Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sign of the Times - Ikea Video Game Playing Chair

It's called the Ikea Jesper Bench and the catalog picture above helps to explain what it's for.

I wonder when Ikea'll make an Insulin Table with refrigerated drawers, lancet dispensers and glucostrip disposal hole?

The chair can be yours for just $59.99 CAD.

[Hat tip to BMI's fitness director Rob]

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spin Doctoring: Popcorn

So last week I was contacted by a spin doctor - a representative from Ketchum, a fancy shmancy PR firm whose client list includes giants like IBM, Ikea, and apparently, Orville Redenbacher. She wanted me to know (and write) about a fantastic new study conducted by a Dr. James Rippe from the Rippe Lifestyle Institute - a place where Big Food meets science as evidenced from their partners page that includes the likes of PepsiCo, Tropicana, Quaker, and ConAgra.

So what of this earth shattering study?

Well they took 35 whole people and then divided them up into 4 groups. One group had water before an all you could eat lunch, the next 1 cup of Orville Redenbacher Smart Pop! popcorn, the next 6 cups (100 calories) of Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! popcorn and the last 150 calories of potato chips.

The unbelievably, amazing results?

The groups that had water or popcorn before lunch consumed 717 calories between the snack and the lunch while the group that had the 150 calories of chips consumed 803 calories combined.

The spin?

According to the email I received,

"The new research shows a snack of low-fat popcorn before a meal can help curb hunger without increasing total calorie intake at the subsequent meal"

To me the research shows that people tend to eat around 717 calories for lunch with the popcorn serving as a first course rather than a snack (snacks to me occur hours before the meal).

As to why did they eat more with the chips? Probably because chips are highly energy dense. Had they been offered a higher calorie popcorn likely they'd have the same result.

Oh, and with each group having an average of 9 people in it, this is a very far cry from a powerful study.

So did the spin work?

I couldn't find a single news article, so I'd call it a spectacular fail.

Oh, and 717 calories for lunch? Dr. Rippe is quoted in his press release as saying,
"Our findings suggest that some snack foods, such as low-fat popcorn, can be a satisfying and effective way to manage calories."
717 calories is an awful lot of calories for lunch so I'd call that a spectacular fail too - if eating popcorn as an appetizer for your meal still leads you to have 717 calories per meal it's certainly not doing much for "managing" calories.

Sorry popcorn, you're not magic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Britain pays citizens $750 to lose weight

They're calling it the Pounds for Pounds trial and it's being put by their National Health Services in conjunction with the private "Weight Wins" program.

400 people will enroll and they'll sign up to a 13 month weight loss program. During the first 7 months they're supposed to get down to their "goal" weight and then the next 6 months keep it off.

Those who lose and keep off 50lbs will receive 425 British pounds ($750 CAD, $600USD).

My thoughts?

There has been at least one study that suggests financial incentives can help with weight loss efforts, but does that mean governments should get involved?

Personally I think if governments have money to throw at this problem they should throw it at prevention efforts rather than treatment as treatment is notoriously difficult and there is no gold standard program. If governments have money to throw at obesity throw it at developing better education in schools, public health campaigns on healthy weight management, legislation and consequent enforcement for things like posting calories on menus, proper prenatal nutrition courses, school breakfast, snack and lunch programs, etc.

My friend, colleague and co-blogger Dr. Arya Sharma goes further and on his blog has stated that,

"The idea of providing a financial incentive for weight loss reeks of weight bias and discrimination - Are we paying smokers to quite smoking and to never touch a cigarette again? Are we paying patients with diabetes to religiously measure their blood sugars and inject their insulins? Are we paying heart attack victims to exercise regularly and take their medications? Why single out patients with obesity for this kind of program?"
Can't say I disagree with him.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spin Doctoring: Juice

Today's going to be the launch of a new feature on Weighty Matters - Spin Doctoring. Spin Doctoring posts will detail the efforts of the media or Big Food in spinning the conclusions of a study into a dramatically overblown or misleading message.

First up? Juice.

The spin doctor? A website likely paid for by Big Juice called Fruit Juice Facts.

So what'd they do?

Apparently there was a paper or an abstract presented at the 2009 Experimental Biology conference that detailed some epidemiological data on 5 years of juice consumption as documented through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2004.

The headline to detail the findings?

"Drinking 100% Fruit Juice is Associated with Lower Risk of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome"
The report goes on to explain how juice drinkers
"had lower mean Body Mass Index (BMI), smaller waist circumference and lower insulin resistance"
They then concluded,
"Based on the analysis, risk for obesity was 22% lower among 100% juice drinkers, while risk for metabolic syndrome (defined as the presence of three or more of the following: central obesity, elevated blood glucose, elevated fasting triglycerides, low HDL-cholesterol, elevated blood pressure) was 15% lower compared to non-consumers."
In keeping with the juice is miraculous theme the presenting author was quoted as saying,
"One-half cup of 100% fruit juice counts as a serving of fruit and, based on our analysis, 100% juice consumption is associated with some of these same benefits"
So where's the spin?

Well read a bit more and you'll find out that maybe it wasn't actually the juice after all,
"juice consumers had higher physical activity levels and more favorable dietary intake patterns (including: lower fat intakes, higher fiber intakes, lower added sugar intakes). After taking these lifestyle factors into account, the inverse relationship between 100% fruit juice consumption and metabolic syndrome was no longer statistically significant."
But apparently juice magically lowered the risk of obesity by 14% "even after the adjustment".

Yup, sugar water plus vitamins is a sure fire way to combat obesity.

So did the spin work? I could only find two articles:

Fruit Juice Lowers Obesity, Stroke Risk - Times of India

Drink to Juice - The Brisbane Times

I'd call that a fizzle.

Better luck next time Big Juice.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Is your breadmeat lackluster?

Yes, it's Funny Friday.

I love when Funny Friday and real life collide.

Today they're colliding for a product entitled, Squeez Bacon.

The best part?

It exists!

Worth noting?

According to the reseller,

"Due to the patented electro-mechanical process by which Squeez Bacon® is rendered, it requires no preservatives or other additives."
Mmmm - 100% natural Squeez Bacon!

(Remember, email subscribers to see the video you've got to click back through to the blog)

[Picture and story via Think Geek where you can buy your very own for $7.99]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Is Danone admitting Activia health claims are bogus?

Depends on your point of view I suppose.

You see the European Union has done what the United States and Canada have failed to do and that is ensure that claims made on foods purporting health benefits actually be supported by robust evidence.

So what of Danone? Well last Friday it was revealed that Danone withdrew 3 health claims for consideration from the European Food Safety Authority (I guess that poster up above isn't long for the EU).

The claims that were withdrawn?

  • Improves digestive comfort (Activia)
  • Improves slow transit (Activia)
  • Helps to strengthen the body’s natural defences (Actimel)
  • Danone now claims they withdrew the claims because,
    "It is a difficult thing to find the correct wording and that has contributed to the fact no article 13.5 claims have as yet been accepted by EFSA. But we are very confident about the strength of our science."
    Maybe. Or maybe they realize that when people actually apply a rigorous process to identify truthful claims that theirs will fall short, and maybe that's why Danone in the United States has decided to settle an American $300 million class action lawsuit about its yogurt-based health claims out of court.

    I guess the upside for Danone is that at least they're getting their money's worth out of their in house legal and spin teams.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Irony Alert: Kellogg's named one of the "world's most ethical companies"

    Or maybe I should have titled this Irony Alert: Ethisphere Edition as Ethisphere is the brain trust (and I'm not being snarky here - it's literally a brain trust) that just last week named Kellogg's to their 2009 list of the "World's Most Ethical Companies".

    Want to know what else happened last week? Last week Kellogg's settled the charges laid by the Federal Trade Commission that asserted in 2008 Kellogg's violated American federal law when they falsely advertised the benefits of eating Frosted Mini Wheats in ads that I feel preyed on well-intentioned parents who wanted to ensure the best possible chances for their children - an incredibly unethical thing to do.

    The ads by Kellogg's laid out in this complaint, a company who Ethisphere has put on their most ethical list for the past 3 years running, boasted:

    "a clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20% when compared to kids missed out on breakfast."
    Great job Ethisphere, what incredible champions of ethics you are!

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    The Canadian Diabetes Association's Staggering Omissions

    Some strange omissions over at the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA).

    The first strange omission was noted by my friend Dr. Arya Sharma who pointed out on his blog that despite bariatric surgery being a cure for nearly 80% of type 2 diabetics there's not a single mention of it on the CDA's website.

    The second omission was noted by my friend Dr. Jeff Lipsitz, one of Canada's foremost sleep medicine experts, who noticed that despite the incredibly high percentage of type 2 diabetics who are obese and despite the incredibly high association of sleep apnea and obesity, that there was not one mention of sleep apnea screening or treatment in the CDA's 215 page 2008 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada

    While some may not want surgery to cure their diabetes, certainly at least a mention of surgery on the CDA's website would be warranted given the 80% cure rate and the lack of public knowledge of that fact.

    Regarding sleep apnea, the International Diabetes Association certainly thinks it's worth mentioning as they point out that estimates put nearly a quarter of all diabetics as having obstructive sleep apnea and therefore made this recommendation,

    "the International Diabetes Federation Taskforce on Epidemiology and Prevention strongly recommends that health professionals working in both type 2 diabetes and sleep disordered breathing adopt clinical practices to ensure that a patient presenting with one condition is considered for the other."
    So here we have the CDA with a cure that's not mentioned and a comorbid condition that's not being screened for. I wonder what's up with the CDA and these staggering oversights?

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Is obesity responsible for the recent rise in youth cancer?

    Last week the Canadian Cancer Society released its report Canadian Cancer Statistics 2009. In it they report that between 1996 and 2005 the incidence of cancer among Canadian 15 to 29 year olds rose 0.8% per year in males and 1.4% per year in females.

    So the question of course is why? Why are cancer rates rising?

    While I don't want to jump on the bandwagon of blaming obesity for all of society's woes certainly given the established link between obesity and cancer in adults it doesn't seem a stretch to me to wonder if it's the rising weight of Canadian youth that's leading to this rapid rise in cancer.

    The Canadian Cancer Society may think weight's possible culprit too given that along with the obvious recommendations of "not smoking", "eating a healthy diet", "exercising" and "wear sunscreen", is "maintaining a healthy body weight".

    I imagine time will tell as data from surveys that include variables such as weight may help shed some light on this disturbing trend.

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    If these clips don't give you goose bumps, you're dead.


    Never judge books by their covers.

    It takes some truly inspirational videos to get me not to post juvenile humour on Fridays on my blog. Today's Feel Good Friday is proof that sometimes dreams can and really do come true.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    "Gravitaphobia" - The Irrational Fear of Weighing

    This might be the last post in what's turned out to be a mini series on how to use scales.

    This one's about scale avoidance or as I'm calling it, "gravitaphobia".

    Gravitaphobia tends to happen when folks who believe weight management involves strict control (often to the exclusion of using food for pleasure or comfort) have a difficult time (go figure) living their overly strict lifestyles and then consequently indulge.

    Suddenly the scale that they had been stepping on multiple times daily due to their scale addiction - suddenly they want nothing to do with it. Going into the bathroom many will even avert their eyes rather than glance in its direction. Certainly they didn't consume enough calories to make a dent. A piece of chocolate cake, even a rich piece, probably doesn't even contain a quarter pound of calories, yet it's often enough to trigger gravitaphobia.

    For some gravitaphobia lasts a day or two. Others it can be weeks and some months or years, and often scale avoidance goes hand in hand with giving up on many or all healthy living strategies.

    Let me be clear. The scale isn't your friend or your enemy. The scale is just something to provide you with another piece of information with which to help inform your decisions.

    If you're trying to lose weight - weigh weekly.

    If you're trying to maintain your weight - weigh daily.

    But either way, never ever let the scale push you around and remember that life is dynamic and so too is your weight and your healthy living efforts.

    Sometimes life is worth more calories. Sometimes it just happens that way and sometimes it's for great reasons, but at no time should you let that scale have the power to push you around. Don't spend your emotional energies on overt avoidance or guilt - they're certainly not going to help you any they might even hurt.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Frankenfood: Passover Edition

    Yes it's Passover - no leavening agents of any kind and I would venture a higher incidence of bowel obstructions among the Jewish population.

    Of course food for Passover often involves pretending it's normal food. Case in point these, Streit's "Blueberry Flavoured" Pancakes.

    What's "Blueberry Flavoured" you ask?

    Apparently it's translucent pieces of blue candy.

    So how bad are they?

    Bad enough that both my 4 and 2 year old daughters insist the "berries" be removed from their "pancakes" prior to eating.

    Click the picture to appreciate their lovely blue glow.

    Chag Sameach!

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Badvertising: Pomegranate Brain Juice

    Yup, not only will pomegranate juice improve your immune system, now it will "nourish" your brain.

    So how much omega-3 "nourishment" is your brain getting? 50mg of DHA per 250ml.

    Per serving of salmon there's roughly 1,610mg.

    So if you drink 8 litres of the stuff (32 glasses), you'll get as much DHA as having a single serving of salmon.

    Of course you'll also get over a pound of calories and almost 5 cups of sugar.

    That's some "nourishment".

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Irony Alert: Dunkin' Donuts

    Thanks to Andrea from one of my favourite non-nutrition/weight/food related local blogs A Peek Inside the Fishbowl who has noticed that Dunkin' Donuts' new slogan is, "America runs on Dunkin".

    Here's Dunkin' Donuts' official explanation,

    "What are the keys to getting things done? A can-do attitude, of course. And a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts. Whether you need a delicious cup of coffee, a quick snack on the go, or an icy cold beverage, Dunkin' Donuts helps you tackle any task at hand.

    Mom and dads. Students and senior citizens. Blue collar, white collar, and every collar in between. Dunkin' Donuts is how everyday people get things done, every day.

    Dunkin' Donuts. America Runs On Dunkin'
    Word of advice America (Canada too, we're not doing so well ourselves) - perhaps it's time to stop running on Dunkin'.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Things you don't say to your wife

    The title says it all and it's today's Funny Friday.

    Have a great weekend!

    [Hat tip to blog reader Kristine out in Edmonton]

    Thursday, April 09, 2009

    Should we tax sugar sweetened beverages?

    In this week's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine is an editorial written by public health crusaders Drs. Kelly Brownell and Thomas Frieden exploring the idea of taxing sugar sweetened beverages.

    Unlike putting calories on menus, this would no longer simply be about passing on more information it would be about charging more money.

    Basically there are two ways to approach this: Incentive taxation whereby a nominal tax would be applied with the proceeds then going to public health/obesity related initiatives or disincentive taxation whereby you put enough of a tax on the drinks so as to discourage their consumption (or of course a combination of the two).

    This wouldn't be an entirely new plan. You may be surprised to know that 40 American States already have small taxes on sugared beverages and snack food and that in Canada there are many different tiers of food taxation.

    The argument for taxation is simple. Sugar-sweetened beverages are strongly linked to the obesity epidemic and some argue that they are in fact the single biggest driver of societal weight. They're marketed extensively to children and in the mid 1990s their intake in children surpassed that of milk. Shockingly calories consumed from beverages now account for 10-15% of all the calories consumed by children and adolescents and for every glass consumed per day the likelihood of a child becoming obese increases by 60%. That's one hell of a big gulp.

    The authors report that with regards to disincentive taxation, for every 10% increase in price, consumption decreases by 7.8% and estimate that a penny per ounce excise tax would reduce consumption by 13% or two servings per person per week. In turn the tax would generate literally billions of dollars ($1.2 billion in New York State alone) which if used to promote health and better dietary options could have further impact on health and obesity.

    Opponents state that food taxes are regressive and unlike tobacco, we need food to live therefore taxation would be unfair, especially when singling out a single food.

    Well I've got news for them - we don't in fact need sugar sweetened beverages to live.

    As I keep hammering home, to put a dent in rising rates of obesity requires action on a societal level, not an individual one. We need to change the toxic environment itself and taxing one of the main drivers of the epidemic is one way to do that.

    This is a war. Sometimes war calls for tough decisions and personally I think this would be a good one.

    Wednesday, April 08, 2009

    Badvertising: Pomegranate Immune Juice

    "Loaded with antioxidant vitamins C and E to help support a healthy immune system"
    I guess going with the study that reported that vitamin E seemed to increase all causes of mortality wouldn't have been a smart option.

    You know what else isn't very good for your immune system? Diabetes. Biggest cause of diabetes? Obesity. Big time contributor to obesity? Sugar. So how much sugar in this "enhanced" beverage - 7 teaspoons of it per glass (more drop per drop than Coca Cola).

    I wonder when we'll see beer touting it was made with the goodness of whole grain barley which has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes?

    Tuesday, April 07, 2009

    Breaking News: OMA calls for posting of menu board calories!

    As you're reading this, I'm probably answering questions at the press conference as I was invited by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) to help roll out their call to have calories posted on chain menu restaurants and in school cafeterias.

    I'm thrilled with the call to action and honoured to help out.

    Here's the OMA's press release on the matter:

    Ontario’s doctors call for calorie labelling on fast food and cafeteria menus

    Toronto, April 7, 2009 – In a move to help combat obesity, Ontario’s doctors are calling for calorie counts to be shown prominently on chain restaurant and school cafeteria menus and menu boards province-wide. The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says that by revealing the caloric content of fast foods, consumers will be better equipped with the information they need to make healthier choices.

    “People lead busy lives and it’s not always convenient to prepare food at home,” said Dr. Ken Arnold, President of the OMA. “Ontario’s doctors are not telling people what they can and can’t eat, but when you do eat out, you should know how many calories you are consuming.”

    The OMA wants to see:

    • Early action on menu labeling from leaders in the restaurant field.
    • The provincial government enact legislation that would require calorie contents to be listed adjacent to the items on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants and school cafeterias across the province.
    • An education campaign to help inform Ontarians about the impact of caloric intake on weight gain and obesity.

    The OMA is focussing on labelling calories due to common misconceptions surrounding the caloric content of many chain restaurant meals. An OMA policy paper entitled An Ounce of Prevention or a Ton of Trouble shows that most people consume more food than they are aware of and that they do not keep track of caloric intake.

    “We’re hoping that when consumers see calories posted while ordering they may choose to order something lower in calories, or eat higher calorie meals less often,” said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Medical Director at the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa.

    A new OMA report, Treatment of Childhood Overweight and Obesity, highlights the increasing epidemic of childhood obesity and the need for action. It shows that:

    • A quarter of children are obese, almost half are inactive and television and computer screen time is their pastime of choice.
    • There is evidence linking type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, certain types of sleep apnea and the development of chronic kidney disease later in life to children who are overweight or obese.
    • Over 75% of obese children become obese adults.
    • Overall, the health impacts of overweight and obesity are estimated to cost Ontario $2.2 to $2.5 billion per year.

    Ontario’s doctors want to see menu labelling enacted to help parents and children make informed choices about the foods they eat. A recent survey by the OMA shows that over 80% of Ontarians support such an initiative.

    “As physicians, we know that Ontarians want to lead healthier lives,” said Dr. Arnold. “Ultimately, knowing and understanding calorie intake can help patients make healthy choices for themselves and that’s empowering.”

    - 30 –

    For further information: OMA Media Relations at (416) 340-2862 or toll-free at 1-800-268-7215 ext. 2862.

    Important news for Ontarians considering US based weight loss surgery

    Given the exceedingly long wait times in Ontario for bariatric surgery (up to 3 years) OHIP has been routinely footing the bill for more procedures to be done in a timely manner in the United States.

    Last week Ontario's Ministry of Health put a bit of a crimp on this process by publishing a list of "preferred providers" which has allowed the Ministry to negotiate with them packages of services and discounted prices. The price to Ontarians is simple - OHIP won't pay for a provider that has not entered into a preferred provider agreement (PPA).

    This is all effective April 1st, 2009. All applications for non-PPA providers received before then are not affected.

    Monday, April 06, 2009

    Drinking Fountains Prevent Childhood Obesity?

    Chalk up another victory for changing the environment (rather than the individual)!

    This study appeared in the most recent edition of the journal Pediatrics and it details the outcome of a very simple environmental change - the installation of water fountains in elementary schools.

    The fountains were installed in 17 schools and 1,641 children received 4 class based educational sessions surrounding the importance of drinking water and its substitution for sugary beverages (juice included). Meanwhile 15 other control schools with 1,309 children didn't get the fountains or the education.

    The results?

    Water consumption was 1.1 glasses more per day per child in the intervention group vs. the control, but more importantly,

    "After the intervention, the risk of overweight was reduced by 31% in the intervention group, compared with the control group"
    Interestingly no significant intervention effect on juice and soft drink consumption was found (though there was an insignificant decrease in juice consumption) so how this intervention affected its changes is still unclear.

    One thing's for sure however - the study needs to be repeated. We've longed for a "fluoride in the water" style solution to preventing childhood obesity, and while I doubt the solution will simply be water, seeing studies designed to change the environment is certainly heartening.

    Sunday, April 05, 2009

    Weekend viewing: My Canada's Food Guide talk

    If you've got some time this weekend and you're interested in hearing about some of my concerns surrounding Canada's Food Guide, feel free to head over to the First Canadian Healthcare Conference who are showcasing a talk I gave this past January in St. John, New Brunswick.

    To watch the talk, click here.

    Friday, April 03, 2009

    What's up with Disney's DVD "Vaults"?

    Does anyone understand how the Disney "Vaults" work?

    I keep seeing ads saying that if I don't buy the DVD now, I'll never get a chance.

    Today for Funny Friday is one such ad for Disney's the Lion King.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Badvertising: Brain Bread

    Yup, give your kids Wonder Bread to make them smart.

    Recommendations generally are for children to have 2 servings of fish weekly for them to consume enough healthy fats (DHA) which may have benefits in brain development.

    So how much bread would you have to eat to get the DHA of two weekly serving of fish?

    Well my friends over at CBC Marketplace in their most recent show figured that out for us (and it's well worth a watch - only 6 minutes).

    Want to wager a guess?

    My guess is you'll be wrong, unless of course you guessed 428 slices of bread.

    How nice of Wonder Bread to prey on parents wanting to help their children.

    Shouldn't there be laws against this type of badvertising?

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    Are you being seduced by your scale?

    Further to my post yesterday on scale addiction, today I'll be writing about scale seduction.

    Scale seduction is often an insidious problem. You start your "diet" and begin to lose weight and bolstered by the sweet nothings the scale whispers in your ear you slowly get stricter and stricter with your dietary and/or exercise regimes. Basically watching those numbers go down seduces you into thinking you've found a lifestyle when in fact you've just on a diet.

    Overly restrictive diets, regardless of weight loss, are generally doomed to fail when you finally get sick of the restrictions you don't particularly enjoy. When does that happen? Usually when the scale stops whispering its sweet nothings.

    Remember, it isn't really about what you weigh, it's about what you're doing about what you weigh. Getting sucked into using the scale as your arbiter of success is risky business.

    For the Star Wars fans out there consider the scale the "dark side" of the force. Powerful, seductive, but ultimately very dangerous.