Thursday, November 12, 2015

The new diet pill

 Yet another generation fixated on weight loss has ushered in the reinvention of the diet pill quick fix: skinny tea.

Promoted with sexualized imagery, these teas are geared toward women, primarily young adults.

“I went into it thinking, ‘Okay, maybe it’ll curb my appetite because I’m hungry throughout the day, and I’m eating more than I’m losing,’” recalled Carolena Realmuto, 20, who started using Tiny Tea after a friend recommended it. “I felt a little better, my stomach felt a little better, but I didn’t see any seen results or anything like that.”

Mindless quick fixes do not facilitate the consistency necessary for sustained weight management.

“We have a highly consumerist society that wants to have problems resolved quickly without a lot of effort,” explained Dr. Kristin Bayer, a women’s studies and history professor at Marist College.

The “teatox” plans are about as healthy for the wallet as the purchase of a pack of cigarettes. In terms of ingredients, the major brands list only natural, herbal elements. However, none are FDA approved. In other words, just as herbal supplement companies can include whatever they want on their labels, herbal supplement teas to promote weight loss can do the same legally.

“The teas are actually better than a lot of the weight loss supplements out there because they’re actually made of real herbs,” asserted Marist College Biology Professor Kristin Dragos, who has researched detox teas extensively. “Some of the detox teas have an ingredient called cena, and that ingredient has a laxative effect, so it leads to dehydration and electrolyte loss. It also cleans out the colon, so it will lead to weight loss, short term.”

What consumers are missing is the fact that skinny teas generally follow a regimen, which would naturally make drinkers more conscious of intake, whether it is food or liquid. Hydration is a known weight loss necessity, so it is no surprise that the consumption of teatox products would impose a decrease in weight and/or bloating upon users. Several brands also provide diet plans and exercise ideas to encourage patrons to live a healthier lifestyle.

“There’s a lot of products. Very few of them are effective at causing weight loss or leading to weight loss,” Dragos illustrated. “There’s a couple of mechanisms by which some drugs can increase metabolism. That doesn’t affect how much energy somebody’s exerting, it doesn’t affect how many calories somebody’s taking in, and also it doesn’t play into factors like genetics, age, or anything like that."

Lifelong health enthusiast Margaret Gibbons, 80, remembers the diet pill of the 1960s/1970s, liquid diets of the 1980s, and other fad diets. As she reminisced about her earliest memories of body image issues, Gibbons cited the increased news consumption of the average American in her lifetime. With that has come the amplified imagery pertaining to beauty standards: “Thin, thin, thin,” she scolded.

Read: skinny. Many diet/detox tea companies have applied that word heavily to their marketing strategies. Just like sexuality, “skinny” sells.

“The particular body image issues that we face are unique, and the focus on an unhealthily skinny female body is unique to our own time period. Even a few decades ago, women’s bodies were expected to be much larger than today,” articulated Dr. Angela Laflen, author of Confronting Visuality in Multi-Ethnic Women’s Writing. “As women attain political and social equality in so many areas today, they are simultaneously being trained that their bodies are what make them valuable. It seems like a way to control women and keep them distracted from pursuing goals more in their own self-interest.”

Body-shaming and the desire to be thin and model-like, even amidst this era of embracing curves, has ingrained in the minds of men and women alike a sort of sensitivity when it comes to body issues.

“There’s an emphasis in all of our society about focusing on something natural, even if it’s naturally not good for you,” Bayer specified. “What might’ve evolved or change would be the marketing of it. There was an emphasis on herbs recently, maybe the past five or 10 years, like fen-phen. I think that is has to do with consumerism and getting people to buy something, to pay money for something that will solve a problem that isn’t really necessarily something that can be a quick fix or solved by purchasing.”

Though Gibbons has been mindful of her weight for decades, she has never witnessed such an impulse of “health” consciousness. It used to be all about monitoring food intake and exercise accordingly.

“I eat everything I want, but I still am aware of it,” she affirmed. “You have to really be watching it all the time, careful not to let it flip.”

Weight loss is incurred by the deficit of calories through energy use. While there is validity to many instantaneous fixes, drinking tea alone without proper nutrition and exercise yields little to no effects.

“The detox tea, a lot of them are not actually detox teas at all. They claim to be, but they’re really just mixes of teas, which are just good for you,” Dragos revealed. “The good thing about the tea is there are very little negative effects associated with it, whereas everything else is sort of just like these key words and terms.”

Skinny tea companies most commonly name green tea and oolong tea mixtures in their ingredient lists. Essentially, consumers could just as easily mix their own leaves together and skip the miracle branding.

“It is just a kind of logical response to being inundated by media messages telling women they have to be skinny in order to be valuable,” Laflen stated. “These messages start so early that most women don’t remember their first exposure to them or internalizing these values.”


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

District consolidation pushes residents to defend students

NISKAYUNA, N.Y. – Pat Lanotte puts the students of Niskayuna Central School District above all else, which has become increasingly difficult for the parent and school board member as Governor Cuomo urges upstate districts to merge.

“I started to go to board meetings and I don’t think I missed one,” Lanotte recalled, now Niskayuna Board of Education President.  “My background is in accounting and I started to notice that things weren’t adding up.  That’s kind of what gave me the idea that, I think, maybe I could help the district with a certain skill set.”

Cuomo suggests the consolidation of districts suffering as a result of his decision to allocate greater education funding to downstate schools, where supposed need is the highest, Yahoo! News reports.  But there are more than just numbers to factor into the equation.

“In Niskayuna, this is what we have.  This is why everyone’s here; it’s for the schools,” Lanotte described.  “If you take away that ability to drive the type of education in your school district from the residents, you’re going to run into a brick wall.”

Former teacher, principal, superintendent, and administrator Dr. Edward Sullivan lists the concept of home rule as one of the multitude of reasons why many are so against this proposition.

“I loved my school district,” Mohonasen Central School District 2013 graduate Marisa Piccirillo said.  “I feel like they provided for me, but I definitely saw where budget cuts were hurting us and, you know, it saddened me to see, and I don’t want to see my school or other schools go downhill because of such budget cuts.”

Sizable districts would undoubtedly increase competition among students. Economically, this provides an optimal buying environment for consumers.  For the young learners battling through it, however, amplified opposition is far from ideal.

“Extra competition just puts more stress on the student,” 2015 Niskayuna graduate Ericka Stewart argued.  “I don’t think that it’d be beneficial to all students because everyone learns at a different level and have different capabilities than others.”

Lanotte fears not only for her children, one of whom is still in the Niskayuna school system, but also for the students who may lose out if the budget is no longer feasible to maintain.

“My greatest fear for all kids in our district is that our district does not provide the tools and resources to support them from not only an academic standpoint, but from and emotional and social standpoint,” Lanotte revealed.  “They’re facing things when they get out of school, online or whatever, that I never faced growing up.  As school districts strive to meet the pressures of a tax cap with declining state aid, the first programs that they tend to go after are those social programs.”

Residents without children in the schools actually make up the majority of voters in most districts, as stated by Sullivan.  Those voters ought to be as concerned as involved parents like Lanotte.

“People choose the community in which they live largely based on the schools, and if they feel they don’t have a connection to the schools, there’s a concern that real estate values might not be what they are,” Sullivan explained.  “It’s real estate and personal values of the homeowner in terms of wanting—if they’re going to be paying the taxes, they want to have in the concept of politics is called home rule.  And if they consolidate school districts, they won’t have home rule the degree to which they had by keeping small school districts.”

The policy behind these so-called mega-districts may solve the economic crisis board members across New York State, including Lanotte, are grappling with.

“A mega-district, to me, has to be done from the perspective of, ‘We’re doing this because we’re going to increase opportunity for kids,’ and if that’s the driver, then I’m all in favor of it,” Lanotte conceded.  “If you’re doing it because you want to take away local control from school districts, from school boards, or you want to just cut taxes and minimize the amount of state aid, then I think it’s not a well-thought out plan.”

Districts with immense student bodies can be run most economically, according to Sullivan.

“[Smaller districts] can’t offer the breadth of classes, the kind offerings that you would have in a larger school district,” Sullivan advocated.  “That’s where the greatest efficiency is, and therefore that’s where the savings would be.  While it’s a challenge in the local school districts, what’s our purpose in education?  To provide the best opportunities.”

Recent upstate high school graduates can attest to the fact that changes as a result of funding issues seeped into the classroom.

The diminishing number of Advanced Placement courses offered each year concerned Stewart.  “The curriculum changed.  It was mostly just numerical—just tracking your progress numerically, as opposed to your actual intellectual capabilities.”

Class sizes increase when districts are forced to provide students with fewer courses of any level.  But they also increase when there’s a major spike in the student population.

“I’m all about class size, so I think that if you can keep class sizes at a reasonable level, I wouldn’t necessarily oppose combining of school districts,” Lanotte reasoned.  “But, on the other hand, I like the size of Niskayuna, I like the number of schools that we have, and I chose to live here and pay taxes for years before my kids were even in school for the opportunity to attend Niskayuna schools given the demographics that kind of have stayed relatively flat and stable.”

Lanotte’s modest childhood reinforced her parents’ recognition of the value of education, as well as the opportunities American students have that are not presented internationally.  When she attended high school in Japan, she remembered having to wear gloves in school because there was no heat. She also attended school seven days a week.

“It’s not so much the delivery mechanism.  It was a great education over there,” Lanotte recollected.  “I really don’t think that you can do anything better in your life than to provide a quality education for your kids, whatever that takes.  A person can have all the money in the world, but if they don’t have an education and all that goes with it, I think they really missed something.”


Friday, November 6, 2015

Community members of a Troy police gun battle victim are visibly protesting the actions of local authorities

TROY, N.Y. - Just one month before officers Joshua Comitale and Chad Klein shot and killed 39-year-old Thaddeus Faison of Albany, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo named a special prosecutor to investigate deaths caused by police shootings. However, the August 2015 shooting of Faison does not fall under this executive order because Faison was armed, according to Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove.

“There is a reason why there is this groundswell of anger and animosity among minorities in the U.S.,” Troy native Dr. James Snyder said. “I saw it a lot in Troy, growing up. [Police officers] were tough, and there was definitely a lot of discrimination that went on there.”

Police Chief John Tedesco estimated, in an Albany Times Union article, that as many as 20 shots were exchanged between the white officers and the black victim.

“If he was a fellow white person, I don’t think that they would’ve shot to kill,” student activist Hakim Alex Cunningham affirmed. “But at the same time, they had a right to defend themselves.”

Comitale and Klein responded to a report of an attempted gunpoint carjacking as a result of a call from the vehicle owner’s friend. When Comitale arrived at the scene, he followed Faison on foot, who ran when pursued. Klein then reached the location and was promptly shot at point-blank range through the window of his patrol car, according to Tedesco. Faison proceeded to open fire on Comitale. In response, the officers pulled the triggers of their .45-caliber service weapons, but Faison continued to struggle after being struck multiple times, as cited in Times Union and Time Warner Cable News reports.

Comitale, a 7-year member of the force, was hit in both lower legs. Klein, an Air Force Reserve veteran and member of the SWAT team, underwent multiple surgeries to repair bullet wounds in the back of his shoulder. Faison, who walked to a nearby Hannaford grocery store to buy formula for his children just hours before the shooting, was later pronounced dead at St. Mary’s hospital.

“As soon as something like that happens, they immediately pull up the person’s criminal report,” Cunningham said of media coverage. “Their criminal history has, in my opinion, no impact on what happens in that moment.”

Friends of Faison attributed the shooting to a case of mistaken identity, rather than an actual crime, reporters at the Albany Times Union write.

A shootout that left one teen injured and the other dead sparked riots in the city of Troy just days prior. Faison’s death bourgeoned the heated crowds that antagonized law enforcement officials as they entered and exited the various hospitals where gun violence victims had been sent that week, according to an ABC News 10 piece.

About half of the 385 reported fatal police shootings in 2015 (as of May 30) were white, half minority. “But the demographics shifted sharply among the unarmed victims,” as The Washington Post states, “two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic.”

“People shouldn’t be rioting,” Cunningham attested. “People should be, kind of, honoring his life but at the same time understanding that he made a mistake in shooting at police officers.”

Conversely, Cunningham referred to the abuse of power on the part of law enforcement as a product of the current societal hierarchy in the United States. Passive acceptance of this kind of discrimination is what perpetuates the problem, he explained.

“People should protest,” Hispanic student Soribel Núñez said. “Your voice can be heard, and this country has a long history of suppressing people’s voices, especially African Americans, especially Hispanics, especially those who aren’t white.”

While the angle of police officers abusing their authority in dealing with minorities has been rampant in national headlines, this instance in Troy received minimal media attention. Much to the dismay of rioters, the shootout was covered as any other crime that yielded casualties would have been, had race not been an issue.

“It goes both ways,” Núñez argued. “[Discrimination is] also from minorities to whites. The media covers more of whites against minorities. It happens; it’s just, we don’t see it.”

Though residents of the neighborhood where Faison was shot acknowledged the increasing danger of the area, Tedesco stated that Comitale and Klein became the first Troy officers shot in the line of duty in at least four decades. While many cry racism, others note that officers put themselves in harm’s way daily in order to protect the general public, including the minorities.

The August 2015 gun battle in Troy is not an instance of police overstepping their boundaries, according to Snyder. “But that’s not to say that police don’t do that all the time.”