Feb 22

Thirty million obese children in the U.S. might be slimmer and healthier if they read more, according to the findings of a recent study by the Duke University Medical Center. The “Study of Children’s Literature and Healthy Lifestyle” found that obese girls from 9 to 13 years old who read an assigned novel decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) seven times more than girls in the program who were not assigned a book to read.

The results of this study seem counterintuitive since sedentary lifestyles are pointed to as one of the major causes for childhood obesity and reading isn’t exactly an aerobic activity. In this case, though, the assigned reading was a fiction novel with an overweight heroine who creates a healthier lifestyle for herself. Presumably, the heroine became a role model and her success in the story inspired readers to create success for themselves.

It makes sense that a fictional character could make this kind of impact, considering how much teens are influenced by fictional characters in movies. A 2006 study by Dartmouth Medical School found that the more movies that children watched in which alcohol was consumed, the more likely they were to start drinking alcohol while they were still in their teens. Dartmouth researchers also found that the children who most often observed smoking in films were twice as likely to start smoking themselves.

So if the real-life behavior of teens and pre-teens is influenced greatly by entertainment channels, it only makes sense that messages that combat the growing childhood and teen obesity epidemic would be best delivered through an entertainment medium that has an impact on them.

This is exactly the logic that led a 14-year old boy in Georgia to create a fitness plan for himself that was inspired by his favorite video games. He called it “The Ultimate Fitness Game” and, with the same gaming strategies he had used to rack up high numbers on a video game scoreboard, he started creating low numbers on his bathroom scale. Three years after taking on the starring role in a three-dimensional game of his own creation, Taylor LeBaron has lost – and kept off – 150 pounds, half of his highest body weight of 297.

“As soon as people started noticing my weight loss, I began to hear, ‘How did you do it?’” Taylor wrote in his book, “Cutting Myself In Half,” which explains his Ultimate Fitness Game. “They were looking for my secret so they could lose a lot of weight too.”

“The secret is: There is no secret,” LeBaron writes. “Weight loss isn’t quick. It isn’t easy. And gimmicks don’t work for long.”

LeBaron believes that taking it slow is one of the most important strategies that can help other obese teens. “Naturally we all want fast results – we’re the DSL generation,” he says in his book. But trying to achieve too much too fast with weight loss is a big mistake, in his experience. Putting it into video gaming terms that teens can relate to LeBaron says, “In gaming, that’s called ‘overlocking’ – running your processor at a faster speed than it’s rated. That burns up the processor and can ruin it permanently.”

The teenage desire for instant gratification is not an easy mindset to reboot, however. Perhaps that’s why there is so much discussion going on about using gastric band surgery as a treatment for obesity in teens. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that gastric band surgery resulted in obese teens losing more weight more quickly. This surgical approach, however, is controversial because it creates a drastic change to a child’s physiology, and there are no statistics about what kind of long-term effect those changes might have on their overall health and well-being.

Instead of making drastic surgical choices, First Lady Michelle Obama is working to encourage obese children to make drastic lifestyle changes instead with her “Let’s Move” program. The First Lady is challenging children to take one hour out of the usual seven that they spend in front of electronic entertainment each day to work on achieving the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. The award is given to children who achieve exercise goals five days per week for six weeks.

Speaking about exercise, Obama said, ‘There are so many ways that we can make this fun, make it a competition, have the rewards be really cool. And kids respond to incentives.”

That’s a philosophy that LeBaron agrees with wholeheartedly. That’s why he thinks about everything in his own fitness regiment in gaming terms. Calories are money. Unhealthy food is the enemy. Eating healthy food gets energy points. The overall score is measured in weight loss. Just like the First Lady says, LeBaron made it fun, made it a competition with himself, and the rewards, so far, have been much “cooler” than he could have imagined. LeBaron has discovered that permanent weight loss is all about attitude.

In January, Taylor LeBaron was one of ten teens who were chosen by Coke to carry the Olympic torch in the relay leading to the 2010 Vancouver games. As an obese video gamer he couldn’t walk to his mailbox without getting winded. As a physically fit “Ultimate Fitness Gamer,” the 300 meters he ran with the Olympic torch in his hand was “the most incredible distance I’ve ever traveled,” LeBaron said in his blog.

According to the Journal of Obesity, if things keep moving the way they have been in the United States, 86% of men, women, and children will be overweight or obese by the year 2030. For future generations, that statistic would resemble the tragic life depicted in the Disney movie, “WALL-E.” For Michelle Obama, that statistic would represent a “move” in the wrong direction. For Taylor LeBaron that statistic would mean one thing for the population of the United States of America… “Game Over.”

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Jan 14

In the aftermath of a Haiti disaster, Miracle on the Hudson survivors will still commemorate the one-year anniversary of the day that 155 people took a swim in the Hudson River along with a commercial airbus, two life rafts, and a whole lot of plastic inflatable life vests “stowed underneath your seat in case of a water landing.”

That’s what was happening on January 15, 2009. What’s happening in the days surrounding January 15, 2010 is very different. The attention of the world is focused on Haiti, and the human drama that is playing out there. But that shouldn’t dim the celebration that is still legitimately joyful, and filled with book signings, reunions, celebrations, speaking engagements, and lots and lots of media attention for 155 Hudson crash survivors.

We need to remember things like the Miracle on the Hudson during tragedies like the Haiti earthquake because we can only make it through the disasters by keeping focused on the hope of a better future. Hope is what the Miracle on the Hudson made us all feel, and that’s what we can legitimately allow ourselves to feel again one year later.

This one-year anniversary is an important and meaningful time for everyone who played an integral part in creating a real-life miracle. In a different way, it is equally important and meaningful to everyone else who watched with awe as the drama unfolded before the eyes of the world, as if it was the ultimate reality show. In great contrast to the Haiti earthquake disaster, the Miracle on the Hudson was a disaster avoided. And it’s important to remember what that feels like.

Those who felt renewed in their faith can remember and feel that faith again. Those who were filled with appreciation for how precious life is can remember and feel that appreciation again. Those who were reassured that there are still heroes – like Captain Sully Sullenberger, Jeff Skiles, New York Waterway boat crews, first responders, firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and Red Cross volunteers – can remember and feel reassured again. Those who were filled with awe about breath-taking moments that shouldn’t happen – but somehow do – can remember and be filled with awe again.

Those who want to feel uplifted will be lifting a glass during the official toast at the crash site. Those who have an insatiable fascination for near death experiences and second chance lives will be standing in lines to meet the survivors who wrote their own stories for the Miracle on the Hudson anniversary book, “Brace For Impact.” Those who want to feel inspired again started the week watching the “Brace For Impact” documentary on TLC, and will be listening intently to the interviews and speeches that are happening all week. Those who have lost interest will probably ignore everything and miss a rare opportunity to participate once again in something extraordinary.

Some anniversaries – like September 11, and now the Haiti earthquake – are thrust involuntarily upon us. But most anniversaries are commemorated by choice because of the positive feelings they help us recall. The Miracle on the Hudson will be an anniversary celebration of choice for millions of people for many years to come. It represents the best of the human spirit, the highest form of fate, and the fairy tale ending that we want to believe can happen for us all. It reminds us that even the devastating collapse of physical structures in Haiti cannot collapse the structure of the human spirit.

Happy anniversary to a miracle! And many happy returns.

More on the Miracle on the Hudson Anniversary:

Miracle on the Hudson Anniversary Book
Brace for Impact Second Chances Writing Contest

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Jan 11

January 11, 2010 – Even at the one-year anniversary, it’s difficult for many Miracle on the Hudson passengers to understand why strange coincidences led them to be seated on a plane that plunged into the middle of the Hudson River. But it seems very clear to Dr. Ray Basri why a series of coincidences led him to be the only attending physician in a ferry terminal full of plane crash survivors that day one year ago.

“It was give back,” Dr. Basri says without hesitation. After being an early responder to the 9/11 attacks, and a first-week volunteer for Hurricane Katrina, Basri figures that his participation with the Miracle on the Hudson survivors was a gift from the universe. “Divine presence was saying, ‘Here you are, have a good experience. Here’s a good one for you.’”

When a commercial aircraft lands in the middle of a river, there’s nobody you’d like to have on hand more than Dr. Ray Basri, who is a medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration, a volunteer firefighter, a physician, and a member of the World Trade Center medical monitoring team. Basri would be at the top of any disaster assistance personnel list. Unfortunately, though, Basri’s Middletown medical office is more than 60 miles from the West 38th Street ferry terminal where most of the crash survivors were being taken.

By coincidence, however, on January 15, 2009 Basri had driven to Manhattan to pick up some equipment he needed for fire department medical screenings. It’s not an errand that he would normally have time to do himself, but he needed the equipment the next week and there was nobody else to send. “It was unusual,” Basri said about his Manhattan errand, and then added, “It was really freaky.”

After he picked up his medical equipment, Basri got in his car for his trip back to Middletown, and turned on the car radio. He heard news of the crash of US Airways flight 1549, which had just happened minutes before. Basri realized he was a half mile away from the West 38th St. ferry terminal, and without hesitation, he informed his local fire control of his location and headed towards the scene, following behind another emergency vehicle that was speeding that way as well.

The short drive was chaotic, and reminiscent of what Basri had encountered when he made the trip to the World Trade Center on 9/11. “I couldn’t help but think about the last time I was racing down this road, heading to the Twin Towers,” Ray wrote in “Brace For Impact,” a that is being released on the anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson crash. “I oriented myself toward this new potential disaster… blunt trauma, deceleration injuries, near drowning, hypothermia… I was readying myself,” he wrote. In other words, Dr. Basri was braced for impact himself.

Prepared for the worst, Dr. Basri was shocked to find nothing but the best when he arrived at the ferry terminal. The calm, subdued, and rather upbeat vibe in the room was a stark contrast to what he had encountered at the scene of the World Trade Center. “At the Twin Towers I was in a state of shock at how graphically terrible the scene was,” Basri recalls. “There I just wanted to walk around in circles because it was so surreal.”

“It was totally different at the ferry station. The terminal is brand new – shiny glass and chrome. Everything was very well organized. Everyone except one flight attendant had already been triaged green,” Basri recalls. “I remember thinking that this was an amazing thing.”

Although there were plenty of EMT’s at the ferry terminal, Basri realized that he was the only physician. There were no apparent injuries to treat, but he still wanted to be a hands-on physician. Because of his disaster response experience with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, he knew that non-physical injuries such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD) were a possibility, so he thought he could assist with some emotional healing instead. “I walked around the room to let everyone know that there was a physician available, and asked if they needed any help,” Basri said.

In making his rounds around the room, Basri made two connections that were part of his own miracle on the Hudson. The wife and mother-in-law of one of his practice patients, Diane Higgins and Lucille Palmer, had been flying to Charlotte on flight 1549. At age 85, Palmer, it turns out, was the oldest Hudson crash survivor. The best part of the hands-on doctoring that Basri did on January 15, 2009 was when he did a quick exam of Lucille, took off her wet shoes and socks, and rubbed her feet to warm them up.

Dr. Basri said it was energizing to be involved in a potential disaster that had such a positive outcome. Though his contributions at the scenes of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were immensely rewarding, they had taken an emotional toll on him. “It was a miracle that I was in the right place at the right time [for the plane crash]. But I don’t think I could have taken another 9/11,” Basri wrote in “Brace For Impact.”

His experience with these extraordinary disasters has given Basri an “expanded sense of contribution.”

“My work with 9-11 opened my eyes. Working on Katrina is where everything got solidified,” Basri says. “I realized that my skill set is unique and I have been spoon fed things along the way to prepare me. That makes me the likely guy to be asked, and therefore I should be the guy who says ‘yes.’”

In contrast to his dramatic involvement with dramatic world events, Dr. Basri’s participation with the Miracle on the Hudson survivors may seem almost mundane and inconsequential. It may seem that way to everyone except for Basri. At the one-year anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson, Basri is clear that it was equally important for him to have been involved in a potential disaster that had a definitively positive outcome.

“Finding a miracle when I expected a tragedy… celebrating life and not facing death… being in the right place at the right time…” These were the miracles on the Hudson for Ray Basri.

When TLC aired a documentary called “Brace for Impact” on January 10, 2010, Dr. Basri was watching. When Flight 1549 survivors gather at the New York ferry terminal to celebrate the anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson on January 15, 2010, Dr. Basri will be part of the celebration. Basri will also be participating in two book signings for the “Brace for Impact” book staged by the Red Cross this week. Even though he wasn’t a passenger in a life raft or standing on a wing, participating in these Miracle on the Hudson anniversary events is important to him.

“With each anniversary of 9/11 a lot of painful emotions are reinforced,” Basri says. The anniversary of Flight 1549, by contrast, “gives us all a lot to savor as we relive it,” he says.

More About the Miracle on the Hudson Survivors:

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