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Pressing Issues: Soy Cheese and Mars Bars

May 31, 1999|ROSIE MESTEL

Every now and again, the Health staff sits back and ponders the big questions, such as, "Should we start doing all the healthy things we're constantly advising our readers to do?" or "What do we do with this case of soy cheese that arrived in the mail?" Or yet: "What is the most unhealthy food in the world?" Answer to No. 1: But of course, starting tomorrow. Answer to No. 2: Let's just move on to No. 3. Answer to No. 3: We don't know, but we think we have found a strong contender in that famous Scottish delicacy--no, not haggis. We mean the deep-fried Mars bar.

That's right. Take a Mars bar, coat it in batter, deep fry it in fat, then serve it up, piping hot, to revelers staggering home from the pub on a Friday night. Voila! A sinfully fattening snack instantly, effortlessly delivered. Nutritionists--surprise!--are not amused.

"The deep-fried Mars bar craze in Scotland is a symptom of a wider crisis," Dr. Ann Ralph of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, said in an interview. She has a point. After all, the Scottish diet--low in fruits and veggies, high in fat--is infamous for its unhealthiness. And Scotland is famous for its high incidence of heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Since the U.S. isn't so hot in the healthy-eating department, we're not here to wax superior. Still, we just don't understand how a country that gave us haggis (minced sheep liver, lungs, heart and oatmeal boiled in an inside-out sheep stomach) or yet "crappit heids" (haddock heads and livers cooked with, once again, oatmeal) could be scared of eating its vegetables.

Exchanging Tidbits Over the Hedgehog

It's "Wild Kingdom" time at Boosters again--and today we'd like to turn your attention to that gentle dweller of wayside and thicket, the hedgehog. What's the point of that? we hear you bristle: What do hedgehogs have to do with health? Spare us your barbs: We'll cut to the quick in a second.

Before we do, we have some hedgehog facts to share with you (courtesy of http://www.healthscout.com and other sharp Web sites it led us to). There are maybe 10,000 pet hedgehogs in the U.S. Some of their owners are major-duty serious. There's an International Hedgehog Registry (you get a nice frameable certificate if you register your hedgehog). And an International Hedgehog Fanciers Society, where, among other things, you can study page after page of hedgehog coat colors: white-bellied with salt-and-pepper quills; black- and ruby-eyed "cinnicot"; even apricot and albino--we had no idea.

We had no idea, either, that owning a hedgehog might not be a 100% idyllic Beatrix Potter-esque experience. Here at last is the hedgehog connection to health: Handle your hedgehog and you may end up with a disfiguring rash, with each welt corresponding to a spine, according to a report in a recent Archives of Dermatology.

This won't happen to everyone--only to folks who are allergic to hedgehog dander, which is possibly rendered more potent by the hedgehog's habit of slobbering all over its spines. The rest of you, please feel free to pick the little fellers up.

Distorted Views of Modern Man

Finally, there's been a lot of attention paid to girls' body images, and the effect on their self-esteem of buxom Barbie dolls with teensy-weensy waists, perpetually pointed toes and legs stretching up to their armpits. But what about the potential damage to boys from playing with dolls like GI Joe Extreme, which if he were life-size would have 26-inch biceps, larger than any bodybuilder in history?

An article in the International Journal of Eating Disorders highlights this point. In what seems like a very fun research project, Dr. Harrison Pope and colleagues at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., measured the waist, chest and biceps of various action figures. Then they scaled the statistics to the height of an actual man. Over the decades, they found the toys became more and more hypermuscular and unrealistic--which could be serious, says Pope:

"Our society's worship of muscularity may cause increasing numbers of men to develop pathological shame about their bodies, to become obsessively preoccupied with working out, and to take dangerous drugs, such as anabolic steroids." Perhaps it's time for a "Happy to Be Me" GI Joe.

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