Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reality Coalition Canada #CON11

This morning I had the pleasure of helping to introduce Reality Coalition Canada to the Canadian Obesity Network's 2nd National Summit.

For those who are interested, here's a handheld shooting of our talk (thanks Brad!)

Saturday Stories

Skeptic North's Erik Davis reports on the murky world of "certified nutritionists" and how all nutritionists are certifiable! Make sure to read all 3 parts!

Sorry about lack of Funny Friday and truncated Saturday Stories - too busy with travel and conference to read.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Enough with the "fat taxes"! #CON11

My friend and colleague Arya wrote a blog post the other day where he took some issue with the concept of legislation that targeting obesity.

I don't disagree with him. I can't say it any more plainly. We shouldn't be passing legislation that targets obesity. Such legislation undoubtedly will just fuel further bias and stereotype and will almost certainly do more harm than good.

But yet I'm all for soda taxes, changes to our agricultural subsidy system, tax incentives to encourage exercise, banning advertising targeting children, and posting calories on menus.

Am I an oxymoron? (And yes, I realize many readers may be giggling and thinking, no, you're just a moron).

I don't think so.

The reason I don't think so is that all of those legislative efforts, they're only "fat taxes" and "obesity legislation" if you look at them through obesity blinders.

Yes, all of those interventions on paper might impact on obesity, but none of them target obesity, instead they target unhealthy products and unhealthy behaviours - products and behaviours that are unhealthy for everyone, not just for individuals with obesity.

All Canadians ought to drink less sugar sweetened beverages. All Canadians ought to exercise more. All Canadians would benefit from shifting agricultural subsidies to make healthy foods cheaper and unhealthy foods more expensive. All Canadian children should to be protected from predatory advertising. And all Canadians could stand to be empowered with caloric information at point of sale.

So let's stop talking about fat taxes and obesity legislation, and instead let's take a step back and recognize that these initiatives are there to empower, encourage and persuade healthier lifestyles both for persons with obesity and for persons without. We need to stop talking about them in terms of obesity as to do so is unfair, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous.

The fact is, we can all stand to make healthier choices.

Twittering, fat bashing, OB/GYN defends her sense of "humor"

A few days ago my friend and fellow blogger Travis Saunders from Obesity Panacea got into a Twitter fight with an obstetrician from Salt Lake City, Utah.

The obstetrician, Dr. Shelley Binkley, who tweets under the moniker @healthewoman, apparently doesn't appreciate having the misfortune of dealing with fat patients. Now that's unlikely to be a unique attitude, as anti-fat bias permeates society as a whole, (including doctors), but what was perhaps unique is that Dr. Binkley decided to take her bias and hate onto Twitter,

"A 5'2" woman weighing 254 pounds today told me she eats 'hardly anything'. I guess that might be true if 'anything' means the whole cow."
Travis took her to task, asking her among other things,
"Would you publicly denigrate patients with other chronic diseases"
And this led her to respond,
"Obesity is not a chronic disease; it's a behavioral problem: too much junk food, not enough exercise"
And therein lies the disconnect. Dr. Binkley believes obesity to be a part of a massive epidemic loss of will power. Especially I suppose among the children Dr. Binkley's bringing into this world, as childhood obesity rates are rising faster than adult. I suppose Dr. Binkley believes 7 year olds these days don't have the willpower they used to.

The fact is, people haven't changed over the course of the past 30 years. We haven't developed heightened hedonistic tendencies. Our environment has changed, and living freely in this environment causes the vast majority of the population to gain weight. Blaming individuals for their environment isn't helpful.

Less helpful?

Perpetuating anti-obesity bias under the guise of caring, which is precisely what Dr. Binkley has done.

The most telling part of Dr. Binkley's story?

In the newspaper article that came out of it Dr. Binkley talks of what she's learned from this experience. Sadly it wasn't that her attitudes demonstrated a hateful, ignorant, anti-fat bias. Instead it was that she's got to be more careful using, "humor" in her tweets, an attitude she's echoed on Twitter,
"Some people lack humor, can't laugh at themselves. I pity them for their lives must be sad"
Because what's funnier than making fun of your patients' medical conditions?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do Disney World foods reflect what North American palates want?

If so, we're all doomed.

I just came back from a week in Disney World, and while I'd been warned about the food, I don't think anything could have prepared me for just how bad it was.

And while yes, I do mean bad in the sense of how awful everything tasted, I mainly mean bad in the sense of how there was barely a healthy option to be found.

One morning we had a character breakfast with the princesses in the Norwegian pavilion at Epcot. They served breakfast "family" style, which meant for our family of 7 (my 5, which includes a baby, along with my parent in-laws), they brought out two heaping mounds of food (a photo of the remains of one such mound up above). In total they served us 26 strips of bacon (yes, I counted), a bunch of sausages, two piles of the saltiest scrambled eggs I've ever tasted, and this cloyingly rich potato dish with cheese and cream. Oh, and we were also meant to eat from the all you can eat buffet of pastries, cereals, cheeses, meats etc. When we asked the server about the salty eggs, his answer was, "yeah, they make them with a lot of salt", and when I looked around the room, most of the plates were empty.

Now I realize people don't go to Disney World for the food, but my thinking is that Disney of all companies, has a pretty darn good idea of what people want. They've been in this business for a long time, and Disney World alone hosts 17 million visitors a year. If this is what the North American palate wants, insane portions, mounds of salt, creamy everything, and no healthy choices, we're in big trouble.

[So why go to Disney? Well yes they serve awful food, and yes they contribute to the culture of consumerism, and also to the objectification of women. Of course they also contribute to very happy little kids (the 3 in this video are mine), and it's difficult not to love them for providing experiences like this: (email subscribers will need to hit the blog to see the video)]

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Food addiction. Chicken or egg?

Food addiction's a hot topic these days.

Proponents posit that food addiction is a real phenomenon that leads people to almost irresistibly eat.

Opponents believe that it doesn't exist, and it's just a means with which people justify their difficulties with food.

What if they're both right?

A recent study's got me thinking. Now be forewarned, it's an animal study and therefore not necessarily attributable to human beings, but nonetheless....

The study looked at minipigs (which as evidenced by the photo up above are almost unbearably cute), where brain activation of seven diet-induced obese minipigs, were compared to brain activation of nine lean minipigs following an overnight fast.

The findings were striking. The obese minipigs had a great deal more activation of their prefrontal cortices compared to the lean minipigs, where the prefrontal cortex has been shown to be involved in addictive behaviour in humans.

They also found decreased activation in the reward centres of the obese minipigs (the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens), which suggests the possibility that food "addiction" might in fact cause some sort of habituation in these brain regions which in turn would lead to individuals to require larger hits of food, to get the same brain-based reward.

But here's the thing. The minipigs, with clearly different brain chemistries, didn't self select for being obese, they were chosen to be fed more. At first they ate fairly normally, despite having ready access to food all day long (as opposed to their brethren), but then over time, and living in their all-you-can eat buffet hutches, they started to eat more. By the end of the experiment, they weighed nearly double the weight of their peers. And by the end of their experiments, their brains had changed.

This may suggest that while food addiction indeed has neurophysiologic foundations, that it's the chicken and not the egg. Meaning that these pigs weren't born addicted to food, they developed food addictions after living in what might be described as a toxic food environment.

That's exciting to me, in that if we can help people regain control over their food environments, if we can help people ease into more satiating patterns of eating, maybe we can rewire their brains, and in so doing, short-circuit these unnaturally derived neural pathways and responses.

And ultimately, I think we can. Why? Because I see it in my offices on a very regular basis (though not every time mind you, there are some folks who seem to truly struggle with these behaviours regardless of the tweaks we try).

Which is why I think both proponents and opponents are right, where food addiction has a real physiological foundation, but where there is certainly a pattern of eating that may, in some cases, predispose people to heightened neurophysiological drives to eat.

Of course when you think about it, none of this is particularly surprising. After all, couldn't the same can be said about pretty much every addiction?

[And remember, for extra tidbits, or if you'd prefer to follow this blog there, you can also follow Weighty Matters on Facebook]

Val-Laillet D, Layec S, Guérin S, Meurice P, & Malbert CH (2011). Changes in brain activity after a diet-induced obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 19 (4), 749-56 PMID: 21212769

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If the last 10lbs are the "hardest", you're doing something wrong.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that statement. There are even TV shows and bootcamps dedicated to those "last" 10 pounds.

What does that mean "last"?

For most people out there it means the last 10 pounds to go before getting to a pre-set number goal.

But why are they "harder"?

They'd only be harder if a person felt that successively more and more suffering and sacrifice are what's required for weight management.

Ultimately if you have to try that much harder to lose them, they're probably not staying off, because if those 10lbs require efforts above and beyond what you're comfortable living with happily ever after, their loss will only last so long as you sustain your now super-human efforts.

Simply put, whatever interventions, diets, exercises, etc. you employ to lose the weight - if you don't sustain them, your weight'll return, and so will those "last 10 pounds".

They also might not be the only 10, as for many, regain is so demoralizing that folks often abandon all of their interventions, and not only will those "last" 10 come back, eventually the "first" 10 will too.

Every other area of life people are comfortable with their personal bests as wonderful goals. Why is it that with weight people strive to be "ideal", often at the expense of a liveable life?

Your actual last 10lbs? They should come off as easily as the first. Slower? Absolutely, after all, there's less of you, so you'll burn fewer calories, but if they take any extra effort, that may just come back to haunt you.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Stories

And yet another person, Paul Raeburn, questions Gary Taubes' journalism rather than his message.

And here's medicine's poet laureate David Katz rebutting Taubes' sugar claims.

Galia Slayen shows us what Barbie would look like in real life.

The New York Times covers the predatory marketing of junk food by means of online games for kids.

A great stream of comments over on Obesity Panacea regarding our recent co-posting on obesity as an election issue.

Have an hour to kill and want more David Katz? Watch this fabulous lecture by the most eloquent man in medicine:

Science, Sense, & Elephense - Dr. Katz from HD Reps on Vimeo.

Friday, April 22, 2011

How fast do YOU run?

This is one of those videos where I'm not sure why I found it so damn funny.

Today's Funny Friday? It's an amazingly cool (and strangely hilarious) video that shows you just how fast professional athletes actually are.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why isn't obesity an election issue?

So here we are in Canada in the midst of an election. Promises are being made, platforms are being unveiled, and politicians are prowling the land.

So let's pretend for a moment there was this problem in Canada. A public health problem, and it was a biggie.

Let's say there was a virus out there, and for arguments sake, let's say it was killing 25,000 Canadians a year while afflicting millions. And if that's not bad enough, lets say that this virus was a particularly nasty one, in that if it didn't kill you, it markedly increased your risk of getting a whole slew of other medical conditions. Worse yet, this virus wasn't silent. Infection with this virus was visible to the naked eye, and consequently sufferers became regular targets of societal bias. Infection also lead many to suffer with marked fatigue, and also made completing activities of daily living more challenging, with difficulty rising with degree of infection.

Let's say too that while there was no vaccine or treatment that worked for everyone, there were both public health and medical interventions that might make a difference, if even just to combat the rising negative bias in society, as sufferers were ridiculed regularly, and even had their visible affliction leading them to lower salaries and fewer promotions. Let's also say that amazingly and shockingly, medical schools and other health care professions weren't being taught how to deal with this virus, and that the media had a bad habit of blaming those with it as being personally responsible for contracting it.

And let's say that one quarter of all Canadians were infected.

I'm guessing that virus would be one hell of an election issue.

And yet the leaders and parties are virtually silent on obesity, a chronic relapsing disease that kills, sickens, stigmatizes, and challenges millions of Canadians. Our medical schools don't teach our young doctors how to deal with it, and our government spends comparatively nothing on it.

Need an example? Just a few short months ago, rather than actually do anything, the government launched a "national dialogue" on childhood obesity. This despite having held a series of public consultations (of which I was a part) that had culminated in a March 2007 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health report of actual actionable steps.

And now 4 years later, there's still been no action, except to suggest we need to repeat the dialogue our tax dollars already paid for back in 2006?

Someone's got to stir things up!

To that end I'm very happy to report the birth of Reality Coalition Canada (RCC). RCC is a group of 15 diverse Canadian clinicians and researchers who have both expertise and passion in advocating for reality as it pertains to obesity prevention, treatment and policy. Our official launch will be a breakfast talk on April 30th during the Canadian Obesity Network's National Summit and we're hoping, through white papers and noise, to help spur Canada out of dialogue and into action.

And maybe, with some media attention next week, maybe, just maybe, one of the parties will be brave enough to actually start thinking about what we as a country ought to be doing to help deal with this very real, yet readily ignored, public health crisis.

[For more thoughts on this topic, later this morning please visit my co-Reality Coalition Canada member, friend, colleague and fellow blogger Dr. Arya Sharma's blog, as well as my other blogging buddies, Travis Saunders' and Dr. Peter Janiszewki's Obesity Panacea]

(And remember, for extra tidbits, or if you'd prefer to follow this blog there, you can also follow Weighty Matters on Facebook)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Please step away from the Doggy-Bag.

Restaurant food's calories are non-intuitive, invisible, and insane!

I remember watching a recent TV show that had calorie counts from restaurant meals. This particular restaurant was a fancy-shmancy one. The kind with the big plates and the small, little portions in the middle.

Anyhow, this one lady decided to order a beet salad as an appetizer, followed by fish, served on vegetables, served on couscous.

Total calories for her meal? Over 2,100.


So let's say she was doing the pretty common dieting practice of only eating half her meal. She'd still be downing an astounding 1,050 for the meal (not including beverage or dessert).

And if she got a doggy-bag?

She'd be doing it again for lunch.

I get it. I'm thrifty too, and if I paid for it, I feel I ought to bring it home. But really, is it worth the calories?

My advice?

If it's an awesome meal - by all means, have it again for lunch, calories be damned.

But if it's not. If it's just a meal. Why not just leave those calories behind at the restaurant?

[And remember, for extra tidbits, or if you'd prefer to follow this blog there, you can also follow Weighty Matters on Facebook]

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Max & Ruby teaches preschoolers obesity's funny!

As if the television show isn't repulsive enough, last week I had to endure sitting through a live action Max & Ruby play (my 4 year old adores Max & Ruby).

Standout moment for me?

A character with her bottom stuffed with prop weight came out onto the stage.

The shopkeeper in the skit then introduced her as "Mrs. Bottom-heavy", which of course resulted in lots of giggles due to the sight gag.

It also taught pre-school children that making fun of people's weights or what they look like, is funny, fair and worthy of applause.

Given the frightening rise in rates of childhood obesity, chances are in each and every one of those kids' kindergarten classes there'll be at least one child who's visibly overweight.

Perhaps Nickelodeon would like to field telephone calls from those kids' distraught parents when their children come home in tears after having their weight ridiculed by their easily influenced peers?

And so in one awful afternoon, Max & Ruby managed to turn what's usually only repulsive (to adults), into something that was also reprehensible (to everyone).

[And remember, for extra tidbits, or if you'd prefer to follow this blog there, you can also follow Weighty Matters on Facebook]

Monday, April 18, 2011

The forgotten value of not gaining

Most people, when they undertake weight related lifestyle changes, measure success by the scale.

How many pounds did I lose this week? This month? This year?

Of course many of those same people, when they started making changes, were regularly gaining weight. Not necessarily massive amounts, but perhaps somewhere between 1-10lbs annually, which over time, adds up.

Now lifestyle change is difficult, and many people don't feel like they've succeeded.

The thing is, I wonder how success is being defined. If the only definable success is a dramatic loss, sure, a great many folks are going to get disappointed, quit their changes, and once again start their slow marches up.

On the other hand, if folks recognized the value of simply not gaining, maybe, just maybe, we'd see our ever increasing obesity rates, begin to level off. And who knows? Perhaps, over time, as a person gets more and more comfortable with their changes, then slowly, but surely, they'll start losing too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is - don't underestimate the value of simply not gaining.

[And remember, for extra tidbits, or if you'd prefer to follow this blog there, you can also follow Weighty Matters on Facebook]

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Stories

According to the NYTs, eating disorders are on the rise in the orthodox Jewish community.

BNet's wonderful Melanie Warner reassures you your Japanese seafood isn't likely to glow in the dark.

Great piece on why public-private partnerships with health and food industries are anathema to public health.

Could this technology help even our most northern Canadian cities to grow fresh fruits and vegetables all year long

Globe and Mail and Sweat Science's Alex Hutchinson cover's Gary Taubes latest NYT Magazine piece on sugar.

I was thinking about writing about whether or not I believed in food addiction. That is I was thinking about writing it until I read this blog post by Elisa Zeid that pretty much summed up everything I'd been thinking about writing.

(And if you want more thoughts on food addiction, here's another view on the same subject by Marsha Hudnall)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Google Exodus (from Egypt)

Chosen? Who knows. Funny? Darn straight.

Today's Funny Friday is an absolutely brilliant modern take on our exodus from Egypt.

Chag sameach!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is food life's only true constant?

Food's not just fuel.

If it were, we'd have calorie tablets, everyone would be real skinny, and I'd be working emerg somewhere.

Food's a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but for all of us, at different times, food's friendship, comfort, solace, celebration and cheer.

And food pretty much never lets you down.

You could have the best marriage, kids, parents, job, hobby, friends in the world, but from time to time, you'll hit some rough patches.

Your comfort food on the other hand?

It'll never let you down. It's a constant. Whatever you need it for, it'll deliver. Each and every time.

Its ability to make you feel better? Don't kid yourself that it's all in your head, it's also in your body. Food has the power to change your body's immediate physiology.

That's why I believe it's about the healthiest life you can enjoy, not the healthiest life you can tolerate, because food has a great many roles, and it needs to still be able to be your rock from time to time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why exercise may be crucial to weight management

Don't worry folks, I'm OK.

Saw a lovely patient the other day. She'd been doing great with our program, had lost 7% of her body weight, and was thrilled to pieces.

About a month ago however, she developed an injury, and as a consequence, her exercise dropped down to nothing.

Wanna know what else dropped down to nothing?

Her healthy eating behaviours.

She stopped food diarizing, snacking, including protein, and having enough calories for breakfast. As a consequence, she's started struggling in the evening again and has gained a few pounds.

As far as her exercise regime went, it wasn't marathoning. She was walking some, and doing short group fitness classes 2-3x per week. I'd be surprised were she burning more than 750 calories a week through intentional exercise.

Yet that small bit of intentional exercise was sufficient to help fuel her healthy living attitudes and behaviours as a whole.

I've seen this pattern hundreds of times.

That's why despite raging against the notion that exercise alone is sufficient for significant weight loss, and regularly stating that exercise should never be promoted singularly for weight management, I include exercise as an integral component of our office's program. It's also why I think that for most, psychologically and practically, exercise has a crucial and relatively unexplored scientific synergy with dietary caloric reduction.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Should Canada pull out of the Olympics?

$772 million.

That's the figure that a Spanish University would estimate it cost Canadians to secure our fourteen 2010 Winter Olympic gold medals.

Even putting aside the dollars spent on hosting the Olympic games, $772 million is an awful lot of money to be spending on elite athletes.

I can't help but ponder the value of those Olympic golds to our country. Is there any? People may talk of inspiration, and even were it to be true that Canadians are inspired by excellence in sport, is there any evidence to suggest that inspiration translates into any sustainable action?

Somehow I doubt it.

What I don't doubt however is that our Olympics helped sell a lot of Coca Cola, and that Olympic heroes sell a lot of Wheaties, McDonald's and other less than ideal foods.

I think the concept of the Olympics is a beautiful one.

Unfortunately I think the execution these days not only wastes a tremendous amount of resources that could be used to improve the shape of society, it also helps fuel the success of those very industries that have helped lead to our healths' demise.

Makes me wonder, if we're talking about sport, what $772 million could do for everyday kids, rather than for our super-powered, temporary heroes?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The weekend realities of weight management.

Does this sound like you - healthy living strategies going great all week long followed by a weekend that's less put together? Consequently you see yourself lose weight all week, only to gain it back each weekend?

Many of my patients struggle with weekends. As I've blogged before, despite not feeling that way, weekends make up nearly 30% of the week, and the sad weight management truth is, a disorganized 30% can outweigh a beautiful 70%.

To put this into some numbers. Let's say during the work week, through your own personal strategies (be they balanced deficits, low-carb, counting points, exercise, combination approaches, etc) you managed to create a true 400 calorie daily deficit. Enjoyed daily, that would likely lead you to lose a pound every 8-12 days allowing for some differences in individual variation in energy efficiencies.

But then the weekend comes. You might go out with friends (food is an essential part of our celebratory and social lives); you might be less organized with eating so as to invite more of a hormonal drive to eat; you might want to kick back and have a few drinks to unwind. Truthfully, given the calorific world we live in, it wouldn't be difficult at all to amass 800 calorie daily surpluses over the weekend, rather than 400 calorie deficits.

Then it's back to your work week, and even if you're fabulous about getting right back to calorie-deficit inducing behaviours, you'll be spending Monday through Thursday just erasing your weekend surpluses, leaving you with one lonely day a week to actually lose weight.

What's so incredibly frustrating for patients with this all too common scenario, is that in actual fact, the vast majority of their week, they're managing things wonderfully, and so it feels (and is) incredibly unfair that two days a week can effectively erase five.

I don't preach that weekends can't be indulgent, I don't tell people to stop eating out, and I don't tell people they're not allowed to drink. We're on this planet once, and for many, indulgences on weekends are a welcome end to each and every week. However, I do preach that at the very least, you ensure your weekends are well organized in terms of food, so that if you do choose to indulge, you choose to do so because it's worth it, and not simply because you're hungry.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Saturday Stories

Stupidly busy week this week.

Can't say I read much of anything. Last weekend though, I read an article I found interesting.

So you think I'm an angry blogger? Imagine how angry I'd write if I were an anonymous blogger. Or instead read CarbSane's recent take on Gary Taubes' theories.

Friday, April 08, 2011

When Harry Met Sally 2!

Funny or Die.

It's really hit or miss.

Today's Funny Friday? It's a grand slam.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Toronto City Council sure loves their sugary soda!

Toronto just rejected a proposal to ensure that vending machines in city buildings stop selling sugared soda and other sugar added beverages.

With unabashed fear mongering, City Councillor Doug Ford was heard to state,

"Once you get rid of all the sodas and the water, are you going to go after my butter tarts downstairs, too. I'm not being sarcastic. And the next step would be let's dictate what we should eat, what we can drive. Should we take the bus because it's not healthy to drive a car. Where does it stop? Where does the socialism stop."
Um, councilor Ford, I think with a single payer health care system, it might actually be in the state's best interest to protect our health, and by the way, we do it plenty.

We dictate that we must wear seat belts and helmets. We use disincentive taxation to discourage smoking and drinking. We have laws against jaywalking and drunk driving. Why do we have all these laws and practices? Because at the end of the day, we're on the hook as a country for the medical problems associated with poor choices.

Now I recognize that the likelihood of banning pop in vending machines in city buildings isn't going to impact directly on our health care coffers, but I would have hoped that the city, and our government as a whole, would see value in serving as examples for the rest of our population. After all, there is no food with a more clear cut link to obesity than sugar sweetened beverages.

Oh and Councilor Ford, guess what? Obesity is the number one preventable cause of death in Canada. Recognizing that and encouraging environmental change isn't socialism, it's survival, and it's something all countries should do when an obvious need arises.

Without changing the world we live in, we're not going to see change. The problem with obesity today isn't a consequence of a sudden epidemic loss of dietary restraint and control. The problem is a consequence of the changes that have occurred to our world over the course of the past 50 years. Consequently, the problem is not going to be solved on an individual, one by one, willpower-based basis. This problem's going to need formative environmental changes that make healthier choices easier to make. We need to shift the default. Changes like ensuring vending machines not carry sugar-sweetened beverage, while far from dramatic, would be one teeny, tiny step of a very long journey, but it would still be a teeny, tiny step.

When are we finally going to start walking?

UPDATE (same day) - coincidentally the news just came out that Boston's going to ban sugar sweetened beverage sales on city property. Guess unlike Toronto's mayor, Boston's has foresight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Is McDonald's new Nickelodeon kids campaign kosher?

McDonald's new advertising campaign kicks off today on Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network.

The ads, which feature Ronald in all his glory, have him inviting children to go online to and upload pictures of themselves. Once uploaded the pictures are then paired with Ronald, just like mine up top.

You can pick all sorts of different Ronalds and frames.

But I'm confused.

According to McDonald's own Children's Marketing Guidelines, advertisements targeting children directly are supposed to:

1. Communicate to children balanced food choices that fit within a child's nutritional needs.

2. Use our licensed characters and properties to encourage activity and balanced food choices for children to make food, such as fruit and vegetables, fun to eat.

3. Promote to children positive messages that support their well-being, body, mind and spirit.

4. Provide nutrition information for our food to help parents and families make informed food choices.

So have a peek at this video and let's see how they did:

Ok, did they....

1. Communicate healthy food choices?

- Nope. Only food choice shown was deep fried chicken slurry (nuggets).

2. Use licensed characters to encourage activity or healthy food choices?

- Nope. Used licensed character to send kids online.

3. Promote to children positive messages that support their well being?

- Only if you think eating take-out on your door step, and sending videos to your friends of Ronald McDonald, support your children's well being.

4. Provide nutrition information?


None of this is even remotely surprising of course. The food industry's job is to sell food. Branding matters. Steering cognitively defenseless children online to a website designed to leave them associating fun and happiness with McDonald's is good for business. McDonald's does it, and so does pretty much everyone else. Why wouldn't they?

That said, what amazes me is that while it's entirely effortless to find examples of large multinational food corporations bending, twisting and spinning everything in their power to lure children through their proverbial arches, it's equally effortless to find well intentioned health professionals saying that collaboration with these folks is a wonderful idea.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Starbuck's new "Petites": Not worth their calories!

One of the questions I recommend people ask themselves before they indulge is, "is it worth the calories?". It's a simple question, and then so's the follow up to a yes - "how much do I need to be happy?".

So I couldn't help but ask myself that when looking at the advertisement for Starbuck's new "Petites".

What are "Petites"?

Think donut holes on a stick.

Really high calorie, single-bite, donut holes.

A single bite that'll buy most women 10% of their total daily calories, and just a bit less than that for men.

The most amazing part for me?

The fact that they advertise their under 200 calorie status as something brag worthy.

10% of your total daily calories in one teeny, tiny, bite isn't brag worthy!

What else is just under 200 calories?

Well in the junk food realm you could choose:

- 1.3 cans of Coca Cola
- 4 Chicken McNuggets
- 1.75 cups of Froot Loops
- 3/4 of an actual whole donut
- Almost an entire Hershey Bar

Just goes to show you that people truly don't have a clue about calories, because if they did, a sign suggesting a cloyingly sweet, bite on a stick, was under 200 calories, wouldn't help with sales.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Book Review: Atul Gawande's The Checklist Manifesto

If you've read this book, you may be wondering why I'm reviewing it on Weighty Matters. After all, it certainly doesn't superficially seem to have anything to do with nutrition or weight management.

But yet, I think it does.

The book itself can be very simply described as a collection of stories that illustrate the value of checklists in ensuring a greater likelihood of success. The author, a surgeon named Atul Gawande by means of a truly marvelous gift for storytelling, takes us through the use of checklists on construction sites, in airplanes and most importantly to him, in the operating room.

It's a compelling and easy read, and the clear cut case he makes for checklists made me pause to think about how they might be employed for weight management.

We know that for some reason, keeping track of intake is one of the foremost predictors of success. Could checklists be utilized to help make record keeping easier and bolster other health promoting behaviours? Would going through a simple checklist a few times a day impact on success?

Interestingly there's often a great reluctance on the part of those unfamiliar with them, to embrace the use of checklists. Gawande posits that perhaps our own senses of infallibility are offended by the notion of something so simple as a checklist being useful; that we think ourselves to be above them.

Checklist design is discussed as well and Gawande explains,

"The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn't have to occupy itself with"
I wonder if therein lies the issue with food diarizing. With studies demonstrating that people lose twice as much weight when utilizing a food record, and with food record keeping taking all of 5 minutes a day once you're good at it, why then is it such a challenging behaviour for people to adopt? Perhaps a checklist that forces us to look at what many might feel is, "the dumb stuff", would help in fact get it out of the way.

I'm going to explore this a bit with my patients, and whether you choose to or not, there's one thing this book makes abundantly clear. If you're having a surgery, for the love of all that's holy, ask your surgeon if he or she uses a checklist, and if he or she doesn't, buy them a copy of this book before your operation. It might be the best $15 you'll ever spend.

(BTW - read the book and you'll likely never look at Van Halen the same way again.)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Saturday Stories

Travis over at Obesity Panacea explains how while hCG is most assuredly not going to help you lose weight, it may help you develop mad cow disease.

The New York Times covers one school's efforts to reduce sugar in their students' diets.

A restaurant owner covers the dangers of Groupon.

Rolling Stone's got a crazy story about how two American college stoners became international arms dealers and land a $300 million covert CIA contract to supply Afghan rebels.

My friend, colleague and fellow blogger Scott covers the benefits and risks of folic acid supplementation for Science Based Medicine.

Meanwhile Sweat Science's Alex Hutchinson (who's book's coming out in May!), discusses the study, which I think may have been published in the Journal of Duh, whose conclusions Alex rightly takes issue with on the impact of nature on blood pressure.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The strangest video I've ever posted?

What a crazy week!

I figure what better way to end a crazy week than with a crazy Funny Friday video about a new sport craze called dogboarding.

Have a great weekend!

Dogboarding from DANIELS on Vimeo.