Friday, December 21, 2007

I Have no Words to Describe This

Let me apologize in advance for this week's Funny Friday installment.

If juvenile humour isn't your thing, definitely don't click the video.

If any of my readers are from Japan, I'd love an explanation of what the heck is going on.

Folks, I'm taking a week off blogging next week so I want to wish those of you celebrating holidays happy ones and I'll be back in the New Year and already I've got some posts lined up about further hypocrisies over at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a nice quobesity from the American Beverage Association and more.

Thanks for tuning in this year!

Have a great week!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The New Obesity Map

Boy this study had legs.

Researchers at the University of Alberta did a study whereby they mapped Canadian obesity rates in relation with fast food restaurant density.

What they found was

"was actually a fairly strong relationship, a strong correlation between the two, that those cities that had higher obesity and overweight rates tended to have a higher density of at least the larger fast-food restaurant chains, so there were more restaurants per person in those cities".
The media loved it!
You Want Size with That?
- The Toronto Star

Fast food fuels fat cities; As restaurant tally rises, obesity rates follow, study suggests
- The Toronto Star (must have been a later edition)

Survey Links Restaurant Numbers, Fat
- The Vancouver Province

Fast Food Helps Put Hamilton on Obesity Map
- Hamilton Spectator

Where's the beefiest?; Closest to the highest density of fast-food outlets, one new study into obesity in Canada suggests.
- The London Free Press

Obesity rates lower in cities with fewer fast-food restaurants: Study
- The Calgary Herald

Weight may be linked to geography: study
- The Daily News (Halifax)

'Obesity map' plots fattest, greasiest cities
- The Saskatoon Star

More fast-food equals higher obesity: research
- The Edmonton Journal

More fast food choice makes for fatter cities, study confirms
- The National Post

Study finds greasy cities create chubbier residents
- Times Columnist (Victoria)

Greasier the city, fatter its residents; New research. 'Strong relationship' between flab and access to fast food
- The Gazette (Montreal)

Cities with more fast food are fatter; Edmontonians thinner than us
- The Calgary Herald

Greasier the city, the fatter its citizens; Study links greater obesity to more fast-food outlets
- The Windsor Star

Fast food cooks up portly people
- The Edmonton Sun

More fast food = fatter folk
- Edmonton Rush Hour

When it comes to obesity, location matters
- The Globe and Mail

You Are What You Eat
- The Daily News (Kamloops)
- The Daily Courier (Kelowna)
- The Welland Tribune
- The Brantford Expositor
- The Belleville Intelligencer (I didn't make up that name)
- The Toronto Sun
- The Sudbury Star
- The St. Catherine's Standard
- The Simcoe Reformer
- The Penticton Herald
- The North Bay Nugget
- Cornwall Standard Freeholder
- The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo)
- Winnipeg Free Press
- Prince George Citizen
- Times and Transcript (Moncton)
- Woodstock Sentinel Review

Best part of this whole business?

The quote by the study's author, Dr. Sean Cash, a fine young economist that I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with a few years ago at an obesity think tank. When asked what to make of the study this was his quote,
"I wouldn't say our study proves anything"
You see, some cities with high densities of fast food outlets had low rates of obesity and some cities with low densities of fast food outlets had high rates of obesity. Moreover there are literally dozens if not hundreds of other variables that may have influenced the results and even if the relationship was solid, it doesn't answer the question of chicken or egg.

Gee, you sure wouldn't guess that from the headlines would you? Well maybe if you lived in Vancouver as the Dr. Freedhoff award for journalistic integrity goes out to one lonely newspaper, The Vancouver Sun. Here's their headline:
"'Obesity map' shows strong link to fast-food access; But study doesn't prove anything, creator says"
Don't move yet.

[Hat tip to Rob our fitness director for noticing Sean's quote]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Eating Strategy

Many of my newer patients are worried about Christmas.

They're worried about the family gatherings, the meals out, the eggnog, the celebrations etc.

They worry because every time they've tried to "be careful" or "be good" during the holidays they've either eaten foods they feel they "shouldn't" or they've succeeded at being "good" at the expense of feeling bitter.

Well I've got news for you - life includes Christmas (and the myriad of other religious holidays and life events that involve celebrating with food).

If your eating plan or weight management strategy is such that you can't celebrate with food or one that makes you feel guilty if you do, it's probably time for you to do some thinking and ask yourself the question I often tell folks to ask themselves, "Could you live like this forever?".

The fact is who in their right mind would forever deny themselves the ability to comfort and celebrate with food - a function of food that is integral to our human existence.

What would I recommend?


Eat because it's Christmas, but not because you're hungry.

One of the most common mis-strategies employed by folks trying to watch their weight over a celebratory season is the, "I'll eat less all day long because I know I'll be eating more at night" approach. I think that's an awful strategy because inevitably what happens is they then arrive at their evening affair hungry.

Do we behave differently when we're hungry? Of course, and anyone who's ever gone to the Supermarket hungry can attest to the influence hunger has on their food buying decisions.

Do you think that sitting down to a meal hungry is any different? Nope, it's just that now instead of shopping from the aisles you're shopping from the menu, the table, your plate, the cupboards, the fridge or the freezer and rest assured you'll shop differently.

While you may well still eat more calories than a regular old day even if your hunger was prevented, without a doubt if you're hungry and faced with celebratory high calorie options the number of calories your hunger will lead you to over consume at dinner will greatly out weigh the number of calories you would have had if you had eaten regularly all day long and then sat down to a celebratory meal not hungry.

So this long winded post boils down to this. If you're not hungry at a celebratory meal or a restaurant meal you'll be able to pick foods thoughtfully and certainly having more indulgent foods for celebration is a very appropriate and human thing to do. On the other hand if you're hungry when you sit, well now you've got a great reason to eat (celebration) and you're combining it with a preventable reason to eat (hunger) and the synergy between those two eating motivations is going to have you eating far more than if you simply stuck with celebratory food.

Willpower is the absence of hunger.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The McDonald's Report Card

What's the best way for McDonald's to ensure that you spend your hard earned fast food dollars at their cash registers? Hook you when you're young.

McDonald's has had a long history of child-directed advertising, with much of it not in the formal guise of advertisement.

Well, here's a new one - team up with a local school board and offer free McDonald's foods as rewards for good grades.

A number of bloggers have already written about this.

Michael Long from Rudd Sound Bites is,

"worried about how it explicitly links performance and self-esteem with eating fast food"
Marion Nestle from her What to Eat blog was wary about what else was in store from public-private partnerships with the food industry and steered people to the New York Times article which is critical of what they labeled as, "the commercialization of educational culture".

Me, I'm not too upset with McDonald's. As I often remind folks here and in my talks, the food industry's job is to sell food, not to look after your health. While it might to many be an unappetizing and disingenuous way to promote themselves, I really don't think you can fault McDonald's for finding an innovative way to not only get customers through the door, but to link themselves with the tacit endorsement of schools in the promotion of the message that eating at McDonald's is something one should consider so great as to be a reward (and of course not just for scholastic accomplishments but for anything you might feel's worth celebrating with your child).

No, the folks that I'd call to question are the members of the Seminole County School Board, a school board with at least a decade long tradition of selling out to Big Food whereupon according to the New York Times article prior to McDonald's picking up the $1,600 report card printing tab, Pizza Hut used to do it offering a personal pan pizza as a reward and with their logo in place of Ronald.

If anyone is interested in writing to the school board, click right here and you can send an email to all of the members of the board and the board's superintendent, though I'd wager that with all the publicity to date, when this contract runs out, so too will fast food report cards.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Big Milk's Mouthful of Foot

For those of you who may be new subscribers one of my recurring features is something I call, "Quobesities".

I define a quobesity as,

"quotes that in one way or another embody what's wrong and hopefully, occasionally, what's right with relation to our attitudes and knowledge about weight and weight related matters."
Yesterday there was a beauty in the New York Times. This one was from Bruce W. Krupke, the executive vice president of New York State Dairy Foods, a trade organization paid for by milk producers. He was writing the Times to complain about their December 10th editorial piece, Junking Fat Food in Schools which detailed an amendment to the farm bill that called for the limitation of milk in schools to be low-calorie milk.

Why would milk be considered "junk food"?

Because frankly in some cases it is, like for instance the 3 Musketeers Slammers that I detailed in a previous post that at 340 calories provides your children with over 10 teaspoons of sugar and more than double the Calories of a can of Coca Cola.

So what did Mr. Krupke have to say?
"Senator Harkin has included in his amendment provisions to limit container sizes (the 16-ounce container sold in vending machines is outlawed), to eliminate whole and 2 percent milk, and to impose serving-size calorie restrictions. In his quest to dictate what can be sold in schools, milk has been caught up in his net.

Drinking milk is not contributing to children's obesity. Milk has essential vitamins and nutrients essential for good growth and health
Damn that Senator Harkin and his evil "net", doesn't he know milk has nutrients!

Unfortunately in many cases vending machine milk also has added sugars, chocolate and insanely large serving sizes (like the 14oz, 340 calorie, 10+ teaspoons of sugar Slammers in the picture above that Mr. Krupke would apparently love to see increase in size by 2oz).

So can Mr. Krupke really believe that providing children with 16oz servings of sugar sweetened candy-milk is a healthy choice and one that doesn't contribute to childhood obesity?

Well, here is another quote from Mr. Krupke that probably does a better job at explaining his objections. This quote is from his article in the New York State Dairy Food Inc.'s September newsletter,
"Another example of policy shift was with the introduction of bills aimed at creating “healthier” food choices for kids in schools by mandating package size restrictions while tying them all into calorie and sugar limitations. These bills if passed would be a disaster for milk and ice cream companies. Fortunately our lobbying efforts combined with other groups kept the bill at bay."
Mr. Krupke, your touching concern for our children is duly noted.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

If I didn't have ethics, I'd be rich!

I collect antique weight loss gizmos, doodads and quackery objects.

I've got one of those jiggly machines from the 20s that wraps a belt around your waist and vibrates. I've got a rolling pin with suction cups from South America circa 1900 that was supposed to suck the fat off. I've got old pill bottles, books and lotions.

Sometimes people ask me if they worked, or more commonly they ask me about some new-fangled doodad.

I explain to them that while I don't have a study proving that they don't work, if they did work, I'd undoubtedly have a study on my desk telling me so and a drug rep knocking at my door trying to convince me to prescribe them.

That being said, the placebo effect is very powerful, as is the suffix MD which is why I'd love to see regulation in the weight loss industry so that the less ethical MDs out there who may be capitalizing on folks who are desperate to lose weight would have someone to answer too.

I can dream can't I?

Today for Funny Fridays I've got Penn and Teller's Bullsh!t demonstrating the power of both placebos and pressed white lab coats.

Have a great weekend!

Do 3 Year Olds Really Need Pizza Day?

My 3 year old daughter goes to pre-school 3 half days a week.

At the beginning of the year we received a letter from the school asking us for $45 to pay for her monthly pizza day.

"What's Pizza Day?", we asked ourselves.

Well, pizza day is a day where the school orders pizza for the kids and serves them that along with pretzels, cookies, juice and carrot sticks.

We didn't pay.

On pizza day we send our daughter to school with homemade pizza on a whole grain whole wheat pita, watered down juice in a sippy cup, yogurt and fruit.

And guess what, she's young enough not to care; she's 3 and peer pressure and conformity haven't really hit her yet.

I think the more important question to ask is, "Do 3 year olds really need pizza day?".

It's not as if they're going to know any different. It's not as if they wouldn't be just as happy with fruit salad day, or pita and hummus day, or simply not having a special food day that at the age of 3 teaches them about the culinary rewards of junk food. After all, they're 3 and they're simply happy to be 3. Certainly if the kids were older and they had a concept that pizza days were in fact a possibility and something to look forward too I'd have an easier time with them (though I'd still have a tough time with the need for the pretzels, cookies and apple juice), but again I've got to reiterate, these kids are 3 - they're not quite forward thinkers yet.

I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't gone to the school to talk to them about it. Many of our friends' children are in our daughter's class and many of them are happy about pizza day. For them it's a day where they don't have to pack a lunch and for some a day that they're pleased because at least their children will eat their lunch that day.

I'm truly split about whether this is something worth bringing up with the school or just leaving it alone. Any thoughts out there?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Exercise - the Videogame?

This one's for the Nintendo Wii and it's called Wii Fit and currently it is the number two selling video game in Japan (it's not available in North America yet). For those of you who don't know, the Nintendo Wii is a video game console whose controllers have motion sensors and so games on the Wii are played more actively.

With Wii Fit we see the addition of a balance board sensor.

While I can certainly envision its use in areas like stroke rehabilitation, Wii Fit just doesn't do it for me. I'm a gamer (at least I used to be before having children) and these really don't look like games to me.

My advice? If you want exercise, go outside and play. If you want to play video games, play video games. Please don't waste your money on a product that will do little for you in the way of exercise and as far as fun quotient goes....well, I don't want be seen as a stick in the mud, so here is Sarcastic Gamer's overdubbed parody of the original Wii Fit trailer.

Go outside!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Diabetes - the Videogame?

Wow - someone's really been thinking laterally.

While type II diabetes is the one making most media headlines these days, type I diabetes is still a devastating diagnosis for many young families. Given that the disease often hits when children are far too young to understand the medical consequences of high blood sugars, finding ways for them to improve their glycemic (sugar) control is paramount for parents given that we know, the higher the sugars, the greater the damage from the disease.

Enter Glucoboy - as far as I'm aware, the first videogame based glucometer (blood glucose meter). It works with both the Nintendo Game Boy Advanced and the Nintendo DS and when you plug the glucometer into the Nintendos, something magical happens - it gives kids a tangible reason to care about their blood sugars whereby,

"test results are converted into Glucose Reward Points (GRPs) that can be used to unlock games, or converted to in game currency. For example, in the included Knock ‘Em Downs game, GRPs can be converted into tokens. In the game, tokens can be spent to purchase items."
Hopefully the company, Guidance Interactive Healthcare, will continue to develop more glucometer based games.

If you're interested in learning more or buying your own, feel free to visit their website at

Currently the device is available in Australia for AUD $299. A small price to pay for a healthier child.

Monday, December 10, 2007

More on the Useless Ontario School Trans-Fat Ban

So did you think I was being too harsh on Ontario's Premier Mr. McGuinty with my criticism of his school trans-fat ban?

Turns out, I was being too easy.

Someone pointed me to one of the pieces that the CTV had done on the ban and sent me both the link to the video and some screen captures and asked for my thoughts.

That picture at the top of this blog, those are the foods that Dalton McGuinty tells a bunch of students will,

"Give us energy, help us stay awake in class. Right?"
Well they sure would "Give us energy".

The muffins...they look to me like a commercially baked cranberry (let's assume low-fat) and some kind of a raisin bran version. They also look to me about the size of a small cake. If we use Tim Horton's nutritional information as a yardstick, the raisin muffin likely has in the neighbourhood of 390 calories (the equivalent number of calories as 1 litre of Coca Cola) and 790mg of sodium (2/3rds of your child's daily requirement). The low-fat cranberry one's not a heck of a lot better with 290 calories and 750mg of sodium. They also contain on average 8 teaspoons of added sugar.

The Quaker Oatmeal to Go? 220 calories and 5 teaspoons of sugar. Roughly identical numbers to a bar of Hershey's Milk Chocolate.

The Special K bar? 90 calories, one third of them directly from sugar. Pretty much an identical breakdown to a 100 calorie Kit-Kat bar, and as my friend Julie from It Must Have Been Something I Ate once wrote the Special K bar,
"contains gram for gram more sugar and less fibre than Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies"
I won't knock the apples or the raisins. Both have in the neighborhood of 50 or so calories.

Brilliant choices Dalton!

Some folks in the comments section over at the CTV blog where my blog is often picked up were really quite upset with my criticisms.

One individual wrote,
"Oh please. We've got to start somewhere, don't we? These people who want all or nothing solutions bother me."
and another wrote,
"It is unfortunate that a medical professional would share such a negative and limited view. Healthy adults begin with healthy kids and youth. Schools are an ideal place to support and promote healthy choices."
Would you like to see what your schools promote as lunch time choices?

Remember, this so-called at least do something solution of banning trans-fats will not in fact change menus, it'll just require the use of foods and oils that are trans fat free.

Below are some other screen captures from that very same CTV story showing a school cafeteria working doling out of an enormous mound of onion rings to go with a cheeseburger with it's huge refined flour bun and a giant spinning tower of pizza.

So for those folks who were upset with me, do you honestly think that removing trans-fats from the obscenely unhealthy foods being served to our children in schools is going to make a difference or shouldn't we be removing in fact the obscenely unhealthy foods? Also, in our ever growing epidemic of childhood obesity, do you think that providing our children "snacks" that have the caloric equivalent and nutritional benefits of chocolate bars, cookies and litres of soft drinks is a good idea?

Again, I've got to reiterate. Firstly if Mr. McGuinty truly feels that trans-fats are unhealthy enough to remove from our schools then he should be fighting to remove them from the Province. Regarding the kids whose health he feels is too important to ignore, what percentage of foods do they eat in school versus foods they bring to school or buy off school grounds? Secondly, to discuss the removal of trans-fats as part of a strategy to reduce childhood obesity is at best misguided and at worst the willful manipulation of public sentiment by preying on people's fears and love of their children for personal political gain. While I will often champion small changes in the fight against obesity, this one has no scientific legs and frankly I would have hoped, an insult to the intelligence of the voting public.

Don't shoot the messenger.

[Hat tip to Lorne from our office]

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stay in School


Why agree to go on a game show that demonstrates you're not smarter than a 5th grader if you're not smarter than a 5th grader?

Today for Funny Fridays, here's a young lady named Kellie Pickler who is a recording artist and a former contestant on American Idol.

She's not smarter than a 5th grader....

Oh, and the host demonstrates his redneckness as well (it's Jeff Foxworthy afterall).

Have a great weekend!

[Hat tip goes out to Arya!]

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ontario's Useless Trans-Fat Gesture

So a couple of days ago Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty issued a press release detailing the Ontario Liberals coming ban of trans-fat in school cafeterias.

Should we be clapping?

Um, let me help you with this one.

Is it helpful to ban trans-fat in school but still have it sold in the variety stores and fast food outfits right across the street? Is it helpful to ban trans-fat in schools but still have it dripping in the products that parents pack in their kids' lunches?

Mr. McGuinty was quoted as stating in response to why they're pushing for this "ban",

"Our kids' health is just too important to risk."
If it's too important to risk in schools, why is it alright to risk it in the rest of the province? And what about everyone else's health? Trans-fats were referred to by the government's trans-fat task force as a toxin in our food supply that was unsafe at any level. If it's not safe in schools, why is it safe to have in our hospitals, daycares, nursing homes, government offices, supermarkets and restaurants?

He also states that one of the drives to do this is the effect of trans-fats on obesity rates. That one really irritates me as the evidence linking trans-fats specifically to rising rates of obesity is dodgy at best with most of it coming from animal studies that are far from conclusive. All he's doing is playing on Canadians' fears by throwing out the words "obesity" and "trans-fats" so he can make political hay.

Here's some free advice - if you're worried about obesity how about do something about the currency of weight? How about legislating for the inclusion of calories on menus and pushing for a Food Guide that recognizes that in Canada it's now considered abnormal to have a healthy body weight?

Bottom line - if it's not safe in the schools, it's not safe in the province. Get off the trans-fat fence and sit either on the side that feels our worry on trans-fats is overblown or on the side that thinks we should ban them outright. Impaling yourself on a fence post doesn't help anyone.

Shame on you Mr. McGuinty for such a blatant and useless attempt at manipulating the public into thinking you care.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

ONQI - The New Word in Nutrition

It stands for Overall Nutritional Quality Index and it'll do for you what the Health Check doesn't - steer you to more nutritious choices and do so with rigorous scientific underpinnings.

Developed by 12 of the world's leading nutritional experts in a manner explicitly designed to shield them from the influence of industry, ONQI is the dead-simple product of the complex algorithm developed by these experts which rates a food on a scale of 1 to 100 - the higher the number, the healthier the food.

The expert panel included Dr. David Katz co-founder and director of the CDC funded, Yale University - Griffin Hospital Prevention Research Center, Dr. Walter Willett chairman of nutrition at Harvard sine 1991 and regularly featured researcher on this blog, Dr. Rebecca Reeves past president of the American Dietetic Association, Dr. David Jenkins from my alma mater the University of Toronto and the inventor of the glycemic index and 8 others who I haven't been able to identify from the various news articles yet.

Dr. Willett had this to say at the press conference,

"Given the rising toll of nutrition-related health conditions in the U.S., in particular obesity, it is important to provide consumers with a simple standard regarding food choices that is as reliable as it is easy to understand. The ONQI is a labeling system that can help everyone make healthier choices in every food category quickly and easily"
Dr. Katz explained how ONQI works,
"People can improve their diets, and their health, both by changing the categories of foods they eat most - for example, by eating more fruits and vegetables - and by making better choices within a given category, including snack items and desserts. The ONQI is designed to do both. You can, in fact, compare apples to oranges (oranges win), or apples to marshmallows. But of more practical value you can compare one box of kid's breakfast cereal to another, cut right past all the marketing hype, and get to the truth at a glance."
If you want to see Dr. Katz talk about it, click here.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

World's Best Beverage?

I simply can't wait for Friday to post this.

It's just too good.

So today, for Funny Tuesday (and due to the fact that for the second morning in a row I've got to deal with my snowy driveway) may I present to you, Brawndo!

Firstly let me assure you, it is in fact an actual product.

After watching their online commercial, I have decided that I absolutely adore their product - so much so that the next time I want a sugar-laden, caffeinated "energy drink" I will absolutely reward Brawndo's truthiness with my hard earned cash.

Prepare to be amused.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sign of the Times

If this isn't a sign of the times I don't know what is.

Going through my spam folder yesterday.

Seeing all the usual suspects:

"No Erectile Dysfunction

Make your woman feel happy on holidays! Increase your willy!

Viagra $1,41 per pill. 100mg x 10 pills = $59.95.
Then I came across this one:
Fiber, whole grains may cut pancreatic cancer risk
So I clicked it thinking that perhaps it had been filtered in error.

Of course when I clicked it, it was still just someone trying to sell me Viagra.

I wonder if they know something I don't?