Saturday, September 16, 2017

Saturday Stories: Watson, Goop, and Nutrients

Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz in STAT on the disappointment that is IBM's Watson and cancer.

Olga Khazan in The Atlantic ponders why it is that Goop is so popular.

Helena Bottemiller Evich in Politico discusses the fall of our foods' nutrients.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Canadians, Please Step Away From The Chip Wagons

My office's local chip wagon (for Americans, think of a food truck, but where fries are their dedicated specialty) is a case study as to why trans-fats need to be regulated out of the food supply.

Walking by the truck with Dr. Aric Sudicky we noticed outside of it, were empty fryer oil buckets. The buckets were a perfect size to brine a turkey and so I asked if I could have one. Kindly, the chip wagon folks said, "sure".

When we saw its trans-fat content our jaws dropped.

It contained 1.9g of trans-fat in every 9.2g of deep fryer shortening.

A quick spin online found us an article that reported that 17.1% of the weight of a french fry came from its absorbed frying oil.

A purchase of a large fries, a kitchen scale, and a smidgen of math later and it turns out that there are a staggering 20.5g of trans-fat in a large serving of our chip wagon's fries.

Here's the video we shot to help put all of this in perspective.

Non-naturally occurring trans-fats, according to the head of Health Canada's trans-fat task force (and everyone really), are a toxin unsafe in any amount, and 20.5g? Well that's the equivalent amount found in 11.4 teaspoons of the most trans-fat laden stick margarine we could find in the supermarket, the No Frills No Name All Vegetable Shortening which according to its package packed 3.5g of trans fat into every 2 teaspoons.

Now Health Canada had promised back in 2007 to regulate trans-fat out of the food supply if voluntary measures failed, and despite those measures' epic failure, for inexplicable reasons, regulation never happened.

The good news though is that I have it on good authority that Health Canada will be moving imminently on the trans-fat file. Given people have literally died waiting for them, their announcement can't come too soon.

[Interesting short side note: When looking up the margarine's trans-fat content online (I was looking for better photos than the one that had been shared with me), I found that No Frills' No Name All Vegetable Shortening was reported to only contain 0.1g of trans-fat per 2 teaspoons (as opposed to the actual label's reported 3.5).

Seemed really odd until I also noticed, in a very faint and difficult to read font (that's it in the hard to read light grey at the bottom) the line,
"The values stated are approximate and may not be fully representational of this products (sic) vitamins, minerals, and ingredients"
. Um...WTF?]

[And lastly, huge thanks to Dr. Aric Sudicky who shot and edited the video. Aric is a resident finishing up his last year of training and is spending the month with me. You can follow Aric on Twitter, and he's much more active on Instagram than me (I'm old).]

Bookmark and Share

Monday, September 11, 2017

Unbelievable Grade One Snack List Highlights Unhealthy Social Norms

Thanks to nutritional biochemist Dr. Dylan MacKay (following him on Twitter is well worth it) for sharing the handout his 6 year old daughter's school sent home to parents to provide them with examples of peanut free snacks that their kids could bring.

The list is unbelievable. In part it's difficult to believe that a school would suggest these options, but more, it's difficult to believe that whoever put this together didn't take a minute to pause and consider what they were writing.

That they didn't doesn't speak to their lack of intellect, competence, or caring, but rather speaks to just how normal it has become to rely on ultra-processed junk to feed our children. Plainly put, people tend not to question or scrutinize social norms.

Here's the list transcribed
Cookies and Crackers

Dare: Wagon wheels, Bear paws, Vinta crackers, Grissol breads
Christie: If no peanut/nut warning on pkg then safe. Chips Ahoy, Oreos, Animal Crackers, Ritz, Stoned Wheat Thins, Triscuit, Premium Plus
Peek Freans: Shortbread, Creme-Filled, Digestive Cookies
Kellogg's: Rice Krispie squares (except for peanut type), Nutri-grain bars, Pop Tarts, Special K bars
President's Choice: Various cookies and crackers, Granola bars, Rice Crispie squares, animal crackers, fruit snacks
Pepperidge Farms: Goldfish crackers (various flavors)
Betty Crocker/General Mills: Fruit snacks, fruit roll-up, Dunkaroos


Old Dutch: All flavors, popcorn twists, pretzels, taco chips
Frito/Lays: All flavors, tortilla, taco chips, cheezies
Pringles: All flavors
Hawkins: Cheezies

Yogurt: Most yogurts are safe except those that contain Muesli

Puddings: Jello, Magic moments, Superstore brands are all safe, Fruit cups and applesauces


Dare Candy: all Dare candy made in a peanut/nut free facility
Wonka Candy: Sweet tarts, Nerds, Gobstoppers
Hershey's: *some products have peanut free symbol, Twizzlers, Nibs, Tootsie rolls, Kisses (read label for safe flavors), treat size bars
Nestle: Aero, Kit Kat, Coffee Crisp, Mirage, Mint Aero, Smarties, also treat size bars (seasonal or special shaped (heart, or ball) treats may not be safe)
Effem: *Mars bars with peanut free symbol, Skittles
Trebor-Allan: Various candy, Laces, Big foot, Hot lips, Lollipops
Vadeboncoeur: #peanut free symbol. Variety of chocolates
And then, as an afterthought, outside the main list iat the very bottom of the page, is this non-highlighted single line,
"Fruits and Vegetables are healthy choices and are also peanut free"
Hopefully, moving forward, the school will utilize the revised version that Dylan mocked up for them, and if your kid's school sends you a similar list, free free to share it with them as well.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Saturday Stories: Flinging Feces, Undermining Health, And Science Sense

From the BBC comes a byline free story about feces flinging that though not even remotely deep, scientific, important, or fascinating, is just too golden not to share.

Rob Moodie, in The Conversation, covers what he refers to as the seven tactics unhealthy industries use to undermine public health policies.

Cornelia Dean, in Undark, with a terrific excerpt from her book, Making Sense of Science

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Ask The Wrong Question, Get The Wrong Answer, Risk Public Health

An example of a Kompan 'Supernova'
Saw a recent study in the International Journal of Obesity. The study, The effect of increasing risk and challenge in the school playground on physical activity and weight in children: a cluster randomised controlled trial (PLAY), set to measure the impact of school playground redesigns aimed at encouraging "imaginative and independent free play" on Grade 1-8 students' weight, waist circumferences, BMI z-scores, and their accelerometer measured activity intensity and duration.

All the schools involved in the intervention arm made substantial changes to their playgrounds which sound so fantastic that here's the paper's description,
"All eight intervention schools made substantial changes to their school play spaces, which promoted greater risk and challenge through building new areas (hills and tunnels), adding more dynamic equipment (for example, a Kompan ‘Supernova’ that requires co-ordination and teamwork to use), or via relaxing the rules (letting children ride their bicycles or scooters on school grounds, allowing children to climb trees or play outside in the rain). Children were able to engage more with natural elements, create imaginative play opportunities with loose parts (carrying tree stumps around to form a spaceship or a jumping game where the ground cannot be touched) or long grass (places to hide, roll around in, throw mown grass at each other). Some schools also ensured greater equity in access for all ages, or made different aspects of the playground more attractive"
The results weren't shocking.

The installation of awesome sounding playgrounds and relaxing playground rules wasn't shown to have any effect on kids' weights, waists, or BMI z-scores.

I say the results aren't surprising because why would anyone expect, even with a best case scenario, that an increase in schoolyard imaginative or challenging play could change kids' weights or waists? How many minutes messing around on a Koman Supernova would it take a young child to burn 100 calories more than they would lazily moving and resting in a plain lot? If I were a betting man, my vote would be in the neighbourhood 2-3 hours, or more than a week's worth of recess. But that's not a fair way to consider those calories given that those 100 calories aren't likely to be above and beyond the calories those same kids would have burned if they were engaged in less imaginative or challenging play.

As to activity, at least according to the kids' accelerometers, there wasn't an increase, though I'm fairly sure that they're unable to measure imagination.

What didn't the study measure? Physical literacy, fun, or happiness.

Honestly I can't understand why this study was conducted, at least in the context of the kids' weights and such. There's no mechanism by which anyone could reasonably expect fancier playground equipment to lead to significant weight change, but now that the study's out there, I wonder if it'll serve to discourage schools from undertaking awesome playground remodels of their own? I sure hope not. They sound great.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

UK Gov's ParkLives Kids' Exercise Partnership Markets Coca-Cola

ParkLives is a joint project between Coca-Cola and the British government that aims to promote free physical fitness activities at local UK parks.

At least that's what's in it for the British government.

What's in it for Coca-Cola?

Well of course they can spin it as strong corporate social responsibility which helps their claim that they're on team health and in so doing provide themselves with ammunition to possibly forestall or block industry unfriendly legislation.

But there's more.

There's marketing.

A recent study set out to look at the ParkLives project through the lens of advertising.

The study analyzed two weeks worth of #ParkLives tweets during two separate weeks. The first week was during a week of school vacation (where the marketing might be expected to be thicker and the events more frequent), while the second was during the school year, but spanning National Fitness Day.

Every identified tweet was then coded for category of content (marketing or otherwise)

Over the two weeks of collection, 318 tweets containing 216 images were identified, and of those, 57% included a Coca-Cola logo (usually on banners or staff shirts).

The authors note that the exposure to Coca-Cola branding is perhaps more powerful here in that with ParkLives, Coca-Cola is associated with fun, healthy, family activities.

The authors' take on all of this?
"ParkLives is indicative of a CSR project that aims to create a health halo around a brand and influence wider socio-ecological factors by guiding public discourse and directing opinion on the determinants of public health issues away from corporate influence and toward individual responsibility"
Partnerships, by definition, benefit both involved parties. Perhaps governments shouldn't be helping out in the business of marketing the world's largest liquid candy brand.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Could Health Canada's Future Front-of-Package Stoplights Reform Deceptive Claims?

So on Monday I blogged about how there are plenty of foods of dubious nutritional quality with fronts-of-package claims that while legal, are deceptive.

Looking ahead, there is the chance that Health Canada will be implementing a national front-of-package food labeling program which in turn would highlight products' higher than desired nutrient contents (perhaps by way of stoplights for instance).

So here's my straightforward suggestion.

Regardless of the system implemented, if a product's ingredients score it a front-of-package warning from Health Canada, that product's packaging should be legally prohibited from including any front-of-package health claims or inferences (where inferences for example would be a package of Froot Loops shouting out to its inclusion of whole grains or Vitamin D, but without an actual functional health claim).

Though imperfect, this simple step might help tilt the playing field ever so slightly away from the food industry's current unfair advantage.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency Asks For Examples of Deceptive Food Labels

Saw this tweet from the CFIA and so I decided to take a supermarket field trip and found plenty of what I would describe as deceptive food labels.

5 teaspoons of sugar per bar along with 210 calories 
31% more sugar cup per cup than Froot Loops
By weight, this product is 48% sugar
Cookie for cookie more than double the sugar of an Oreo
Drop for drop more sugar and calories than Coca-Cola
With 2.75tsp of sugar per "Twist", contains the sugar of 2.3 actual Twizzlers
Each popsicle contains the sodium found in 93/100ths of one single grain of table salt (along with 2 teaspoons of sugar)

But here's the problem, none of the products' labels above break any Canadian packaging laws, and if the labelling laws themselves explicitly permit deceptive labels, consumers don't stand a chance.

Why have a system where the onus is on the consumer to study the products' nutrition fact panels to determine if their healthy front of package claims are supported?

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday Stories: Anne Frank Center, Post-Truth America, and Front Lawn Farming

Before you share that next clever Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect zinger, please read Albert Eisenberg in National Review on how the center is a disgrace to Anne Frank's name and memory, and Emma Green in The Atlantic, with her detailed history of the center.

Kurt Anderson in the Atlantic with a great but depressing longread on how America has lost its collective mind.

Arielle Dollinger, in the New York Times, on the rise of front lawn farmers.

[And for those who don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I've decided to try to resurrect my Weighty Mutters podcast. You can find it on Anchor, iTunes, and Google Play]

Bookmark and Share