Wednesday, April 30, 2008

hydration schmydration

I haven't seen this story hit the front page yet but I was amused and bemused to read the latest health update in the NYT earlier this week. The short item was titled Perceptions: Go Ahead, Put the Water Bottle Down.

Turns out, according to Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers, there is not now, nor has there ever been, scientific evidence that proves the health benefits of drinking eight glasses of water every day. Even that mostly benign little claim is unsubstantiated according to the men who searched for the facts.

I don't know about you, but I have spent my entire life listening to everyone from dietitians to exercise gurus to my mother opine about the benefits of drinking water - lots of it. And now according to Dr. Goldfarb and his colleagues, none of the claims that are made about the curative and restorative benefits of drinking water - like relief from headaches, removing "toxins," keeping various organs of ours in top shape and reducing the risk of conditions like hypertension - have even been scientifically proven.

Could drinking water possibly help people control their weight and decrease appetite? Yes. Well - possibly, yes. More study and research is necessary before the evidence points to one answer or another.

And the truth is, it's doubtful that water is literally harmful to us so in that sense, it's a good beverage. I'd rather fill up on water than empty calories (spoken like a woman who has been dieting since the age of 17.)

I love the conclusion Dr. Goldfarb offers us in the Times article. Since, under normal conditions - not during a grueling trek through the Sahara, not during a bout of excessive dry mouth after surgery, not with the onset of a diabetic condition, not even after one awakens from a beer-soaked frat party the previous night not that I've even experienced that - he and his colleagues doubt any real health benefit from drinking massive quantities of water. "I want to relieve people of schlepping around a water bottle all day long."

I love that!

Carrying around water bottles has become something of a label these days. It's like listening to NPR or voting for Ralph Nader. You're somehow more enlightened and feel smarter than everyone else if you carry your own water - to every meeting, on every walk, in every moment of your life you have access to ready hydration. I've even seen people pull out a bottle of water and drink it in church, for god's sake. (Well, for their own sake, actually.) Unless there is some kind of unique medical condition here, can you really not live for sixty minutes without a drink of water?

Please. Enjoy your water. Drink up. Just stop making it into a political / superior statement about how smart you are since - according to the research - it provides no measurable health benefit.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

is it any wonder we're all broke?

I saw a new favorite commercial on television the other night from one of my least favorite advertisers: VISA.

It depicts a man - baby-boomerish age - sitting in front of a large, state of the art flat screen TV - and a salesperson hovering around him, spelling out the features of the set, and no doubt encouraging a purchase. (Note that there is no woman in the commercial, looking askance at the possibility of spending thousands of dollars on a television.)

Luckily for the consumer to be, now completely entranced by the television and the hours of ecstasy it can provide, VISA is there - electronically of course - to help him make that difficult buying decision. Now, you can use your phone to have VISA send you a message about your credit limit, so you can decide on the spot whether or not to add another $5,000 to your card.

Isn't that so helpful? Now you don't even have to check your balance, or wait for your next statement, or make a phone call to see where you stand with your credit. You can just email them using your phone and find out immediately that it's a wonderful idea to add thousands of dollars to your balance.

This is completely ridiculous. Anyone who sends a text message to VISA to check his credit limit in order to buy a big screen TV is an infant who has no concept of something called delayed gratification. Pathetic.

And yet - I'll bet the message of the commercial is a big hit with consumers who can't wait to get deeper into debt with toys and gadgets they can't live without. I'm sure VISA's market research told them this was exactly the right move to make to capture even more financial half-wits who have no concept of money, debt and credit.

And - by the way - I don't have anything against large, flat screen TVs. I covet one in fact - just haven't quite seen my way clear to purchasing one for our family to enjoy. Things like tuition, rising household expenses and saving for the future always seem to take priority. Rats. I hate it when I'm sensible that way.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

signs of the times

Because the Pennsylvania primary is a matter of days away, neighborhoods have begun sprouting signs, promoting the candidate of choice in that household. I can't help but wonder about the time, effort and focus-grouping that goes into the final design of those placards and signs, as they create an image, implant an impression, call out a message to us as we pass by them each day.

What's extremely interesting to me is the choice one of the candidates - or that candidate's committee - made with the sign. You'll notice one of the democratic candidates is using first name only to remind voters of her candidacy: Hillary. You have to ask yourself why.

I can't think of another candidate who ran on his or her first name in a presidential election. And it's obviously not because she has something to hide with her last name. Clinton is about as successful a political name as there could be in national politics.

It's also not because it's unprecedented that someone traded on political clout in a campaign. George W. didn't run as George W. if you recall. All of those signs used his well-known last name: Bush.

I wasn't part of the focus groups but I'm going to guess this was a girl decision. Women use first names when we address each other or refer to another woman. Men use last names more commonly than we do.

By noting Hillary on her signs, we feel like she just might be the girlfriend we have in Washington. It's familiar. It's a fun name. It's not dowdy or boring or conventional. It's hip. It's classy. It's modern.

Somehow, I think if Mrs. Clinton's first name were Gertrude or Mildred or Blanche or Ethel, we wouldn't see those signs posted around town. Male presidents can have very traditional names - they almost all do, in fact. They conjure up images of steadfast, loyal, trustworthy, reliable men.

And what of Barack Obama? Do you wonder if he considered - even for a day or so - going by 'Barry,' not Barack? You have to believe someone somewhere floated the idea by him. His signs contain his last name only: Obama. In this case, both his first and last name are not exactly mainstream American name lexicon - it's a toss up about which would be the catch-word to capture him for the masses. Obama is more lyrical. And it is following tradition to use a last name only on a sign.

It will be interesting to see who is the candidate and who is the eventual running mate of that candidate. I'd love to see Hillary choose her husband for many reasons, not the least of which is that her signs may then read Hillary and Bill or even better, Clinton and Clinton.

I have no idea who would make the right partner for his sign. Whomever he chooses will most likely bring a waspy sounding name to the ticket, which may help or may cause more confusion. It may create a complete disconnect to voters. Obama Richardson sounds like people from two different parts of the planet. Same with Obama Edwards. Doesn't really work, does it?