"Fat and Happy?"
Airdate: May 1, 2001
Obesity Begins at Home
Couch Potato Kids
Eat Less -- Live Longer
The Desert's Perfect Foods
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) To be slim... attractive... the
perfect shape. It's what just about everybody desires,
but most of us are missing the mark. Now, for the first
time in history, over fifty percent of all American
adults are overweight. One third of us are clinically
obese -- which means for an average person, 30 pounds
or more over the appropriate weight. It's not just a
question of fitting into the latest fashions, it's an
enormous medical problem. Doctors are calling obesity
an epidemic, with consequences -- like diabetes and
heart disease -- as serious and widespread as smoking.
In this program, we're going to report on new research
which suggests obesity begins at home, in childhood.
We're going to have lots to say about different foods,
and different eating habits. And we're going to look
at the potentially life-saving qualities being re-discovered
in some traditional Native American foods. But first
-- diets and weight loss. Is there anything that really
works? Don't touch that dial -- and the same goes for
the potato chips.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Dr. Blackburn understands
how difficult it is to lose weight. In recent years
he's lost 20 pounds, and he'd like to lose another 10.
Doctors need empathy, he says.
ALAN ALDA This is our…This
is going to be our empathy test here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) These empathy
suits are made to simulate about 40 pounds of fat. I
was too tall for mine, but George Blackburn showed me
what he wants doctors to learn.
DR. BLACKBURN Now what
we want to do, we can…
ALAN ALDA Well, you look really
DR. BLACKBURN Well, I...
ALAN ALDA It's a good
fit. So now, you would ask a doctor to wear this, right?
DR. BLACKBURN That's right.
ALAN ALDA And the doctor
would see how hard it is to put on a pair of pants and
a jacket, when you have this much bulk.
ALAN ALDA Be careful you don't topple
over them. This is a comedy suit. I know it's a serious
subject, but it's very hard to get into this without
laughing. You would need suspenders, why?
Because the belt would slide down.
ALAN ALDA I see.
DR. BLACKBURN See, you're hipless. But, crossing your
legs is essentially out of the question.
ALAN ALDA Yeah.
DR. BLACKBURN And getting your shoes on…
ALAN ALDA Yeah,
DR. BLACKBURN …you can't.
ALAN ALDA How much do
you think an average person should look forward to taking
off in how long a time?
DR. BLACKBURN Well, we're talking
about 2 to 4 pounds a month is a healthy weight loss,
one that you're likely to be to able to keep off and,
whatever you did to do that -- eat less and be more
active -- you could do for the rest of your life.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Laura has been working with Heather
McCormick, a nutritionist at Blackburn's center, for
4 months, and she's losing a modest 2 pounds a month.
Above all, Blackburn wants goals that are moderate and
realistic. HEATHER MCCORMICK Okay, good. You can let
it out. OK, you can step down.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Looking at Laura when she was young -- a little girl
of normal weight -- you might imagine that she now has
some kind of mysterious problem with metabolism. OK,
says Blackburn, let's be realistic here, too. So everyone
gets what's called their resting metabolism measured
- that's the energy our bodies use up just existing.
If it's normal, you can't blame your weight on glands
or something. At 2000 calories a day, Laura's metabolism
is absolutely normal. In Blackburn's program everyone
has to become more active. They check your condition
at every visit, about once a month. Activity has a double
benefit. It burns calories directly, and as muscles
develop more calories are needed just to run them. HEATHER
MCCORMICK Things like fried foods, the Chinese fried
rice, that kind of thing, you want to try to stay away
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Food diaries are another
part of the monthly visit. Heather's looking to make
helpful, small changes. Nothing extreme, nothing too
scary. HEATHER MCCORMICK One day you had, you know,
two ham and cheese sandwiches, and instead, you know,
maybe having one sandwich.
LAURA OK. HEATHER MCCORMICK
And then the potato chips, you want to try to stay away
from them and have something, you know if you need the
crunch, you know, carrots or pretzels or something like
crackers instead of the potato chips.
LAURA One of the
things that I was kind of nervous about was changing
the way that I eat and just cutting down all the portions
that I eat and going completely to salad all the time
or something like that. These are fears you get from
watching different fad diets and things like that. What
I really liked about Heather was she said, "Listen,
let's just take this one step at a time."
Get up here? HANNAH BOULTON Get on the scale for me.
OK. And you're not holding on anywhere?
ALAN ALDA No,
I'm not holding on. HANNAH BOULTON Alright. Well, we
ALAN ALDA But I'm exhaling. I'd like patch pockets
with a belt in the back.
DR. BLACKBURN Okay. HANNAH
BOULTON And you're not holding your breath?
No, I'm not holding my breath. HANNAH BOULTON It's instinctive.
It's instinctive. Another item I need from you -- this
is based on your age, your sex, your weight and your
ALAN ALDA You want the frequency of sex?
HANNAH BOULTON No, no, no.
ALAN ALDA Oh, I'm sorry.
HANNAH BOULTON I'd like to know your, er, age.
ALAN ALDA My age is 64. Same as my waist. HANNAH BOULTON
Alright. Well, no, your waist is much improved.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) I did have a little fun with the Center's
terrific staff, but there's a serious point here. Paying
detailed attention to weight like this is very unusual.
Most doctors never raise the subject, even with obviously
obese patients, and that's something that Blackburn
says has to change. My resting metabolism, by the way,
was normal. This is Diane Scott, a graduate of Blackburn's
DIANE SCOTT I was extremely overweight. I was
over 200 pounds. I was a heavy smoker. I rarely exercised.
I watched a lot of TV. I was constantly getting colds
and upper respiratory infections. It was a struggle
if the escalator was broken at the T -- and I work in
Boston -- to get to the top of the stairs. And I realized
I wasn't even 40 and I was just really compromising
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Working with the nutritionists,
Diane, who's an avid chef, learned how to greatly reduce
the fat in her cooking, while maintaining its appeal.
So for example, cornstarch with chicken broth is a nonfat
way of giving the same smooth texture in the mouth that
we get from high calorie fat or oil. We're going to
compare a George Blackburn-style of menu to a couple
of popular extreme diets.
ALAN ALDA What are you folks
ROBERTA DOWLING Oh, I'm starting the sauce for
the high fat diet. And what I have in here is some,
a little bit of butter, and then I'm going to add a
lot of heavy cream -- two cups of heavy cream, because
we're in high fat.
ALAN ALDA We've come into the enemy's
camp here. How long are you cooking the fish?
CHRISTIAN DOWLING Er, the fish will probably take five minutes
to cook. Um, and what we're going to do is basically
get a sear. This one I put in first.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Here's the first menu - very low fat, vegetarian. Grilled
portobello, pepper and onion burgers. Cucumber salad
with horseradish and dill. Pumpkin tofu cheesecake.
Looks pretty good to me.
ALAN ALDA In your opinion,
what's wrong with this diet? That sounds like a good
diet. I mean, if you can stick to it, it sounds great.
DR. BLACKBURN And that would be exactly our point, that
we have to have a diet that you can live with the rest
of your life. And this is the challenge. This is such
a departure from the normal food that people would see.
To adhere to this really requires a lot of motivation,
a lot of belief and a lot of training.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Menu 2 - high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate. Avocado
cream soup with bacon. Beef tenderloin with parsley
cream sauce. Fried Brussels sprout crisps. And strawberries
with heavy cream. Wow!
ALAN ALDA This is no fat…
DR. BLACKBURN No fat.
ALAN ALDA This is…
DR. BLACKBURN …all
ALAN ALDA All fat. Largely fat. What's good about
DR. BLACKBURN All that fat delays gastric
emptying, and therefore you fill up very fast. And therefore
it turns out that all the calories one consumes when
it's all protein and fat is about 1200 calories a day.
And you're so satisfied you don't want to eat one more
ALAN ALDA Right. But if you keep this up for
15 or 20 years, what do you do to your body?
Our greatest concern is that the delicate lining of
your arteries will be injured by that saturated fat.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) OK, here we're making Blackburn's
menu. He allows some fat, and he wants lots of different
ingredients, so flavors are complex and fun. He wants
you to like this food.
DR. BLACKBURN It's moderate in
its calorie intake per bite and it's nutrient very dense.
Variations of this diet people could tolerate you know,
every day of their life and enjoy it.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Because calories are moderate, you can eat enough volume
of food to fill up.
ALAN ALDA You know what Miss Piggy
says? Never eat anything larger than your head. That's…
I think that's a good idea.
DR. BLACKBURN Well, she's
got the serving sizes. If we can just get it to her
hand or her paw we'd be OK.
ALAN ALDA This is really
good. Well just enjoy yourselves. Now what's this?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) You find some unexpected treats on
a Blackburn menu - but in carefully modified versions.
CHRISTIAN DOWLING Basically a type of a trifle. It's
ALAN ALDA Trifle I happen to love. And
is this a safe trifle, or is this an ordinary trifle?
DR. BLACKBURN Listen, this is an anti-oxidant power
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's low fat, so a generous
portion's only about 200 calories.
ALAN ALDA That's
not too bad.
ROBERTA DOWLING This is a trifle that doesn't
have any cream in it.
ALAN ALDA No cream in this trifle.
DR. BLACKBURN Right. But just, you know, wait 'til you
taste the ambrosia of this, and realize you don't need
cream in it, you know, that it's...
ALAN ALDA Why does
that taste so good? What's in this?
It's a simple sugar syrup with fruit.
We want people to be chefs. We want them to have elegant
recipes, because by taking the time to have all these
ingredients, you get all the taste that a short cut
would require you put a lot of cream on it.
(NARRATION) Moderate dishes like these that you can
eat essentially forever are a key part of the Blackburn
strategy, because if you try to lose weight too fast,
hunger signals become very hard to resist. We don't
fully understand the mechanism, but our bodies naturally
try to maintain a particular weight. Depriving your
body of no more than about 500 calories a day is the
only way to avoid triggering those signals, says Blackburn.
Otherwise you'll just become a yo-yo dieter.
I've been a yo-yo dieter most of my life. I mean I've
tried the extreme diets of, you know... grapefruit juice
diets, and boiled egg diets, and cabbage soup diets.
I've tried Fen-Phen. I've tried the Atkins diet. And
a lot of them I was very successful at. I mean, I lost
a lot of weight. Some of them I lost more weight than
I have lost up to this point in time, but I never kept
it off. As soon as the diet ended, then the whole… all
the changes that I had made in my lifestyle to lose
that weight stopped, and I went right back to my old
ways of eating.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Diane's no longer
a yo-yo dieter because she's staying within Blackburn's
maximum weight loss limit of 4 pounds a month, equivalent
to 480 fewer calories a day - not enough to trigger
hunger signals. And because she doesn't feel deprived,
she knows her new way of life is permanent. Laura's
got that message, too.
LAURA It really is a lifetime
commitment. It's not, you can't just not have potato
chips now 'cause you're on a diet, you know. You really
need to make sure that, you know, instead of me picking
potato chips going forward that I have a carrot stick
or I have a piece of fruit instead. It's wanting to
be healthier and putting better things in my body, because
this is what I'm going to be walking around in for the
next, hopefully 50 more years at least, so…
BEGINS AT HOME
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Our next two stories
are about kids. Fifty years ago fat kids were virtually
unknown. Now one in four American children is obese,
and it's getting worse. They're heading for adult lives
of heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Somehow, our kids
have become too inactive, or they're eating too much,
LORI FRANCIS Hey guys, welcome back. Now do
you guys know why you're here today? GIRL To eat.
LORI FRANCIS Right. To eat lunch. Now, do you have to eat
everything on your plate? No, right, you can eat whatever
you want. Anything you don't want, you can leave it
on you plate, OK?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This classic
experiment explores our most basic relationship with
food - the judgment we have of the right amount to eat.
There are 5 children, between 3 and 5 years old. Their
lunches are the right size for this age group, about
400 calories. They're told to just eat what they want,
and as the meal ends, three trays still have food. But
a couple are almost empty, and they belong to the older
kids. That's because young kids listen to their bodies
telling them when to stop, whereas older kids and adults
are controlled by outside influences.
LEANN BIRCH As
kids get older, because we try to socialize them into
eating when it's time to eat and finishing what's on
their plate, they begin to really learn that there are
other things in the world that can control their eating.
JENNIFER FISHER OK, today these slices are going to
be about twice the size that they were in yesterday's
JEN SHUNK OK.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The next
day the same 5 kids come for lunch, but this time their
portions are doubled - much more food than they need.
And now the split between younger and older is obvious.
The two 5 year-olds have cleaned their plates - just
like you're supposed to.
LEANN BIRCH What children may
be learning when we serve them larger portion sizes,
and encourage them to finish those portion sizes, is
that that's the amount that's appropriate for them to
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) There's nothing wrong with
finishing your food - so long as what was on your plate
was the right amount.
LEANN BIRCH I would like a Happy
Meal with cheeseburger, a quarter-pounder with cheese,
a medium fries and a medium coke. SERVER OK. Thirteen
LEANN BIRCH Thank you.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Leann Birch, who has been studying children and eating
for 25 years, believes that our view of appropriate
portion sizes has been steadily going up.
What you see here is a Happy Meal, which has about 630
calories in it. This is for a young child -- probably
nearly half the energy that the child should have for
a whole day.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Large portions are
regarded as appropriate for adults as well, with the
trend to "super-sizing."
LEANN BIRCH The super-size
meal, which has about 1830 calories, would just about
do it for me for the entire day, with my 2000 calories.
And yet these are the kinds of portion sizes that are
out there that are supposed to be consumed in a single
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're back in the lab for
another experiment on kids' attitudes to food. We're
going to turn one of these foods into forbidden fruit.
JENNIFER FISHER In the beginning of this study we basically
are offering children a wheat cracker and a Goldfish
cracker, and we're offering them in equal amounts because
we want children to have the ability to have equal sort
of access to both of these foods.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
First they want to make sure the kids will at least
eat Goldfish. In fact they all eat a bit of both, but
not a lot of anything. But now, the status of Goldfish
is about to be transformed.
JENNIFER FISHER In the second
part, we're actually going to change the rules, so that
they can still have as many wheat crackers as they want,
but the Goldfish crackers are going to become off limits.
When I ring the bell, you guys are going to be able
to eat the Goldfish crackers, okay? So there are no
goldfish crackers until we ring the bell.
(NARRATION) For an agonizing 5 minutes, those delicious,
desirable, fantastic Goldfish are absolutely unobtainable.
JENNIFER FISHER In one more minute I'm going to ring
the bell, OK? Do you know what that means when we ring
the bell? OK.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) At last it's Goldfish time, and
you don't have to be a psychologist to figure out what
happens. The kids pig out. It's a forbidden fruit effect.
GIRL She got a lot.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Clearly this isn't the way to change kids' eating habits.
JENNIFER FISHER Paradoxically, restriction not only
is not an effective way of promoting moderation, but
it seems to promote the behaviors that parents intend
to avoid by using that practice.
LORI FRANCIS Do you
know what tummy that is?
That's an empty tummy, alright. What kind of tummy is
LORI FRANCIS You'd be full, right?
How do you feel right now?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In
our next experiment, we're working with kids who've
just had a meal. They shouldn't feel hungry.
LORI FRANCIS It's full. OK. We've got pretzels,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Now Elizabeth is shown
a large tray of snacks - chips, ice cream, cookies --
and popcorn, which she likes.
LORI FRANCIS …and chocolate
chip cookies. Alright? Now I need to go next door for
about ten minutes to do some work, alright? I'm just
going to leave this. This is extra food that we have.
If you don't want it, you know, you don't have to eat
it, but if you want to, you can eat anything you want.
And we also have this box of toys here, this pen here,
it's a drawing pen, so, you can write on that. So, I'm
going to leave this box with you and I'm also going
to leave the tray with you.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Elizabeth,
once left alone, behaves in a way that might surprise
you. She ignores the food.
LEANN BIRCH So far at least,
Elizabeth is…um…not terribly interested in eating.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It takes a while before, bored with
the toys, she finally gets around to trying just some
popcorn - her favorite food. Now take a look at Morgan.
When he's left alone he digs in. Here's the important
point. Morgan comes from a home where access to these
attractive sweet or salty snack foods is strictly controlled,
whereas Elizabeth is unrestricted.
LEANN BIRCH Parents
who tended to use a fair amount of restrictive feeding
practices -- namely parents who are concerned about
their kids consuming too many of these kinds of palatable
foods and who restricted their kids' opportunities to
eat those things -- actually had the children who ate
JEN SHUNK If you came home and had any one
of those snack foods without asking your parents first,
would they be upset? And when you have ice cream, can
you have as much as you want, or does your mom dish
out a certain amount for you?
MORGAN She dishes out
a certain amount for me.
JEN SHUNK And if you want more,
does she let you have more? No?
MORGAN Just one.
JEN SHUNK Just one.
LEANN BIRCH Restriction actually tends
to foster consumption in the absence of hunger in children,
and increased interest in the very foods that parents
think children shouldn't be eating, and conversely,
pressuring children to eat, er, healthy foods tends
to turn them off, with respect to those foods. So what
do you do instead? I would think, as a parent, that's
really the tough part. I think there are a couple of
things. One is, we need to help parents to understand
what are reasonable portion sizes for children, so that
parents have reasonable expectations about how much
foods kids need to eat. The other thing is we need to,
I think, help parents to appreciate how children learn
to like foods that aren't sweet and that aren't salty.
And the way that you do that is you have to, I think,
be pretty patient as a parent. We know that kids initially
reject a lot of new foods unless they're sweet or salty,
and it's only with repeated presentations, non-coercive
presentations, that kids learn to eat a lot of those
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Without that kind of perceptive
parenting, our kids are caught in two terrible traps.
First we say finish your food, then we put too much
food on the plate. Then we say that high fat, high calorie
snack foods are forbidden -- so kids want to binge on
them. But it gets worse. Take a look at our next story.
DEBORAH WATSON Come on, guys. Time for lunch.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is the Watson family, in
Buffalo, New York. It's summer, school's out, and the
kids are free to do what they want. Nine-year-old Taylor
is of course interested in seeing if she can annoy her
TAYLOR Dwight, how come you look like
a monkey when you eat?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But apart
from that, Taylor's going to have a lot to do this summer.
She's part of a University of Buffalo study looking
at the relationship between physical activity in kids,
TAMMY SCHOLL Hi Taylor, hi Deborah.
DEBORAH WATSON Come on in.
TAMMY SCHOLL How are you?
DEBORAH WATSON Good.
TAMMY SCHOLL Good to see you again. OK
Taylor, this is the activity monitor. It's just this
little box here. Take it out of this pouch. OK it's
just going to kind of be like a belt. You might put
it on your belt loops, through your pants, or you can
just put it right around your waist.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Taylor's going to wear the activity monitor for the
next 9 weeks. At the same time, the TVs and computers
in the house are going to have their activity monitored.
Every time one's switched on or off, that will be recorded.
And there's no cheating allowed. TV Hey. This isn't
working with just the two of us…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
So now there's a minute by minute record developing
of how active Taylor is, and how much TV and computer
time she puts in.
LEN EPSTEIN How'd the families do
TAMMY SCHOLL The families did great…
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The study was conceived by psychologist,
TAMMY SCHOLL …all the 24-hour recalls were
LEN EPSTEIN Now one-quarter of kids are obese.
That's doubling in the last 20 years. And part of the
reason for that, most people think, is the increase
in sedentary behaviors -- the amount of TV kids watch,
the amount of computer games kids watch. If you look
at prospective data you can identify which kids are
likely to become obese over the next five years as a
function of how much TV.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Ten-year-old
Brian MacDiarmid's another of the 13 kids in the study.
You can see what he likes to do.
SUE MACDIARMID How
did you do on the spelling bee, did you pass?
(NARRATION) While the kids had to wear their activity
monitors, the mothers were asked to keep careful track
of everything their children ate. The information was
called in regularly.
TAMMY SCHOLL Hi Sue, this is Tammy
from the University of Buffalo. I'm just calling to
conduct the 24-hour recall. And what was the first thing
that Brian had to eat or drink after he woke up?
SUE MACDIARMID OK, about nine o'clock in the morning he
had four mini waffles. He had about two teaspoons of
syrup with that.
TAMMY SCHOLL And was he watching TV
or on the computer or playing video games?
He was watching TV.
DEBORAH WATSON OK, Taylor, you need
to fill out your booklet.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
There were activity logs as well.
DEBORAH WATSON The
show ended at 8 o'clock.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Taylor's mother was surprised at how things were looking.
DEBORAH WATSON We had always thought that they really
weren't avid TV viewers, that maybe an hour here, two
hours here, an unusual day where there'd be more than
that. But when you looked at the numbers over the course
of a seven day period, we were somewhat astounded by
that, that our children could be spending 12, 15 upwards
of 20 hours or more a week in front of a television
or at a computer, not doing anything else, and that's
almost an entire day out of a 7-day period. So that
was kind of shocking for us.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) After
three weeks, all the activity monitors, TV and computer
records, and activity logs were compiled. It turned
out that the average time spent in front of the TV or
computer was 24 hours a week - three and a half hours
a day. So now they knew the normal behaviors of their
wired-up families, the researchers set about changing
the kids' activity levels.
LEN EPSTEIN It could be that
as kids become more sedentary, that eats into their
physical activity time, and they're not as physically
active, or it could be that a lot of kids when they're
sedentary are also eating.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) For
the next three weeks, the kids were asked to increase
their original TV and computer time by half - for Taylor,
9 more hours a week... And for Brian, 20 more hours.
They got a few dollars' reward if they succeeded, and
amazingly they all managed it. One result was that eating
in front of the TV went up a whopping 45%, on average.
Total calories consumed increased 10%, and physical
activity decreased by more than 2 hours a week. So it
seems TV and computers have a double effect - kids are
less active, and they eat more. For the final three
weeks the researchers reversed things. Now the kids
had to decrease their TV and computer time by half.
DEBORAH WATSON I think in many ways it was sort of a
culture shock for our family, because all of a sudden
this ubiquitous presence in the house, the TV that's
always on or on quite a bit, was gone. And initially
it was a little bit awkward and yet it was a very good
experience for us because, um, Taylor, for instance,
she rode a bike more, she read books more, she did more
athletic activities, be it swimming, whatever, playing
basketball. And we started to realize we really didn't
miss it that much.
TAYLOR Can you just clean the house
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In fact Taylor and all
the other kids found plenty to do. Not all of it was
physically active of course… But a lot was. The average
increase in activity was more than three and a half
hours a week, and they ate a few percent less, too.
LEN EPSTEIN In our study we found that about one-third
of the time that they reduced from being sedentary they
reallocated to physical activity. So if they reduced
20 hours a week, sedentary time, 7 hours were dedicated
now to being physically active. So you don't have to
have a one to one change, you don't have to take every
single minute you were watching television in being
physically active. But reallocation of one-third of
the time really produces most of the activity anybody
BRIAN'S DAD Right, turn.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
So the study revealed another trap our kids are falling
into. They could be more active, and eat less, but instead
they're becoming less active and eating more. It's a
trap that will last for life.
LEN EPSTEIN Kids who were
sedentary when they are young become sedentary adolescents,
become sedentary adults. Really active kids become active
adolescents and become active adults. So kids now who
are very sedentary are establishing a life long pattern
that would be very hard to break later. Now is the time
when they're kids to try to change their lifestyle,
and get them to be more physically active and less sedentary.
LESS -- LIVE LONGER
ALAN ALDA Hello… Hi Dr. Walford?
ALAN ALDA. Glad to meet you. How are you? I brought
ROY WALFORD Oh you did, great.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
I've come to see Roy Walford, in Venice, California.
For 30 years, Dr. Walford has been studying the relationship
between food and long life.
ROY WALFORD I think it would
be better if it were like whole wheat bread. Instead
of…I would say that's two slices of white bread.
ALAN ALDA Let's see what else I have. You probably don't
like this. Sometimes I like something crunchy while
I have a sandwich.
ROY WALFORD Well pretzels are empty
calories so, I don't like that.
ALAN ALDA How about
ROY WALFORD OK. That's all right.
Well this is all just for taste. How do you feel about
ROY WALFORD It doesn't add much in the way
of calories unless you use a huge amount.
(NARRATION) For Walford, watching calories is only one
of the keys. He believes if you eat less, you'll live
longer -- so long as you make sure that what you do
eat has high nutritional value. I'm aiming to make a
pretty lo-cal lunch -- no more than 500 calories.
ALAN ALDA You use a lot of calories getting the pickle jar
open you know.
ROY WALFORD Yes, that's the whole point.
ALAN ALDA This is about it. This is what I could…now,
now, let's see that wouldn't be enough though. I'd still
be interested in more. I'd probably eat five or six
of these pretzels. I would take the salt off the pretzels.
I don't like to eat a lot of salt. Then I would have
probably, to make myself feel better, I'd either have
about four ounces frozen yogurt or ah, if I was feeling
really healthy, health minded, I'd have an apple. Let's
say an apple.
ROY WALFORD OK.
ALAN ALDA I would give
myself the benefit of the doubt.
ROY WALFORD OK.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Now let's see what kind of nutrition
my lo-cal lunch delivers.
ROY WALFORD Let's see, turkey
breast-no skin, roasted is about as close, and you didn't
have half a breast but maybe a quarter of a breast.
You added a piece of tomato in that.
ALAN ALDA Yeah,
two little slices of tomato.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) When
you add it all up, I did fine on the calories -- but
that's about all.
ROY WALFORD What you had is deficient
in A, B12, C, E, folic acid and panithinic acid. Among
minerals it is deficient in calcium, copper, magnesium,
manganese and zinc.
ALAN ALDA And what's that big tall
yellow one? What's that? I don't seem to be doing okay
ROY WALFORD Well that means it has a great deal
ALAN ALDA Oh, I'm doing fine with the sodium.
ROY WALFORD And you have too much cholesterol, 'cause
ALAN ALDA Where'd I get that from? The
ROY WALFORD From the turkey probably, yeah.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But here's what goes into Walford's
lunch. Every one of his 500 calories packs a high nutritional
ALAN ALDA How did you first get interested in
ROY WALFORD I got interested in this kind of nutrition
because it's been known since 1935 that if you keep
animals on a very low calorie diet but one that is not
deficient in vitamins and so forth, you extend their
maximum lifespan and their average lifespan.
(NARRATION) In the 1960's Walford, who's a researcher
at UCLA medical school, set out to refine the low-calorie
studies. He confirmed that laboratory mice live up to
twice the normal age if calorie intake is reduced by
up to half. At the same time he detected intriguing
signs of improved health -- lower blood pressure, lower
insulin and cholesterol; and stronger immune systems.
Then in 1991 Walford joined Biosphere 2 as the project
doctor. He was part of the team which sealed itself
inside a 3-acre greenhouse. The aim was to be self-supporting
-- to subsist entirely on the miniature ecosystems growing
inside. Things didn't turn out as expected. Food production
was about 40% short, but for Walford it was a lucky
accident. Like it or not, the team found itself on a
low-calorie, high-nutrition diet. The team members went
hungry. But in regular medical exams, Walford discovered
they were developing the same good health patterns as
the lab animals. Biosphere 2 confirmed for Walford that
a low-calorie, high nutrition diet is likely to benefit
humans, and he's been following it ever since. It sounded
pretty good to me. How do you get started?
What you wanna do is lower the calorie content so that
you lose weight gradually until you're 10-20% below
your set point - where your set point is defined as
what you would weight normally if you ate just kind
of a normal diet.
ALAN ALDA That sounds like, ah, a
lot of weight loss. I mean I'd be a bean pole without
the beans, I think. I mean, that's very…that sounds
severe to me.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) These lively rhesus
monkeys are on just such a severe regimen. I'm visiting
Rick Weindruch at the University of Wisconsin.
ALAN ALDA Is this for my protection, or for the monkeys'?
RICK WEINDRUCH I think its mutual for both, yes.
ALAN ALDA OK.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Weindruch has about 80
monkeys -- half on restricted calories, half normal.
The study has been running for a decade, and the animals
are now 20 years old -- middle age for rhesus monkeys
-- so there won't be any results on life span for a
ALAN ALDA Which kind? What does he get? Researcher
This guy up above.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The restricted
diet is exactly like Walford's. In fact Rick Weindruch
was his student at UCLA.
ALAN ALDA Here you go, pal.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The monkeys' calories are reduced,
but their nutrition is excellent -- it's not in any
way a starvation diet. So within the next few years,
as old age should be approaching, the expectation is
that the normally-fed group will begin to lose its health,
while the calorie-restricted group will stay healthy.
RICK WEINDRUCH We're starting to see signs of better
health in our restricted animals. It's going to really
be, shall we say, show time for these diets over the
next five years.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Just like Walford's
Biosphere team, the monkeys get regular checkups, although
they're sedated for some procedures. This is a scan
for bone mass, which tends to become reduced with age.
They also examine tiny samples of muscle from the monkeys,
looking for signs of cellular damage which normally
develops with age.
ALAN ALDA Is this part of a cell?
RICK WEINDRUCH This is a component of a cell and this
is the stuff that makes your muscles contract, basically.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This black dot in the muscle of
a 4 year-old monkey is damage caused by things called
free radicals. Free radicals could explain why eating
less helps you stay healthier and live longer. Nutrients
from the food we eat get absorbed by every cell of our
body. These nutrients normally combine with oxygen to
make essential energy-storing chemicals. But an unavoidable
by-product is the production of free radicals -- reactive
oxygen compounds that damage whatever they hit. The
body makes chemicals, called anti-oxidants, which defend
against free radicals. But damage still accumulates
over the years, leading to all kinds of old-age diseases.
The exciting thing about Weindruch's study is that while
20-year-old monkeys on normal diets show extensive free
radical damage, calorie-restricted monkeys -- who are
the same age -- look like young kids.
ALAN ALDA So this
is a 17-year-old monkey with about the same amount of
free radical damage as, how old a monkey?
ALAN ALDA A 17-year-old as healthy
as a 4-year-old.
RICK WEINDRUCH Yes. That's right.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Weindruch is also pursuing the free
radical theory with a large-scale mouse study.
ALAN ALDA So one bunch is on a restricted diet and one...
ah, I'll tell you something that I see right away. These
are really active and these are just sitting around.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) These are senior-citizen mice
-- about 2 years old -- and they're on a normal diet.
And these are on calorie restriction. But Weindruch
also has four other groups being fed normal diets plus
some special extra ingredients. He's adding combinations
of the anti-oxidant supplements, like vitamins C, E,
and beta-carotene, that so many of us are taking now.
The result so far -- not very encouraging. Anti-oxidant
dietary supplements are no substitute for calorie restriction.
They don't seem to affect life span one way or the other.
RICK WEINDRUCH The best survival at this point in time
is group 5 - our calorically restricted animals.
ALAN ALDA Who aren't taking any supplements.
No, no they're not.
ALAN ALDA So, so far taking supplements,
if you have a normal diet, or any kind of diet, it doesn't
make you live longer, so far and you have a lot of time
to go on this, but so far you are living the longest…
RICK WEINDRUCH …just plain old caloric restriction…
ALAN ALDA …with high nutrition.
RICK WEINDRUCH Right,
but again it's early so come back in a year, please.
ALAN ALDA Yeah, yeah. Well meanwhile I'm taking the
RICK WEINDRUCH Me too!
ROY WALFORD So Alan, I
made 4 servings in the wooden bowl. This is one serving
and it's about 500, 550 calories.
ALAN ALDA This is
one serving? This is a lot of food!
ROY WALFORD That
would be one serving, yes.
ALAN ALDA And this is equal
to that sandwich I made?
ROY WALFORD More or less. It's
about equal in calorie content to your turkey sandwich.
ALAN ALDA It's very good. How old do you think you're
going to be, eventually?
ROY WALFORD Well, older than
I would be. I've just been on this diet for about 10
years or so, maybe a little more so, I certainly didn't
start when I was young. If my destiny on a normal diet
had been to live to be 90, then on the diet I should
add another 15 or 20 years. So that would put me out
to be 110, starting at 60.
ALAN ALDA That's where it
would put me, if I started around now. 110. See I always
thought it'd be nice to live to 106. 110 is even better!
ALAN ALDA This doesn't look so appetizing anymore. I
got plenty of crunch. I didn't need the pretzels. And
this wouldn't be bad for dessert, or am I denied dessert
ROY WALFORD No, that would be fine. Sure. An apple
is good dessert.
ALAN ALDA Your heart would sink if
I took out the frozen yogurt probably.
ROY WALFORD Well
no, yours would.
DESERT'S PERFECT FOODS
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're on
the Tohono O'Odham tribal reservation in Arizona. It's
rainy and cold today, but most of the time it's baking
hot and bone dry. The plants have evolved to thrive
in such extremes, and the Tohono O'Odham people in turn
based their way of life on the plants. It was a rich
bounty - and I do mean "was," because by the 1940s widespread
use of traditional foods was dying out. Today, only
a few of the elders, like
FRANCIS MANUEL, are familiar
with the old foods. This is Francis's daughter, Dolores.
DOLORES This is wild spinach. We've been eating it since
we were little.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Tortillas were
once made with desert ingredients. Now the elders are
saying it's time to revive the old ways.
ALAN ALDA Is
this an attempt to go back totally to the food that
used to be eaten? Or to just introduce some of it into
DANNY LOPEZ It is an attempt to kind of create
an awareness to people that they have to change. Something
has to be done.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This is what something
has to be done about. Caroline Jackson, who lives on
the nearby Pima reservation, has diabetes. So do half
of all adult Pima and Tohono O'Odham - 15 times the
national average. The two tribes also have exceptionally
high rates of obesity, even though their diets are average.
Extensive study has suggested that in one special way
these people are not average. They have what's called
the thrifty gene, which allowed them to put on weight
very efficiently during the desert's times of plenty,
so they could get through the bad times. The problem
is it's good times all the time now. Nowadays, like
all Americans they get their food from a supermarket
shelf. They spend a lot of time in front of the TV.
And they drive practically everywhere. Only 50 years
ago the two tribes were tough and active farmers, hunters
and gatherers, with no obesity and no diabetes. Things
began to break down when the region's water was pumped
away to growing cities. And even though they still had
the skills to gather wild food, or divert flash floods
to their fields, it became impossible to resist adopting
a typical American lifestyle.
ALAN ALDA So you make
a brush out of this and you rub the fruit with it? And
that gets the needles off?
DANNY LOPEZ Yeah, see the
fruit's always sitting up here, you know, like that,
and you brush 'em off, brush 'em off pretty good.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A brush made from the creosote bush
gets off the almost invisible coating of tiny, sharp
spines. Prickly pear fruit and pads were important foods
- although you had to avoid the poisonous seeds, Danny
DANNY LOPEZ That's a mesquite tree right here.
See here's some that are dried, beans. They'd all be
hanging, hanging on the trees, and the kids all walk
by and pull them off and eat them
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
Ground up mesquite pods gave a sweet and nutritious
flour. They were good to just chew on, as well.
ALAN ALDA Taste it, yeah, can I? I'll just take off a little
bit. I don't want to spoil it for somebody...
Don't swallow the seeds too.
ALAN ALDA Don't swallow
the seeds. What'll happen to me if I swallow…
Same thing that happens when you eat the prickly pear
with the seeds.
ALAN ALDA I have to go to the hospital.
DOLORES Yeah, give you an enema.
ALAN ALDA Boy, I'll
tell ya, this program is really dangerous. It's all
seeds. What do you mean, don't swallow the seeds? There's
nothing but seeds here.
FRANCIS MANUEL Chew it.
ALAN ALDA I got to get rid of the seed. Wait a minute.
FRANCIS MANUEL Yeah.
ALAN ALDA It's sweet. Sweet
and chewy and the taste, like something that I know.
It tastes like, you know what it tastes like? Like a
Box of Cracker Jacks. You know, it's sweet and crunchy.
It's a snack bush. Nice. Francis, how did you learn
about all this?
FRANCIS MANUEL My grandmother tell me.
ALAN ALDA Your grandmother?
FRANCIS MANUEL When we were
kids, uhuh. Yeah.
DANNY LOPEZ On this plant, the cholla
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In spring, when the
rains came, everyone had to gather cholla cactus buds.
ALAN ALDA So that's where they grow. And then if you
don't pick it, it grows into this.
DANNY LOPEZ Yes,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Like mesquite pods, cholla
buds were gathered, dried and stored in large quantities.
ALAN ALDA What is it that you eat off of this?
TONY JOHNSON Um. Saguaro fruit. It grows on the end of it,
of the arms of the cactus.
ALAN ALDA Yeah.
Usually it'll grow in bunches, you know, on each arm,
all the way up into the top.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Saguaro
fruit was gathered in late June. Every family had its
own long poles for reaching the fruit - poles made with
the skeleton of the saguaro cactus itself. The desert
for most of us looks to be a barren and inhospitable
place, but for the Pima and Tohono O'Odham it was the
source of life.
DANNY LOPEZ Our food came from the desert.
We had to work for it, you know, it's a lot of work
to go out and gather. When we planted, there was a lot
of time in the field. Back then, we were people who
were in good shape. Prior to 1960, there was no diabetes
and then, but after that it just kinda came upon us.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The blessing speaks of the pleasure
given by plants growing and covering the earth. It's
appropriate because we're going to have a meal made
entirely of crops which grow in the desert around us.
DANNY LOPEZ That's good.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) We're joined by Gary Nabhan, a botanist
who specializes in the desert plants of the southwest.
ALAN ALDA These are beans?
DANNY LOPEZ Red tepary.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Tepary beans were grown in the flood
plains. They resist desert heat, and they're digested
slowly - good for diabetics who need to avoid spikes
in blood sugar. It turns out all the foods have some
DANNY LOPEZ It's spinach.
It's a wild spinach…
ALAN ALDA Wild spinach?
And it comes up in the summer, and it's really the best
tasting spinach in the world.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
These are sliced prickly pear pads - we'll talk more
about them in a minute. And here's the wild spinach
- amaranth greens, with high protein seeds, and high
ALAN ALDA What is this?
ALAN ALDA Oh, mesquite. OK, so just,
like, one teaspoonful?
FRANCIS MANUEL Two.
Two. OK. One, two.
FRANCIS MANUEL That's enough.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The mesquite drink is full of sugar,
but it's a kind a sugar that you don't need insulin
FRANCIS MANUEL You know if you don't like
ALAN ALDA That's good. What do you mean, if I don't
like it? That's good.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Next --
cholla cactus buds. Francis gathered and dried these
herself last Spring, six months ago. And, finally, my
personal favorite - really powerful little wild chilies,
gathered up in the mountains on the reservation. At
last it was time to dig in.
ALAN ALDA This is a fantastic
meal. What are the ways in which this food reconnects
you to the culture?
DANNY LOPEZ Well I just thought
about this to tell kids. You know, when you try to get
kids to eat, things like the spinach or the cholla buds.
They used to say like if you don't eat it, he -- like
that's the creator that they believed in, years ago
-- will cause a flood, you know. So you better eat your
spinach or your cholla buds.
ALAN ALDA Or there will
be a flood.
DANNY LOPEZ We'll all drown, like maybe
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Because these foods
are adapted to the desert, they all share one attribute
- the ability to retain scarce water. How they do it
was demonstrated by Gary Nabhan with a bowl of chia
seeds, from a type of desert mint. Over the course of
a few minutes the dry seeds swell up, absorbing about
15 times their volume of water. It's how they'd react
to a sudden rainstorm in the desert. Desert plants have
to be able to absorb water, and then hold on to it for
as long as possible. They do it with a kind of natural
GARY NABHAN It's all called soluble fiber. But,
ah, prickly pear cacti and their relatives, the cholla
cactus, are among the richest sources of that. And so
when we look at a prickly pear pad like this -- and
I'm going to get the spines in my fingers but I don't
mind that because I'm a botanist -- when you look at
this stuff, all this stuff is extra cellular mucilage.
There's a goo in between the cells here that holds water
in the pad, so that even during times of drought that
water is only slowly lost from the plant. That's why
a prickly pear can survive years without rain.
ALAN ALDA In the cactus, that goo gets in between the cells.
What does it do when it goes into my body. It doesn't
go in between my cells, does it?
GARY NABHAN Well, that's
a great thing. When we put it in our stomachs, it keeps
any sugars or carbohydrates from being rapidly released
into our bloodstream. So that instead of our blood sugar
level spiking, peaking very rapidly and then our pancreas
trying to make insulin to keep up with that...
ALAN ALDA So you don't get a jolt of it.
GARY NABHAN No jolts.
ALAN ALDA You get it more on a …It's doled out more
GARY NABHAN Go ahead.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION)
This slow release is the secret to the desert foods
because it provides natural protection against diabetes.
So as the desert people were yo-yoing up and down in
weight, tracking the feast or famine of their crops,
their metabolisms were always maintained on an even
keel by these perfect foods. I was learning some interesting
stuff on this visit. Then I really got excited when
it looked like Francis was ready to reveal to me an
ancient, precious piece of tribal wisdom.
Why were the Indians here first?
ALAN ALDA The question
is, Why did the Indians live here first? Well, they
lived here first because…
FRANCIS MANUEL Because…
ALAN ALDA Because, ah, they didn't live anyplace else yet.
No, I haven't finished yet. I think I'm stuck. I think…I'd
actually most like to hear your answer.
My answer is easy. Because they have a reservation.
ALAN ALDA That's terrible!