Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saturday Stories: What The Health, Carboholics, and Righteous Hatred

Ginny Messina, the Vegan RD, in, reviews the film What The Health and its "junk science".

Stephan Guyenet, on his own blog, responds to Gary Taubes' recent NYTs piece on "carboholics", and offers up a different, more science-pinned, narrative.

Jamie Palmer in Fathom, with an unflinching piece on the Left and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The path to righteous hatred.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Should You Buy The World's First DNA Based Weight Loss App?

This week saw the release of embodyDNA a, "DNA based weight loss app".

According to the press release, for the low, low, price of just $188.99, to work alongside your new food diary, you can order a saliva kit to have your DNA analyzed and then you'll receive results telling you to do such things as reduce your sugary drinks, limit your calories, avoid empty calorie foods, get plenty of sleep, and include protein in your diet.

Or, alternatively, you could not spend $188.99 and you could do those same things.

Doesn't seem like a tough call to me.

While the notion of personalized DNA based recommendations is exciting, paying $188.99 for a test that'll tell you things you already know to be a good plan is about as far along as the science has gone.

So let me save you your hard earned cash and give you some straight forward advice:
  • Keep a food diary
  • Reduce restaurant and ultra-processed meals
  • Cook meals made with fresh whole ingredients and eat them free from distractions
  • Include protein with all of your meals and snacks
  • Minimize all caloric beverages (especially sugar sweetened beverages and alcohol)
  • Cultivate good sleeps and good friends
  • Don't smoke
  • Exercise as much and as often as you can enjoy
Do those things and you can safely, and possibly forever, ignore the latest hype.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Guest Post: A Lawyer Weighs In On Canada's Proposed Kid Ad Ban

Early last week there was a surprising piece in Blacklock's Reporter that suggested that Canada may be reconsidering its plans to ban the advertising of junk food to children (an election piece of Prime Minister Trudeau's and part of Health Minister Philpott's mandate letter). After seeing it, I contacted Canadian public health lawyer Jacob Shelley and asked him if he'd be so kind as to share his legal thoughts. He kindly agreed.
Restricting food and beverage marketing to children has long been identified as a necessary public health strategy to reduce diet-related chronic diseases, including obesity. It is a strategy endorsed by the World Health Organization and has been the focus of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition in Canada over the past few years (the Coalition has called for the implementation of its Ottawa Principles, which bans food advertising to youth and children under 16). Not surprisingly, there was considerable excitement in the public health community when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau identified “introducing new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec” as a top priority for protecting public health in his Minister of Health Mandate Letter.

Québec’s Consumer Protection Act prohibits, with some exceptions, all commercial advertising to children under thirteen years of age (s. 248). In 1989 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Québec ban as a constitutionally valid limitation on the freedom of expression, protected by section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the seminal case of Irwin Toy v Québec.

In Canada, expression is considered a “fundamental freedom”, and because of its importance, the courts have consistently held that section 2(b) requires a large and liberal interpretation. Commercial speech, which includes advertising, is among the types of expression that the Charter seeks to protect. The courts have held that commercial expression serves an important public interest, one that goes beyond its economic value, because it allows consumers to make informed choices. Even so, the government can impose restrictions on expression. A limitation on the freedom of expression can be justified if the government is able to demonstrate that it is reasonable, an assessment based on the Oakes test.

This is what occurred in Irwin Toy, where a majority of the Supreme Court found that the Québec ban was justified, even though it infringed on the freedom of expression. The Court was particularly concerned about the vulnerability of children to advertising. It held: “the evidence sustains the reasonableness of the legislature's conclusion that a ban on commercial advertising directed to children was the minimal impairment of free expression consistent with the pressing and substantial goal of protecting children against manipulation through such advertising.”

Since Irwin Toy, the Supreme Court has upheld other bans on commercial speech, most notably, commercial speech related to tobacco products. In Canada v JTI-MacDonald, the Court unanimously held that the restrictions placed on tobacco advertising and marketing were justified restrictions on the freedom of speech. Of particular note, the Court held, “when commercial expression is used for the purpose of inducing people to engage in harmful and addictive behaviour, its value becomes tenuous” (para 47).

Through Irwin Toy and JTI-MacDonald, the Canadian jurisprudence clearly establishes that (i) children are vulnerable and need to be protected from manipulative advertising and (ii) commercial expression that induces harmful behaviour(s) has tenuous value. It would seem apparent, then, that restricting advertising to unhealthy food products to children – the strategy the government appears to have adopted – is relatively low-hanging fruit. After all, the government could do more, as Irwin Toy involved restricting all advertising directed to children. While there may be some details to iron out – such as what age should the ban use and determining what constitutes unhealthy foods – the overall strategy seems to be in accordance with Canadian law.

Thus it was surprising to read that Health Canada may be backing away from meaningful restrictions on food advertising to children out of fear of industry lawsuits (note: this has not been confirmed or reported elsewhere).

UPDATE: Health Canada was kind enough to tweet a response after this article was posted. What is there to be afraid of, exactly? Certainly industry lawsuits were expected the moment PM Trudeau penned his mandate letter. It would be unrealistic to expect the food industry to accept any governmental oversight of advertising to children – kids are big business, after all, and restricting food advertising to children will have a discernable impact on the industry’s bottom line. The industry is not interested in any regulation.

To avoid regulatory interference, the industry has created its own self-regulatory framework that it frequently touts. It includes the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children and the Canadian Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative (this is in addition to individual corporate promises). Such frameworks are often considered to be largely ineffective, lacking transparency and accountability. Recent research suggests that advertising of unhealthy foods to children has increased in recent years. Self-regulation, simply put, isn’t working.

If the industry does initiate a lawsuit, we can be sure that it will cloak its claim in Charter language, but this should not be mistaken as interest in protecting Canadian’s freedom of expression. Rather, it seeks an unbridled free market, one that allows it to continue to target vulnerable children in order to increase profits.

When PM Trudeau announced Canada would impose restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, the world noticed. Canada now has the opportunity to become a global leader when it comes to restricting marketing to kids. It would be a shame if the fear of industry push-back impeded current efforts, especially when the courts have already made it abundantly clear that children are more important than commercial expression.

Have your say: Health Canada is currently seeking feedback on its approach to restricting marketing unhealthy food and beverages to children, and you can do so by visiting here.

Jacob Shelley is an Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Law and the School of Health Studies in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University. His primary area of research is the role of law in promoting public health and preventing chronic disease, with a focus on diet-related chronic diseases. Follow him on Twitter here.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Stories: Sham Surgeries, Plastic Mice Penises, and Gooplandia

Christie Aschwanden in Five Thirty Eight discusses the powers of sham surgery.

Ed Yong in The Atlantic with a story that begins with a plastic mouse penis.

Beth Skwarecki in Lifehacker details her strange trip to Gooplandia.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

On Respecting Reality And Moving Forward

As anyone who has ever suddenly lost a loved one will tell you, there's a great deal of processing to be had to comprehend what's happened.

Having just come back from a hiking trip with my father in Italy's breathtaking Dolomites (we'd booked long before my mother's death and yes, that's a photo from our trip up above), and having had now 5 weeks to try to wrap my head around what seems still at times an impossibility, I'm feeling like it's time to get back at things.

Not sure I'll be fully up to speed for a while, but I'm at the point where I feel that I have enough mental real-estate to start writing again.

I didn't before. Our realities often precludes our best intentions, and it's important to respect that.

My newly darker reality before was such that my best efforts in life excluded all sorts of behaviours. From more regular exercising, to healthier eating, to more moderated drinking, to being more engaged with my loved ones, to writing this blog, and to so much more.

Spending time kicking yourself because you've fallen down will not likely accelerate your ability to get back up, and no doubt life ensures that at times, we all fall down.

The most important question to ask yourself when life isn't going according to plan or when your deck of cards is ugly is, "what can I do today that will help even a little"?

Truthfully, some days the answer may be little to nothing at all.

One day though, there'll be something more formative to do. And today (well yesterday really), mine was to type this out.

Our best efforts in life are dynamic, but that doesn't mean that they're not our bests, and the fact that our bests during difficult times might not be all that impressive when measured against our bests during easy times, doesn't make them any less worthy of pride.