Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saturday Stories: Doonsebury Hebdo, Zombies Run!, and The Fermi Paradox

David Frum, in The Atlantic, covers Doonesbury's Gary Trudeau's victim blaming over at Charlie Hebdo.

Naomi Alderman, via Medium, covers how and why she, a woman who refers to herself as a fat girl, created a best selling fitness app (one which I BTW use regularly and adore - thanks Naomi!)

Tim Urban will scramble your brain in The Fermi Paradox where he ponders the many possible reasons why we haven't met E.T. yet.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

What The Hell Are Your Upstairs Neighbours Doing?

Even if you've never had an upstairs neighbour, today's Funny Friday will be enlightening.

Have a great weekend!

[Hat tip to our office's DOO Lorne Segal]

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Climbing Stairs Isn't About Burning Calories

Have you seen the photo up above floating around your Twitter or Facebook feeds?

I sure have.

And yes, you do burn calories climbing and descending staircases. 0.17 calories per stair climbed, and 0.05 calories per stair descended, according to one source I found. Given there are 12 steps in the average flight of stairs, heading up and then back down would burn you somewhere between 2.5 and 5 calories. So for instance, if you wanted to climb the stairs enough to burn the calories of a Snickers bar, you'd need to climb 122 or so flights.

The message that calories can be burned through stair climbing (or parking in the furthest spot, or getting off the bus one stop sooner, etc.) in quantities enough to be exciting is problematic in that it reinforces the erroneous notion exercise burns boatloads of calories which in turn might lead a person to more readily believe that taking stairs burns enough calories to justify treats or portion sizes they'd otherwise not consider. It also runs the risk of a newly motivated person deciding to stop taking the stairs and parking further away when their weight inevitably doesn't change as a consequence.

And stopping taking the stairs would be a shame given that when it comes to health, exercise is the world's best drug - it's just not a weight loss drug - and tying stair climbing (or any exercise) to calorie burning rather than health, misinforms the public about both.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Guest Post: Coming Soon to a Restaurant Near You - "Teen" Menus?

A few days ago, RD Jane Cunningham wrote to me about something she'd never seen before. A "teen" menu at a local breakfast restaurant. Looking at the menu and reading her thoughts, I asked her if it'd be all right to post here and she graciously agreed.

Good morning Yoni,

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took our 3 daughters- twins age 10 and our youngest age, 6 - on a weekend away in Halifax (we live 3 hours away). We decided to eat at Cora’s for breakfast. We hadn’t been there in awhile so we were excited to go. Despite Cora’s not so healthy custard filled crepes and monster size portions, I felt good about the generous portions of fruit and hey, it was a treat for us.

My jaw dropped to the table when I saw the insert in the regular menu – a teen menu. In my business of nutrition and healthy food policy I didn’t think anything could surprise me when it came to restaurant food, or food marketing aimed at children and youth.

As you can see from the pictures, the breakfast menu aimed at teens is deplorable – let’s start the day with Oreo cookies, poutine, and hotdogs! What was even more disturbing was the lack of/minimal fruits and vegetables on the teen menu, compared to the regular menu which is bursting with fresh fruit on every page.

This experience is not new, unfortunately, but I was so disappointed none the less. It made me reflect on the concept of ‘adult food’ vs ‘kids’ food’ and how there exists a perception that there is a difference between the two. This perception is influenced by advertising and marketing. Research that has explored this concept has shown that children think of ‘adult food’ as healthy, less processed, boring, fruits, vegetables and meat. While ‘kids’ food’ is perceived as being junk food, sugary, low in nutrients, and having fun shapes and colours.

Cora’s teen menu is a great example of taking advantage of this perception.
  • No fruits or veggies? Check.
  • Highly processed ingredients? Check.
  • Sugary, high fat, and highly salt food? Check.
  • Cool, fun, exciting? Check.
Notice how they use language on their menu like, ‘5 tempting dishes for rebellious appetites’ to appeal to youth – making the food sound ‘cool’ and ‘fun’. Rebellion through junk food. Fascinating.

Of course, my kids who are not teens started asking for the Oreo pancakes. With a Dietitian mother and a Dentist father, this request was quickly denied. However, I admit that we settled for the ‘child-size’ Nutella filled crepe. SIGH.

I haven’t written to Cora’s to share my thoughts yet, but plan to.

Have a great day!

Jane Cunningham, PDt, MSc, parent of 3

Jane Cunningham is a Professional Dietitian and is passionate about her work in healthy public policy and creating healthy food environments. Jane lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, with her husband and three daughters. When Jane is not at work or hanging out with her family, you will find her running long distances along the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dr. Mark Hyman Writing About "Science for Sale" Is More Than a Bit Rich

Yesterday on my Twitter feed someone shared a link to an op-ed penned by Dr. Mark Hyman back in 2010 for HuffPo. They were using the piece as a means to prove their point, that Western medicine is corrupt.

In his piece, Hyman, a physician who practices something called Functional Medicine, decried the fact, and it's a true one, that peer reviewed publications are often biased and that their authors misrepresent their findings. Hyman cited a study in JAMA that he boiled down to,
"The "spin doctors" writing the papers found a way to show treatments worked, when in fact, they didn't."
The crux of his message in HuffPo seems to be that medicine is corrupted by pharmaceutical money and that "evidence-based" (his quotation marks, not mine) medicine can't be trusted because, "the underlying motive is profit".

Hyman seemed most upset about the fact that according to that study in JAMA, when analyzed, even among randomized trials, the researchers, in some instances,
"uncovered that in cases where studies had negative outcomes--in other words, the treatment studied DID NOT work--the scientists authoring the studies created a "spin" on the data that showed the treatments DID work."
And I agree, that's egregious, and clearly more effort needs to be made to control the spin of science and to question the conclusions of people whose "underlying motives" might be perceived as profit. Given the growing number of scientific retractions, and of increasing calls for clinical trial transparency and data sharing, and for peer review reform, I think we are, slowly, heading in the right direction. The system's definitely not perfect, but of course, neither is science - science is not a body of facts, but rather a living, breathing, changing, system of checks, balances, critique, and questions.

So in the spirit of transparency, and perhaps too for the sake of a better critical appraisal of Dr. Hyman's published piece, there's more you need to know about Dr. Hyman's medical practice.

Dr. Hyman charges large sums of money for the supplements and "detoxes" that he sells directly from his "Healthy Living Store". Doing some quick PubMed searches didn't have me finding any well designed, randomized trial studies - not even bad ones - that would support much of their use, and what's being sold in Dr. Hyman's Healthy Living Store is accompanied by Dr. Hyman's own created (or at least tacitly endorsed) "spin" to suggest that the detoxes and supplements he's selling DO work. Spin like,
"The 10-Day Detox Diet Advanced Kit Supplements includes all of the healthy foundational vitamins and nutrients needed for healthy blood sugar support in the basic plan kit as well as four special herbs that have been used to enhance insulin sensitivity and balance blood sugar for centuries."
And when you're done with your "detox", maybe you'll move on to Dr. Hyman's "AutoImmune Support Kit with Blood Sugar and Inflammation Support", which according to the "spin" on Hyman's store page,
"includes all of the supplementation needed to support healthy blood sugar balance and address autoimmune disease by focusing on reducing inflammation and calming down an overactive immune system. Anything that causes inflammation will, in turn, cause insulin resistance. And anything that causes insulin resistance will cause inflammation. This dangerous spiral is at the root of so many of our twenty-first-century chronic maladies. Use this kit to help balance your immune system and cool off inflammation."
Given that just 10 days worth of Hyman's "detox" supplements will run you near $300, and with many others' monthly costs running well into the hundreds (the Autoimmune one clocks in at $235.18/month), and with Hyman having incredible influence and large throngs of follower to who he clearly is comfortable directly selling non-rigorously studied supplements, I think his outrage about both "spin" and financial conflicts of interest in traditional medicine, are in more ways than one, a bit rich.

All this to say, I readily agree with Dr. Hyman. It's important for science, and for you, to question the underlying motives of anyone trying to sell advice and/or products, including advice and products from both the traditional realms of science and medicine, and perhaps especially the advice and/or products from those realms lacking actual evidence.

[Full disclosure: I don't sell supplements, I have no shares in any drug company, I almost never prescribe medication, I don't make any more money when I do prescribe medications, I receive no funding from drug companies, I don't see drug reps in my office, but I have been paid to speak by drug companies before with the last time being 3 years ago.]

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Ontario Schools Actively Promoting Sugar Sweetened Milk As Healthy

Thanks to blog readers Marian and Jonathan for sending in photos of the fliers that came home with their elementary school aged children following the start of the school year.

Jonathan's question was whether or not having the same amount of sugar as juice was something brag worthy for chocolate milk?

At 7 teaspoons of sugar per little carton (4 of them added), I sure don't think so.

And really, is milk such a magical elixir that it warrants the promotion and sale of sugar sweetened versions of it?

Fruits and berries are pretty healthful foods to try to eat every day. If your kids don't want to eat them, will you be offering them up daily pies?

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Stories: Corruption, Uncomfortable Truths, and Apocalyptic Schadenfreude

Kurt Eichenwalk in Newsweek with an incredible tale of medical corruption within the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Adam Rutherford in The Guardian tackles science and uncomfortable truths.

Steven Johnson, via Medium, with a great read on what he's called "apocalyptic schadenfreude"

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook below is the segment I did with The Social on some tricks to help you get better sleep (and if you're not in Canada, you can use the free Hola browser extension to get past the geoblocking)]

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Reminder - You Can't Read Tone in Text Messages

Today's Funny Friday is a very uncensored PSA from Key and Peele on text message confusion.

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Why I'm Shutting Down Comments on Weighty Matters

It's not a decision I've entered into lightly.

After a decade of blogging with (at least as I'm writing this post) 2,607 posts and 13,488 comments, it's a big change that I'm going to try out for at least a little while. I no longer have the time to respond to all comments, and as social media has grown, I've noticed that comment numbers on the blog itself have gone down while spam comments have grown. This led me last year to turn on comment moderation that included a captcha, but surprisingly, this didn't turn down the volume of spam, and culling the spam and serving as moderator, has been taking up more and more time. Given the many other avenues of commentary these days, avenues that often have many more comments than here, leaving them live on the blog seems somewhat redundant.

That said, if you're keen to comment, I have no plans to turn off comments over on Weighty Matters' Facebook page where I provide a link to each day's posting. I'm leaving them up there for two reasons. One, I can't stomach not providing people with a venue to tell me I'm wrong. And two, because the volume of comments on Facebook is so much greater than that on the blog, there seems to be almost a native mechanism in place for everyone to keep everyone else in check.

And if you do feel the need to yell at me, you can always find me on Twitter, or simply send me an email (yonifreedhoff at gmail).


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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

More Evidence That School PE Isn't The Ticket Out Of Childhood Obesity

And really, why would it be? Putting aside the depressing fact that exercise burns far fewer calories than would be fair, singular interventions can't possibly be expected to have any demonstrable impact on obesity rates, as obesity is a highly complex problem. Highly complex problems aren't solvable by means of simple, singular solutions.

But there's no denying that exercise is crucial to health, and that at least on paper, it should help with obesity as well. I've discussed this a bunch in the past, but putting it simply, perhaps one of the main reasons exercise doesn't have the impact on weight that it ought, is that as a society we seem to have this bad habit of eating because we exercised. Sometimes we do this to reward our good behaviour. Other times we do this because we've been fed a steaming load of food-industry marketing that we need to "recover" or "refuel". And sometimes we do this because of exercise-induced hunger.

The problem with the promotion of PE to help combat obesity, when studies to date have nearly uniformly demonstrated that it will do nothing of the sort, is that doing so further promotes the message to parents, children, and the public, that exercising more is the answer and that the primary driver of childhood obesity is not a dietary one, but one of fitness.

Now my take of the literature of forks vs. feet as the base drivers of societal weight woes is that the lion's share comes from the forks, but even putting that aside, I worry about the longevity of increasing or improving school based PE and physical activity if those increases and improvements are rolled out in the name of childhood obesity. If the intervention doesn't lead to the desired primary outcome, then that intervention will undoubtedly risk reversal or removal. And yet PE in schools does provide real benefits to children - in terms of health, physical literacy, learning, and attention.

Here in Canada a large meta-analysis found that PE had no impact on participating kids' weights, and now those findings have been echoed in a large European meta-analysis published last month where the researchers found,
"While few studies showed a decrease in BMI, positive results were achieved on other outcomes, such as metabolic parameters and physical fitness".
By continuing to link PE to childhood obesity, we're doing a disservice to both PE and childhood obesity.

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