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Sedentary Kids: The Funniest Public Service Announcement (PSA) Video EVER

This is the funniest public service announcement I’ve seen in as long as I can remember. Congratulations to the creative communications team at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons for putting this together!

© American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Back story: I met Sandra Gordon, Director of Public Relations, at the AMA Medical Communications Conference (where I was faculty) and where she presented this video. After the show I approached her to say how surprised many of us were that Orthopaedic Surgery was leading the way in creative PR – and that it was quite unexpected. The PSA had almost a hint of Monty Python humor to it.

She responded with out batting an eye: “Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!”

How cool is Sandra?!

A Hospital Closes Because Staff Don’t Want To Walk Too Much?

I volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) a half-day per week. I’m inspired by the soldiers in the occupational and physical therapy center, and am continually amazed by their abilities. The other day I watched a soldier with an artificial leg climb a rock wall better than I ever could, and marveled at a man who had both legs amputated above the knee – he was ambulating almost without a limp, and with the help of a straight cane alone.

As I watched these wounded warriors learning how to maximize their functional abilities – I overheard a staff member explain the reason why the Walter Reed hospital building is closing in 2011.

Apparently WRAMC is built on land owned by the District of Columbia. In an effort to subsidize the over-budget subway system, the city purposefully disallowed sufficient parking spaces to be built on the WRAMC site. The idea was to force staff to take the subway to WRAMC. The closest subway is a 20 minute walk from the hospital.

In addition to the limited parking, DC imposes a height restriction on all buildings in the district – they cannot be taller than the Washington monument.  Therefore as Walter Reed grew and expanded, they could not add any floors to the hospital, but had to construct additional buildings on campus.

And so, in about three years time, Walter Reed will shut down, moving their remaining staff to the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where there is plenty of parking and no building height restrictions.

I’m not sure what the total cost of moving the army hospital to the navy center will be, but I’m guessing in the hundreds of millions. How much did the staff complaints about not wanting to walk to work play into all of this? I don’t know, but I’ve seen them drive in as early as 5:30 am to get one of the few parking spots. This attitude is consistent with Americans’ general unwillingness to adopt an active lifestyle, and it’s costing us all so much more than we realize.

It’s possible that laziness dealt the final blow to Walter Reed: a facility created to get people active again after war injuries.

How Ironic.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Obesity Is A National Security Issue

Photo of Steve Simmons, M.D.

Dr. Richard Carmona

I’ve interviewed Dr. Richard Carmona (the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, and former EMT, nurse, and surgeon) several times on this blog and have been intrigued by his insights and approaches to health. In our most recent interview, he discussed obesity from a provocative new angle: national security.

Dr. Val: What do you mean that obesity is a national security issue?

Dr. Carmona: There are many competing interests on Capitol Hill – the war, the economy, etc. and obesity is something that just doesn’t get enough traction. When I was serving as Surgeon General, I realized that obesity was acting as an accelerator of chronic disease and was the number one health threat to our country. But after several failed attempts to get attention focused on this issue, I realized that I had to present the message in a unique way in order to get it to resonate.  It occurred to me that if I used different language to describe the threat, people would allow me to connect the dots and explain the problem fully.

Retaining EMS, police, firemen, soldiers, sailors, and airmen has been challenging because many of them  can’t pass their physical fitness tests due to obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Health is therefore inextricably tied to national security. Describing the health threat in these terms helped legislators to understand the complex ramifications of the condition.

Dr. Val: How rigorous are these fitness tests? Are we talking about soldiers not being able to run a 5-minute mile, or is it less challenging than that?

Dr. Carmona: The fitness tests are based on research from the Cooper Clinic in Texas and include a measure of aerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility.  There are standardized minimums based on gender and decade of age, and although I don’t have the exact minimums memorized for each age group, they’re very reasonable. We’re not talking about having to run a 5 minute mile. More like having to run a mile and a half in 15 minutes or having the flexibility to touch your toes in a seated position. As far as push-ups are concerned, the qualifying range is about 20-45.

Dr. Val: One of my blogger friends relayed a story recently about a surgeon who asked his hospital cafeteria to serve healthy options instead of fried food. They responded that no one would buy the healthy food and they’d go out of business – so economic necessity required that they continue to serve unhealthy food. What would you say to that surgeon?

Dr. Carmona: I’d invite that surgeon to come out to Canyon Ranch where we serve healthy gourmet meals every single day.  Our chefs are very innovative and entrepreneurial – they make healthy food taste delicious, and at a cost-effective price.  Americans need to learn how to make healthy food delicious. My friend Toby Cosgrove is a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, and he was able to spearhead a healthy food initiative there that has been very successful.  We strive to find new and creative ways to prepare healthy food at Canyon Ranch – and are always coming out with new recipes and cookbooks to keep people interested in healthy eating.


I caught up with Dr. Carmona at the STOP Obesity Alliance briefing about the new GPS  (Guide for Policy and Program Solutions) initiative. Please click here to learn more about the STOP Obesity Alliance.

The Friday Funny: Genetics & Weight Gain

Why Is McDonald’s Yellow? The Role Of Environment On Eating Behavior

Photo of a Hamburger and fries

I’m grateful to the Happy Hospitalist for pointing out that color matters when it comes to food consumption. As it turns out, blue light can be an appetite suppressant. And I actually know about this first hand.

I helped to design a research study in connection with Architectural Digest and the Parsons School of Design several years ago. I was a volunteer instructor for a hospital design course in NYC, and wanted to show the students that lighting could influence eating patterns. As it happened, there was a big gala event at a local convention center, and so I worked with my friend Shashi Caan to set up three identical rooms bathed in three different colored lights (yellow, blue, and red).

We had all the gala attendees dress up in white bunny suits (you know, the kind you let patients wear in the OR) and shuttled them through the 3 rooms at regular intervals. The rooms could each hold about 40 guests and copious identical hors d’oeurves were offered.

Guess what we found? The most food was consumed in the yellow room, followed by red, and then a distant third was blue. About 33% fewer snacks were consumed in the blue room during the event (and yes we controlled the number of people in each room so they’d be equal). I found this quite fascinating, but unfortunately never published the results. You see, I didn’t receive IRB approval for any of it.

But the experiment did leave an indelible impression on my mind. As I thought about it, I realized that most fast food restaurants have yellowish interiors. From the golden arches to the lighting – companies like McDonald’s probably recognized (long before I did) that color influences purchasing and eating behavior.

Yep, I’m late to this party – and I’m not painting my kitchen yellow.

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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