Saturday, June 29, 2013

Saturday Stories: Godin, Rudeness, Tragedy

The usual brilliance by marketer Seth Godin on the marketing of junk food.

A great piece in the Wall Street Journal explores why we're ruder online than in real life.

Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post from 2008 with one of the most gripping, harrowing and tragic articles I've ever read.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Ultimate Dog Shaming Video

Today's Funny Friday involves a cute (bad) dog named Maymo.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kaiser Permanente Tells New Parents to Limit Soda for Toddlers to 1 Can a Day?!

Thanks to a blog reader who wishes to remain anonymous today I'm presenting to you what was presented to her at her baby's 1 year checkup.

It's a patient education pamphlet on feeding your 1 year old and it includes the admonition to limit sodas to no more than 1 can each day.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Parental "No" Files: Elementary School Fundraising "Reward" Edition

Thanks to blog reader Cara McMaster whose son attends Ontario's Valley Central Public School.

Apparently as a thank you to the kids for their School Community Association (SCA) fundraising efforts the entire school was "rewarded" with an SCA funded lunch from McDonalds.

Because what better way to spend the money kids have raised for their school than on cheeseburgers, hamburgers and chicken nuggets, and what better message could there be for kids than McDonald's is a reward for a job well done?

Of course parents could just say, "no". It's not as if your child would feel different, left out or be picked on because he or she pulled out a brown bag while everyone else in the entire school tucked into their burgers, right?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

(Not the Onion) Canadian Government Teaming Up with Donut Giant Tim Horton's To Fight Diabetes

Who better to team up with than a national doughnut chain to tackle the increasingly pressing issue of diabetes prevention among Canada's First Nations' youth?

The announcement, made by Health Minister Leonna Aglukkaq, details the launch of what they're calling, "Play for Prevention" which in turn no doubt will put the focus on exercise as the preventative medicine, and not of course on the fast food culture that permeates society as a whole. That's not to say that exercise can't help, but I'm fairly certain that in the history of public health interventions there has never been one that has been proven to have led to a long term significant and sustained increase in activity among teenagers (or anyone else for that matter).

It's a brilliant move for Tim Horton's of course. For the ridiculously low price of just over $72,000 Tim Horton's partnership with the Canadian government makes it far less likely that we will see such initiatives as the establishment of zoning laws that would prevent Tim Horton's franchises from setting up shop within a certain distance of schools, or hard hitting public health messaging focused on getting Canadians out of restaurants and fast food establishments as a whole. It will also undoubtedly be utilized in the fight against mandatory menu board calorie labeling as proof positive of Tim Horton's and the restaurant industry being "part of the solution".

And fellow Canadians get ready for many more such partnerships as the Harper government has decided that these partnerships are the cornerstone and future of quality public health interventions and has formally put out a request for many more of them.

[Hat tip to Twitter's Robert Ablenas for kicking my way.]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Will Calling Obesity a Disease Cause Harm?

Some folks sure think so.

While there's no doubt there's always a risk of unintended consequences (and no doubt too that we should always be on the lookout for them to deal with them as they arise), exploring the arguments that arose last week with the AMA's description of obesity as a disease it would seem people are up in arms about some odd stuff. Here's a summary of the most common arguments against that I was able to find followed by some thoughts of my own:

1. Calling obesity a disease will cause insurance rates to rise

All of today's insurance policies require heights and weights and people are already regularly and routinely being rejected or penalized consequent to their weights.

2. Healthy people with obesity will now have a label of having a disease.

Given weight's visibility, they already do, except now society labels them as lazy and gluttonous. While labels are always misguided, which label do you think leads to more stigma?

3. People with obesity will now be able to call in sick simply consequent to their weight

This one's too stupid to bother with.

4. If we label people with obesity as "sick", they'll no longer want to try to lose weight.

Since when do we label people as "sick"? Are people with asthma "sick"? And moreover, are people newly diagnosed with asthma deciding not to take puffers due to their new "labels"?

5. Calling obesity a disease will increase eating disorders.

There is zero evidence that would suggest that this is a real risk. Established eating disorder risk factors include youth, being female, family history, mood disturbances, restrictive dieting, life upheaval, and certain career paths (ballet dancers, actors, models, gymnasts, etc). And while some are bound to comment that restrictive dieting will increase consequent to a disease definition (with no evidence to suggest this to be true), I'm hopeful that even were it true that over time a new way of thinking about obesity will help to illuminate the nonsense and medically unsound nature of highly restrictive dieting.

6. Calling obesity a disease will increase the severity of weight loss approaches.

Actually treating obesity as a disease would mean evaluating it as we do any other disease - as part of a whole picture and with varied penetrance (sticking with asthma, there's mild that requires an occasional puff or two all the way through a spectrum to major that requires regular and multiple medications). And we do have a means to do this with obesity - the Edmonton Obesity Staging System where for instance those with an Edmonton Obesity Stage of zero or one likely wouldn't be recommended treatment of any sort, but rather watchful waiting.

7. Calling obesity a disease will increase the notion that scales measure health.

While this in indeed a faulty notion I'm confused as to how we'll increase a notion that however faulty is already accepted by nearly everyone on the planet? The only direction left to go on this one is down.

8. Calling obesity a disease will lead people to think that it's contagious.

Do you think that asthma is contagious? How about glaucoma? Hardening of the arteries? Arthritis?

And then lastly,

9. Because lifestyle changes might treat obesity, labelling obesity a disease will dissuade folks from making healthful changes.

Here's some news for you. Lots of diseases are preventable or treatable through healthy lifestyles including hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, diabetes, ischemic stroke, osteoporosis, cataracts, erectile dysfunction, and oh yeah, 40% of all cancers to name just a few. Yet no one has a problem with those diseases leading folks to consider pharmacologic or surgical interventions to help manage them. But then the world doesn't implicitly loathe people with cancer I suppose.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Saturday Stories: Feminism, Starbucks' Calories, and Cancer

Fill in the blank, "I need feminism because ________"

Great take by The Atlantic's Corby Kummer on Starbucks' new plan to nationally roll out menu board labels ahead of the rest of the country.

The Globe and Mail's Andre Picard setting us straight on cancer breakthroughs, "We cannot suspend our critical faculties because of wishful thinking."

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's an unabridged interview that I did with CTV's Avis Favaro on the question of whether or not obesity is a disease and another with CFRA's Mark Sutcliffe.]

Friday, June 21, 2013

True Facts About the Aye Aye

I can't get enough of these Ze Frank videos.

Today's Funny Friday is his coverage regarding true facts about the aye aye.

Have a great weekend

(email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Parental "No" Files: Ontario Science Centre Edition

Well it's sort of a feel good story.

A while back journalist Angela Mulholland noticed something strange at the Ontario Science Centre - as part of their video games exhibit the cafeteria was selling what they called "Gamer Grub" which in turn was a horrific combination of a 591ml soda, a bag of chips and a chocolate bar.

Well, there were complaints and after nearly 3 months the Science Centre changed the offering.

Now don't get me wrong, the now named, "Smart Gamer's Combo" is world's better and in that sense this is a feel good story.

But two questions for me remain.

1. Why would the Science Centre want to perpetuate the un-scientific (and un-smart) notion that gaming requires fuel at all?

2. And even if gaming did require fuel, why would the Science Centre suggest that "smart" gamers' fuel should at least partially be made up of candy (in this case the nutritional black hole that is a Rice Krispie square)?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gadget Review: T-Fal Actifry Family Not So Deep Fryer

Full disclosure: Was provided with a free tester from T-Fal

You know I wasn't always interested in nutrition. In fact I once couldn't have cared less about nutrition which might help to explain why I literally buried two deep fryers consequent to using them so often that they died and it was only at the insistence of my now-wife, then girlfriend, that I didn't replace the second one.

That is not until my parents bought me a T-Fal Actifry (which I reviewed way back when) for a birthday gift.

The premise is simple. It heats up real hot, has a rotating stirring arm, and consequently allows you to "fry" using just a small amount of cooking oil and in so doing, keep calories lower. Think of it like a self stirring wok of sorts.

Well T-Fal's been active and they've made a few newer units. One has dual cooking levels allowing you to cook multiple dishes at once and then there's the one I've been test driving which is a newer and much larger version of mine named the T-Fal Actifry Family (a good thing as my family is newer and larger than when I was gifted that first unit).

This time around I was determined to try to cook more than simply fries as while the unit truly puts baked oven fries to shame (just don't expect them to be as sinfully delicious as genuinely deep fried versions), at $250 a unit, that's an expensive french fry maker.

So I tried a bunch of dishes. I made my girls fried bananas, made some sloppy joes, fried up some chicken wings and drumsticks, and made homemade chicken shawarma.

From that batch I had 3 misses and one home run.

The bananas simply squished too much and the girls didn't find them particularly flavourful. The sloppy joes were a disaster. The turning arm isn't capable of breaking up ground meat so I ended up breaking it up by hand. It also wasn't able to stir together the various liquid ingredients as I added them. It also cooked unevenly with the meat nearest the centre burning some. The chicken was alright, but don't expect to leave the skin on as even if you do, the machine will strip it off during cooking - that said the meat was cooked evenly and was moist - but I'll stick with oven broiling.

The home run was the shawarma. The recipe is here but instead of the cumin, nutmeg and cardamom I followed the recipe for the Ras el Hanout from Epicurious for the spicing (the cookbook that came with the fryer called for Ras el Hanout which is how/why I looked it up). We coupled the recipe with homemade hummus and homemade pita and Israeli salad and the result was a unanimous keeper - from my visiting grandmother-in-law to my tiny kids, we all loved it.

At the end of the day I can wholeheartedly recommend the T-Fal Actifry as an awesome gift, and the family unit is really quite large - more than large enough to handle fries for everyone or a dinner stir fry.

I just wish the price were low enough that I could recommend it as a personal purchase - as it is, it's simply too expensive.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Is Home Cooking Really the Mount Everest of Parenthood?

That's the very appropriate question in a sense being asked by author and journalist Maryn McKenna in response to a recent piece in the New York Times' Motherlode column where KJ Dell'Antonia, inspired by the work of folks like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, vowed to, for one whole week, eschew processed in place of home cooked.

I wholeheartedly agree with Maryn - the fact that one week of home cooking is seen as sufficiently challenging to warrant a New York Times Motherlode column is proof positive that when it comes to healthy living, society is well and fully broken.

Bring back home economics!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Parental "No" Files: Historical Landmarks Edition (you gotta see this to believe it)

Everything that's wrong with society's constant need to shower kids with sugar encapsulated in one ad,
"During the War of 1812 young kids entered Fort York full of courage strength and pride. This weekend they'll leave full of cookies, cake and candy"
Worse than the event itself is the fact that its establishment likely didn't give anyone at the Fort York Foundation even a moment's pause - that's how normalized this practice has become.

[Thanks to Family Food Project's Edie Shaw-Ewald and blog reader Christine Hepburn for both taking the time to send me copies.]

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saturday Stories: Photoshop, Soda Bans and Darwin

Photo from Civil Eats' piece linked below
A photo collection of celebrities before and after Photoshop. (Make sure you scroll right to the end to see Taylor Lautner's shot.)

Kristin Wartman on Civil Eats with a piece on soda and freedom that observes, "When BeyoncĂ© tells us what to drink we listen; when Bloomberg does, there’s outrage."

An oldie but a goodie - Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' open letter to Prince Charles in which he dances with Darwin. My favourite line of the piece has to be this one, "It may sound paradoxical, but if we want to sustain the planet into the future, the first thing we must do is stop taking advice from nature. Nature is a short-term Darwinian profiteer."

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's my more recent US News and World Report piece on whether or not we really need to refuel kids after "exercise"]

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ever Wonder What Dogs Think?

Ze Frank does.

And today's Funny Friday are his thoughts therein in Sad Dog Diaries.

Have a great weekend!

(Email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gadget Review: My Month with BodyMedia's LINK Armband

My past 28 days of use summary
A month ago the kind folks from BodyMedia sent me one of their LINK armbands to test drive. I was excited as I'm clearly into collecting and quantifying data - for instance I haven't missed an entry in my food diary for over 2 years and regularly log my workouts on Fitocracy.

I was curious to see if having access to real time activity data would change my own exercise behaviours.

For me the short answer is probably not. I did love the information I got from the LINK, I checked it regularly, but more to see how much I'd done rather than to push myself to do more. I also questioned the data some.

As far as what the LINK tracks it covers calories it thinks you burned, calories you tell it you ate, how long it thinks you were moderately or vigorously active, how many steps it thinks you took and how long it thinks you slept.

My iPhone summary for a particularly active day....and then the chicken wings got me
The LINK armband (it's the one the The Biggest Loser contestants use) sits just above your bicep via a stretchy band with a velcro fastening. It's not water proof so you've got to take it off in the shower and the band does get sweaty with vigorous workouts (but is washable). The other issue I had with it was as a shirt and tie wearing guy. I found it tough to put back on without taking off my shirt.

Tough to put on without taking off shirt

I have to admit, I notice wearing it. When I loosen it to the point of not feeling it periodically I will lose the connection to my arm (it sounds a few notes to say it's signing off) and keeping it tight I definitely feel it all day long and every once and a while the area in contact with the skin gets a bit itchy.

Following the data is easy if you have a Bluetooth enabled Smartphone whereby you simply press a button on the armband and your data will then stream live to your phone. You can also use your phone to upload your data to the website tracker.

Food wise I'm not using their food diary. Instead the LINK syncs with myfitnesspal (my current tracker) which is quite convenient. What I don't find convenient however is that communication is two way in that the LINK tells myfitnesspal that I've burned calories and myfitnesspal then tries to tell me to eat more to make up for them. For folks using a LINK in the context of weight management, this may well inspire, "because I exercised" over-indulgences.

As far as the data's accuracy, I personally think it's overestimating some. While I do workout an average of 4-6x weekly, I'm convinced it sometimes tracks my typing as activity. Apparently I'm not the only one thinking this way as Gretchen Reynold's NYTs piece yesterday speaking to the accuracy of a whole pile of these sorts of monitors references the armband that overestimated typing too.

The price for the unit seems quite fair in and around $100 depending on the retailer, but I am a bit surprised by the monthly fee for the website and app. My understanding is that the website will only provide you with very basic information without a subscription while the app won't work at all. Given the now highly competitive landscape of exercise trackers, and with this one being slightly less wieldy consequent to the armband (rather than a bracelet or something pocketable), I'd expect they'd be better off throwing in as many free bells and whistles as possible.

All in all I'm not sure if this gets my buy recommendation. I say I'm not sure because to be fair, I haven't tried out any other trackers. I think I'd be more comfortable recommending if it weren't for the subscription fees as all of my other complains and issues were minor.

That's my month long data summary up above - now if someone could just teach me how to sleep better.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is Coca-Cola's Latest Calorie Dictionary Ad Purposely Deceptive?

You be the judge.

Below is the embedded copy of Coca-Cola's most recent anti-obesity advertisement. It's called, "Calorie Dictionary".

Watching Calorie Dictionary the inference is that it's incredibly easy to burn off the calories of a Coke.

They show various activities and then their apparent calorie counts. They also, at the beginning, note that the calorie values are for 5 minutes of the activity shown. Clearly though Coca-Cola expects the brief mention of 5 minutes to be forgotten as the bulk of their portrayed activities in real life are only momentary, like hugging a friend, falling, jumping out of a tree, or zipping up a dress which according to Coca-Cola respectively burn 7, 18, 11 and 12 calories. Seems to me that the message Coca-Cola is trying to hammer home is that calories are way easier to burn than you thought and that if you just move a teeny little bit, you can easily burn off their sugar water. Too bad it's not a truthful one.

According to the commercial if you spend 50 minutes (divided into 5 minute blocks) hugging people, swinging a sledgehammer, climbing fences, falling off mechanical bulls, jumping out of trees, running, shouting, lifting young children onto your back, diving to the ground, and zipping up a dress then you too will burn the number of calories you'd find in a 13.5 oz bottle of Coca-Cola.

Such nonsense, and more to the point, want to know what's way easier? Not drinking them.

(And if you wanted to burn off the much more ubiquitous 20oz bottle you'll need to combine 75 minutes worth of 7.5 minute blocks of those same ridiculous examples.)

So what say you? Purposely deceptive or a helpful part of the "solution"?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Could Truly Terrifying Rise in Anti-psychotic Meds for Children be Fueling Childhood Obesity?

Of all of the drug related causes of obesity out there perhaps none is more powerful than the gain associated with anti-psychotics. In adults gains of literally dozens of pounds are regularly seen.

A recent story by Postmedia's Sharon Kirkey on a new study out of BC to be published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry reports that in Canada, despite a total lack of evidence suggesting their safety in children (and moreover an almost total lack of studies involving children at all), since just 1996 second generation child anti-psychotic use has quadrupled.

While there's no singular cause for obesity, for children prescribed these meds obesity may come close to an inevitability. If your young child is currently on anti-psychotic meds, especially if they're on them for sleep, please consider making an appointment with your prescriber to discuss if there aren't in fact alternatives available.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Parental "No" Files: High School Track Meets

Today's guest post comes from University of Manitoba's Dr. Joyce Slater who last week dropped her 14 year old son off at a high school track meet. Judging from her email if you want your kids eating healthfully you'll either need to say "No" you can't go to the meet, or pack a lunch.
Hi Yoni - here’s another one from the “children’s foodscape”.

This morning I dropped my son off at his track meet and as we were entering the field, I noticed the “buffet” set up for the kids for the day.

The picture’s not great, but it does show the large chip display behind the sport drinks and 500ml+ juices. The red bucket had the traditional soft drinks, and on the far left were large chocolate milks. And yes, there was a flat of water bottles. Mains were “hotdogs” and “cheese dogs”. Desserts were chocolate bars, gummy candies and a cooler of cream “treats” (dairy group!!).

I expressed my dismay to which my son said “but there’s fruit and water!” I said that tiny bowl of fruit in the centre is dwarfed by all the other junk, and its main purpose is to say “hey, we have some healthy food so we’re covered off!” - to which he agreed. He also said he didn’t want the water because it was a waste of plastic. He did, however, work me down to a plain hotdog (he wanted the cheese dog - at 9:30 a.m.!)

Now, I’m not volunteering at the snack stand, and I applaud any busy parent or teacher who gives their time in the community for things my children benefit from. But talk about a mixed message we are giving our kids! Manitoba has one of the most progressive school nutrition policies in the country - guess it doesn’t apply to school track meets.

Joyce Slater

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Saturday Stories: Cancer, Paleo, Cardboard Boxes and a Must Read

Reuters health report Debra Sherman was recently diagnosed with terminal stage 4 lung cancer. She's started a blog to discuss her experiences.

Lots of folks questioning the paleo narrative lately - here's an interesting piece from Scientific American. (Of course even were the narrative totally BS, I'd venture most folks' paleo diets are exceedingly healthful given the emphasis on actual cooking.)

The BBC explains why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (and perhaps why they have one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world).

A must read by Kasey Edwards, "When your mother says she's fat"

Friday, June 07, 2013

I Dare You Not to Love this Video

Today's Funny Friday is the greatest cover ever of the Beatles' Don't Let Me Down.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Yesterday the Pope Blessed the Clean Your Plate Club


Yesterday Pope Francis made the case for the preservation of one of the unhealthiest clubs around - the clean your plate club - saying that, "throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry".

Maybe I'm splitting hairs here, but I sure wish he'd have asked people to serve and make do with less food rather than bless the consumption of whatever's on your plate simply because it's there.  Given this day and age's portion sizes eating what's there will be more likely to have us treating our bodies like dumpsters than temples.

I know Pope's are supposed to be infallible, but being Jewish I'm quite comfortable doubting (and encouraging you to ignore) this particular message.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Food Frequency Questionnaires Suck Say Who's Who of Obesity Researchers

Hot off the heels of my blog post about giant pears, last week a letter to the editor of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was published. It was signed by some very familiar names in obesity research and its title is also its summary, "Self-report-based estimates of energy intake offer an inadequate basis for scientific conclusions".

The letter was triggered by a recently reported and heavily publicized study that suggested energy intake has decreased significantly since 2003-2004 - with an average reported decrease of 98 cals/day. The letter's authors note that the data used to come up with the exciting decrease has been shown to be flawed before, and moreover, that it would appear as if bias in reporting of energy intake may be increasing (perhaps due to increased attention and bias versus those with obesity). They also note that were it in fact true the population ought to have lost an average of nearly 8lbs since 2003.

Their final conclusion is firm and one I agree with in regard to studies designed to look at ways to prevent or treat obesity,
"Going forward we should accept that self reported energy intake is fatally flawed and we should stop publishing inaccurate and misleading energy intake data."


Dale Schoeller
Steven Blair
Steven Heymsfield
David Allison
James Hill
Richard Atkinson
Barbara Corkey
Nikhil Dhurandhar
Eric Ravussin
Kevin Hall
John Kral
John Foreyt
Diana Thomas
Edward Archer
Michael Goran
Berit Heitmann
Barbara Hansen
[And for good measure, up above is another of my collection of photos of gigantic fruit - this time a 10oz plum bigger than an apple.]

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Did You Hear the One About the McDonald's CEO Losing Weight Eating McDonald's Everyday?

Yeah, I did too and that's him up above.

His 20lbs McDonald's fueled weight loss has been all over the news.

But here's the thing. At the end of the day if the bioavailable calories you consume are less than those that you burn you lose.

The fact weight can be lost eating at McDonald’s everyday is not news, but the fact that the news is covering it is. What the coverage suggests is that the world still doesn’t understand weight management because if it did there wouldn’t be news stories on the guy who ate fewer calories than he burned and lost weight.

Monday, June 03, 2013

1.5 Trillion Calories!

According to press releases and nonsensically breathless articles like this one out of Forbes, last week's announcement from the food industry that they'd removed 1.5 trillion calories from the food supply was huge.

But is it?

When broken down by person it amounts to 14 fewer calories purchased per person per day last year from vending machines, convenience stores, drug stores, grocery stores, supermarkets and mass merchants.

And that's not a bad thing and were it truly consequent to the food industry shaving calories off their products it'd certainly be worth our giving them a gentle pat on the back, but I guess I'm stuck trying to understand both the market forces that may have led to the reduction, as well as whether or not the reduction occurred despite the food industry's best efforts, not because of them.

Could the reduction not simply reflect shifting societal attitudes and norms and in fact have occurred despite the food industry's persistent, tenacious, merciless and at times deceitful and ethically questionable marketing of salt, sugar and fat?

I'm curious too to see the independent non-industry analysis of these results which is currently being undertaken by Dr. Barry Popkin and his colleagues.

All that said, 14 fewer calories per day aren't likely to take us too far given that estimates suggest we're eating 500 more calories per person per day since the early 1970s. Still plenty of work to do on the remaining 486.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Saturday Stories: Drug Edition! Oxycontin, Cocaine and Coca-Cola

No doubt one of my favourite TV shows of all time was The Wire, a David Simon series on drug culture and policing in Baltimore. In this great piece on The Raw Story he "eviscerates the dystopia creating war on drugs".

A fascinating (long) piece from the New York Times on how cocaine overlords make money.

And today's truly must read piece from Human Journalism, The “Coca-Colization” of Mexico, the Spark of Obesity (and they have the gall to say they're working hard to be part of obesity's solution)

For my Ottawa readers - CHEO is conducting a study to validate a new kids food menu. If you've got (or are) a kid between the ages of 10-17 and want more details, click here.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's this week's US News and World Report column on which you should treat first - weight or depression as well as a brief piece I did in support of a talk I'll be giving in Vermont...this on the world's unwitting sugar soldiers]