 since 2008, the report said. The group praised New Jersey, Tennessee, Nebraska and Utah for taking steps over the past year to meet all four standards.

Save the Children said it found gaps in emergency preparedness during a year when school shootings devastated Newtown, Conn., Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast and tornadoes ravaged Oklahoma.

Miles said such disasters “should be a wake-up call, but too many states won’t budge.”

A spokeswoman for the National Governors Association declined comment on the report, referring questions to the various states.


Civics for Kids / News.ComAU

Green activists hope to replace your steak with … edible algae

The latest innovation in urban farming: fresh spirulina paste being placed into jars in Bangkok.

AFP/Getty Images

The latest innovation in urban farming: fresh spirulina paste being placed into jars in Bangkok.


On a hotel rooftop in Bangkok, dozens of barrels of green liquid bubble under the sun – the latest innovation in urban farming.

Proponents of the edible algae known as spirulina say it could help provide a sustainable source of protein as an alternative to meat.

Three times a week, Patsakorn Thaveeuchukorn harvests the green algae in the barrels.

“The algae is growing so fast, normally the doubling time is around 24 hours,” said Patsakorn, whose employer EnerGaia uses Bangkok’s rooftops to grow spirulina.

With its high levels of protein and nutrients, “it is beneficial to food security,” he told AFP.