Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

Michelle Obama and health initiatives

I was pleased to hear First Lady Michelle Obama encouraging Americans to eat healthier and exercise more often, targeting school children in particular. I also agree with her incentives in breastfeeding. I actually let out a big sigh upon hearing these initiatives, followed by a “Finally!”

Since moving to the United States for the third time in 1997, I have been bothered by the large number of obese individuals, and particularly sad to see overweight teenagers and twenty-something’s. That is supposed to be the best decade of one’s life, when young people have a wide number of physical activities and start their romantic lives. Instead, they are bogged down by weight. We all know the cause of this epidemic: the urban sprawl and cheap food. That is, riding cars everywhere and sugar-fat-salt based fast food accessible to all.

I missed seeing ads on TV educating the population, which are common in Brazil, and I missed seeing those in power taking the initiative to stop the insanity. It seemed no politician wanted to anger Kraft, Coca-Cola or MacDonald’s. There were an infinite number of diet ads, magazines and books, but no real government led movement to teach the population to stop killing themselves.

The most appalling to me were the school cafeterias. I still feel very guilty of those times I gave my daughters money to buy lunch at the school cafeteria because I lacked time to prepare something for them when I was running late for work. How could schools sell soda, hamburgers and pizza for children who were developing? Why not adopt the big soup kitchen method Brazil has employed so effectively by cooking grains, vegetables and bean based meals in big pans for school lunches?

I applaud Michelle Obama, and I hope that if Barack Obama is re-elected, we will see an improvement in the country’s general health in the next 6 years. See picture below of Brazilian school children eating healthful meals:


February 16, 2011 Posted by | Difference between cultures, Health | Leave a comment

Our Health: Prevention first!

One of the things that catch my attention in the USA, one of the largest and richest countries in the world, is how little health prevention is reinforced. We read articles about health but the focus seems to be in “miracle diets” and “how to lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks” instead of how to eat healthy and exercise thus preventing several killers like heart disease and diabetes.

Add to that the cost of health insurance and the fact that many Americans don’t have any public type of health care, and you see why the hospitals are full of sick people. Many people wait until they are very sick to finally seek medical care. My daughter is a medical student and she sees it every day: people who are very unhealthy because they’ve destroyed themselves with bad foods, lack of exercise and smoking.

We do not see many government ads on TV about eating right and exercising. Public school cafeterias still sell garbage to the students. Many people get their food from convenience stores, which is filled with white flour, fat laden and sugary treats. There is little to none physical education in school. Kids now sit in front of the computer a lot and don’t play outside enough.  Parents are overworked and have long commutes, so dinner sometimes is pizza or take out from a fast food restaurant.

Except for some advocates such as Anderson Cooper on CNN, little is said about prevention in the national media. The big food corporations fill TV ads with candy, soda and chips ads on channels viewed by children.  I applaud Michelle Obama’s initiative when it comes to teaching children a more healthful lifestyle but I think it is not reaching enough people. The message is right but somehow it is not being effective. Fast food and processed foods are ingrained in the American lifestyle.

I have also not found one doctor in this country who told me I should eat right and exercise (see my post about the 5 minute doctors). There is no holistic approach and no interest in teaching people how to maintain their health. They are too hurried trying to see the most number of patients a day. There is actually a shortage of doctors in many areas in America.

The number of obese people, including children, in the USA is a shocker for the rest of the world.  Somehow the past administrations have not been able to reach these people. It is a national disaster. When being fat is considered acceptable, and feeding children bad foods is a norm, the future of the citizens is compromised.

November 13, 2010 Posted by | Health, Lifestyle | Leave a comment

The 5 minute doctor

Yesterday I visited a “5-minute doctor”. That seems to be more and more common. I have PRIVATE insurance, a PPO, which I pay a lot of money every month for (and barely use), but I am seeing this happen very often: a long wait followed by a 5 minute check up from the doctor.

My last visit was to an orthopedist. I have something called “tennis elbow”, not from playing tennis but from moving heavy objects late last year. My arm has not healed so I went back to the same doctor I had gone early this year to(he knew my history and was walking distance from my office).

The same thing happened: I waited for one hour (with no good magazines in the waiting room :)); first in the reception area and later in a small room.

What really peeved me is that I had written in the form that I had actually two problems. Everyone knows the human body is like a machine. One thing affects the other. I had pain in some other area, which he totally disregarded. He probably wants me to pay for another consultation so he can charge to look at my other “pain”.

He spent 5 minutes with me, told me what to do (immobilize the area) and asked me to come back after 6 weeks,  hurriedly answering my questions. What a terrible experience! I think doctors don’t think empathy is necessary anymore in their consultation with patients. All they need is some knowledge. Why not then consult with a robot? A robot who would scan your body, inform you what kind of problem you have (in a robotic voice like Kanye West’s songs :)) and than print a list of recomendations?

Are doctors being forced to see a certain number of patients per hour-or may I say, per minute? If that is a private PPO, I prefer that all the money I pay go to an universal healthcare system where I would probably have to wait just the same!



August 19, 2009 Posted by | Grievances, Health | 2 Comments

Does exercise make you live less?

runnerThe commedian Chico Anísio, on the famous Jô Soares talk show in Brazil, says physical exercise is the first step to death. He brought attention to the fact that rarely an athlete gets to the age of 80 and gives examples of long living celebrities who never exercised or went to gyms, amongst them the journalist and legal scholar Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, who got to 100 years old.

Anisio also gave an example in the animal kingdom: the turtle, who lives to the age of 300. Do you know any rabbit who lived even 15 years?

Another example is the Brazilian composer Dorival Caymmi: he was the father of sloth. He spent 75% of his day lying on a hammock, drinking, smoking and chewing. A really slow guy, he would take 10 seconds to walk a few feet. Even without ever doing any exercise, he reached 90 years old.

Conclusion: treadmill, walking, aerobics, weight lifting and gym: run away from those while you still have your health. Let’s toast lazy sedentarism!

Don’t be upset if you spend the rest of your life fat, you will have eternity to look like bones! Do not diet anymore! Whales only drink water, only eat fish, swim all day and are FAT! Hail to french fries and beer! So you have a spare tire? It’s ok, airplanes do too!

Hey I am joking!

So what do you think of Chico Anision’s theory?  Don’t you think it’s ridiculous?

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Health | 2 Comments

Exotic fruits and me

1970’s: you would see me feeling old and confident enough to walk to the nearest little deli and buy 10 pieces of Ping Pong chewing gum. Anyone over 40 who grew up in Brazil knows how “chiclete Ping Pong” was a staple amongst kids. I still remember the price for 10 of them: 1 cruzeiro, the currency before the real took over.

During my teenage years in Brasilia, my guilty pleasure was to buy Kit Kat and “bomboms” , which were a real treat. I grew up in a household where my mother knew a lot about nutrition, so our meals were very healthy. Since the 70’s we had whole wheat bread, brown rice and skim milk in our house. We even had soy steak for lunch sometimes (don’t forget that lunch is the main meal in Brazil, something that is hard for me to get used nowadays when I go there). So sneaking in some chocolate and candy was my way to rebel from all that healthful lifestyle 🙂

Several decades later, my guilty pleasure is fruit, not your basic apple, bananas and oranges, but any fruit that is not easily found-and unfortunately, pricey. Besides a need to stay healhy and looking fit, I was also influenced by a friend from Bosnia who consumes large amounts of fruit. With my sweet tooth, fruit is the closet I can get to the sweet taste I crave. Otherwise I would be eating candy and M&M’s in a daily basis:)

The other day I had a big craving for pineapple. Pineapple in Brazil is dirt cheap and sweet.  We really take it for granted there. Brazil has wonderful fresh, juicy and sweet fruit. I can find papaya, mangos and even guava here in the US, but it is often tasteless and not ripe. I ran to Whole Foods to satisfy my craving and paid 6 dollars for 4 slices of pineapple…at least they were sweet and melted in my mouth!

Recently I fell in love with kiwiberry. It is a mini kiwi that looks like green grapes. Sweet and probably full of Vitamin C. Problem: the price is scary. Better stick to the other more affordable berries I also love.

Finally, the fruit that really rocked my world is Durian. Anyone from Thailand and Hong Kong knows what that is. Durian is a big round fruit which looks a bit like a green pineaple from the outside-and smells horrible when ripe. You really have to either keep it outside your house or throw the carcass out as soon as you cut it-preferably far from your front door…Inside the Durian however, there are 4 or 5 big black seeds surrounded by the sweetest and creamiest pulp you will ever eat. Simply heavenly. No wonder durian is known as the fruit that “smells like hell and tastes like heaven”. Serve the pulp cold (one seed per guest) for an exotic and delicious desert.



March 28, 2009 Posted by | Health | Leave a comment

Pharmaceuticals ads on TV

As a Brazilian living in the US, I can’t get over the constant adverstisement from pharmaceutical companies. Why adverstise prescription drugs? I can understand marketing OTC products since they are consumer based. But running ads about drugs that can only be prescribed by a physician seems to me as morally wrong. After all, only a doctor will know if that drug is right for you. Advertising medicines seems to me as greed. People who are otherwise healthy might want to buy these drugs online. Hypochondriacs may panic after hearing the symptoms of this or that disease. Let the pharmaceutical companies target their audience: the medical field. Not the general public.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Grievances, Health | Leave a comment

Splenda Detox

I have a very sweet tooth. One reason might be biological, that is, the taste buds on my tongue may be more sensitive to the sweet taste (like babies). The second reason might be having grown up in Brazil, where sweets are made with a huge amount of sugar. Sweets are really sweet, and maybe one’s taste buds get used to that.

Many people erroneously think Brazilian food is spicy and hot like Mexican food, and are surprised to hear it is not. Apart from some dishes from the state of Bahia, our food does not use many spices except for some salt and pepper. Where we do exaggerate however, is in the sweetness of our deserts. Even our deserts made of cooked fruits (tropical fruit preserves and jellies) are laden with sugar.  Brazil has a lot of sugar cane (which we even get ethanol fuel from) and sugar is cheap and plentiful since colonial days. That may be the culprit to why we Brazilians like the sweet taste so much.

Which brings me to the problem I have now: I discovered Splenda a few years ago and use nothing else. It tastes like sugar, apparently without the calories, which makes it highly attractive for a sugar nut like myself. If I drink a can of coke, I don’t want to ingest 100 calories, 0 calories seems a lot smarter. However, I haev suspicions about chemical sweeteners and the research that is done about their effects on our bodies. Can they be trusted in high doses?

My level of Spenda consumption is alarming me: I went from two little packets to sweeten my coffee to now 7, so it tastes really really sweet and satisfying.  I also add it to my unsweetened cereal, making me consume something like 10 to 15 packets a day. I wonder what the real effects are…Consequently, I know I need to go on a Splenda detox. 

The only way to do it is to train my taste buds back to less sweet food and drinks. I already avoid candy and chocolate as much as possible. I avoid real sugar in my diet, period. Now I need to stop using any kind of sweetener for a few days (and suffer through the bitterness of coffee and the lameness of my cereal), then slowly increasing to one packet, 2 packets and maybe 3, but no more. I will let you all know how that went. My sweet tooth is no laughing matter, but I don’t like the weight that comes with real sugar, and I am afraid of too many chemicals in my body.

This article was particularly alarming: scroll down for “Spenda side effects”:

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Difference between cultures, Health | 1 Comment

Can Obama as president inspire African Americans to eat healthier?

We all know that in the United States, the poorest population is oftentimes the most overweight. In other countries, especially developing countries, a low weight can mean not enough food, while a robust and rotund phsysique may be a sign of wealth-and lots of food on the table-usually served by a maid 🙂

In America the low income population eats unhealthfully because of 2 reasons: unhealthful food is plentiful and cheap, and they do not have the knowledge of nutrition and science that allows them to make good choices. There is a fast food joint in every corner in America, and overworked Americans with low incomes can easily buy a complete meal at their local Mickey D’s, KFC or Popeyes. Even though these places tried to introduce a few healthier items in their menu, the staple offering is usually fried and riddled with saturated fats and transfat. Added to that, Americans consume a large amount of sugar. Sugary drinks are sold everywhere, and if you read the labels, they usually carry a whopping 30 grams of sugar per bottle.  Ketchup, High Fructose Corn Syrup in cereals and baked goods, sauces and baked beans are all high in refined sugar.

Throw in that mix the fact that the urban sprawl has made America impossible to walk and people spend lots of time in their cars and in front of their computers, the fact that excess weight is a serious problem in this country is not a surprise.

Moreso amongst the African American population, which has historically had fewer chances at education and prosperity, the obesitynumbers are alarming.

Barack Obama and Michele, by being fit, can inspire African Americans to exercise more and choose healthier food options. The picture of Obama jogging was wonderful to see. Despite his little bad habit of smoking, Obama is slim and fit.

Barack and Michelle, if you ever come across my blog (:)), I think you should spread the idea of eating fruits, vegetables and grains throughout the country. Forget the junk food lobby. Maybe you can start a program to introduce healthy lunches and snacks in the school system (one of my battles). And most importantly, maybe you can inspire your fellow African Americans to start walking and eating less processed foods. It saddens me to see the weight amongst them, as it has  always saddened me to see the obesity in many parts of America. When I see a young obese woman or man, I think of all the opportunities this kid is losing  in terms of enjoying life, participating in sports and having a romantic life.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Health | 1 Comment

Health Insurance in the US vs. Brazil

I am not an expert on how governments can provide universal healthcare to its citizens.  I agree with Barack Obama that health is a right, not a privilege. But if I agreed with those extremist libertarians, healthcare would be an “individual choice”. Health would be a privilege of those who have money; for those who are dumb enough not to have money, just rot and die. 

However, it is very very expensive. It is almost impossible for a country to provide quality free healthcare coming from only taxpayers’ money.

The US already provides good free public schools for elementary and secondary education. In Brazil for example, public schools are not reliable, so most parents pay for private schools from kindergarten to high school.

I think the best way is to have clinics for those who cannot have private health insurance. These clinics would charge very little, but would not be free. The doctors who would work there would be younger doctors or retired doctors or doctors who do not mind making less than they would in private practice for a guaranteed 40 hour week and a feeling of satisfaction that comes from helping people (I have a pediatrician aunt who donates one or two days of her working week to work in a free city clinic which caters to the very poor population. My grandfather, also a pediatrician, would always see patients who could not pay).

Lines would be longer, waiting periods for non essential surgeries longer, but everyone would have access to it. For all others who require a better insurance, they could continue paying more through their employers or privately. This is a bit how it works in Brazil, although there are many complaints about long lines and deficient infra-structure in the Brazilian public health care system.

In the years I lived in Brazil, I always had private health insurance. I also do not remember ever receiving bills at home. I would pay my premium, my monthly payments and when I went to the doctor I would be covered. Any exam or test woud be covered by my monthly payments. It annoys the hell out of me to receive bill after bill sometimes months later after any doctor’s appointment here in the US. The communication between health providers and health insurance companies is dismal, and many claims are refused for misinformation. So the patient ends up with the bill.

I am tired of fighting insurance companies and trying to rectify bills that are wrong. I do not remember ever having to do that in Brazil.

So, besides teaching Americans how to deal with electronic voting and alternative fuels, should Brazilians also teach Americans how to have both public and private healthcare for its citizens? Or is the British/Canadian/French model better?

This is a very complex matter with no easy solution. Comments?

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Difference between cultures, Health, Politics | 7 Comments

Male Circumcision

One of the things that baffle me is why are there parents who still want their baby boys to be circumcized?

I am not sure it is a necessary procedure. I think it is done in the name of tradition in the U.S., being a Jewish tradition that caught on. In Brazil boys are not circumsized, as in many parts of Europe. Pro-circumcision advocates say that it eliminates the chances of infection/diseases. I think that anyone with poor hygiene can have that problem. What about the fact that circumcized men are less sensitive in the area? I know men who are not circumcized and never had any problems at all with their foreskin. I am thinking of the pain a baby boy has to go through, and the added cost of the procedure in hospitals (and profit…).

I recently saw statistics that only half of babies are now circumcized. That’s good. I just wish that the babies had a say in that, and not the parents, sometimes motivated by religion and ancient traditions.  I sure do not know the medical aspects very well, but I see it as barbaric, almost as bad as the female circumcision.  Thoughts?

Look at this blogger from www.benettontalk/2007/10/ comments on the subject:

Over the last century, circumcision has become very popular worldwide (actually that is not true, only in the Anglo and Muslim worlds). According to a National Opinion Research Center survey, in 1965 about 85 percent of all American baby boys were circumcised, not only amongst Jewish people. Many felt, and continue to think, that circumcision has many hygienic and health advantages for the patient. Then things began to change. First, there is an increased awareness of the risks (blood loss, infection etc.) involved. By 2004, the rate had fallen to about 57 percent in the US, while the Canadian Paediatric Society did “not recommend circumcision for newborn boys.”

“I don’t believe it’s medically necessary,” Ayal says. “If we’ve done it, it’s just for cultural reasons.” Male circumcision in Judaism is a positive and obligatory commandment, attesting to a special relationship with God. Ignoring it is often seen in active Jewish communities as a rejection of Jewish religious and cultural tradition. “Never mind what we actually decided to do, just us having doubts about it was a challenge to our community”.

“I think circumcision rates will generally decrease when performed just for medical reasons,” Ayal continues. “They will stay the same where they’re connected with cultural practices”. Meanwhile in the US an increasing number of Jewish people are becoming “Intactivists”, refusing to circumcise their sons, as some Jewish writers and doctors make statements against it.

“At the end, we’re still not sure,” Ayal admits. “I don’t really know what we would do if we had a second son.”

This is an old Jewish tradition that is based in religion. It is not as bad as the female circumcision, but there is also a reduced sensitivity in a man’s future sex life.

A baby boy cannot make a choice. Others are making it for him. The chances of having infection with the existence of the prepuce are fo those who have no hygiene. Why submit a baby to such pain, why engage hospital workers and resources to waste time with that? 

Only the Anglo countries and Islamic countries still carry this barbaric procedure. South America and Europe do not inflict that in their newborns.

I know men who are circumcized and those who are not, and the uncircumcized ones have never had any problems with their extra “skin”.  And some men who are complain about less sensation in the area. By the way, the foreskin is very similar to the clitoris skin, full of nerves.

Follow this person on Twitter for more articles about how male circumcision is a barbaric and unnecessary pratice:

Anyways, maybe it should be optional, when someone reaches adulthood?

Update 7/10/09: watch this video with Christopher Hitchens:

January 17, 2008 Posted by | Difference between cultures, Health, Society | 52 Comments