Wednesday, October 18, 2017

PepsiCo Confirms They Care About Profit, Not Health

This post is not an indictment of PepsiCo.

In fact I've picked on PepsiCo far less than I have on Coca-Cola over the years because for the most part, PepsiCo hasn't cynically pretended that health mattered to them as vocally as has Coca-Cola.

For PepsiCo, health was always about sales. They simply wanted to make money selling less awful junk food.

Well, that hasn't worked out so well, and so PepsiCo, in a 3rd quarter investors meeting a few weeks ago, did as companies do when faced with disappointing sales figures - they pledged to increase their marketing of their flagship sugary beverages (Pepsi and Mountain Dew).

This shouldn't surprise anyone.

PepsiCo's job is to maximize their profits, and while there may be times when profits and public health collide, if they don't, PepsiCo will protect their interests, not yours and mine.

And this post comes with a serving of especially delicious irony in that just one day after PepsiCo's announcement that they were going to pump their sugary fare, PepsiCo's VP of marketing Gary So published this piece on Medium about how great PepsiCo's commitment is to reducing the consumption of calories and sugar from beverages.

As I've said before, the food industry is neither friend, nor foe, nor partner.

[Thanks to Consumerist Community Editor Laura Northrup for pointing me to the AP piece]

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Monday, October 16, 2017

My Kids Go Trick or Treating. Yours Probably Should Too.

(A variation of this post was first published October 24th, 2013)

It's coming.

And I'm not really all that worried. At least not about Halloween night.

The fact is food's not simply fuel, and like it or not, Halloween and candy are part of the very fabric of North American culture, and so to suggest that kids shouldn't enjoy candy on Halloween isn't an approach I would support.

That said, Halloween sure isn't pretty. On average every Halloween sized candy contains in the order of 2 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of 2 Oreo cookies and I'd bet most Halloween eves there are more kids consuming 10 or more Halloween treats than less - 20 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of more than half an entire package of Oreos (there are 36 cookies in a package of Oreos).

So what's a health conscious parent to do?

Use Halloween as a teachable moment. After all, it's not Halloween day that's the real problem, the real problem are the other 364 days of Halloween where we as a society have very unwisely decided to reward, pacify and entertain kids with junk food or candy (see my piece on the 365 days of Halloween here). So what can be taught on Halloween?

Well firstly I think you can chat some about added sugar (and/or calories), and those rule of thumb figures up above provide easily visualized metrics for kids and parents alike.

Secondly it allows for a discussion around "thoughtful reduction". Ask them how many candies they think they'll need to enjoy Halloween? Remember, the goal is the healthiest life that can be enjoyed, and that goes for kids too, and consequently the smallest amount of candy that a kid is going to need to enjoy Halloween is likely a larger amount than a plain old boring Thursday. In my house our kids have determined 3 candies are required (and I'm guessing likely a few more on the road) - so our kids come home, they dump their sacks, and rather than just eat randomly from a massive pile they hunt out the 3 treats they think would be the most awesome and then silently learn a bit about mindful eating by taking their time to truly enjoy them.

The rest?

Well it goes into the cupboard and gets metered out at a rate of around a candy a day....but strangely....and I'm not entirely sure how this happens, maybe it's cupboard goblins, but after the kids go to sleep the piles seem to shrink more quickly than math would predict (though last year my oldest told me she believed it was her parents eating them and that she was going to count her candies each night). I've also heard of some families who grab glue guns and make a Halloween candy collage, and dentist offices who do Halloween candy buy-backs.

Lastly, a few years ago we discovered that the Switch Witch' territory had expanded to include Ottawa. Like her sister the Tooth Fairy, the Switch Witch, on Halloween, flies around looking for piles of candy to "switch" for toys in an attempt to keep kids' teeth free from cavities for her sister. The joy and excitement on my kids' faces when they came downstairs on November 1st that first Switch Witch year was something to behold, and is already a discussion between them this year.

And if you do happen upon our home, we haven't given out candy since 2006 and we haven't been egged either. You can buy Halloween coloured play-doh packs at Costco, Halloween glow sticks, stickers or temporary tattoos at the dollar store (glow sticks seem to be the biggest hit in our neighbourhood), or if your community is enlightened, you might even be able to pick up free swim or skate passes for your local arena (they run about 50 cents to a dollar per so if you're in a very busy neighbourhood this can get pricey).

[Here's me chatting about the subject with CBC Toronto's Matt Galloway]

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday Stories: Deaths, Blubber, and Running

Robert Fine and Jeffery Michel in Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings with their piece, Viaticum, on two different types of deaths.

Jonathan Reisman in Slate with a story of seal blubber and nutritionism run amuck.

Alex Hutchinson in Runners World with his final column there on what he calls the seven pillars of running wisdom (spoiler - it's not only applicable to running).

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Small Study Suggests Body Contouring Surgery Augments Bariatric Surgery

Source: Kayla Butcher's GoFundMe page for skin removal surgery
One of the nearly inevitable adverse effects of bariatric surgery is loose, excess, skin, and generally speaking, the only recourse for dealing with it is more surgery.

Here in Canada, whereas bariatric surgery is covered by our healthcare system, with the exception of medically necessary panniculectomies, post bariatric surgery body contouring surgery is not.

Putting aside both quality of life and aesthetics as rationale for skin removal surgery (and there are very reasonable arguments supporting both), here's a new one (at least for me). If the outcomes of this small study hold true, body contouring surgery may dramatically enhance long term weight loss outcomes.

The study was retrospective and it sought simply to compare the long term weights of those who had both body contouring surgery and bariatric surgery with those who only had bariatric surgery.

Interestingly, the study found that while weight loss was comparable between subjects 2 years post bariatric surgery at 35.6% in the bypass/contouring group and 30.0% in just bypass group (with the 5% additional difference perhaps explicable simply on the basis of the weight of removed skin), with time, the just bypass group regained significantly more weight. By 5 years (the duration of the study), the bypass/contouring group were maintaining a 30.8% loss, while the just bypass group had regained such that they were only maintaining a 22.7% loss.

Now this was a small study, and retrospective rather than randomized - in turn this might mean that the association is related to other factors (for instance socio-economics as body contouring is expensive and clearly those that can afford it, may well have other privileges and circumstances that might be beneficial to post-surgical weight management). Also worth noting that the 5 year losses of the just bypass group aren't as high as seen in other bariatric surgery studies.

Am looking forward to more research on this (ideally randomized), as for many post bariatric surgery patients, excess skin has a dramatically negative effect on their quality of life, and perhaps, if it was shown that body contouring surgery helped patients maintain their losses, insurers and governments might cover the procedure.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Should We Be Treating Type 2 Diabetes With Bariatric Surgery?

Photo By Mr Hyde 
I'm resurrecting and tweaking this piece, for the third time now, consequent to the publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of the 12 year data that continues to strongly support the use of bariatric surgery to treat type 2 diabetes.
In case you missed the news, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated dramatic benefits of bariatric surgery in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Now I'm not going to get into the study here in great detail, but it followed 1,156 patients from for 12 years and divided them into 3 groups. Those who sought and chose not to have bariatric surgery. Those who sought and had bariatric surgery. And those who did not seek nor have bariatric surgery. Researchers examined all of them at baseline, 2 years, 6 years, and 12 years in terms of whether they had type 2 diabetes, hypertension, or hyperlipidemia.

The results were striking.

With a follow up rate of 90% at 10 years researchers demonstrated that not only were patients 12 years post bariatric surgery maintaining an average loss of 77lbs/26.9% (the non-surgical groups at 12 years lost an average of nothing), but that amoung those patients who had diabetes pre-surgically, 12 years later, 51% were in remission. And for those who are curious about such things as odds ratios, the odds ratio for the incidence of type 2 diabetes at 12 years was 0.08 (95% CI, 0.03 to 0.24) for the surgery group versus the non-surgery group.

(and though they weren't quite as striking, the surgery group at 12 years also had markedly higher remission rates and lower incidences of both hypertension and hyperlpidemia)

So basically here we have a surgical intervention that is dramatically better medical management for type 2 diabetes - a condition that causes cumulative damage and can wreak havoc on a person's quality and quantity of life.

Yet many MDs, allied health professionals and health reporters, including some who I know, respect, and admire, regularly discuss how we shouldn't be looking to surgical solutions for diabetes because patients could instead use their forks and feet. While there's no argument about the fact that in a ideal world everyone would take it upon themselves to live the healthiest lives possible, there's two problems with that argument. Firstly, not everyone is interested in changing their lifestyle, and secondly, statistically speaking, the majority of even those who are interested and successful with lifestyle change will ultimately regress - the simple fact remains that we don't yet have a proven, reproducible and sustainable approach to lifestyle change of any sort.

And what of those folks not wanting to change? I say, "so what?". Since when did MDs, allied health professionals or health columnists earn the right to judge others on their abilities or desires to change? Our job is to provide patients with information - all information - including information on lifestyle change, medical management and surgery. We can even provide patients with our opinions as to which road we think may be best for them, and why, but honestly, given the results from these studies, I'm not sure how anyone could make an evidence based case that surgery isn't a very real and powerful option that ought to be discussed with all of their patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Unless of course that someone has some form of weight (or simply anti-surgery) bias.

Let me give you another example. Let's say there was a surgical procedure that women with breast cancer could undergo that would reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence by roughly 30%. Do you think anyone would question a woman's desire to have it? I can't imagine. And yet lifestyle - weight loss and exercise has indeed been shown to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence by 30%. Think people would dare suggest the women choosing surgery were, "taking the easy way out", that they should just use their forks and feet?

We've got to get over ourselves.

Until we have a proven, remotely comparable, reproducible, sustainable, non-surgical option, if you bash the surgical option on its surface for being "easy", or "wrong", you might want to do a bit of soul searching as to whether or not you're practicing good medical caution, or if instead you're practicing plain, old, irrational bias.

[and for new readers to ensure there's no confusion - I'm not a surgeon]

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Saturday, October 07, 2017

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Kindergartners Don't Need "Fun Snack" Days

Received this from a long time reader.

It was the note sent home with her first Kindergartner from his school. Apparently mini-donuts are this month's "Fun Snack".

Next month's Fun Snacks, my reader was told, will be from A&W.

The question that leaps to my mind is, "Why?"

Why do 5 year olds need "Fun Snack" days at school?

I mean if schools wanted to provide 5 year olds with a special snack day, why not something like, "Funky Snacks", where once a month kids try foods and flavours specific to different ethnic backgrounds (ideally foods reflecting their class' different cultural backgrounds)? Given it doesn't take much to get a 5 year old excited, this might be a great way to expand their horizons and taste buds.

But why a food based day at all?

Why not a monthly "Fun Reading Day", "Fun Dress Up Day", or "Fun Singing Day"? Or how about "Fun Extra Recess Day", or "Fun Fitness Day"?

Why don't more people question the wisdom of teaching 5 year olds that fun is found in a mini-donut, or A&W fries?

Why are so many schools and teachers seemingly incapable of (or unwilling to) finding creative ways to entertain and reward their students?

The answer?

No one's paying attention.

Fun Snack Days for Kindergartners are our new normal.

We're all frogs in a steaming pot of junk food that has taken roughly the past 60 years to reach a rolling boil.

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Monday, October 02, 2017

Maybe Physicians Should Stop Wondering Why Patients Visit Quacks

Last week I received an email from a long time reader who recounted her experiences seeking help following her heart attack (at age 43!). I want to share her story as it speaks to just how poor a job our medical education system is doing in providing physicians with training in lifestyle modification (including diet, fitness, sleep, stress, etc.). The tl;dr version is that despite her incredible willingness and interest in affecting change, none of the physicians she saw were able to provide her with any specific and actionable advice. Clearly if this is the norm, we need not wonder why our patients are turning to quacks for help at times. For my take on the physician's role in lifestyle, here's a brief op-ed I wrote for the CMAJ, and as far as this reader goes, I steered her to these 8 big ticket items as her first line priorities. While she wanted to remain anonymous, she did agree to allow me to share her letter
On March 12, 2015, I had a heart attack. I had a heart attack. I had a heart attack. Sometimes I feel like I have to say it again and again because it doesn’t seem real to me. I was 43 years old and what I thought was relatively healthy.

The events of how my day started were mundane. I woke, made coffee, had a shower, poured coffee and sat on my bed to drink my coffee and decide what to wear that day. What began as an uncomfortable feeling in my chest, that I thought would pass, increased in discomfort to a point where I began to feel like I was suffocating. My mind was racing, I wondered if I had any aspirin, I wondered if I should go to the hospital, I wondered if I should call the ambulance. I decided to wake my son and have him drive me to the hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital, my son dropped me off. He had to go home to drive my other kids to school. I walked into the hospital. I believe that arriving at the hospital myself and walking in myself led the people working in triage to believe that whatever was going on with me was not serious. She asked me to have a seat, she asked me to move to a different seat, she called other people in ahead of me. I waited about 20 minutes before being called in to see a doctor. I get it, I probably didn’t fit the ‘profile’.

When I was finally hooked up with an EKG, I believe that they could see the irregularities in my heart rhythm, I was offered two aspirin to chew and they took blood. The blood work confirmed that I was having a heart attack and I was given the antithrombotic injection. By 11:00 I was heading to St. John, NB to have a dye test.

In St. John, I saw plenty of doctors. They set me up with a cardiac catheter that day. During the procedure, the doctor stopped and asked if I was experiencing any stress in my life, that there were no blockages and he didn’t have to complete the procedure because he could see there were no blockages. He asked about stress, because usually there is residue after a blockage is broken down by the antithrombotic and I had no residue.

I left St. John the next day. As I was leaving, I asked if there was anything I needed to know. I was on a battery of medication, but no one talked to me about lifestyle. Whether I should take it easy, whether I should avoid activities, how I should get back into my daily life. I asked and I was told to just do what I could.

I went home without seeing a dietitian. No one spoke to me at all about nutrition, activity, or managing stress. I do have family history, and it seemed that that family history completely defined my experience. No one was curious about why I had a heart attack, because I have family history. Family history was as deep as they looked.

That was 2.5 years ago

I continue to ask….and no one refers me to anyone who can help me with my diet, managing stress, or incorporating activity into my life. I search out this information myself. Always looking for what I should be doing. I see a nutritionist weekly, one that I sought out and pay for out of pocket. I see a trainer at the gym. I google search reputable sites on lowering LDL and improving heart health.

Most recently, I saw my heart doctor. My LDL was higher than it should be. I am not taking medication. I asked if there’s anything he can tell me about my diet or activity…anything at all. I practically begged for a referral, an insight, an idea…..what I got were to handouts. One distributed by Becel and one from the egg Farmers of Canada. I left mad and frustrated.

The next day my family doctor’s nurse called to see if my heart doctor had gone over the results of my blood work. I said that I had seen him and that he “sort of” went over the blood work. I was leaving an opening for her to suggest an appointment to go over my blood work. Her reply was “OK, I was just wondering if you knew”.

The health system has continually left me feeling unimportant and let down through this experience. I am so willing to make the changes I need to but there is no one in the health care system making suggestions.

So I am writing to you, partly to assuage my frustration in being offered healthy diet handouts from Becel and egg farmers by my heart doctor, partly to feel some support, and partly for advise or information or insights.

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