Chewing the fat about Sea World

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

Last week, our family visited Sea World. Friends of ours had gone the week before and warned us about the hot weather and the crowds. They were correct.

Our Sea World visit began with the Sky Tower, which took us on a 400-foot-high ride over the park for a bird's-eye view. As the ride rotated slowly, vistas of Sea World and much of Orlando appeared. My husband, Jimmy, forgot that he was not a fan of heights until we were about 200 feet up. My, were his eyes big.

Next, we walked over to Shamus Happy Harbor for the "Believe" show, which proved to be amazing. The combination of black-and-white video (indicating times past) and music told the story of a boy intrigued with killer whales. In an early scene, he carved a piece of wood into the shape of a whale tail, which he then put on his necklace. Next, he was on a beach, where he spotted a killer whale in the ocean. Running to a canoe, he paddled out towards the whale, which jumped into the air as he stared in amazement.

The story then cut to today: a man wearing the same necklace is standing at the top of the bridge in a wetsuit ready to swim with the killer whales. In this story, the boy has realized his dream of doing just that.

"Believe" is about believing in dreams and having them come true.

One of the trainers, Laura Surovik, highlighted on the Shamu Web site, says, "The motivation to produce "Believe" was driven by our daily mission to achieve the impossible, .. We want to inspire that same passion in our guests."

What a great mission, I wish them success. Many of the guests we saw might fare better if they were inspired not so much with a passion to achieve the impossible, but with a passion to exercise.

There was a distinct contrast between the trainers' physical fitness and that of the spectators. The trainers, wearing wetsuits, are in great shape, running from side to side of the large tank during the show, diving and swimming in the tank and running up the stairs.

In comparison, the people who filled the stands appeared to be a representative sample of America, where two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese.

As we all know, becoming overweight or obese is due to an energy imbalance, more calories are consumed than expended, so diet as well as activity are important. It is a constant struggle for many, myself included.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for adults and children since the mid-1970s. Data from two National Health and Examination Studies (1976 - 1980 and 2003 - 2004) show that in adults aged 20- 74 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 15.0% to 32.9%. Children follow this same trend with 13.9% of 2 to 5-year-olds, 18.8% of 6 to 11-year-olds, and 17.4% of 12 to 19-year-olds being overweight.

In addition, the CDC states that "being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats like cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and breathing problems and some cancers."

Clearly we have not only a health-care crisis in our country, but a health crisis.

A recent article in the "New England Journal of Medicine" titled, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years offered some intriguing insight. It determined that weight gain in one person appears to be associated with weight gain in that person's friends.

The authors offered possible explanations, including the increased social acceptability of being overweight or obese. On a hopeful note, they state, "Network phenomena might be exploited to spread positive health behaviors."

There is however some good news for those of use who live in the normal world, have normal jobs and other obligations. "The biggest impact of physical activity on improved longevity and quality of life can be achieved by almost anyone," according to Dr. Steven Blair, an internationally recognized authority on exercise and its health benefits, and professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "If a person simply walks 10 minutes, three times a day, five days a week, then they will improve their aerobic fitness, feel better, and reduce the risk of chronic disease."

The good news is that most people visiting Sea World probably achieved this level of activity walking around the park. The question is will they continue to be active in their every day lives?

I believe that we do in fact influence those around us, and that we should all strive to be positive role models, recognizing that we are human and have failings. We can all strive to be healthier simply by walking more and eating less. After all, it is not only good for our own health, but might be good for our friends' health as well.

Copyright © 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

Will Oprah propel Obama to the Presidency?

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

It's no secret: Everyone who wants to sell anything wants to be a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. They may not admit it but they do.
Authors, experts, actors and politicians all hope and believe that, if they appear on the show, they will experience the Oprah effect, a rapid increase in sales and popularity from the 49 million viewers who tune in each week.

Oprah does a wonderful job of welcoming guests to her show. Only those people who are not authentic or who have something to hide need worry about a potential negative experience (just ask James Frey, the author of A Million Little Pieces). This can be contrasted with other shows (Stephen Colbert, Ali G or Don Imus), where guests know there is a pretty good chance that the host will get the best of them, but believe the media exposure is worth the risk.

Oprah stepped up her support for Barack Obama's presidential bid this past week when she announced she will host a fundraiser for the senator from Illinois at her home on 42 acres in Montecito, Calif., aptly named "The Promised Land." Congratulations, Senator Obama.

For $2,300 (the legal amount one person can give), you can attend the September 8th event. If you can raise $25,000, you can stay for a VIP reception. The full treatment, including dinner with Obama and Oprah, is reserved for those that can raise $50,000 or more.

There is not expected to be any shortage of guests willing and able to come up with and raise the requisite amounts.

Oprah set the stage for the event last October, when she introduced Obama to her audience this way: "My guest today is a shining example of what is possible if you live your life with fierce hope.

That appearance helped Obama launch his book, "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream", to the top of the best-seller lists. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 30 weeks. Today it is listed at number 30.

With three quarters of her viewers female, Oprah has the ability to reach voters in their dens and kitchens on a personal basis. Where President Roosevelt used fireside chats to connect with people during the war, Oprah has created a new, open, personal communication style.

As Vanity Fair wrote, "Winfrey saw television's power to blend public and private; while it links strangers and conveys information over public airwaves, TV is most often viewed in the privacy of our homes. Like a family member, it sits down to meals with us and talks to us in the lonely afternoons. Grasping this paradox, ...She makes people care because she cares. That is Winfrey's genius, and will be her legacy, as the changes she has wrought in the talk show continue to permeate our culture and shape our lives."

Oprah's gift of communication and empathy allows people to connect with her on a personal basis. Oprah conveys such warmth and care that many in her audience believe that if they were to run into her on the street, she would be just as interested in their story as she is in the stories of her guests.

Oprah understands her ability to connect with people, answering a question last May on Larry King about whether she would run for office. "You know that is not going to ever happen," she answered. "I feel that the platform that I hold, the chair in which I get to sit in every day and speak to the world, is of far more value to me than any political office could be."

"Value in that I get to speak to people's hearts and get to connect with people all over the world," she added.

Oprah's list of accomplishments runs long and includes winning multiple Emmy awards, leading the highest-rated talk show in history, and being the world's only African- American billionaire. In addition, Oprah is the most philanthropic African American, and has been listed four times on Time Magazine's list of the world's most-influential people.

After reading her accomplishments, you too might understand why she would not want to trade her current position for political office.

Yes, Oprah has helped boost many people's careers, including Obama's. The question is can she propel him to the presidency?

Copyright © 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

Resting Up

A Day of rest and recovery.

Today consisted of being pampered at the Divani Apollon Palace Spa & Thallasso Center.Quite a treat - expectially after walking 26.2 miles the day before. If you ever get the opportunity to go, I would HIGHLY recommend the facility. Lovely staff, gorgeous place, interesting salt water pool with massaging jets that really felt good on my sore feet and legs.

Late afternoon activities included shopping at Plaka and then dinner at the Grande Bretagne Hotel. It is a very nice hotel.The food was good, the view of the acropolis at night even better - not to be duplicated. A must if traveling to athens.

All in all a great way to celebrate after the successful completion of the marathon!

Below is a picture of Cynthia, Phyllis, Kathy and me with the acropolis in the background, Jeanne was back at the hotel catching up on sleep.

Cynthia, Phyllis, me and Kathy at the Grande Bretagne Hotel with the Acropolis in the background

Going to Ballet Class

By Jackie Cushman

Published by The Northside Neighbor

I had thought about going to a ballet class for over a year, and finally got up my nerve.

Tonight after I fed my children I began to get dressed in my old ballet clothes  My tights had holes in them and were to short in the crotch.  My guess is that they were my sisters' tights as I have not gotten taller and can still fit into my high school jeans.  I dressed in plain black tights and an orange long sleeved leotard with a skirt.  It was either that or the sleeveless royal blue leotard with the piping on the skirt, bust and dropped waist.  I was once caught outside wearing it in my front yard by a neighbor driving by, let's just say she almost wrecked she was laughing so hard.

I went a bit early to class hoping to catch the dance store still open and thank goodness it was.  I was able to change from my orange skirted leotard to pink tights and a plain purple leotard.  Now I was ready to begin.

There were a few dancers lined up outside the door to the studio. We were waiting for the class before us to finish, the piano music was coming through the door and the expectant students were stretching and talking.  I felt a bit like an imposter as most were younger and thinner than I am.  But I held steady and did not cut and run.

Once the prior class was over we moved into the studio and took our places at the bar.  Again the other students began to stretch.  This time I joined in and began to feel my muscles loosen up.  The teacher, not recognizing me, asked if I was new, I replied that I had not danced in a while (I forgot to mention that I quit dancing before she was born).

The teacher seemed satisfied with my answer and proceeded to move along at a pace that appeared to be more intermediate than beginner, but I was able to keep up (at least my feet if not my arms and head) by following the dancers in front of me.  It became a bit tougher once we moved to floor work and routines after the first 45 minutes.  We would go in groups of 2 or 3 and I would try to go last and in the back.

Our teacher was very helpful and encouraging, giving me a few tips on how to improve, but not criticizing. She taught everyone differently based on their level and ability (more than I can say for most business managers, but I daresay she loves her work and her students are their by choice, this is not always the same case in business).

After class my legs were trembling and I headed home for advil and a hot bath to combat the sore muscles.  My favorite part of my whole night was coming home and seeing my first graders note on my pillow "Mommy I hope you had fun at ballet class tonight.  I love you."

Sweetheart, I did have fun. Love Mom.

It was fun and exciting to be dancing again.  It has been twenty-four years since my last ballet lesson, longer than my babysitter for tonight has been alive. I have to admit that I am thinking of going again.

By the way, the classes at the Atlanta Ballet are one of the best deals in the city 1.5 hours of instruction for $14 ($13 if you purchase a series of 10).  Maybe I will see you there next week.

Copyright © 2006 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

Tell Junior to put down his burger and watch the debates

By Jackie Cushman

Published on

This week, two articles regarding studies focused on children caught my attention because they highlighted everyday activities in children's lives in America, fast food and TV/video. The Los Angeles Times' headlines were: "Kids prefer McDonald's-wrapped food, study finds and "'Baby Einstein': a bright idea?"

The fast food branding study in the first article, (Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children's Taste Preferences), included 63 lower-income preschool children aged 3.5 to 5.4 years of age.

The study noted that the "children tasted 5 pairs of identical foods and beverages in packages from McDonald's and matched but unbranded packaging and were asked to indicate if they tasted the same or if one tasted better."

The hypothesis for this study was that the "children would express no preference."

The study results indicated that "children preferred the tastes of food and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald's."

The study noted that the effect was greater the more TVs in the child's home and the more frequently the family reported eating food from McDonald's.

The report also noted that there were 2.4 TVs per home and 57% of the children had a TV in their bedroom.

My guess is that most parents would have been able to tell you without the study that, yes; children do prefer food that they have seen advertised. Of course advertising works, that's why companies advertise. The study states that the food and beverage industry spends more than $10 billion per year to market to children in the United States.

The question that the study does not consider is when and how often parents will drive their children to McDonald's and purchase the food for them. We can assume that most 4 year olds do not get themselves to a McDonald's and purchase their food on their own.

The second study "Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years" was completed to "test the association of media exposure with language development in children under age 2 years."

This study was conducted through telephone surveys to parents. The study states that "Questions were asked about child and parent demographics, child-parent interactions, and child's viewing of several content types of television and DVDs/videos." Parents were also asked to complete a word inventory for their child.

The study categorized Television, DVD and video viewing into four categories: baby DVDs and videos; educational TV programs ("Sesame Street" and "Arthur"); children's non-educational programs ("Sponge Bob Square Pants" and "Toy Story") and adult television ("The Simpsons" and sports programming).

The results indicated that, among infants (age 8 to 16 months), for each hour per day they spent viewing baby DVDs/videos, the children knew six to eight fewer words than did children who watched no such programs.
Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies on toddlers 17 to 24 months of age.

These same researchers (Frederick Zimmerman, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, and Andrew Meltzoff), published a paper last spring that showed that by, 3 months of age, 40 percent of infants are regular viewers of television, DVDs or videos, and by the age of 2, 90 percent are regular viewers.

"I would rather babies watch 'American Idol' than these videos," said Dr. Christakis, one of the researcher for the study, explaining that there is at least a chance their parents would watch with them and parent interaction does have developmental benefits.

This quote led me to wonder, if watching "American Idol" is better than watching a baby DVD, and if, as Newt Gingrich has said, the presidential debates are "a cross between [TV shows] 'The Bachelor,' 'American Idol' and 'Who's Smarter than a Fifth-Grader,' would babies be better off watching presidential debates?

In a response to an e-mail, Dr. Christakis put his quote in context, noting "parents should spend quality time with infants, speaking parentese, reading, playing and interacting with them, as opposed to using video products marketed as items that supposedly claim to make babies "smarter" with titles like "Brainy Baby," "Baby Einstein," etc. "contrary to the marketing push for video stimulation for babies, which many parents mistakenly think provides a benefit, there appears to be no benefit and in fact there may be a reduction in language development."

Both of these articles remind us that raising a child is a responsibility and that the way that responsibility is carried out will have great impact on his or her development. Parents' opinions and knowledge will shape the way children view healthy and unhealthy foods. Parents get to decide whether they are going to the McDonald's drive-through and whether the babies will spend their time watching baby Einstein or interacting with others. Part of what we need to pass down to our children is a sense of personal responsibility.

Remember, all things in moderation, especially TV and fast food.

Copyright 2007 by Jackie Cushman
All Rights Reserved

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