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young people with heart disease

Every semester, I have my Management Communications 320 students do an online writing assignment on a company discussion board.   I give them a case involving discussion of an elementary school’s parent-teacher organization’s proposal for a new hot-lunch menu sponsored by fast-food chains.   This case is based on my own real-life experience with my children’s charter school.   (The students are supposed to be learning about communicating through conflict and diverse opinions in the workplace.)

The various stakeholders in the case have interests in (a) fundraising for the PTO, (b) an easier schedule for busy parents who don’t want to make lunches, and (c) a vociferous minority concerned about the kids’ nutrition. My students (who are bright upperclassmen accepted into a top-tier business school) inevitably write about kids being “hyper” in the classroom and rotting their teeth.   That’s all most of them seem to know about nutrition, I find as I grade dozens and dozens of papers.

An article on Reuters yesterday says U.S. and Canadian researchers studied 425 autopsies in Minnesota over the past 23 years, of young people dying  ”unnatural” causes (suicide, accidents, etc.).   According to the joint effort by the Mayo Clinic and the University of British Columbia, over 83 percent of them had the beginnings of heart disease!   Just in case that didn’t impact you, let me say again (louder) that OVER 83 PERCENT OF THEM HAD HEART DISEASE.   And over 8 percent of them were in an advanced stage of heart disease, as published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois editorialized on the study: “It was more or less a perfect storm.”   He blames that perfect storm leading to very young people with heart disease on four things: a sedentary lifestyle caused by computers, fast-food chain growth and larger portion sizes, reduced physical education in schools, and increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.   “It led to this explosion of obesity,” Olshansky said.

I believe that other factors are at work as well in the “perfect storm.” First, in addition to corn syrup, MSG has become pervasive in the food supply, causing damage to metabolism and overwhelming cravings for more junk food.    Second, as more and more people gain weight, overweight people and junk food everywhere have become the “new normal.”   A size 12-14 is now average (considered “healthy” by many) for women, which is a first in  history.

Dr. Philip Mellen is another researcher in Mississippi whose work is published in the same journal.   His team surveyed health and diet statistics of a large federal study and came to similar conclusions as the Mayo Clinic group. “In our study, the youngest age group was the age group with the worse disease,” Mellen said. “This age group will have major problems as they continue to age.”   Mellen states that his research shows the American diet has dramatically deteriorated just in the past 15 years.

Our children’s diet high in refined fats, sugars, and animal products, and low in raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and whole grains, are causing problems much more significant than dental decay and hyperactivity.   Researchers in the Minnesota study predict a rise in heart disease as this generation ages.

Start where you can in helping and encouraging a whole-foods, plant-based diet for families and children–your own and anyone else’s you may help and influence.   We shouldn’t have young people with heart disease.

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