In the news: popes, red wine and the new food pyramids

April 26, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

TALK ABOUT a week in the news. By the time I had scanned the headlines, I didn't know if I was afoot or on horseback.

After the remarkable pageantry of Pope John Paul II's funeral, we witnessed the election of a successor about whom it was immediately said that he would no doubt require his own papal funeral, sooner rather than later.

Astonishingly, much of the commentary about Pope Benedict XVI focused on his age - 78 - and the fact that he isn't likely to be around long enough to be more than a transitional figure.

Speaking of cafeteria Catholicism, the U.S. government tossed out its one-size-fits-all food pyramid and replaced it with 12 different ones suited to different lifestyles, nutritional needs, fast food cravings and, apparently, the size of your dinner plates.

To assuage any concerns that we are losing the battle of the bulge, researchers announced that people who are overweight actually have a lower risk of death than people who are very thin. A little extra weight, like a little red wine, appears to be good for you.

Teen pregnancy and births to teens are dropping appreciably, which caused a columnist for no less than The New York Times to conclude that teens are entertained by our over-sexed culture but are not participating in it. Apparently, it is other people's kids.

And finally, we learned that counseling is unlikely to improve a troubled marriage and may indeed leave a couple in worse shape.

Almost 40 percent of the couples studied ended up divorced after seeking the intervention of a trained professional, which begs the question, what was the goal here?

I swear, after a week of such news, I didn't know whether to sit down, stand up or spit out my gum.

If I understand correctly, nobody was paying any attention to the food pyramid, so the Department of Agriculture issued 12 new ones, with vertical stripes instead of horizontal ones. Now you can choose to ignore the nutritional guidelines that are best-suited to you.

Personally, I am holding out for a food pyramid with a big, fat stripe down the middle marked "red wine."

The finding that I can improve my health with a simple corkscrew was welcome news, especially after a rough day of work and kids, although, to be honest, I was ahead of the curve on this one.

Americans have been growing steadily fatter since the food pyramid was introduced in 1992, so the introduction of 12 more of them can only be considered a mixed blessing.

But, not to worry. The National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that our national hysteria over obesity is unwarranted, that fat people are dying from other things, such as old age. Apparently being over 70 is more dangerous to your health than being overweight.

Little comfort can be garnered here, since the only thing Americans have less control over than their weight is their age.

The news that couples counseling doesn't save marriages was not a surprise in one corner of my house.

Every time my husband leaves the toilet seat up, I propose marital therapy. He has always refused to argue in front of a stranger, choosing instead to simply wait until I settle down.

So far, his approach can be said to be working, but only if staying married to me is the goal. Apparently, if he wants to get rid of me, we should seek counseling.

Speaking of relationships, the teen birth rate fell 30 percent between 1991 and 2002, and significantly fewer children are living in poverty as a result.

That good news caused David Brooks of the Times to conclude, to the astonishment of some who study these things, that young people have been positively impacted by the religious right's culture of wholesomeness and have stopped having sex.

You could also conclude that our children are still having sex, but have gotten our insistent message that pregnancy before the age of 20 is a really bad idea, and contraception is the best way to avoid it.

Speaking of birth control, the whole world became Catholic for a Day as we waited for white smoke to appear above the Sistine Chapel.

While there were cheers of approval in St. Peter's Square and in his homeland of Germany, there were also some groans of disappointment when we learned that the College of Cardinals, guided by the Holy Spirit and facing an unbreakable voting block, elected the uncompromising Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to replace Pope John Paul.

Those who hoped for a more inclusive church that would help the faithful deal with the complexities of modern life were left to ponder the new pope's use of the words "this short reign" to describe his papacy.

I read that the new pope and his cardinals celebrated his election with dinner of chicken cordon bleu and sparkling Italian white wine.

Apparently, Benedict need not worry about the calories - according to the CDC, a few extra pounds will help him deal with the ravages of age and the stress of his new job.

But I think he should have been drinking red wine.

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