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IU Health & Wellness

Research and insights from Indiana University

Nov. 24, 2009

IU Health and Wellness for November discusses the following topics:

Kids and alcohol over the holidays
Food journals, a useful weightloss tool
Teaching old dogs to swim

alcohol image

Drinking alcohol increases adolescents' chances of illness and injury, and reduces their ability to regulate sleep, mood, impulse control and communication.

Kids and alcohol don't mix over the holidays. The holidays can be a precarious time when it comes to adolescents drinking alcohol. Parents and care givers are extra busy preparing for family gatherings and guests. Alcoholic beverages may be more available in the home for use in cooking, punches, warm beverages and entertaining. Alcohol manufacturers are in full swing during the holiday season to advertise festively packaged, often sweet-tasting concoctions that appeal to youth. "Adults, including visitors to the home such as uncles, grandparents and older cousins, may bend youth alcohol prohibitions during the holiday season as a treat or gesture of affection," said Ruth Gassman, director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Perhaps well meaning, giving alcohol to youth or making it readily available to them is a recipe fraught with risk." Drinking alcohol increases adolescents' chances of illness and injury, and reduces their ability to regulate sleep, mood, impulse control and communication. Alcohol may have a dangerous interaction with many common medications taken by youth such as analgesics and cold/flu medicines. "Furthermore, alcohol consumption may become habit forming and lead to addiction," Gassman said.

She said the following actions can help parents and care givers prevent adolescents from consuming alcohol during the holidays:

  • Have available and offer alcohol-free holiday drinks for all age groups in your home.
  • Be mindful of the drinking behaviors you are modeling for youth. Are you spiking your coffee, tea, soda or fruit juice with alcohol? Children may perceive this as harmless and imitate what you do.
  • Keep track of where your children are and what they are doing. Although they may be in the bedroom or basement, be sure they are not imbibing behind a closed door.
  • Ask your relatives and friends to respect your family rule to not provide youth with alcoholic beverages.
  • Don't give the gift of alcohol; instead give mittens or a cap. Alcohol may make you feel warm in a cold holiday climate, but it actually may contribute to hypothermia.

Gassman can be reached at 812-855-1237 or Top

Dear (food) diary. If losing weight figures into your New Year's resolutions (again), a food journal can be a useful and fundamental tool for your efforts. Food journals, ranging from low-tech notebooks to Web programs and smartphone apps, keep track of such things as types and quantities of foods eaten, nutritional analyses and calories burned through physical activity. "You need to be able to know if you're actually eating a healthy diet," said Alyce Fly, associate professor in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "If you write things down and have nutritional guidelines, you can then check your diet. You will find out, for example, if you're getting enough fiber or too much fat." For people who want to lose weight, she said, journaling can help them determine how many calories they are eating and where they can make cuts. A person could realize, for example, that a typical serving of spaghetti provides enough carbohydrate for a full day. A glass of vegetable juice, for example, is better than no veggies -- but eating an actual carrot or pepper would provide more necessary fiber. "I suggest to people that that they make just a small change," Fly said. "Why small? It's hard to make big changes. People often try to lose too much weight too quickly, find out it's hard to make the large reductions needed for rapid weight loss, and then they just quit." Fly actually cautions against losing too much weight, saying a good goal is one or two pounds a week. "You have to work so hard to make muscle mass," she said. "You don't want to lose that."

Fly offers the following suggestions for food journaling:

  • Calculate your BMI. Body mass index is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Fly said it provides an idea of appropriate target weights that can be used as goals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides an online BMI calculator at
  • Learn what you should be eating. The following tables provide information about how many calories people should eat daily based on their age, gender and activity levels. They also detail food quantities that count as serving sizes. For recommended calorie levels, visit For food intake levels, visit Many people do not drink milk or have other dietary preferences. Fly said alternative food sources can be found at the USDA's MyPyramidTracker Web site, at
  • Record it daily. Food journaling can take many forms. Fly likes the USDA's MyPyramidTracker Web site at because users can quickly log foods and activities pulled from a national database and the program calculates calorie intake and expenditures. It provides a nutritional analysis, such as noting if calcium or fiber intakes are too low, and offers nutritional guidance.

Researchers know what contributes to weight loss -- fewer calories eaten than used as fuel. Maintaining weight loss over the long term is still a big unknown. Scientists know that maintaining weight loss for long periods of time is very difficult but they do not know why, other than that behavior plays a large role.

Fly said the National Weight Control Registry, found at, consists of almost 5,000 stories of successful long-term weightloss efforts. The examples primarily come from middle-aged white women, Fly notes. Common practices, however, involve eating a relatively low-fat diet, eating breakfast almost every day, regular weigh ins and doing physical activity that amounts to about an hour a day.

Fly can be reached at 812-855-7975 and Top

swim photo

Photo by Aaron Bernstein

Graduate student Jan Steele participates in an adult swimming class at Indiana University's Student Recreational Sports Center.

Print-Quality Photo

The gift of swimming. One of the greatest gifts parents can give themselves and their children is swim lessons, say aquatics experts at Indiana University. "It's the best total body workout you can get, and it's suitable for all ages, ranging from toddlers to the elderly," said Emily Ward, director of aquatics at the Division of Campus Recreational Sports in IU's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Swimming opens up a new world of health opportunities." In most communities, swimming lessons are available for children and adults. "If there is a pool, then you can find lessons," Ward said. Compared to kids, learning to swim is more challenging for adults, said Ward and Kellen Edelbrock, assistant director of aquatics, but not impossible. Adults are more intellectual about learning to swim. Unlike kids, adults tend to identify themselves with certain tasks and get their minds fixed in place with certain concepts, such as 'I can't swim.' "Kids are fearless," Edelbrock said. "With adults, you can see their brains working and watch as they put their head in the water."

Here are some considerations about adult swim lessons:

  • People of any age can learn to swim.
  • The amount of time it takes for adults to learn to swim varies from person to person. Non-swimmers who grew up around water or swimming as a child usually progress faster than adults with limited experience around water. Edelbrock said students can make noticeable progress during the eight-session program at Campus Recreational Sports.
  • The first step is to increase the comfort level that adults have in the water. Ward said relaxing activities such as conversing with a friend while walking across a pool or while stading still in the water are helpful.
  • Non-swimming adults who want their kids to be safe in the water are encouraged to enroll their children in swim lessons. "Don't handicap the child," Ward said. "Break the cycle."

Ward and Edelbrock said the biggest obstacle adults face is simply getting started and into a comfortable routine. "It's scary to do something we are not sure we can do," Ward said. "It's hard to see yourself as a swimmer when you are a non- swimmer."

Ward can be reached at 812-855-9693 or To learn more about adult swim lessons offered by the Division of Campus Recreational Sports, visit Top

For additional assistance with these items, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 and