Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wow! 29 Teams of Analysts, One Identical Data Set, One Identical Research Question, 29 Different Outcomes.

This is an incredible paper, Many Analysts, One Data Set: Making Transparent How Variations in Analytic Choices Affect Results, saw 61 analysts (in 29 teams), be given the same data set meant to address the same research question (are soccer referees more likely to give red cards to dark skinned players than light skinned players).

The outcomes?

20 teams found a statistically significant positive effect, while 9 teams did not, and where effect sizes ranged (in odds-ratio units), despite all teams working from the same data set, from 0.89 to 2.93 (where 1.0 would be no effect).

Why so many differences?

Because results depend a great deal on any team's chosen analytic strategy which in turn is influenced by their statistical comfort and choices and their interplay with their pre-existing working theories.

Now these results weren't incentivized examples of p-hacking. The authors of this study point out that the variability seen was based on "justifiable, but subjective, analytic decisions", and while there's no obvious means with which to ensure a researcher has chosen the right methodology for their study, the authors suggest that,
"transparency in data, methods, and process gives the rest of the community opportunity to see the decisions, question them, offer alternatives, and test these alternatives in further research".
Something all the more important in cases where authors might in fact have biases the would incentivize them to favour a particular outcome, and why I wish I was offered more in the way of stats and critical appraisal in medical school (and maybe less in the way of embryology for instance).

[Photo by Timur Saglambilek from Pexels]

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Monday, October 15, 2018

From The Education Alone Isn't Enough To Change Behaviour File: Fast Food Edition

Two weeks ago I gave a talk at Ottawa's 6th Biennial Championing Public Health Nutrition Conference. I was part of a group of speakers talking about the how can it possibly not be published yet new Canada Food guide.

I was struck, both during the other presenters talks, and during the question and answer period, how focused people were on how the Food Guide will be utilized by individuals.

In my opinion, as a direct tool, it pretty much won't be. That's not to say it can't or won't have an impact on Canadian dietary patterns (it will by way of its impact on policy), nor that a person who picked it up couldn't choose to follow it, but rather speaks to the simple fact that education alone doesn't seem to be enough to change behaviour. Because time and again we learn that education, even when tied to terrifying events like heart attacks, doesn't seem to be able to consistently lead people to sustain consequent lifestyle changes, nor does genetic knowledge of specific disease risks.

The reasons why are likely myriad, but probably boil down to a combination of normal human nature and change being difficult, along with the impact of a person's food environment and social determinants of health.

For a food related example of this, take this recent paper regarding perceptions about the consumption of fast food. In it, among many other statistics, the authors note that 73% of weekly fast food consumers reported that they believed fast food wasn't good for them.

When it comes to behaviour change, knowledge alone does not seem to correlate particularly strongly with power.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Stories: Labour Antisemitism, The Name Of The Dog, And a Risk Conundrum

Man Booker prize winner Howard Jacobson, in The Atlantic, with perhaps the definitive piece on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's antisemitism.

Taimer Safder, in The New England Journal of Medicine, with a lovely read about the name of the dog (do read this one before it disappears behind a paywall).

Lisa Suennen, in Venture Valkyrie, on the conundrum of divergent ways to evaluate cardiac risk that span from biology to social determinants of health.

[photo by Alexandru Rotariu via Pexels]

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

On Physicians Who Support, Promote, And Recommend, Only One Type Of Diet

Oh they're out there.

Tunnel vision physicians who believe that everyone should be vegan, or be intermittently fasting, or in ketosis, or on an incredibly low-fat diet, or vegetarian, or low carb high fat, - and I'm sure the list goes on.

It's a head scratcher for me because a physician's training ought to have them know better.


Because for virtually every medical problem, multiple therapies and therapeutic modalities exist. And because physicians know that some drugs work better than others with different patients - sometimes predictably, and sometimes unpredictably, and that sometimes people have adverse reactions to certain drugs that require them to try alternatives.

Diets are the same.

Whether for weight management, general health, or the treatment of particular medical conditions, certain patients, sometimes explicably and sometimes not, will do better with different diets, both in terms of the impact that diet has on whatever they're trying to treat, but also on their ability to enjoy that diet enough to sustain it long term.

And so even if there were a scientifically proven best diet for a particular issue (and for weight, plainly at this point, there isn't), there'll still be some people for whom it fails, and some people for whom its adverse effects on their lives leads to its discontinuation, and if they happen to be on that diet because they're following or seeing one of those MDs who is so stuck on there being only one diet to rule them all, I guess they're just out of luck.

So what drives those MDs? I think the answer varies. For some it's likely the extension of their own personal experience and success with a particular dietary approach. For others, it may be the consequence of literal or intellectually sunk costs. And finally some may not have sufficient background to evaluate much on their own and instead simply parrot an eloquently delivered diet zealot's talking points (perhaps especially in the cases of MDs converted by other MDs). But regardless of why one thing's for sure, the promotion of one right or best diet isn't good medicine, it compromises patient care, provides oxygen to the fire of fads, serves as catnip for publishers, the media, and the public, and solidifies the notion that there are dietary demons and deities, all of which in turn torches the hope of improved nutrition related scientific literacy in society.

Nutritional populism is a bad look irrespective of which diet it happens to be promoting.

[Photo by Anthony DeRosa from Pexels]

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

About That New Lancet Study: Maybe Don't Expect 9 Year Olds To Change Their Own Food Environments

It's difficult for me to imagine what exactly researchers expected would happen as a consequent of this study's intervention which hoped to help children with obesity.

The Effectiveness of the Healthy Lifestyles Programme (HeLP) to prevent obesity in UK primary-school children: a cluster randomised controlled trial, enrolled 9 and 10 year olds from 32 different UK schools and randomly assigned some schools to deliver a year long curriculum to the children which included,
"dynamic and interactive activities such as physical activity workshops, education sessions delivered by teachers with short homework tasks, drama sessions, and setting goals to modify behaviour"
And while parents were involved, their involvement was dictated by their children primarily who in turn were instructed to "reflect on their own behaviours and goals" with their parents.

Various weight related outcomes, activity related outcomes, and dietary choices outcomes over 2 years were collected, and the results weren't in any way exciting, with pretty much no differences found between study and control groups on any weight related or physical outcome.

But should anyone have expected anything different?

Are there really those out there who believe that if you teach 9 and 10 year olds in school that they should eat less and better and exercise more, that they'll do so? Fully grown adults with newly diagnosed weight or diet related diseases rarely do, so why should children? Or that 9 and 10 year olds who themselves have zero responsibility for their food environments, even if they actually "reflected" on their behaviours and goals with their parents, could see their food environments appreciably and sustainably change?

And what of these kids, and especially of the kids who already have obesity? It does not appear as if this study even attempted to explore whether or not the 2 year long intervention had any negative psychological impact. But certainly, if the crux of the program is to teach 9 year olds that they are personally responsible for their lifestyle choices, I think it would be fair to consider the possibility that the program will lead some to question their self-worth, self-efficacy, body-image, and potentially affect their relationships with food and even risk disordered eating. It may have also been important to study whether or not there was any increase in weight related bullying in the intervention schools.

All this to say, relying on 9 and 10 year olds to modify what for them, given they're in charge of next to nothing related to when, where, and what they eat, are almost certainly unmodifiable food environments, wholly unsurprisingly, isn't an effective plan. While I am supportive of robust programs that work with parents to change their families' lifestyles (disclosure, I'm the medical director of just such a program), focusing just on the kids is akin to focusing all of your efforts on lecturing life's passengers and ignoring the drivers, and where the drivers aren't just the kids' parents, but their food environments as a whole.

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Saturday, October 06, 2018

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Guest Post: Does the BMJ publishing group turn a blind eye to anti-statin, anti-dietary guideline & low-carb promoting editorial bias?

Truth be told, I'm fond of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, but as anyone who reads it knows, it has this strange habit of publishing articles about non-sports related dietary guidelines, the dangers of cholesterol lowering medications, and on the alleged superiority of low-carb diets. That's an odd thing, or maybe it's not, for as today's 4 guest posters (Drs Nicola Guess, Ian Lahart, Duane Mellor, and David Nunan) lay out, it may simply reflect the editor in chief's personal bias. So have a peek at their story, and if while you're reading you're on the fence, ask yourself if it would be odd for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition to publish ankle sprain treatment guidelines, or if the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a review of the efficacy of orthotics for plantar fasciitis? And note, at the end of their guest post is a link to an open letter to the BMJ that they've penned, which by following the link, you can also sign.

Scientific journals have the potential to allow researchers to keep up to date with developments in their field, to publish their own research, and to comment on the research and ideas of their peers. Journal editors play a vital role as impartial gatekeepers of this process, and importantly they should ensure their own personal beliefs and prejudices do not impact decisions related to content that is published in their journal.

Here we provide a synopsis of an example of poor gatekeeping we are currently experiencing and how this can skew the scientific discourse in favour of a personal agenda. A full account of this story is available here.

In April 2017, an opinion piece editorial entitled ‘Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions’ was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM), and then repeatedly promoted by the journals Twitter account, which is jointly run by the journal’s Editor in Chief (EIC).* Promotion of an editorial is completely normal—often an EIC will highlight an article or opinion piece that they believe to be of interest. However, it is also normal and expected that the editor acknowledges and welcomes debate and rebuttals from others who disagree with points made in the published article. Two of us (David Nunan and Ian Lahart) emailed the EIC immediately following publication of the original article offering a rebuttal, but received no response. After three months without reply, we published an open rebuttal in PubCommons (latterly Pubpeer) highlighting what we thought were important deficiencies in the original article.

We were surprised to see the EIC tweeting the saturated fat article a year later and stating that ‘importantly’ the editorial had not had any rebuttals. We immediately contacted the EIC again, and after a series of emails received acceptance that our rebuttal would be published in the BJSM.

An important point--one that we believe highlights the bias in gatekeeping at the BJSM—is that the original article was published “open access”, meaning it is was made freely available to academics, public and the media. This is important for openness and access to science, and also allows interested members of public to read articles which frequently are hidden behind a paywall. This of course is good practice. Key here though is that decisions to make articles such as these open access is made entirely by the EIC of the BJSM.

Naturally in the spirit of open debate, we would only consider it reasonable that our rebuttal would be published open access, along with some social media promotion. This way, readers could read both the original article and the rebuttal and consider all the arguments presented. However, we were told by the EIC that our article would not be made available as open access, but that we could instead pay for it (£1,950) to be made free of charge to read.

We were further concerned and surprised when we examined other articles on similar subjects also unrelated to the remit/readership (e.g., dietary guidelines, statins) published in the BJSM. Of 10 such articles, all were open access, they all had narratives that denigrated current dietary guidelines and/or statins and promoted an exclusively low-carb dietary approach. All of the articles were authored by supporters of these narratives, with some writing two or more articles. The EIC, via the BJSM twitter account, has regularly promoted these narratives on social media. Four rebuttals/counter arguments to these articles have been published (including our most recent) – none of these were made available as open access by the EIC. There has also been next to no promotion of these rebuttals via social media from the BJSM twitter account.

Furthermore, during the two-month period we were communicating with the editorial team to have our article published open access, or at the very least a footnote added to state we had been denied free open access (both requests were turned down), the BJSM produced two podcasts from authors of 2 of the 10 free articles, including the one in question here.

To be clear, our rebuttal was not in complete disagreement with all the points made in the original editorial. Our rebuttal was more about using robust methods to emphasize the strength of the evidence and highlighting knowns and unknowns that were overlooked in original editorial. Furthermore, we have healthy disagreements amongst ourselves about the evidence in this field (e.g., dietary guidelines). These disagreements, however, should be debated openly in the scientific literature. The EIC’s role is to facilitate this in an unbiased manner and ensure systems are in place to prevent biases skewing the scientific discourse to the journal’s audience. Imagine if a journal only published and promoted open access articles on the effectiveness of aspirin to prevent heart attacks, yet hid every rebuttal (highlighting potential harms) quietly behind a paywall?

We are concerned about the editorial conduct and procedures of the BJSM. Given the journal is part of the BMJ publishing group (governed by the British Medical Association (BMA)), this also raises questions over governance across over 50 of its journals The BJSM is also co-owned by the British Association of Sports and Exercise Medicine (BASEM). We think this is worth pursuing further and have written an open letter to each of these organizations requesting the issues raised here are looked into.

Our open letter is available for signing (and reading) by clicking here.

[*it would be reasonable to question the fit of such an editorial to the journal’s scope and readership: “…provides original research, reviews and debate relating to clinically-relevant aspects of sport and exercise medicine, including physiotherapy, physical therapy and rehabilitation.”]

Dr Nicola Guess is a lecturer in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London in the UK and a Registered Dietitian. Her research interests are on the effect of diet on the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes. 

Dr. Ian Lahart is a senior lecturer in exercise physiology and researcher at Institute of Human Sciences, University of Wolverhampton. He completed his PhD in the role of exercise in breast cancer. Through his PhD work, he conducted an exercise randomised controlled trial in women with breast cancer. Ian is also the lead author of a recent Cochrane collaboration review on the effects of exercise in women with breast cancer post-adjuvant therapy. Through his role as a research fellow at Russells Hall hospital, Dudley, UK, he helped set up and manage a MacMillan funded exercise-based cancer rehabilitation service. Although his research focus is on the role of exercise in breast cancer rehabilitation and survivorship, he has additionally worked with patients with other cancers, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes and related metabolic conditions. He is also interested in the communication of science and meta-research—a field of research that investigates research practices and quality.

Dr. Duane Mellor has worked clinically as a dietitian, mainly in diabetes management and education and then as a researcher in clinical trials. However, reflecting back on the first 2 decades of his career he has begun to question a number of aspects of nutrition and dietetic practice. He is now interested in looking at evidence in nutrition, both in terms of causality and quality along with how this is communicated to the public by the media. Looking to challenge thinking in this area, to consider aspects of benefit and the risks of harm, ultimately looking at how the public can be best supported to eat food they enjoy that also supports good health.

Dr. David Nunan's career in academic research started over 15 years, with a focus on clinical care and evidence-based medicine over the past 8 years. Upon completion of his PhD, he joined the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and his role is now divided between research, teaching and outreach activities.

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Monday, October 01, 2018

Meta-Analysis Of Low-Carb Meta-Analyses Finds The Ones Most Excited About Low-Carb Diets Are Of "Critically Low Quality"

Meta-analyses, studies that combine a slew of relevant studies to come to one larger conclusion, are undoubtedly valuable, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of room for debate about their findings.


Because their findings depend on the criteria they used in order to determine which studies should be included. So when considering a meta-analysis on the impact of low-carb diets (LCD), variables that would affect outcome might include the definition of LCD (ie how many grams per day of carbohydrates constitutes a low carb diet), the duration of the diet, the number of databases searched, how risk of bias was assessed and applied, and investigation of the causes of heterogeneity to name just a few of those found in the more complete (AMSTAR) list seen here:

And in fact, a study analyzing the quality of meta-analyses of low-carb diets was recently published in Obesity Reviews, and its findings fall in line with my very admitted confirmation bias which sees low-carb diets being as good or as bad as any other diet, and that at the end of the day, what matters more than the diet prescribed is diet adherence.

The authors found that,
"critically low quality (low-carb diet/LCD) meta-analyses showed superiority of LCD for weight loss while moderate quality showed inconsistent results, and high quality showed little or no difference"
Of course all of the studies included looked at overall losses between different prescribed diets, but in my opinion, that may not be the best way to evaluate them.

Because as the DIETFITs study so elegantly illustrated, there are people who do incredibly well with low-carb or low-fat diets, while other people do incredibly poorly, and all within the same study population.

I would argue further that this is true for any diet.

All this to say, be wary both of any study or meta-analysis that crowns one diet better than another, and of anyone suggesting that a particular diet isn't worth trying. One person's best diet is another person's worst.

(Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels)

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday Stories: Remembering, Revenge, And Not Debating

Anita Hill, February 2018
Jessica Shortall, in Medium, with a rage and sorrow inducing piece about everything she can remember.

Jennifer Weiner, in the New York Times, on wanting to burn the frat house of America to the ground.

Laurie Penny, in Longreads, on not debating.

And here's a recent live podcast I did with Darya Rose at this year's Fireside conference where we cover the basics of successful weight management and why I think chocolate's more important to success than hunger.

[Photo By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link]

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chocolate Milk And Health Canada's Inaction On Canada's Food Guide Just Cost The New Brunswick Liberals The Election

Yesterday there was an election in New Brunswick.

The Conservatives won by a single seat.

So what was the main issue New Brunswickers were voting for or against in this election?

Believe it or not, it was chocolate milk in schools, which was described by the Toronto Star as the issue at, "the centre of the New Brunswick election campaign".


The centre of the New Brunswick campaign was whether or not the sale of chocolate milk would be banned in New Brunswick schools, with Blaine Higg's Conservatives saying "No", and the Liberals Brian Gallant saying, "Yes".
But here's the thing.

If Canada's Food Guide stated that sugar-sweetened milks were not nutritionally equivalent to white milk, and that in fact sugar-sweetened milk consumption should be limited to half a cup daily in children, school chocolate milk sales wouldn't have been an election issue in the first place, as with that admonition, schools almost certainly would have put an end to the daily sale of an item Canada's Food Guide recommends kids explicitly limit.

And there's very little doubt that the next Food Guide, if it's ever released, won't be kind to chocolate milk. And that's not just me reading the tea leaves, it's also me remembering when Dr. Hasan Hutchinson, the Director General of the Health Canada unit responsible for the Food Guide stated, over 4 years ago (honestly, what could we possibly still be waiting for) during a public debate that we held,
"One thing we're doing right now (Note: Right now means February 2014) is doing a reassessment of all of those things and certainly me personally, I agree with Yoni that it (chocolate milk) should not be there either"
So the next time someone tells you that Canada's Food Guide doesn't matter you remind them that Health Canada's inexplicable foot dragging on its much needed revision just cost the New Brunswick Liberals the election.

(Stay tuned, because on Thursday, I'm going to post an incredibly innovative solution to the issue of chocolate milk in schools)

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Stories: Obesity, Mortality, and Belief

Michael Hobbes, in Huffington Post's Highline, explains why everything you know about obesity may be wrong.

Bari Weiss, in The New York Times, on the occasion of Yom Kippur, with her thoughts on facing our own mortality.

Caitlin Flanagan, in The Atlantic, with a powerful piece on why she believes Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

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Monday, September 17, 2018

There's No Realistically Prescribable Amount Of Exercise That Will By Itself Lead To Useful Weight Loss, But That Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't Exercise!

This isn't the first time I've noted that there is no realistically prescribable amount of exercise that by itself will lead to clinically meaningful weight loss, and it probably won't be the last. And that said, it doesn't mean it's impossible, but reality really is a useful place to live, and is probably a worthwhile frame of reference.

Today's reiteration stems from a recent-ish study that looked at "energy compensation in response to aerobic exercise training in overweight adults" which when translated refers to whether or not people eat back the calories they burn exercising and if that's why the results of exercise for weight loss studies so often disappoint.

The authors followed 36 men and women with varying degrees of excess weight (BMIs ranged from 25-35) and randomly assigned them to exercise either 30 minutes daily or 60 minutes daily, 5 days a week, for 12 weeks.

3 months on analyzed data later and the authors summarized conclusions include this statement,
"Results of the current study suggest the recommendation should be closer to 300 minutes per week to achieve appreciable fat loss"
because in their study it was only the participants who averaged 335 minutes of weekly exercise who were seen to lose a statistically significant amount of weight (and though significant statistically, it was only an average of 5.7lbs).

Though it's not noted in the study, it should go without saying that whatever intervention you employ to lose weight, if you stop that intervention, the weight you lost by way of its impact will likely return. And so while perhaps 335 minutes of weekly exercise for another bunch of months would lead to further loss, if you stop or decrease exercising that much, the weight you lost with it is likely to return.

Back to the headline of this blog post. If you think the average person, living a real life, replete with its many stressors, challenges, and responsibilities, can sustainably and consistently find upwards of 300 minutes of weekly exercise, I'd invite you first to get that much yourself even for just 3 weeks, as for the majority of people out there, it's not even a remotely realistically prescribable amount.

Instead of continuing to tie exercise to weight, and in so doing motivate people to start exercising in the name of weight loss, which in turn risks disappointment and the cessation of exercise if while successfully increasing exercise to a more realistically obtainable amount no weight is lost, the focus needs to shift to the fact that exercise is arguably the single healthiest modifiable behaviour anyone can undertake, that any amount is terrific, and that it's incredibly beneficial regardless of whether or not weight is lost in the process.

Photo by David Whittaker from Pexels

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday Stories: Museum Fires, Non-Sexual Harassment, and Lucy Wills

Ed Yong, in the Atlantic, with his coverage of the devastating Brazilian museum fire.

Linda Bloodworth Thomason, in The Hollywood Reporter, on Les Moonves and how not all harassment is sexual 

Hilda Bastian, in The James Lind Library, with the life and times of the remarkable Lucy Wills

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Every Physician Ought To Know Which Common Medications Cause The Most Weight Gain

While it would be wonderful if all primary care physicians were interested enough in understanding how to treat their practices' most prevalent chronic condition to actually go out of their way and take the time to learn how to do so, there's a bare minimum that I think they do need to know, and that's which medications contribute to weight gain and their weight friendly alternatives.

Last week, my friend and colleague Sean Wharton, along with his collaborators, published an open access article summarizing drugs and weight gain, and I think it's a must read for all prescribers.

And for those who struggle with clicking, here's a summary of their summary by way of the article's various tables, because while it may be too much to ask for all MDs to truly take the time to learn about obesity, understanding which drugs are more likely than others to cause weight gain is something there's no excuse for them not to know.

[Cautionary note: If you're currently on one or more of the medications that are shown below to lead to greater weight gain, please don't stop it without first consulting with your prescriber, but do feel free to bring these lists along with you to discuss whether or not there are possible alternatives]

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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Saturday Stories: Tucker Carlson, Medical Error, and Physicans' Moral Injuries

By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
Lyz Lenz in Columbia Journalism Review, with a masterful profile of Tucker Carlson.

Deborah Cohen in BBC news details the heart breaking case of the medical error of Dr. Bawa-Garba.

Simon G. Talbot and Wendy Dean in STAT, on physicians' moral injuries.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Small, Short, Crossover Breakfast Study Says Maybe You Shouldn't Skip It

This was a very small study, but unlike many other "breakfast" studies, it prescribed specific breakfasts, and more to the point, they're not bowls of ultra-processed carbs, but rather high protein options with a breakdown of 340 calories made up of 30g of protein, 36g of carbohydrates, and 9g fat.

What the authors were interested in were the differences, in the same individuals, of having a high protein breakfast vs. skipping breakfast (first meal at noon), on hunger, fullness, desire to eat, prospective food consumption (PFC) and related hormones, food cue–stimulated functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, ad libitum evening food intake, sleep quantity and sleep quality.

The participants were healthy young men and women without obesity and each arm of the experiment lasted for 7 days with a 3 day washout period in between.

The results saw breakfast eaters see their hunger, desire to eat, PFC, and ghrelin levels decrease on breakfast days versus skipping days, while their fullness and related hormones increased.

What didn't differ however was total energy consumed, this despite the fact that when they ate breakfast, participants on average consumed 30% fewer carb based evening snacks. There was also no real impact on sleep or sleep markers.

What was great about this study was that it didn't just look at next meal consumption, but rather the impact of breakfast on whole days, something my clinical experience has been screaming for years was necessary. That said, at least in this short study, it didn't seem to matter, at least not to total daily energy intake.

So does this mean you shouldn't skip breakfast? Not exactly, but it does suggest that eating a high protein breakfast, though it won't make you eat fewer calories, it may leave you feeling fuller and decrease evening processed food snacking.

And so once again, the answer is personal and not particularly complicated. If breakfast helps you to eat less, eat better, or feel better, then yes, you should eat it, and if it doesn't, don't.

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Saturday, September 01, 2018

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Taking Medication For Obesity (Or Anything Else For That Matter) Is Not A Failure

The other day a GP tweeted at me that there was "no role for pharmacology" in the treatment of obesity along with an #LCHF hashtag. I can only presume she believes low-carb high-fat diets are the global panacea that everyone needs, and that those not adopting and succeeding with them are personal failures.

And hers isn't an isolated viewpoint, nor is it one that's relegated only to the #LCHF crowd as I've heard from other non-LCHF hashtagged physicians that forks and feet are what's required, not medications or surgery.

But those viewpoints tend only to be extended to obesity, not to any of the literally dozens of other chronic, non-communicable diseases, that lifestyle may prevent or treat, and so yes, while useless truisms like eating less and exercising more would help people to lose weight, and while #LCHF would help some too, it's bias that has obesity as the sole medical condition that people feel comfortable proclaiming that medication (or surgery) has no role in treatment.

Clinically useless truisms aside, obesity is complicated, and moreover we have yet to discover a non-surgical, reproducible, sustainable, and uniformly effective plan for the management of obesity. And 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 are two problems with that argument. Firstly, not everyone is interested or able to change their lifestyles, and secondly, statistically speaking, the majority of even those who are interested and successful with lifestyle change will ultimately regress.

Is it lazy to want to improve your quality and/or quantity of life? Because for many that's what the treatment of obesity would do, and that's true for pharmacologically assisted weight loss and surgical weight loss too. 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, cook, and life broadly healthful lives everyday, forevermore, but except in the minds of those filled with dripping 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.

So yes, medications for those who want and need them. Same with surgery. And also varied dietary approaches and behavioural strategies. Because my job as a physician is to provide people with enough information about their options for them to make their own informed decisions, it's not to be a myopic, biased, patient-blaming, blowhard, dietligious, zealot

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Please Stop Judging Other People's Shopping Carts And Fast Food Orders

Ever wonder if you're biased against people with obesity?

Have you ever stood in line behind someone with obesity at the supermarket and judged them on the basis of the items they were pulling out of their cart? Or behind someone with obesity at a fast food place and judged them on the basis of their order?

Now ask yourself if you have, or would have, similarly judged a thin person pulling out those same items or making that same order.

And it's worth noting, there's no good answer here.

If you answered, no, you wouldn't have judged a thin person similarly, well that reflects weight bias.

And if you answered, yes, you'd be judging them the same way, well that reflects you judging people on the basis of things that are none of your business.

Everyone's life is complicated, and moreover, food plays roles far beyond fuel and serves as comfort, as celebration, is one of life's most seminal pleasures, and it's not for anyone to judge anyone else on the basis of their choices therein.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Saturday Stories: A Single Read Week (It's A Really Worthy Read)

John Ioannidis, in JAMA, on the incredibly flawed foundations of nutritional research and dietary recommendations. Given subscribers here are likely interested in nutrition, I believe this to be an important enough read that I don't want to recommend you read anything else.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

If A Woman With Obesity Is Denied Fertility Treatment, Does She Have Grounds To Sue?

It is a fairly common practice for fertility clinics to deny treatments to women with obesity. The rationale presented usually references the increased risks posed to both mom and fetus consequent to mom's obesity.

And indeed, there are increased risks in pregnancy in women with obesity including of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, prolonged first stage of labour, increased instrumental deliveries, shoulder dystocia, macrosomia (big babies), congenital anomalies, and C-Sections.

But here's the thing, there are plenty of pre-existing conditions that women seeking fertility treatments have that confer comparably increased risks, and yet those women are not denied access to treatment, instead they are counselled about those risks, informed consent is obtained, and treatment is provided.

Couple the above with the fact that there simply are no gold standard non-surgical means by which women with obesity can ensure they'll lose weight, and that denying fertility treatment to women has been shown to negatively affect self-esteem, social isolation, anxiety, and depression, and I can't help but wonder whether there are grounds for a lawsuit? Grounds that have been made that much stronger by the recent publication of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society's recommendations on obesity and reproduction which spell out all of the above (minus the legal question), and which are well worth a read by women with obesity seeking fertility treatments.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Two New Studies Pour Cold Water On Water's Role In Weight Management

Two new studies are bound to disappoint those who still want to believe water makes a difference in weight management.

The first of these studies, Increasing water intake influences hunger and food preference, but does not reliably suppress energy intake in adults, asked participants to drink 500, 1000, 1500, or 2000ml of water in the morning before an all you can eat lunch buffet to see if doing so reduced how much people ate. The researchers found that even drinking 2L of water before lunch didn't reduce how many calories were consumed at the buffet.

The second, Complementary and compensatory dietary changes associated with consumption or omission of plain water by US adults, compared the self-reported dietary intake patterns (which you should know aren't generally thought to be be reliable) of individuals who had days recorded with and without water intake to see if there were a difference in calories reportedly consumed. There wasn't.

As to how pervasive the belief that water is a key player in weight management, you might be surprised by how many people I meet in my office who believe water drinking makes or breaks an effort, though when you consider the fact that 63.4% of adults in a recent US survey of weight loss practices cited water drinking as one of theirs, maybe it shouldn't be all that shocking.

In my mind the only thing that's surprising is that I would have thought it to be fairly self-evident, that water drinking was an incredibly minor player at best, because if drinking 8 or more glasses of water a day contributed even moderately to successful weight management, we'd see a great many more success stories walking around.

[That said, if you replace all your regularly consumed caloric beverages with water, well that might lend a hand.]

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Study Finds Giving Prebiotics To Kids Doesn't Change Their Energy Intake And Ups A Major Hunger Hormone Yet Still Concludes Prebiotics Have Potential To Help With Childhood Obesity?

Today will be discussing a study that had kids randomly assigned to taking either 8g oligofructose enriched inulin (prebiotic) per day or placebo (maltodextrin) for 16 weeks.

The study's pre-registered primary outcome measure, as recorded in, was change in baseline fat mass at 16 weeks.

Secondary outcome measures (as recorded) were changes in baseline appetite at 16 weeks (assessed with visual analog scales and an eating behavior questionnaire), and objective appetite measures including a weighed breakfast buffet, weighted 3-day food records, and serum satiety hormone levels.

(Not preregistered as an outcome of interest? Body weight change or BMIz score.)

Outcome wise, here's a snapshot of the study's abstract:
Reading through the study, here's what I found as outcomes:
  • According to their 3 day food diaries (but be aware, food diaries are notoriously inaccurate), there was no difference in 3 day energy intake between the prebiotic and placebo arms.
  • When all ages were included in the analysis, there was no difference in all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet energy intake between the probiotic and placebo arms, BUT, by dividing the kids into those between the ages of 7-10 and 11-12, suddenly, but only in the older group, kids ate less breakfast in the prebiotic arm, while in the younger group, they ate more.
  • The hunger hormone ghrelin was found to be significantly elevated in those taking the prebiotic (an increase of 28%) from baseline, whereas placebo was not demonstrably different from baseline (an increase of 8%).
  • There was no difference reported in subjective post-breakfast buffet hunger in either group
  • There was no difference reported in subjective eating behavior questionnaires between groups, but parents reported improvements in fullness, but equally in both prebiotic and placebo groups.
  • The primary outcome of change in baseline fat mass was not mentioned anywhere in the study.
The authors' conclusions about a prebiotic supplement that was shown to markedly increase hunger hormone levels, that didn't decrease 3 day food diary energy intake, that didn't change all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet energy intake (unless you arbitrarily after the fact divided up the kids into those aged 7-10 and 11-12), and where the study's registered primary outcome wasn't mentioned in the study itself sure look differently than what you might expect, with their concluding sentence being,
"This simple dietary change has the potential to help with appetite regulation in children with obesity"
I also found it surprising that the study was free to read, and given the incredibly unexciting findings, it's more difficult to imagine the authors paying for its open access. Easier to imagine the company that makes the prebiotic that a randomized controlled trial published in an impactful journal explicitly concluded, "has the potential to help with appetite regulation in children with obesity" (even though it didn't), paying the extra fees as open access articles generally gather more citations.

As to what Beneo, the manufacturer of the prebiotic used in this study had to say, I found these quotes in an article published on the trade-zine Nutraingredients at the time of the study's publication,
"Beneo regards this research of highest importance",
and despite the study not even remotely coming to this conclusion also added,
"The intake of 8g of prebiotic inulin (Orafti Synergy 1) in a glass of water prior to dinner is a simple dietary intervention that supports children in their weight management efforts. The results show that they were naturally eating less (YF: no they didn't) than the control group having maltodextrin"
Beneo also put out an excited press release to publicize the study.

And you can bet your bottom dollar, it's studies and conclusions like this one that supplement companies use to suggest great benefits to their products, and it's also studies like this one where I wish the journal employed open peer review as I can't fathom how this one got through as is.

Lastly, while the authors didn't report any conflicts of interest with this particular study, the supplements and placebos were provided by Beneo, and it was noted that one of the authors had previously enjoyed funding from Beneo. Unfortunately there is no mention as to who paid for this study's open access.

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Weight Loss Surgery

Today's guest post comes from our office's newest RD Alex Friel who has reviewed a book for people considering or having bariatric surgery (full disclosure, was provided with a feee copy of the book by the authors)
Thinking about weight loss surgery? You’re not alone. Bariatric surgery has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for obesity and the number of people who undergo the procedure is steadily rising every year. Here at BMI, I work with many different clients. Some are considering bariatric surgery, others are actively preparing for it, and still more have undergone the procedure and are adjusting to life with a new anatomy. At every stage of the weight loss journey, it helps to be well informed.

Last week I was introduced to a new book written by registered dietitians Lisa Kaouk and Monica Bashaw. It’s a worthwhile read so I thought I’d share it with you. ‘The Complete Guide to Bariatric Surgery’ draws from their experiences as Weight Loss Surgery (WLS) dietitians and the many patients they have counseled over the years. Here’s what I liked:
  • It’s from a trusted source. The registered dietitian (RD) credential means that Lisa and Monica are trained in the science and physiology of human nutrition. Their training and practice is regulated in much same way as that of our doctors and nurses so you can rest assured that the recommendations they make are tried, true, and grounded in evidence.
  • Written in a conversational style, the book is an easy and entertaining read (or at least as entertaining as a book about a surgical procedure can probably be). There’s no jargon and you won’t need a degree in medicine or nutrition to make sense of the topics covered.
  • Because the topics are drawn from the real life concerns and questions of more than 5000 patients, the book provides an honest glimpse into the realities of life after WLS. It’s a useful reference, not only for those who are considering WLS and those who have had it, but also for the friends and family who are their cheerleaders and support system.
  • If you’ve ever anxiously wondered if your experience is normal, this book can provide some fast reassurance. The table of contents allows you to quickly skim questions at a glance and is organized into topic sections that range from ‘Tolerance Issues’ to ‘Hair Loss’ to ‘Emotional Changes and Support.’
  • Much like this post, it’s short, sweet, and to the point. You won’t need to set aside hours of time to get through it.
My only critique is that the authors don't provide much information on additional resources, support groups, or further reading. It’s good to be aware of what’s available. Obesity Canada, for example, functions as a resource hub for professionals and lay people alike. In addition to educational webinars and videos, they also link to tools you can use to access greater health benefits for obesity care. The Bariatric Cookery, run by food writer Carol Bowen Ball, hosts a wonderful collection recipes to try at every stage of the WLS journey. As a former WLS patient herself, Carol’s first-hand experience lends the site a level of authenticity that is hard to top. Finally, a quick search on Google or Facebook will undoubtedly reveal a whole host of virtual WLS forums and support groups. Find one that resonates with you.

The Complete Guide to Bariatric Surgery is available for purchase on Amazon. It’s also available as an e-book at

Alex Friel, MSc, RD is a nutrition science nerd and one of the newest dietitians to join the BMI team. She’s convinced that everyone has a passion for food (even if they don’t know it yet) and is always on the lookout for her next favorite recipe. Alex spent six years living in Atlanta, Georgia where she completed a BSc and MSc in Nutrition Science at Georgia State University. Much to the chagrin of her dinner guests, she also gained an appreciation for collard greens and okra that persists to this day.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Have You Been, Or Are You, On A Diet? Please Take 2 Minutes To Review This Brief Survey About How Easy Or Difficult It Is/Was.

Back in 2012 I first posted my wish for there to be a questionnaire that would serve to help individuals and researchers determine how easy or difficult a particular diet would be to follow.

I called it the Diet Index Enjoyability Total or DIET score, and my hope was that by using a series of simple Likert scales (descriptive scales from 1-10), researchers could set out to evaluate a particular weight loss approach's DIET score where high scores would identify diets that could actually be enjoyed, and where low scores would identify under-eating, highly restrictive, quality of life degrading, dieting misery. This would be useful both to individuals who could use the DIET score to evaluate whatever approach they were considering, but might also serve as a surrogate for shorter term diet studies to give a sense as to whether or not there's a low or high likelihood of long term adherence to a particular study's strategy.

I'm happy to report that the first work on using the DIET score has been conducted by Michelle Jospe at the University of Otago in New Zealand as part of the SWIFT trial, and her and Jill Haszard's early look at the data is promising.

Part of the process required to validate a questionnaire involves a qualitative review to see whether or not it's easy to use, comprehensive, and unbiased.

UPDATE: .....we did it! Thanks to everyone who already clicked! We've collected a sufficient number of responses. Do stay tuned though, because in the next rounds of data collection we'll be looking to explore DIET scores from those who are both doing wonderfully on specific diets, as well as collecting information about those diets people couldn't sustain and we'll need every response we can get!

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Saturday, August 04, 2018

Saturday Stories: 2 on Corbyn's Anti-Semitism, 2 on Ecological Disasters, And 1 on Weight Bias

Helen Lewis, in New Statesman, on Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism

Jamie Rogers in The Spectator, on how Britain's Labour Party is no place for a Jew

Ian Graber-Stiehl, in Gizmodo, on the ecological disasters that are our front lawns

Nathaniel Rich, in The New York Times, on the ecological disaster that is our planet

And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, this week I helped with CBC's The Current's story on weight bias in healthcare (listen button is just below the photo)

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Thursday, August 02, 2018

Apparently Some Parents Are Hiring Fortnite (A Video Game) Coaches For Their Kids. Wish They'd Hire Them Cooking, Budgeting, And Critical Appraisal Coaches Instead

Now I can't imagine it's a commonplace practice, but yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a piece about parents hiring coaches to help their children gain skills and level up in Fortnite, a first person shooter video game.

The mind boggles.

Dare to dream of an alternate universe, where instead of hiring their children video game tutors, parents hired coaches to help teach their kids life skills like cooking, making and keeping a budget, or critical appraisal. Or better yet dream of parents going out of their way to do so themselves, and of a school system that weaves those sorts of actual life skills throughout their curricula from K-12.

We can dare to dream, can't we?

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Monday, July 30, 2018

No Parents, Your Children Aren't "Stealing Food" (And Some Thoughts On How To Silently Cultivate Better Choices)

It's a concern I hear not infrequently when meeting with parents of children with obesity - that their son or daughter is "stealing" food.

I have no doubt too, that in some cases, those kids received some perhaps well-intentioned, but I think very misplaced, ire about it.

The stories are all pretty similar, and often occur on weekends or after school whereby parents come home and find evidence that their child has raided the fridge, cupboard, or freezer by way of wrappers, cans, dirty dishes, or a much emptier than before container.

As to what's happening, some thoughts.

First off, we all did it. I remember "stealing" Voortman Strawberry-Turnovers pretty much every Saturday morning while my parents were sleeping and I was watching cartoons. Some mornings I'd put away 6 of them.

And why did I do it?

Because they're were delicious, and I was hungry, and I was a kid, and they were there, and because I could.

Secondly, we all still do it. Who doesn't grab a handful of this, or a package of that, multiple times a week or even daily?

Plainly put, grabbing yummy, readily available, oftentimes calorie dense and unhealthy foods is part of the human condition.

And though I appreciate that parents who may be concerned about their children's weights and/or eating patterns find this behaviour alarming, believing there to be something wrong with their children, or that their children lack "willpower", is unwise and unfair.

If you're worried about your children's (or your own) grazing habits, here are a few things for you to consider.
  • Take an inventory of the "stolen" foods in your home. Are they cookies, candy granola bars, drinkable ice-creams yogurts,  soda, flat-soda juice, etc.? If so, could you buy them less frequently? And eventually not at all?
  • Are your children's other meals and snacks designed to be filling? Are they large enough? Do they include protein? Are they eating them or do they skip meals? Ensuring you're providing your children with filling, regular meals and snacks may lead them to come home less driven to raid the cupboards. And if they're skipping meals and snacks, are they doing so consequent to your own example?
  • Are your children worried they'll simply never get anything "good"? If your home is highly restrictive around treats, and your children don't know when they'll next be offered one, grabbing one when you're not there is not a surprising outcome. To combat snack and treat based food insecurity, plan them into your child's week and ensure they're made aware that they'll be getting them - and this too may provide you with a great opportunity to work on weekly treat-inclusive menu planning with your family which in turn is an important life skill.
  • Make the stuff you want them to eat more of more readily accessible and inviting. Wash all fruits and vegetables when you get home from the grocery store and leave them in visible, easy to reach, inviting bowls while relocated the stuff you'd prefer they eat less of to cupboards and drawers that require more effort to see. And note, I'm not recommending hiding anything or locking it away, just ensuring that the easiest things to see and eat and the foods you'd prefer that they grab.
So, if your kids are grabbing stuff, instead of approaching them with anger or overt concern, instead try to approach them with genuine curiosity to find out what's going on, and then turn back to that list up above. If they just really like those things they're grabbing, then planning them into the menu may help. If they report they're starving, exploring their daytime eating patterns and choices to look for ways to ensure they get enough to eat so as to not arrive home famished. If they report there wasn't anything good to grab, brainstorm other options and make sure they're readily available and visible.

And lastly don't forget who we're talking about. If the expectation of regularly making healthy choices just because they're healthy isn't a fair expectation for all of us fully grown adults (and it's not), why would it be fair to expect that of your children?

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Saturday Stories: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ellen Maud Bennett, and Pauline Mara

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, in the New York Times Magazine, with the best writing of any story I've read this year, on Gwyneth and her GOOP - a rare must read recommendation.

Ellen Maud Bennett's obituary, in the Times Columnist, where her experiences with fat shaming and dismissive physicians are recounted, and where her final wish encourages everyone with obesity not to let medical professionals get away with blaming everything on weight without exploring other possibilities.

Steven Isserlis, in the Telegraph, recounts his wife, Pauline Mara's, alternative cancer treatment.

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Monday, July 23, 2018

The Obesity Society Weighs In On Soda Taxes To......Double Checks Notes......Caution Against Them

The Obesity Society (TOS), who in their own words are,
"the leading scientific membership organization advancing the science-based understanding of the causes, consequences, prevention and treatment of obesity in order to improve the lives of those affected."
has finally weighed in on soda taxes.

In their formal press release, The Obesity Society Calls for More Research on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax (and reminder, it costs money to issue press releases), TOS called into question the benefits of soda taxes stating,
"Countries across the globe have generated headlines recently over their efforts to tax sugar, tobacco and alcohol products. Even though tobacco and alcohol taxation has helped to reduce consumption and save lives, these beneficial effects have not yet been proven for taxing sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)."
They go on to quote TOS President-elect Steven Heymsfield as stating that they may not help with obesity,
"Although taxing SSBs might generate revenue that can be used to promote other healthy food items, the net outcome may not necessarily decrease overweight and obesity rates in the United States or worldwide"
And finally they suggest that soda taxes may confer health risks, with a quote from TOS' Vice-president Lee Kaplan,
"I believe that we have a primary responsibility to carefully dissect what we know about the effects of taxing SSBs on obesity from its other potential health benefits and risks, and to promote additional research where necessary to clarify areas of debate and identify new opportunities for progress.
It's a bizarre press release.

It is either ignorant, or purposefully disingenuous, of Heymsfield and TOS to frame soda taxes as if they hinge on obesity and put forward the straw man that a singular intervention is unlikely to have a remarkable impact on global weights. Complex problems tend not to have simple, singular solutions - it's the, "but that single sandbag won't stop the flood" argument, and truly, it's breathtakingly dense, especially in that reducing the excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is desirable for people at any weight and is the explicit aim of the tax with a secondary aim of raising funds to support other public health initiatives.

Regarding potential health risks of soda taxes and the need for more research before considering, the data is quite clear (which is why the soda industry is fighting so vigorously against them), sugar-sweetened beverage taxes decrease sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and increase healthier beverage consumption while providing the greatest potential health benefits to low income consumers.

It's also worth noting that TOS' suggestion that we need to wait for more data before acting runs counter to the recommendations of:
  • The World Health Organization
  • The American Heart Association
  • The American Medical Association
  • The Canadian Medical Association
  • The Australian Medical Association
  • The American Cancer Society
  • The American Public Health Association
  • The Cancer Action Network
  • The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors
  • The National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • The National Association of Local Boards of Health
  • The Heart and Stroke Foundation
  • Diabetes Canada
and many, many, more.

How TOS and its executives serving the soda industry as merchants of doubts versus a truly global initiative to reduce the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages helps push TOS' mission,
"to promote innovative research, effective and accessible care, and public health initiatives that will reduce the personal and societal burden of obesity"
is lost on me.

As to why TOS is taking a stance so directly in line of the one being pushed hard by the sugar-sweetened beverage industry itself is anybody's guess, though it's worth pointing out that TOS has had a very close relationship with the food industry, including Coca-Cola who used to fund their travel grants, and PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper to who TOS' food industry outreach committee reached out directly following its inception (leading me to publicly resign my membership in TOS) at roughly the same time they released their new "Guidelines for Accepting Funds from External Sources" position paper (removed from TOS' website but still available here) refuses to allow even the consideration of funding as a source of bias and,
"expressly eliminates all forms of evaluation or judgment of the funding source"
Suffice to say, I have yet to regret my decision to resign my membership in The Obesity Society, and I can't help but wonder whether this press release and stance will be the last straw for others.

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday Stories: #ShareAStoryInOneTweet, Hospital Food, And Dangerous Bullshit

Lisa Rosenbaum, in NEJM, covers the viral medical hashtag #ShareAStoryInOneTweet (and cites my tweet in it as well).

Kate Washington, in Eater, on why hospital food is so awful.

Jen Gunter, in her blog, on dangerous bullshit, and why you should never consider GOOP, or Dr Mark Hyman, to be a credible voice

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, had a great time chatting with the lovely ladies from The Social about multiple ways you might foster a healthier path in under 5 minutes (and sorry Americans, I believe it's geoblocked so if you want to watch, you'll need to use a Canadian VPN server)]

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