Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Stories: Shared Genes, Not-Extinct Insects, and Aliens

David Epstein in ProPublica with a fascinating story of shared genetics.

Robert Krulwich with the tale of real life primordial giants.

Phil Plait in Slate on that star that maybe, just maybe, is powering an advanced alien civilization.

Friday, January 29, 2016

This Little Boy is a Cookie Ninja

Hide your cookies! Today's Funny Friday kid will steal them and you'll never find out!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How Does 15 Thousand Million Dollars a Year for Nutrition Research Sound?

I've heard lots of options for what to do with soda tax revenues. From subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables, to increasing funding to school lunch programs, to establishing obesity treatment centres and programs, and more.

Here's one more thought.

A penny per ounce soda tax would generate an estimated $15 billion per year in the US (and presumably near $1.5 billion per year in Canada).

Could those monies be used to put an end to all food industry funded studies, partnerships, and promotions?

Off the record I've been having some conversations with two very prominent, industry funded scientists. They'd love the opportunity to access non-industry sources of funding so as to remove any concerns related to conflicts of interest.

And honestly, $15 billion is a great deal of money. There'd be plenty to go around. For instance, a fund could be created to service research, but also to allow for non-profits to apply to have their food industry funding matched (in return for dropping their food industry funders), schools to eliminate food industry sponsored sports, pouring right contracts and vending machines, etc.

Suddenly all of the heated concerns and discussions around public private partnerships, research conflicts of interest, undue influence, would cease to exist.

Of course there's no guarantee soda tax revenues would be used for anything health or weight related and moving forward, if and when soda taxes are discussed, debated, and implemented, here's hoping that the money they generate will be earmarked for something health related, and not just used to pad to a government's bottom line.

Monday, January 25, 2016

In the US, the Colour of Obesity is Now Maroon

You've probably seen these maps before, but did you know that in 2013 they had to add a colour?

If you haven't seen the maps, they're from the CDC and they document the march of obesity in America over time. As the colours change, America gains weight, and in 2013 the first of now 3 States' rates of obesity cleared 35%.

Here's a thought. Maybe rather than continuing to talk about rising weights governments start doing something about it?

And given people haven't been purposefully trying to gain, and yet gaining we are, it's clear the environment also needs intervention as talking about personal responsibility doesn't seem to be doing the trick.

Sure it's always a good idea for people to know how to swim, and yes we should continue to encourage and provide swimming lessons, but this flood needs a levee.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday Stories: Suicide Pacts, Last Days, and Kippahs

Julia Medew in The Sydney Morning Herald tells the true story of her parents' suicide pact - a must read.

Paul Kalinithi in the New Yorker on his last day as a surgeon.

Jonathan Tobin in Commentary on kippahs and the future of Europe.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Some Weeks Are Just Like This

But at least we're still breathing!

Hope you enjoy today's Funny Friday as much as my 3 pre-teen children (and I) did.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cut Sweet From Your Diet And Only Maybe You'll Need It Less

Lots of people try to reduce sugar, and of those who succeed, I'll regularly hear them tell me that after a little while, they no longer miss it. But are they not missing it much because their taste buds "change", or do they not miss it because of the psychological sunk costs of their personal investment into a low sugar diet?

Well that's what a recent PepsiCo study sort of set out to explore. Briefly, researchers randomized a small group of matched individuals to consume either a low-sugar, artificial sweetener free diet (40% reduction in simple sugars and total ban on artificial sweeteners), or a regular one for 3 months time after which they were told to consume whatever they wanted for the final month of the study. Participants tracked food by way of food diary, and given the nature of the experiment, clearly they weren't blinded to their study condition, and nor were the researchers. Each month of the study, participants were asked to rate the perceived sweetness of vanilla puddings and raspberry flavoured sweet drinks.

By month three the sugar and sweetener reduced folks were rating the pudding as 40% sweeter than the control diet group. They did not however rate it as any less (or more) delicious. There was also no change in their weight compared with the normal diet folks.

This was a small study, but that said, its findings aren't particularly heartening. If foods perceived as sweeter by those who have reduced their sugar intake are not also perceived as less enjoyable, the swap to a low-sugar diet won't be self-reinforcing and hence will be more prone to failing in the long term, and the fact that weight didn't change speaks to the notion that simply removing sugar from your diet isn't likely to be the weight-loss panacea some bill it to be. If only it were that simple.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Is The "100th Day" of School Really Worth Celebrating (With Junk)?

It's called "100th Day", and the first reference I could find to it was a kindergartner geared book published by Scholastic in 1996 called, "100th Day of School". Perhaps it hit the big time in 1999 when the New York Times featured a letter to the editor calling 100th Day "another February holiday".

It's meant to celebrate the kids being "100 days smarter", and for the younger kids, to provide an opportunity to practice counting to 100.

It's turned into yet another school sanctioned excuse to share junk food.

The letter up above was sent home to a friend of mine in Illinois with her kindergartner. Putting aside the fact that the teacher misspelled Froot Loops and seems to be a bit math challenged, here we've got a kindergarten teacher who seems to have just given up. 5 year olds are entertained by pretty much anything and consequently leaning on junk food to serve as a source of excitement and fun, beyond teaching 5 year olds that junk food serves as a source of excitement and fun, is also incredibly lazy. Or is the teacher just doing what one does on the 100th Day, and following through with what's considered normal?

Looking online it could be either.

I found plenty of similar letters:

But I also found plenty of ideas and celebrations that didn't involve food including this one that focused on activity

Add this to the pile of "just ones" that ultimately add up to a near constant parade of junk food being pushing on our kids. Birthday cupcakes, Valentine's Day, Halloween, Easter, Christmas, class-based rewards, and many, many, more - the opportunities for school based junk are plentiful.

Would love it if you'd head over to the Weighty Matters Facebook Page and let me know what the most ridiculous junk food tie-in your kids have had. I think mine would be when my eldest, at the age of 8, joined a school book club and instead of coming home and talking about the books, came home and talked about the help-yourself bowl of Twizzlers.

[Teachers, for a gazillion different 100th Day ideas, including tons of those that exclude junk food, here's a massive Pinterest collection of them, and if you're curious, the snacks in the first letter up above add up to 268 calories coming in part from their 5.4 teaspoons of sugar]

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Saturday Stories: Looking Perfect, False Confessions, and Lost Canoeists

Jennifer Weiner in the New York Times asks, "When can women stop trying to look perfect?"

Douglas Starr in The New Yorker in 2013 discusses how police interrogation tactics can be run in order to produce false confessions.

Ben McGrath, also in The New Yorker, with a riveting story about a lost, solo, canoeist.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sometimes Even Goats Need a Good Pep Talk

Today's Funny Friday video is just 6 seconds long. You've got 6 seconds for this goat whisperer I'm sure.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Employing the "I Forgot To Buy It" Strategy for Healthier Pantries

In working with families who are trying to improve their homes' dietary choices, one of the barriers I regularly come across are worries about how kids will react to the removal of beloved, but perhaps not healthful, dietary staples (like the cookies masquerading as a wise choice up above).

It's probably an unnecessary worry.

The last thing I would recommend is the idiotic, TV-style, black garbage bag purge of your pantry that likely would come along with the admonition that the stuff in the bag isn't good and won't be brought back into the home ever again.

That style of an approach would no doubt put a child's back up, lead to frustration, conflict, and potentially help in cultivating an unhealthy relationship with food as a whole.

Instead I recommend something much simpler. "Forget"

Forget to buy it the next time you're at the supermarket, and when questioned by your kids as to the whereabouts of the products, apologize and tell them that you forgot.

Then buy it again somewhere down the road, and then when it next runs out, forget again to re-purchase, with lengthier and lengthier periods between repurchasing until your kids forget that the product was ever a regular part of their lives.

(Tackle foods you want to eliminate one by one using this method as "forgetting" a whole bunch of stuff all at once is pretty much an unspoken garbage bag purge.)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Are You Certain That For The Thing You're Certain About There's Certainty?

Certainty. When it comes to nutrition, healthful living, and weight loss advice, that's often what's being served.

There are anti-breakfast zealots who are just as passionate about no one ever needing breakfast as those who state that breakfast is an absolute must. There are low-fat fighters whose passionate beliefs, if embraced by the masses, will undoubtedly lead to new lines of unhelpful ultra-processed but high fat foods. And there are anti-calorie crusaders who'll have you believe that magically, in the context of a public that relies dramatically on boxes, jars, and restaurant meals, that calories won't count if you just choose wisely.

I could go on.

Honestly, even were the science of issues like those up above as black and white as many promote (it's not), in clinical practice, denying the fact that different approaches suit different people differently is a great way to fail patients.

All this to say, the opposite of dogma isn't dogma.

Friday, January 08, 2016

An Incredible Cravings Based Resolution-y Hello Parody

However you might have celebrated over the recent holidays, this Funny Friday Hello parody is for you!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Mars Chocolates And "The Emotional Low Point of the Shopping Journey"

Flickr: bcostin
Describing their "deep understanding of the shopper" candy maker Mars reports working with retailers to try to entice consumers at "the emotional low point of the shopping journey" - checkout.

Mars explains that consumers at checkouts have three needs that retailers can meet: Refresh, Reward, and Remind.

Refresh, according to Mars, should consist of junk foods like gum, mints, beverages, and snacks, and take up 51% of checkout real estate.

Reward should be chocolate or non-chocolate candy and take up 39% of total checkout space.

Remind should be small items people might have forgotten like batteries and lip balm and take up just 10% of the checkout aisle.

Checkout is an area ripe for change. CSPI has been campaigning for candy free checkout aisles for some time, and some retailers have followed through citing consumer demand. I wonder if Mars' outreach has something to do with this changing tide?

Worth noting, the publishing industry would certainly be an ally in candy free checkout campaigns. Here is their frustrated response to Mars' push which they note, includes a "blatant omission of magazines". That said, given the contents and covers of checkout aisle magazines, it may be difficult to describe them as healthful either.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Is It Bad That Exercise Pills Might Be On The Horizon?

A little while ago I came across coverage and commentary about this article about the future possibility of pills that might in theory be able to replace exercise.

Predictably, the chorus of voices that rose up were full of indignation with sentiments that ultimately suggested that even if found to be incredibly effective, exercise pills would be the bastion of the lazy.

Is it lazy to want to improve your quality and quantity of life? Because that's what these pills would do if they did in fact provide people with the benefits of exercise. And yes, sure, it'd be lovely if everyone had the very real luxuries of possessing the health, time, money, and inclination to regularly and genuinely exercise, but except in the minds of those filled with I can do it and so should you lifestyle sanctimony, that's simply not the case for a large percentage of our real life population.