Rice Cereal Controversy: Does It Make Kids Fat?

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(PALO ALTO, Calif.) -- For 50 years, many pediatricians have recommended that parents initially feed their solid food-ready babies white rice cereal -- a gluten-free, and an allergy-free option, that most babies find easy to digest.

But Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford University, who started a campaign called "White Out," is out to turn that long-held belief on its head.

"I have been studying nutrition very carefully for more than a decade now and one of the things that I have become convinced of is that white rice cereal can predispose to childhood obesity," said Greene.  "In fact I think it is the tap root of the child obesity epidemic."

Besides its touted digestion benefits, Greene said white rice cereal is also high in calories and made of processed white flour.

"The problem is that it is basically like feeding kids a spoonful of sugar," said Greene.

Instead, Greene advises that whole grain solid foods, such as pureed fruits and vegetables combined with whole grain cereal instead of white rice is a healthier option for babies.

"The difference between white rice and brown rice is huge," said Greene.  "White rice is basically 94 percent starch.  Brown rice though is 25 percent other stuff: protein, essential fats, and minerals, all kinds of good stuff."

Greene launched his "White Out" campaign in 2010 with the goal to entirely rid stores and babies bowls of white rice cereal by Thanksgiving.  While the campaign has attracted thousands of parents to join the cause, some experts and even the baby food industry itself aren't buying the claim that starting a baby on white rice cereal could lead to childhood obesity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Text Messaging Actually Good for Young People?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LONDON) -- For many teachers and parents, those text abbreviations may spell the end of literacy as we know it, but a growing body of research indicates that text messages can actually help students' ability to spell.

In a study to be published next month in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Clare Wood, a senior lecturer in the psychology department at Coventry University, and her colleagues recruited 114 students ages nine and 10 who had never owned a cell phone. They gave half of the students cell phones to use on the weekends and holidays and, during 10 weeks, the researchers tested students in both groups on reading, spelling and phonological skills.

The researchers found no difference between how students in the two groups performed.

"There was absolutely no sign that it was problematic," said Wood.

She said it's likely that this study was too short for the benefits of texting to be apparent, but added that another longer-term study to be published later this year in the British Journal of Psychology showed that texting significantly boosted the growth of literacy skills.

The study included 119 students aged eight to 12 who use cell phones, and looked at the relationship between their texting habits and performance on reading, spelling and phonological skills tests. The researchers tested students at the beginning of the academic year, analyzed a sample of their text messages and then tested students again at the end of the academic year.

Wood said the results of that study found that the use of text abbreviations was driving spelling development. They even reversed the analysis to see if it was the good spellers who tended to use text abbreviations, but found that relationship was unidirectional, she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Dietary Guidelines Being Released; Call for Less Salt Intake

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will release the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans on Monday.

By law, the USDA and HHS reviews and updates the guidelines every five years.  This latest version includes several updated recommendations, most notably in sodium intake.

The government is asking nearly half of the U.S. population to cut the amount of sodium they ingest daily to 1,500 mg or less.  Those affected include African Americans, adults over the age of 51 and people suffering from hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.  For everyone else, the daily sodium intake remains at 2,300 mg.

Other recommendations include:

-- Encouraging less intake of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, although no changes were made to the actual amounts recommended.

-- Reducing the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.  New recommendations will be stronger than those set in the 2005 Guidelines.

-- Consuming protein from a variety of sources, especially from seafood.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Critics: USDA Deregulation of Mutant Alfalfa Threatens Organic Foods

Alfalfa field. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The nation's organic farmers are sounding the alarm after an Obama administration decision they say could destroy their supply chains and drastically limit the choices and availability of some popular consumer foods.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided last week to allow the widespread, unregulated use of genetically modified alfalfa, commonly known as hay, which is the primary feed for dairy cows and beef cattle across the country.

Opponents argue that the mutant crops, engineered to survive by being sprayed with insecticide, could escape from their fields and eventually cross-pollinate with and contaminate neighboring organic crops.  That could mean less organic feed for the organic cows that produce a range of organic products.

"Consumers don't eat [genetically modified] alfalfa, of course," said Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, which examines the U.S. farming and food industry.  "But it's the main feed for dairy cows.  And organic milk, one of the most successful and popular organic foods, could be compromised if the organic cows eat non-organic feed."

Some environmental experts are also concerned that broader planting of herbicide-resistant crops, which are then doused with powerful chemicals, could expedite the spread of "superweeds," which are herbicide-resistant pests that force farmers to potentially use more toxic substances to root them out.

"This is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem," said Pollan, who noted more than 90 percent of alfalfa crops are grown without an herbicide.

Many organic farming advocates speculate that the new Roundup-ready alfalfa is an attempt by the crop's commercial producers -- Monsanto and Forage Genetics International -- to dominate the market and increase profits.

But Monsanto, the nation's leading producer of genetically modified seeds and popular herbicide Roundup, said Roundup-ready alfalfa has been welcomed by many farmers because it yields "healthier, faster-growing stands [plantings] and hay with fewer weeds in every bale."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Does Facebook Make You Jealous, Unhappy?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PALO ALTO, Calif.) -- Is Facebook making you sad? Do you look at your friends’ status updates and pictures and think their lives are more exciting than yours?

New research out of Stanford University says we often compare ourselves to others and think that they are leading more fulfilling and happy lives. And while that may not be a new phenomenon, social media may be making it worse.

A PhD student at Stanford conducted a study to find out how happy we think our friends are, and whether we’re right. He and his fellow researchers asked college freshmen to estimate how many positive and negative experiences they think their friends are having.

Turns out the students overestimated their friends’ quality of life.

In a separate study, researchers found the more that people overestimate how happy their friends were, the more upset they are with their own lives.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Designer Drugs Masquerade as 'Bath Salts,' Worry Officials

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Across the country, chemicals that can commonly be found in things like pond scum remover and plant food are being smoked and inhaled with very scary results. While certain drugs like marijuana bring a high, these drugs can bring unintended hallucinogenic effects.

Health officials from the Gulf Coast to California have seen cases of people smoking drugs with names like "ivory snow" and "vanilla sky," that mimic symptoms of schizophrenia. Authorities say people on these drugs will see things that are not real, and in extreme cases, commit suicide, like one man from Louisiana who shot himself after smoking one of the bath salts.

The drugs are deceptively packaged because of their ingredients, but have still become highly popular.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal has placed a ban on the product.

"These drugs have crept into our communities and they are hurting our kids. We have to do everything in our power to protect our children and to make sure our streets are safe for our families. The reality is that the chemicals used to make these dangerous substances have no legitimate use other than to provide a high for the user. Make no mistake – these are very dangerous drugs and we must get them off our streets," Jindal said.

In the first week of January when Jindal made the announcement, the state had already seen 165 cases related to bath salt drugs, which represented over 50 percent of all cases in the country. Jindal has since contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration to ask for a federal investigation.

In a majority of states, however, these deceptive drugs are still legal. The DEA says while it can look into the drugs, it would take years to classify them as illegal. The drugs are still easily available online and in stores across the country.

While there is little the federal government can currently do, DEA officials say state bans may be the most effective method of combating this deadly problem.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Aging Can Be Reversed in Mice, But What About Us?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Scientists have found that by tweaking the genes of mice, they are able to slow, or even reverse the process of aging. With just a few changes, the animals were able to regenerate brain cells, and their fertility was able to be restored. Alternatively, mice aged prematurely when those changes were made in reverse order.

A report, published in the weekly online science journal Nature, shows that scientists hope similar results may be possible for humans down the road. The scientists who published the report, working out of the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, worked with the chromosomes that are found inside the nuclei of all cells. By transforming the protective part of the chromosome, which guards the cell from diminishing, scientists could either accelerate, or reverse the aging process.

Some scientists say the study can be beneficial if the process eventually leads to cures for things like heart disease and diabetes, which become more debilitating with age.

So far the study has been restricted to mice.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Experts Worry 'Serial Parenting' Could Cause Emotional Pain for Kids

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Forty-two percent of adult Americans have some sort of "step" relationship with either a sibling, parent or child -- that's nearly 100 million Americans, not including children. Nearly 17 million men are stepdads, and 14 million women are stepmoms.

This data, from a recently released report from the Pew Research Center, has some worried that such "serial parenting" could become a source of long-term emotional pain for affected children.

"Though not all kids are negatively affected by serial step parenting, we do know it can carry an emotional residue that can impact them both now and in the future," said Ron L. Deal, co-author of The Remarriage Checkup and a family therapist in Amarillo, Texas. "Studies show that kids who've had multiple parents tend to have a harder time emotionally, psychologically and academically."

Bobbi McDonald, a family therapist in Newport Beach, Calif., who has worked with celebrity families, said that dealing with multiple parental personalities can sometimes create a lack of consistency and skew children's expectations of unconditional love.

"They can respond by either becoming accommodators or closing themselves off," said McDonald. "Either way, this has implications for how they approach all of their relationships as they move forward in life."

Serial parenting, however, isn't always a bad thing for children. Mariesa Stokes, an account executive in Alabama, had two stepmothers and two stepfathers growing up, and said that though she was confused at first, she came to view it as an advantage.

"They always put my needs first in the relationships and were first and foremost always there for me. I could go to different ones for different things, which gave me a lot more options than kids who had just two parents."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nebraska Eyes 'Power Hour,' Excessive Drinking Ban

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LINCOLN, Neb.) -- Nebraska lawmakers are aiming to kill the buzz for excessive drinkers across the state.

Legislators are considering a bill that would ban so-called power-hour drinking on 21st birthdays. At the same time, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission has proposed a ban on high-risk drinking games and promotions.

LB294 in the Nebraska Legislature, introduced by Sen. Russ Karpisek, would prohibit alcohol sales immediately after midnight to people on their 21st birthday. The other measure being considered would ban games and promotions such as beer pong and “bladder busters” that encourage intoxication in bars.
The target of both measures is binge drinking, which the United Health Foundation defines as five drinks for a male and four for a female in one sitting. According to the nonprofit agency, the Cornhusker state has the sixth-worst drinking record in the country, with 18.5 percent of the state population age 18 and older regularly binge drinking. The national average is 15.7 percent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Frontal Lobe Injury Therapy May Benefit Psychopathic Patients

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HAIFA, Israel) -- New research has revealed similarities in emotional deficiencies between people who have suffered frontal brain injuries and people diagnosed as psychopathic, according to HealthDay News

Researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel suggest that therapy used to treat frontal brain injuries could also benefit psychopathic patients.

"Seeing as psychopathic behavior is similar to that of a person with brain damage, it could be that it could benefit from similar forms of treatment," study author Dr. Simone Shamay-Tsoory said in a news release.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio