- Created on 27 September 2013
New York (CNN) -- The classroom walls tremble as a room full of 8-year-olds bob heads, shrug shoulders and wriggle around in sync with the thud of the bass.
An emcee runs up to the front of the room and yells "hip," to which the children respond, "hop." And with that, the "party" has begun.
This is obviously not a typical class. It is more like what one organizer calls, "a party with a purpose": a program called Hip Hop Public Health, which uses music as a vehicle to communicate health messages to children.
"Music is an extremely powerful medium," said Dr. Olajide Williams, founder of the program. "Great poets have described music as being the bridge between heaven and Earth, but I see music as the bridge between health education and the streets."
For nearly a decade, Hip Hop Public Health has taken public health messages -- which, let's face it, can sound boring if you're a kid (or an adult, for that matter) -- and transformed them using clever rap lyrics and infectious beats.
When Williams -- whose day job is chief of staff in the Department of Neurology at NY-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center -- had the idea of fusing hip-hop and public health, his next thought was that he needed serious help.
"I'm really hopeless," he said, laughing. "I'm a neurologist; I'm not a rapper."
Williams needed a partner, someone with hip-hop credibility, which he knew was essential to get through to inner city children.
After a relentless pursuit, Williams scored a major coup when legendary rapper Doug E. Fresh (also known as the "Human Beat Box") agreed to work with him.
Their first project, in 2005, was presented at 10 schools in Harlem, teaching children how to recognize a stroke.
The main instrument of the interventions was a video populated by colorful animated characters doing a dance called "The Stroke."
The song's catchy refrain is, "If he don't sound right, then he's doing the stroke. Sway when he walks, then he's doing the stroke. Slur when he talks, then he's doing the stroke." It then urges the children to "call 911" if they recognize those symptoms.
After several months, the pilot program seemed to be working, according to Williams.
Not only were kids excited -- yes, excited -- to learn about stroke, they tended to share the messages they learned with family members at home.
In addition, there are several stories of children saving family members in the grips of a brain attack. One child recognized that his grandmother was having a stroke and called 911, saving her life.
"That's the power of children, the potential role that children can play within the public health chain of survival," Williams said. "That (story) has always stayed with me, and that's one of the things that really keeps me going."
With the stroke program, Williams realized he had tripped over a powerful communication model that could work for a whole host of diseases and conditions.
So, he deepened his bench, adding rappers like Easy A.D., a former member of the Cold Crush Brothers; Chuck D of Public Enemy; and D.M.C., of Run D.M.C., to his roster.
The crew then dug into one the of the most pressing health problems facing minority communities: obesity.
The challenges are formidable.
Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data indicate that obesity rates are falling overall, but the rates among Hispanic and African-American children are still troublingly high. Those children also tend to live in areas saturated with fast food chains, with little access to healthy foods.
"Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S.," or Healthy Eating and Living in Schools, the program Williams and his rapper colleagues developed, tries to chip away at those issues.
"Everyone remembers their favorite song growing up," said Easy A.D., director of programming for Hip Hop Public Health. "Even if you're 5, 6, 7 years old, you always remember the words, the melody, how it made you feel when you listened to it.
"That's what we're doing with our program," he added. "We take health messages and attach them to good feelings, good memories, and that makes (children) incorporate those messages into their lives."
In one video titled "Watch Your Calories," a cartoon character, voiced by rapper Artie Green, admonishes two children who are about to eat fatty fast food meals to "stop right there for a second. Before you super-size that No. 5 now, check it. See, there's a whole lot of stuff in that meal you don't need."
A menu appears, showing the sugars, carbohydrates and fats contained in their meals. An embedded message in the video is menu board literacy, providing children whose main option may be fast food with the information they need to make healthier choices.
Williams admits that teaching children the importance of cooking meals at home and purchasing healthy groceries would also be effective, but he says that teaching "caloric literacy" can also provide a substantive impact.
For example, he says, cutting 100 calories a day using better menu board literacy could translate to a few thousand calories over a few weeks.
"These small changes are meaningful, and on a population level, these small changes could have very significant impact," he said.
Another video developed for the obesity program teaches children how to achieve their anaerobic threshold, a measure of optimal performance while exercising.
The video, titled "Hip Hop FEET," uses a set of musical beats as a measuring stick for how effectively a child is exercising.
If they breathe before the beats count is up, they are over-exerting themselves. If they don't breathe enough, that means they're not trying hard enough. And if they breathe once at the conclusion of the beats, they've hit their anaerobic threshold.
It is a complex concept simplified for young people.
"It's using hip-hop in a positive way, to have real impact," Doug E. Fresh said. "We use beats that make you really wanna move. You're not just gonna sit there; you wanna get up and do something."
As it turns out, the programs for healthier eating and exercise are doing much more than simply making children move.
Peer-reviewed studies conducted by Williams and colleagues found that immediately after caloric literacy interventions, children changed their food purchases.
"We found that caloric purchases declined by about 25%," Williams said. "So they were buying more healthy items as a result of the intervention."
The lingering question for this intervention -- and for the Hip Hop Public Health program more generally -- is how to sustain this change.
After reaching tens of thousands of children in New York, Hip Hop Public Health got a shout-out -- and a request to collaborate -- from the Partnership for a Healthier America, whose ambassador is first lady Michelle Obama.
What evolved from that partnership is an album, releasing Monday, called "Songs for a Healthier America."
The album moves the songs beyond hip-hop into other genres (some of the artists contributing to the album include Ashanti, Travis Barker and Matisyahu) and will be distributed, along with a curriculum, to schools nationwide.
Williams is convinced the model that began in New York, with a neurologist and a few rappers, could make a powerful impact in schools across the country.
"This really teaches us how impressionable kids are and how we have an opportunity to shape their behaviors at a young age," he said.
- Created on 26 September 2013
President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md. The president is promoting the benefits of his health care law before new insurance exchanges open for business next week. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
LARGO, Maryland (AP) -- With just five days to go before Americans can begin signing up for health care under his signature law, President Barack Obama on Thursday ridiculed Republican opponents for "crazy" doomsday predictions of the impact and forecast that even those who didn't vote for him are going to enroll.
With polls showing many Americans still skeptical of the law known as "Obamacare," the president went back to the basics of explaining how nearly 50 million uninsured Americans will be able to buy coverage in new government-run exchanges while mocking Republicans for trying to block its implementation. "The closer we get, the more desperate they get," Obama argued.
"The Republican party has just spun itself up around this issue," Obama said. "And the fact is the Republicans' biggest fear at this point is not that Affordable Care Act will fail. What they're worried about is it's going to succeed."
House Republicans are inserting provisions that undermine the health care law into a short-term spending measure needed to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1 and into legislation that would increase the government's borrowing ability, which the Treasury says will hit its limit in mid-October.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that Obama is trying to sell the law to a skeptical public.
"It must be frustrating for the president that folks seem to keep tuning out all the happy talk anyway," McConnell said. "This law is a mess. It needs to go. It's way past time to start over."
Obama won loud applause from a friendly audience at Prince George's Community College in the Washington suburbs when he vowed that he wouldn't let Republicans block the law. "We are going to see it through. The Affordable Care Act is here," Obama said.
The six-month enrollment period for the exchanges starts Tuesday, with consumers in most of the country able to comparison shop between plans online. The Obama administration needs millions of Americans - especially young, healthy people - to sign up in order to keep costs low for everyone.
The White House said Prince George's County, Md., has a high rate of uninsured, with about 16 percent of residents under 65 without insurance. Obama's audience was full of the young people he is targeting for enrollment.
Obama acknowledged there would be glitches in getting the exchanges up and running, and even as he was speaking administration officials were quietly telling key interest groups to expect initial problems signing up online for coverage. Small businesses will not be able to enroll online starting Oct. 1 when new health insurance markets go live and will have to enroll by paper, and the Spanish-language version of its healthcare.gov website will be not be ready to handle enrollments for a few weeks. An estimated 10 million Latinos are eligible for coverage.
Three-and-a-half years after Obama signed the bill into law, his nearly hourlong speech showed he's still having to educate consumers about what will be available to them and convince them to sign up. He predicted success once people learn they can save money or get insurance for the first time.
"Even if you didn't vote for me, I'll bet you'll sign up for that health care plan," Obama said.
Obama said Republicans want "to shut this thing down before people find out that they like it."
Obama didn't call out any of his Republican opponents by name, but he laughingly taunted some of their arguments. He mentioned House Speaker John Boehner's prediction right before the bill was signed into law in March 2010 that "Armageddon" was impending. He quoted Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, who said earlier this month that "Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress." He cited Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's appeal to colleagues on the House floor six months ago to "repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens."
And he quoted New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O'Brien's declaration in August that Obamacare is "a law as destructive to personal and individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850." That was met by a chorus of gasps and boos from the largely black audience.
"Think about that. Affordable Health Care is worse than a law that lets slave owners get their runaway slaves back," Obama said. "I mean, these are quotes. I'm not making this stuff up.
"All this would be funny if it wasn't so crazy," Obama said.
- Created on 25 September 2013
If you're a caffeine addict, join the club. Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world. Caffeine is considered a drug because the effects of caffeine can change the way you act and feel. And like other drugs, you can also get addicted to caffeine and have withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it.
Effects of Caffeine
Caffeine does have some benefits. It wakes up your brain and makes you feel more alert. Caffeine also can boost your energy level and keep you from feeling tired for a while. The effects of caffeine take about 30 to 45 minutes to occur. They last for eight to 10 hours.
The side effects of caffeine at higher doses include restlessness, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. Withdrawal symptoms from high doses of caffeine can include headache and fatigue. Too much caffeine can cause your heart to beat faster. It can increase your blood pressure. Caffeine can also cause you to become dehydrated because caffeine is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of urine you put out.
Coffee is what comes to mind when most people think "caffeine." Many items contain caffeine (energy drinks, teas, and some foods) but about 75 percent of the caffeine consumed in America comes from drinking coffee. That's not a bad thing because drinking coffee has been linked to a lot of benefits recently. These may include a decreased risk for:
Parkinson's diseaseStrokeProstate cancerDiabetesDepression
But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Most of the benefits of drinking coffee come from ingredients in the bean other than caffeine. When it comes to the caffeine itself, there is a limit to how much is beneficial.
Amounts of Caffeine in Food and Drinks
Coffee may be the most common source of caffeine, but there are a lot of other sources. Cup for cup, tea has about half as much caffeine as coffee. Other sources include colas, energy drinks, over-the-counter medicines, chocolate, gum, and some snack foods.
When it comes to the amount of caffeine in drinks, don't try to guess how much by the size of your beverage. The amount of caffeine in coffee and tea depends on how they are brewed. Different brands can have different caffeine levels. One small energy drink could have the same amount of caffeine as a huge cup of coffee. You need to read labels.
You can get the complete list of caffeine amounts in food, drinks, and drugs at the website for the Center for Science in the Public Interest: http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm.
How Much Caffeine Is Safe for You?
Most people do not have to worry about cutting back on caffeine as long as they are staying under about 500 milligrams. That's about four cups of coffee a day. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the average American consumes about 300 milligrams of caffeine per day.
Most experts agree that getting more than 600 milligrams of caffeine per day is too much. But if you are sensitive to caffeine, even one or two cups of coffee could cause side effects. Children may be very sensitive to the effects of caffeine. For pregnant women, the safe limit is only 200 milligrams.
You may need to be extra careful about caffeine if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, or acid reflux disease. At high enough doses, caffeine can be deadly for anyone. A lethal dose is about 10 grams, which would be about 100 cups of coffee.
It's all about moderation. If you don't overdo it, caffeine can have some benefits. But I wouldn't recommend that you start a caffeine habit for the benefits. Remember that most of the health benefits from drinking coffee will also come from drinking decaf.
- Created on 24 September 2013
We're never spared the image a rock-hard pack of abs. But while we're busy being shamed for not having them, we're never told about how flab can have a big impact on your health. While belly fat may seem like more of a nuisance than a danger, this external marker is most likely the beacon of more serious internal, metabolic imbalances.
Here's some information that will help you get a handle on your belly fat.
Location, Location, Location
People store most of their fat in two ways – one you can see and one you can't. The fat you can see is just under the skin in the thighs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen. That's called subcutaneous (under the skin) fat. The fat you can't see is deeper inside, around the vital organs (heart, lungs, digestive tract, liver, and so on) in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. That's called "visceral" fat. Many people are self-conscious about the fat they can see. But actually, it's the hidden fat — the visceral fat — that may be a bigger problem, even for thin people.
Like Another Organ
We all have visceral fat — and it isn't all bad. It provides necessary cushioning around organs. But, the fat doesn't just sit there. It makes lots of nasty substances. And having too much of it is linked to a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer.
How You Get Extra Visceral Fat
When a body's obese, it can run out of safe places to store fat and begin storing it in and around the organs, such as around the heart and the liver. What kind of problem does that create? Fatty liver disease was, until recently, very rare in non-alcoholics. But with obesity increasing, you have people whose fat depots are so full that the fat is deposited into the organs. In addition, more fat is also being deposited around the heart.
Checking Your Risk
The most precise way to determine how much visceral fat you have is to get a CT scan or MRI. But you don't need to go that far to get a sense of whether or not the fat inside you is putting your health at risk. Get a measuring tape, wrap it around your waist, and check your girth. Do it while you're standing up, and make sure the tape measure is level. For the minimal effect on your health, you want your waist size to be less than 35 inches if you're a woman and less than 40 inches if you're a man.
Having a "pear shape" — fatter hips and thighs — is considered safer than an "apple shape," which describes a wider waistline.
Thin People Have It, Too
But even if you're thin, you can still have too much visceral fat. t's partly about your genes. Some people have a genetic tendency to store visceral fat. It's also about physical activity. Visceral fat likes inactivity. A British study showed that thin people who maintain their weight through diet alone, skipping exercise, are more likely to have unhealthy levels of visceral fat. So the message is get active, no matter what size you are.
4 Steps for Beating Belly Fat
There are four keys to controlling belly fat: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.
1. Exercise: Vigorous exercise trims fat, including visceral fat. It can also slow down the build-up of visceral fat that tends to happen over the years. But forget spot-reducing. There aren't any moves you can do that specifically target visceral fat. Half an hour of vigorous aerobic exercise, done four times a week is ideal. Jog, if you're already fit, or walk briskly at an incline on a treadmill if you're not yet ready for jogging. Vigorous workouts on stationary bikes and elliptical or rowing machines are also effective.
Moderate activity – raising your heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times per week – also helps. It slows down how much visceral fat you gain. But to torch visceral fat, your workouts may need to be stepped up. Rake leaves, walk, garden, go to Zumba, play soccer with your kids. It doesn't have to be in the gym. If you are not active now, it's a good idea to check with your health care provider before starting a new fitness program.
2. Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first. A fiber-rich diet may help. Hairston's research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day — without any other diet changes — build up less visceral fat over time than others. That's as easy as eating two small apples, a cup of green peas, or a half-cup of pinto beans. Even if you kept everything else the same but switched to a higher-fiber bread, you might be able to better maintain your weight over time.
3. Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut eye helps. In one study, people who got six to seven hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept five or fewer hours per night or eight or more hours per night. Sleep may not have been the only thing that mattered — but it was part of the picture.
4. Stress: It's unavoidable, but what you do with your stress matters.