Thursday, April 30, 2015

Flowerly Words, Horoscopes, and the Culture of Magical Belief

The other day I had a piece published in the Globe and Mail about the shortcomings of Canada's Food Guide.

Hearteningly, the piece was hugely popular, meaning the public seems to actually care about the Guide which to me at least, offers hope that when it's next revised, Canada will be watching rather carefully which in turn might influence both the process and the outcome.

During the day I received an email pointing out to me that my piece was the most popular piece in the paper. I asked how that person knew and they pointed me to a ranking posted on the paper's website sidebar.

I had a peek at that same sidebar yesterday morning.

Want to know what the most popular piece in the paper was?

The horoscope.

Papers still publish horoscopes?

No doubt horoscopes alone aren't to blame, but is it any wonder that Dr. Oz can have a show promising miracles with flowery words if magical belief and thinking is popular enough not only for the public to read about it, but for reputable newspapers to publish and enable it as if both normal and real?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Australian Grade School Targeting Kids' Liquid Sugar with Water Only Policy

Liquid calories, and especially those that are sugar-sweetened, are the lowest hanging fruit on the tree of dietary improvement.

Whether for control of calories, or as a means to reduce consumption of free sugars, getting juice and sugar-sweetened milk out of our kids schools, a place where they spend the majority of their weeks' waking hours, might have an impact.

In that vein, Merrigum Primary School in Australia recently announced it had become a "Water Only School", the principles of which include:
  • Ensuring drinking water is available to students at all times.
  • Permitting children to bring only water to school.
  • Providing no sweet drinks through lunch orders or canteens.
  • Ensuring staff model the behaviour by not bringing sweet drinks to school.
And as far as the water goes, there are no bottles - it's all tap!

Personally, I love this initiative, and hope it spreads, but I also know that many might see it as overly controlling. Perhaps at the very least schools could be "Water Only" in terms of the liquids they offer/sell to students on campus which in turn would leave it exclusively to parents to decide what to send.

[Thanks to Rosemary Rich for sending this my way]

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Don't Forget, Almost No One Clicks Your #SoMe Links

I've done enough posts now about the dangers of Twitter and social media that I've decided it's worth a blog tag (#SoMe), and so here's the latest.

When you send out a Tweet, please don't forget that the vast, vast, majority of your followers aren't going to click your link (and those that do click, the vast, vast, majority of them probably won't actually read the article they click to). Even if you consider every single Twitter user "engagement" as a link click, I'd bet that for most of your tweets, 5% or less will actually bother to click through.

What that means is that if you're a trusted authority, you owe it to your followers to ensure that your message is the message of the tweet itself. Meaning sharing a hyperbolic headline, or the title of a weak study, without your own qualification in those 140 characters, may lead your followers to believe the hyperbole or that the crappy study you linked to because it was "interesting", was in fact important.

Bottom line, if you think a study's hugely preliminary, say so. If it's an animal model, say so. If you haven't read the actual study, say so. And if it's just bollocks, please don't link to it at all.

Curious about your Twitter Analytics, click here and have a peek.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The GLiMMER Initiative - My Collaboration with Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra

If I had a top ten list of influential people who I felt used their status to prey upon a trusting public, both Dr. Oz and Deepak Chopra would at least be shortlisted for membership. And yet, it would seem, they're my collaborators.

You see the three of us are members of the Council of Directors of the GLiMMER Initiative True Health Initiative, a project spearheaded by Dr. David Katz. Now if there's guilt by association I take it there'll also be merit by association and I'll be standing alongside some of nutrition's true luminaries, but given the Council is so large it needs 6 separate links to explore its near 300 (and growing) members from over 20 countries, I think guilt or merit by association probably isn't going to be a slam dunk in either direction. While I'm not privy to the whys and hows of Council membership, influence was certainly one, and consequently there are definitely members whose practices challenge my sensibilities, but whose influence certainly can't be denied.

And so why would I join a group that would have Oz, Chopra, and some unsavoury others as members? Because the goal of the initiative is one I can strongly support, and that is the identification of common ground in nutrition and healthy living that regardless of where one might fall on the spectrum of science to seance, everyone agrees, and I'll let David Katz explain why that matters,
"Our culture fixates on competing diet claims and discord, while failing to see the consensus among experts about the reliable, common fundamentals that matter most. GLiMMER is pulling that consensus from the shadows, so that everyone knows what the world's experts know, and agree on. We can then, acknowledging at last that we know where "there" is, can devote our collective efforts and resources- to getting there from here!"
All this to say, I'm happy to throw my hat into this ring. If everyone on this list can agree, then together we can use our collective soapboxes to push away at least some of the cacophony of contradictions that serve to undermine the efforts of individuals who, depending on the news story of the week or the channel on their televisions, find themselves either confused, or chasing predatory nonsense.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Stories: Skin, GMOs, and Forensics

Desmond Cole in Toronto Life explains his life in the skin he's in.

Mark Lynas in the New York Times discusses his conversion to becoming pro-GMO.

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate horrifies with her story on decades of knowingly false FBI forensics.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Does Your Cat Need Braces?

Loved this Funny Friday video about what a visit with a completely honest veterinarian might be like. It's tongue in cheek of course, but some of it sure rang true for me.

Have a great weekend!



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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest Post: Why This MD Can No Longer Be Called Dr. Dum Dum

Many months ago, pediatrician Kevin Wineinger, reached out to me to let me know of a battle he'd be waging - the battle to change his office's practice of providing lollipops to children following their vaccinations. I asked him if he might take a moment to share his story with you. Reading it, keep in mind the fact that no single raindrop thinks it's responsible for the flood. Here's to one less raindrop.

As a primary care physician with a special interest in tackling obesity, I spend a large portion of my day pointing out the obstacles between my patients and a healthier lifestyle. In the United States, these stumbling blocks are everywhere and often cloaked in legitimacy by people or groups that hold sway over consumer confidence. Say for instance, the placement of a seal of approval by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on a Kraft Singles package. I rant and rave to anyone within earshot when I see this happen in my town or on social media.

Until this fall, I was the pot calling the kettle black. I was a Dum-Dum dealer.

Dum-Dums are a 25-calorie lollipop with a waxy wrapper, paper stick and a host of delightful flavors. Last year, an assortment of Dum-Dums were available at our clinic’s checkout desk and were the reward for many a teary-eyed toddler following their immunization.

The irony of our post-vaccination lollipop dawned on me last summer. In one room, I was passing out tips on how to navigate our obesogenic environment with an adult patient who had diabetes and obesity. In the next room I would counsel a 4 year old’s parents on the importance of food choices at this age.

The growth charts are important and are a component of our discussion regarding food intake, but more importantly you and your family are establishing life-long behaviors pertaining to food.

  -Dr. Kevin Wineinger (that is me) mere seconds before I offered a lollipop if they were brave for their immunizations.

Duh. Wrong message, bad role-modeling. I was sending the signal that tears and sadness could be washed away by junk food.

I knew what I had to do. I was going after the lollipops.

I was ready to support my position of a lollipop-free clinic and prepared for fierce resistance from my colleagues on our Office Improvement Committee. When I had the floor during the meeting, I delivered my request to remove lollipops and replace them with stickers. I was met not by resistance or acceptance, more like ambivalence. Someone suggested we finish out the lollipops already purchased. I offered to buy them. They relented. Motion passed.

After a period of adjustment, our clinic is now lollipop-free and everyone seems happy with their Captain America and Elsa stickers. Our vaccination rates have not plummeted, nor have our patient satisfaction scores. In fact, some parents were happy with the change because the Dum-Dums often made a mess or caused fights between siblings.

Obesity is obviously multi-factorial and studies to identify the effects of small interventions such as lollipop removal will not likely produce significant results. Additionally, many would argue that a 25 calorie treat after a yearly vaccine is a drop in the calorie bucket and has no impact on their long term health. However, this type of reward runs contralateral to many of our recommendations regarding snacks and their usage in behavioral modification. Progress in our march toward a more reasonable food environment will be marked by numerous small victories that seem inconsequential to most people at the time.

Dr. Kevin Wineinger is a Family Medicine physician in Central Indiana, who has set his sights on the 500 calorie snacks and juice drinks passed out to his son’s Little League team after the game. Seriously!?!? You can find him on Twitter!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Do You Think the American Lung Association Would Mind Tobacco Sponsorships?

I think they might.

I mean let's say for a moment that the American Diabetes Association decided to launch a fundraiser and they took money from Philip Morris, Altria, Reynolds American, Inc. and Imperial Tobacco.

I'm pretty sure they'd get some flak for that, and probably some directly from the American Lung Association (ALA).

Coming from the American Lung Association however, it'd be rather hypocritical flak.

Was watching my Twitter feed this past weekend and came across the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb fundraiser. According to them it's,
"one of the American Lung Association's signature fundraising events. With events in more than 65 cities, participants young and old climb to raise funds in support of the mission of the American Lung Association: to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease."
Some of the event's sponsors?
  • Coca-Cola
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • The Krystal Company (a burger joint)
I know the food industry's money's as green as everyone else's, but clearly, as we've seen with tobacco, lines can be drawn regarding whether or not the means justify the ends.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Bunch of Photos of Coca-Cola Not Marketing to Kids

Coca-Cola Vienna City Marathon (Austria)
Or maybe they are marketing to kids.

Clearly they're photos of Coca-Cola's involvement and sponsorship of kid sport. But marketing?

Yup.

Not that it's exactly news that corporations sponsor sport because it's good marketing, but it was news to me at least that Coca-Cola was transparent about their involvement therein calling it quite plainly, "sports marketing".

So here are some more photos of Coca-Cola's sports marketing. Marketing that's clearly targeting the kids they always deny targeting (though it's true, some of the kids here look 12 years old, which according to Coca-Cola, means they're no longer children and hence fair game).

Coca-Cola's Powerade Final Four Dribble Event (USA)

Coca-Cola Soccer Camp (Brazil)

Coca-Cola "What's Your Sport" Campaign (Serbia)

Coca-Cola Cup (Poland)

Coca-Cola WNBA Fit (USA)


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Greek Ministry of Health Taps Coca-Cola to Teach Kids Healthy Living #NottheOnion

From the #NotTheOnion files comes this partnership whereby Greece, under the auspices of their Ministry of Health and supported by their Ministry of Education, has been teaching Greek schoolchildren a healthy living curriculum designed by Coca-Cola.

Want to guess what's being taught?

Hydration, lots of hydration (it's both the base of the program's pyramid, and coincidentally, also the base of Coca-Cola's profits), followed by a hefty dose of "energy balance" - burning the right amount of calories to "balance" those going in.

Truly, you couldn't make partnerships like this up.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

What The Hell Are Your Upstairs Neighbours Doing?

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

Have a great weekend!



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

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Climbing Stairs Isn't About Burning Calories

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

I sure have.

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

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

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

Good morning Yoni,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great day!

Jane Cunningham, PDt, MSc, parent of 3

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

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Ontario Schools Actively Promoting Sugar Sweetened Milk As Healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Stories: Corruption, Uncomfortable Truths, and Apocalyptic Schadenfreude

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

Adam Rutherford in The Guardian tackles science and uncomfortable truths.

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

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



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Friday, April 10, 2015

Reminder - You Can't Read Tone in Text Messages

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

Have a great weekend!



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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Why I'm Shutting Down Comments on Weighty Matters

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Yoni

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

"Snack" Size Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry Has More Calories than a Big Mac

Well maybe there are some folks out there who "snack" on Big Macs.

And it's also great at treating sugar deficiencies as the "snack" (I can't not use quotes for that word) size McFlurry packs 18 teaspoons of sugar.

Go for the "Regular" size and now we're talking the calories of a Big Mac plus a small fries with those calories coming in large part from its more than half a cup of sugar.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Yes You're Good At Net Searches. No That Doesn't Make You Knowledgable

But it'll probably make you think that you are.

At least that was the conclusion in a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology entitled Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge.

The paper's pretty cool, but for the tl;dr crowd, the abstract explains,
"searching the Internet for explanatory knowledge creates an illusion whereby people mistake access to information for their own personal understanding of the information"
and the paper concludes with,
"Erroneously situating external knowledge within their own heads, people may unwittingly exaggerate how much intellectual work they can do in situations where they are truly on their own."
Makes me wonder what I only think I understand.


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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Friday, April 03, 2015

The World's Fastest Passover Seder

Today's Funny Friday is the seder (festive meal) that I wished we were having tonight!

To all those who celebrate, Chag Sameach, Happy Easter, and to everyone, have a great weekend.



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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Guest Post: Can Anyone Help This School-Food Frustrated Alberta Mother?

Clearing out my email inbox, I came across a letter that I'd forgotten about. One that I had asked and kindly received permission to anonymously post. Am guessing this mother's story is far from unique and am hoping that there are folks out there who may be able to offer some possible solutions.

Good Morning Dr Freedhoff,

I am writing to you from Alberta. My two healthy and active (after school) children attend a local pre k to grade 9 public school which they love. They do have two main complaints though (1) Mom doesn't buy them hot lunch from the school's once a week hot lunch program and (2) Gym class is often missed and the teachers don't send them outside because its too cold.

Complaint #1 is easy for me to explain: It's all unhealthy junk food. This program is run by volunteers; moms who have kids in the school. I have been one of those volunteers from time to time but this year I have chosen not to. Last year while volunteering at Hot Lunch hand out I asked a few of the moms why we don't offer up healthy options. The response was defensive and much eye rolling was witnessed. The hot lunch options truly sadden me. I simply cannot hand out Arby's, McDonalds, greasy pizza, donuts, etc.... to our growing youth. I also don't buy the food from the hot lunch for my children just to 'include' them with the rest of the masses. Yes, they do complain about that and especially my oldest child. My youngest is somewhat more resilient to the peer pressures. I reviewed March Hot Lunch ordering form last evening and became, lets just say passionate, about the lack of support toward health this program has for our children.

The school has a kitchen, a very large kitchen with a walk in cooler and separate walk in freezer. There is plenty of working space with stainless steel sinks, appliances and counter tops. According to the Moms who run the program, they order in McDonalds and other fast food because volunteers are non existent. Even the 'taco salad' which I believe is made in house, is served with Doritos as the 'taco'. The kids crush up the Doritos and toss the salad portion in the bag. Salad is now no longer a healthy option.

I do treat my kids on these hot lunch days by making things like homemade chimichangas and have them pick out their favourite veggies, fruit, cheeses etc, they at least feel some satisfaction in this day. Some kids brag to them about the hot lunch they receive and some look at my children's lunches and try to convince them they should trade :) My son has come to a point where he wishes to write an article about toxic food and hand it over to his teacher. He is in grade 3. I know the teachers are not at all to blame here. This program is run by volunteers and it is in the hands of the parents to order the junk or pass it by. Kids cry and parents give in, this fuels a poor Hot Lunch Program.

As for #2, a windchill of -20 is the reason to not send kids out for recess. I don't know about this but as a child, I recall braving this type of weather and kids just survived! I'll add, we send our kids out to play in this weather at home. They seem fine to me! Gym class sometimes consists of jumping jacks and stretching in the hallway. To compensate for this lack of exercise, we have our children in sports; hockey and ringette. Additionally, we are just active people and the kids have a dog they must walk.

Our school community is small. I'm truly unsure how to start a change without the resistance which I received from the hot lunch ladies. If you know of schools that have gone through this, I'd love to hear how change was implemented. I need to advocate for these kids. I have attached screen shots of March Hot Lunch options, none of which I will be buying for my kids just as I haven't since November 2014. I'm very interested in any input.

Thank you kindly,
A concerned and frustrated Mom

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Guest Post: A Fantastic New Food Education Program for Low Income Canadians

A ways back, Christina Palassio, the Director of Communications for Community Food Centres Canada wrote to me to let me know of their Food Fit program and to ask if I might share. After reading about it, I agreed, it's definitely good news worth sharing.

By Trace MacKay, Program Evaluation Consultant at Community Food Centres Canada

FoodFit is a 12-week program for low-income community members who experience barriers around healthy eating and physical activity but who are motivated to make lasting changes to their health. The program combines fun, hands-on cooking sessions and food-based activities with take-home recipes, easy-to-understand nutrition information, group exercise, shared meals, self-directed individual and group goal-setting, and reflection and feedback loops that monitor and reinforce individual and group progress. The program also collects biometric indicators at the start and end of the program, and provides pedometers so participants can monitor daily steps. FoodFit respects the limits of people’s circumstances, and aims to give participants simple, useful tools to navigate an increasingly complex food environment.

FoodFit was developed with input from a medical doctor, nutritionists, Community Food Centres Canada staff, and community members. It’s offered as part of a suite of programs at The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, The Table Community Food Centre in Perth, and the Regent Park Community Food Centre in Toronto. These three Ontario Community Food Centres (CFCs) and others across the country provide food access, food skills and education and engagement programs in low-income communities as a way to increase healthy food access, improve physical and mental health, and reduce social isolation.

Recently, we heard from Peggy, a FoodFit participant at The Local, about how the program and space have been catalysts for change in her life. We wanted to share it with you during this National Nutrition Month.

Peggy and her daughter started coming to community meals at The Local about two years ago. They were living in a room in a shared house and were finding it hard to make ends meet on social assistance. Access to healthy food is what brought Peggy through the door, but she quickly got involved in several food skills and advocacy programs as well.

Peggy heard about FoodFit and felt she had the time and the motivation to join. Her pre-program health measurements revealed she had obesity and her blood pressure was borderline. Her fitness level, based on her age and resting heart rate, was classified as “poor,”. Her goal at the beginning of the program was
to make more healthy food choices so I can live longer for me and my kids.
Weekly FoodFit sessions vary in focus, from how to cook whole grains to reading nutrition labels to mindful eating. The curriculum is based on current research on healthy eating and how people make change. The program strives to create a welcoming, non-judgmental atmosphere, and to motivate people via realistic individual and group goal-setting. We hope that participants will become better nourished, less socially isolated, better able to effect personal change and that, in the long run, they will experience lasting physical, social and mental health benefits.

Peggy found the program’s food label reading activity particularly helpful.
I never understood all those words, but Kate [program coordinator] explained it so I could understand.
She also liked that participants are encouraged to make changes at their own pace. “
You start off slow. Start with walking around the block and, if you can, you go around twice.
By Week 12 of the program, Peggy’s blood pressure readings were lower, her fitness level had improved from “poor” to “above average,” and she had dropped 12 lbs of weight and lost four inches from her waistline. In the first week, Peggy recorded an average of 3,954 daily steps on her pedometer. By the end of the program, they had more than doubled to 9,601. She had also learned practical tips for making healthier food choices, was cooking more healthy meals at home, and had made new friends.

Peggy's positive changes continued.
I’m more conscious about what I’m eating now. I’m keeping the weight off.
Seven months after starting FoodFit Peggy had lost 43 lbs., along with dropping nine inches from her waistline. Her blood pressure had returned to normal limits. And, she said,
I walk everywhere. I’ve always been a walker, I picked it up from my mom. But I walk further now, at my speed, and I walk with my kids.
Peggy feels her health has improved both physically and mentally.

Two months ago, Peggy found a job in a kitchen at a restaurant. She credits the experience she gained in The Local’s food skills programs and a connection made through their community chef for helping her get the job. In November, Peggy and her daughter moved into a one-bedroom apartment. But in spite of this positive movement, Peggy still struggles.
I try and stay away from junk food but with stress it’s sometimes hard. Having a job is making a difference but I didn’t do grocery shopping this month because I didn’t have any money left with moving into a new apartment. Food always comes last.
This points to the larger structural problems that keep people from being able to access healthy food: the high cost of housing and food, low wages, a food environment where unhealthy choices are often the easiest and quickest to make. And it underlines the need for policies that support healthy eating, adequate incomes, and long-lasting positive changes to the health of Canadians.

FoodFit continues to be offered at The Local, The Table, and the Regent Park Community Food Centre, and CFCC is currently seeking funding to roll out the program across Canada over the next five years.

To find out more about FoodFit and Community Food Centres Canada, visit www.cfccanada.ca, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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