Thursday, February 28, 2013

Is the Food Industry Public Health's Best Target?

A little while back I published a blog post entitled, The Talk the Food Industry Couldn't Bear to Hear and included in it a presentation that ultimately concluded the only real obligation I felt the food industry had was not to blatantly lie to consumers, and that much of the blame for the food industry's questionable products and practices fell on us as a society for letting them get away with what ultimately amounts to slow motion murder. Thanks in large part to the folks over at Reddit, that video has now enjoyed nearly a quarter of a million views.

Well on Monday I gave what perhaps can be thought of as a sequel to the food industry talk.  I've called it, "What's Public Health To Do" and in it I make the case that public health needs to throw more stones. And I think that right now those stones are probably better thrown at our own glass houses than the food industry's reinforced bunkers in that I think there's plenty we need to work on in-house and presumably, we'll have a more willing audience.

In business it's said that it's far wiser to spend your resources retaining an existing customer than trying to woo new ones. Here our customers are the folks who are already sweating their life's blood promoting and protecting public health and frankly I'd expect they'll be far more open to change than the folks we seem to want to woo as new customers - the food industry - whose life's blood is spent promoting and protecting profit.

Whether it's improving food in our schools, hospitals and public health institutions, improving nutrition fact panels and front-of-package labeling laws and self directed programs, removing vending machines from sporting facilities, creating evidence based resources for communities that tell the truth about exercise not being an obesity panacea, fixing summer camp menus and weak school food policies, or combating weight bias in public health messaging, there's plenty for us folks who care about public health to do.

One person attending the talk took some issue with my recommendation to throw stones stating that wasn't how public health gets things done. While I appreciate where she was coming from I think we do need to speak up more, we need to have a loud and unified voice, and indeed not be shy to throw stones. I don't recommend we throw them at individuals, but rather at what we feel to be broken. Critically appraising existing programs, calling out inadequately designed interventions - that's not the same as criticizing people and frankly if those programs or interventions are easily defensible, the criticisms will be easily deflected. I'd argue that staying quiet in the face of things we know to be wrong or misguided, while perhaps the polite thing to do, is a failure of our seminal obligation to the public - to protect, promote and preserve their health.

For those who are interested, the talk's just under 15 minutes long.

[And just a quick note. In the talk, and previously on my blog I talk of how when I provided testimony to the Ontario Healthy Kids Panel the only person furiously scribbling notes was a food industry representative named Phyllis Tanaka. After my talk she informed me that I was mistaken, and that it's simply her habit to keep notes and that they were for herself personally and the panel, and not her representative food industry organization. Of course it's also my recollection that the panel had their own official secretary.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guest Post: More Facts on Fats

Last Saturday I linked to a story from Consumer Reports that highlighted the state of the evidence on fat. That story seemed to upset some folks and so I reached out to the article's authors, Kevin Lomangino, the editor of Clinical Nutrition Insight and asked him if he would be willing to expand on his piece and also to cover what the term, "state of the evidence" means as it would seem that some of the comments left that Saturday were left by folks who aren't familiar with the concept that rather than meaning "fact", it means this is what the data looks like today.

More Facts On Fats
Kevin Lomangino

Last week, Yoni linked to a Consumer Reports story called “Fat Facts and Fat Fiction” that some readers of this blog weren’t very happy with (scroll down to the comments for Yoni's post). This was no surprise, since dietary advice about fat is always controversial, and even experts disagree about what recommendations are supported by current evidence. As a contributor to the Consumer Reports piece (which was also extensively edited and reviewed by nutrition scientists), I thought I’d address some of the concerns raised in the comments and try to provide more detail and links to the evidence that we considered. Although I don’t harbor any illusions about changing people’s strongly held beliefs about food, I do believe that our recommendations are sound and were based on the best scientific evidence available. The following comments are my own opinion and haven’t been endorsed or reviewed by Consumer Reports.

Revisiting Saturated Fat

Is saturated fat bad for you? A growing number of people think that the answer to this question is no. But to my mind, this question can’t really be answered without first considering a second question: What are you comparing it with?

If you reduce your saturated fat intake, chances are very good that you’ll be replacing those calories with something else. And if that “something else” is refined carbohydrate, then evidence increasingly shows that you won’t improve your health and might be worse off. On the other hand, if you replace those saturated fat calories with unsaturated fat instead, then there’s consistent evidence that you may well reap some cardiovascular benefits from the change.

As noted in the Consumer Reports piece, a recent Cochrane Group meta-analysis, widely regarded as the “gold standard” in critical evaluation of medical evidence, found a 14% reduction in cardiovascular events across randomized controlled trials that involved reduction and/or replacement of saturated fat with unsaturated fat (including both mono and polyunsaturates). Another meta-analysis that looked specifically at studies replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (trials involving monounsaturated fat were excluded) found a 19% reduction in coronary heart disease events.

Admittedly, the reduction is not that big, which is something we tried to communicate by providing the absolute number of events that occurred in these studies (77 per 1000 people on a regular diet vs. 66 per 1000 on a reduced saturated fat diet in the Cochrane review). Still, the difference is substantial enough to provide meaningful benefits if large numbers of people carried out the recommendations.

These studies have limitations, of course, and some researchers say there’s not enough proof to conclude that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat is causally related to heart benefits. Then again, diet studies are hard to do and almost always yield messy evidence. It’s unlikely that better studies will be available any time soon to guide our thinking. Meanwhile, a variety of prestigious groups have looked at the evidence (see this and this), including epidemiologic and biomarker studies, and concluded that it all points to a benefit for replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat. That’s a well-supported stance based on the current state of the evidence.

Benefits of Omega-6

Commenters also raised concerns about our endorsement of vegetable oils that are high in linoleic acid, an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid. This reflects longstanding worries that high intakes of omega-6 are pro-inflammatory, and that increased intake may well lead to higher risk of cardiovascular disease and other adverse health outcomes.

As the article pointed out, this is an area where research is rapidly evolving and could quickly swing one way or the other based on new evidence. Nevertheless, studies conducted to date don’t show that we have much to worry about with linoleic acid. Despite theoretical concerns about inflammation, recent systematic reviews found no evidence that higher linoleic acid intake increases inflammatory biomarkers or their precursors. And as noted above, a meta-analysis of clinical trials showed cardiovascular benefits from replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated oils. In these studies, participants replaced saturated fat primarily with oils rich in linoleic acid such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.

As some researchers have pointed out, there may be a difference between studies that increased linoleic acid exclusively and those that also simultaneously increased intakes of omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid, EPA, and DHA. They say that the increased intake of omega-3s in these studies may have negated the harmful effects of linoleic acid and obscured its risks. This view is supported by a recent analysis that unearthed old data from one of these studies – the Sydney Diet Heart Study, originally conducted in the 1960s – that replaced saturated fat exclusively with safflower oil, which is 75% linoleic acid and has no omega-3s. The authors reported a higher rate of death from cardiovascular disease in the safflower oil group compared with controls who consumed their usual diet (17.2% vs. 11%).

This study hadn’t yet been published at the time our Consumer Reports piece was released, and I think it will take some time before these results are fully digested. However, early reaction to the study has raised concerns about its validity – particularly the fact that the margarine consumed by participants in the safflower oil group apparently had considerable amounts of trans fat, which might have contributed to the cardiovascular harm seen in that group.

Personally, I wouldn’t fault anyone for being a little more cautious about safflower oil in the wake of these results. But it’s hard to see how the results implicate linoleic acid in general, as similar studies involving soybean oil, which is about 50% linoleic acid and has only a small amount of omega-3s (about 7%), have shown cardiovascular benefit. Also, you’d have to work very hard to obtain 15% of your daily energy from safflower oil as they did in this study. (The average intake of linoleic acid in the U.S. is currently 6.7%, less than half that level.) If you “choose a variety of plant-based oils, plus low-mercury fish such as salmon twice a week” as recommended by Consumer Reports, you can be confident of getting a good mix of unsaturated oils that are likely to be protective.

What About Hexane?

Lastly, some commenters expressed concern about hexane, an industrial solvent that is used to process many cooking oils, including soybean oil (as well as the defatted soy protein flakes that are used in veggie burgers and other soy foods). As we noted in the article, hexane is a neurotoxin, and testing has reported trace amounts residual hexane in soybean oil (about 10 parts per million). While that may sound disturbing, there’s really no evidence that such minute exposures pose any kind of health risk. Hexane has been shown to cause toxicity in places like shoe factories and furniture finishing shops, where workers were breathing in much higher amounts of hexane and absorbing it through their skin from rags. But these types of exposure are likely more hazardous than oral consumption, because they bypass the liver.

According to an EPA toxicological assessment, there has never been a study of oral exposure to hexane in humans, and very few studies in animals. John L. O’Donoghue, VMD, PhD, a toxicologist who was a coauthor on one of these rodent studies, told me that they had to give “very large quantities” of hexane before they observed any neurotoxic effects. How much are we talking about? This Slate article estimates you’d have to eat the equivalent of more than 1 million veggie burgers a day to approximate this level of exposure! O’Donoghue told me, “I don’t know of any reason to consider [hexane in cooking oil] a problem.” With that being said, I realize that we can’t definitively rule out adverse effects from chronic long-term exposure to small amounts of hexane, because the studies simply haven’t been done. And you may also wish to avoid hexane-processed oils for other reasons, such as worker safety and air pollution concerns. Still, in a world full of risks, hexane in cooking oil doesn’t rank as priority for personal health. You can avoid hexane by choosing expeller-pressed oils, but realize that these products will cost quite a bit more than hexane-processed oil, because the extraction process is much less efficient.

Take-Home Message

Why is fat so controversial? In my mind, it’s an example what Marion Nestle called the conflict between science- and belief-based perspectives. Many people believe that vegetable oils simply can’t be good for you, because they haven’t been a significant part of our diet for more than a few decades. They are much more comfortable eating the foods that we’ve always eaten, which more often than not will be animal-based and higher in saturated fat. It’s a valid view, but the science—at least for now—does not support this approach. The verdict could change if and when we get more high-quality research on this topic.

Meanwhile, the overall science-based message is not to worry too much about one specific food or nutrient. Where reasonable and feasible, replace butter and solid fats in your diet with a variety of plant oils such as olive, canola, soybean, and peanut. Eat fatty fish twice a week. Limit processed junk food that is usually rich in saturated fat and refined carbohydrate, and fill up most of your plate with fruits and vegetables instead.

Kevin Lomangino is editor of Clinical Nutrition Insight, a monthly evidence-based newsletter for physicians and dietitians, and a reviewer for He tweets as @Klomangino.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Heart and Stroke Foundation Is Once Again Giving Health Check to Cookies?

Back in January 2008 I blogged about the inanity of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program awarding its check mark to cookies.

I pointed out that the Health Check logo when awarded to cookies deceives Canadians into thinking that Check'ed cookies are not only choices that shouldn't be limited but rather choices that are, according to their own market research,
"'nutritious', 'healthy', 'good for you' or 'approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.'"
Perhaps in response to some of the stink I'd been raising in July 2009 the Heart and Stroke Foundation announced,
"To remain consistent with the recommendations in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, the Cookies category is being removed from the Health Check program. Effective immediately Health Check will not accept any new food item from the Cookies category to join the program"
At the time, I did in fact take them at their word (though I couldn't help but scratch my head on why it is they needed the Food Guide to suggest to them cookies shouldn't get Checks).

Perhaps I shouldn't have.

I saw this product in the supermarket the other day. It's Dole's Mixed Berry and Almond Bites and there's no mistaking that it's being promoted as a healthful choice. Its box shouts that it's made with all natural ingredients, that there are no artificial preservatives, that there are 2 grams of fibre per serving (clearly proving that Canadians don't know much about fibre given that 2g of fibre isn't all that exciting), it's part of their "Live Right" branding, and yes indeed, it sports the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check logo.

Looking at the nutritional breakdown you'll find that the "bites" are 32% sugar by weight, that they have virtually nothing nutritionally redeeming in them (that 2g of fibre - you can get that from half a small apple), and that their 11 grams (nearly 3 teaspoons) of sugar per serving are just 0.1 grams shy of the sugar you'd find in an equivalent weight of Chips-Ahoy cookies.

So are these "bites" cookies? Well they sure look like cookies. I'm guessing they also taste like cookies. They certainly pack the sugar of cookies. But unlike cookies, these healthwashed "bites" are being marketed to people, likely including parents of young children, as being a healthy, good for you, choice. That in fact makes them worse than cookies because at least with cookies you won't be as likely to kid yourself into thinking they're healthy choices for you or your children.

Would love to know what the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check folks call these things, because if they're not cookies, I'm not sure what I'd call them.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: Parental No Files - The Exhausted Dietitian Mom

Today's guest posting comes from Registered Dietitian and blog reader Rebecca Davids. It seems my "Parental No" files struck a cord in her - so much so that she felt compelled to write to me and at my request, agreed to allow me to post her letter to me as a guest posting.

[BTW - you can follow Rebecca on Twitter]
The Exhausted Dietitian Mom

I am exhausted. I really am.

I have 6 year old twins – a boy and a girl. No they are not identical (that is a different rant). I say ‘no’ a lot. All the time in fact. More than I should have to. It is really starting to annoy me.

Like most parents, I’ve found myself entrenched in the world of extra-curricular activities. Two kids, very different interests and abilities result in weekly trips to my local swimming school, recreation centre, hockey arena and dance school. Again, like many parents, each week I strive to give my kids both structured and unstructured physical activity opportunities. Here’s the thing, each and every time my kids head off to one of their activities, they are inundated with junk food offers and unhealthy messages.

A few cases in point:

Swimming – My local swim school gets the award for worst offender possible. Access to junk food and offering ‘treats’ as reward is constant. There is a vending machine full of candy, an eye-level glass display case at the front desk full of candy, pop and chips and ‘treats’ given at the end of each session and at each holiday. I cannot count the number of kids that march out of swimming lessons, presumably heading home for dinner, sucking away on a ring pop.

Dance studio – until this year there was an actual ROOM full of chocolate bars, candy, potato chips, juice etc. This year the dedicated room is gone, but you can still find a selection of junk in the studio ‘store’. In their summer camp brochure, they encourage parents to pre-purchase a ‘card’ so your child can buy items at the tuck shop during the day.

Hockey/local arena – Let’s start with the fact that my kid is called a “TimBit”. Not that he isn’t incredibly adorable. He is, as are all the other 6 year olds with jerseys down to their knees skating and sliding all over the ice, but here’s the thing - there really isn’t any other hockey option in Canada. All kids in his division are TimBits and based on the uniforms of the bigger kids I see in the arena, he’ll graduate into a McDonald’s sponsored jersey next. Once we get past the sponsorship we move on to the snack bar and likely, not much has to be said here. Healthy options are just not on the menu. The only saving grace about the arena and rec centre is that these are ‘public spaces’ and I also know rec centres are on the agenda of public health for action. I also know how long it takes to change things.

At each and every one of their activities ‘junk food’ plays a part. The message my kids get week after week is –“Exercise, play hard and be physical – good job! Now go have some junk food to reward yourself!” At age six, and despite my best efforts, they do associate success, play, and winning with ‘treats’. It drives me batty.

It isn’t just sports and activities. The pervasive junk food offerings are just as common at school – the fundraisers, the ‘special’ days and the hot-lunch offerings. It is also at summer camp and really, pretty much each and every place we go as a family.

So, back to why I’m exhausted.

It isn’t because life is busy. It isn’t because my kids will ask me on a weekly basis for a chocolate, donut or ring pop. I don’t blame them – they are six and there is a yummy sweet snack in their face. It is their job to check me out to see if I’ll say yes.

I’m plain tired (and getting pissed off too) that I have to say no. All the time. I have to say no more than I should have to.

See it is easy for me to say no. I’ve never said yes. Not once. My kids don’t actually expect me to get them junk food after their activities. In fact, I’m sure they would be shocked. It isn’t that I don’t say yes to less than healthy foods – trust me, I do, but I do so at the times and locations of my choice.

So then I was thinking. It is easy (albeit exhausting) for me to say no. I know why I need to say no. I have two degrees in food and nutrition. I work as a dietitian in public health, which means I talk food and nutrition for a living and I’m paid to be well-read on the subject. I’m also fortunate enough to have the financial means to buy tasty fruits and vegetables that might not be on sale. I have the time, energy and a support system to ensure I provide homemade meals and snacks. I can experiment with all sorts of healthy recipes and dishes. I also can make the time to cook and bake with my kids – creating foods at home that are as ‘cool’ as the stuff in the store.

I know how exhausting it is to say no all the time to the pervasive junk food offerings. I know it is even harder for others. As a dietitian-mom, I feel for the moms (and dads too) who struggle to afford healthy foods, struggle to create a home where healthy food is the norm and where affording a relatively inexpensive ‘treat’ is the maximum they can buy for their child, not the minimum. I feel for the moms who don’t have the extra time, energy or resources to teach their kids to cook or experiment with healthy food.

So that is it. I’m tired. I’m tired of saying no when I should not be put in the position in the first place. I’m tired of, in spite of my best interests and teaching, that my kids are inundated with the messages of junk food – all the time.

Where does that leave me (and likely many others)? Other than being a royally pissed off dietitian-mom? Overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation and how to change it. Frustrated by the pace of change, but resigned that this is going to take a generation to shift. Motivated by people who are speaking out. Ready to jump in and do my part.

I’m ready to start filling the sandbags. One at a time.

Rebecca Davids, MSc, RD

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

How to Respond to Your Life's Trolls!


They're the folks who post rude angry emails if heaven forbid my opinions don't jive with theirs.

From the moment this Funny Friday video subject uttered its first peep I knew it would be forevermore how I pictured my angry tub thumpers. Keep this link on file and then whenever a troll pops up in your life, just send them to this piece.

Have a great weekend!

(Email subscribers, you have to head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Is Alberta Health Services Dissing Vegan Diets?

This one's a bit nutty.

So apparently Alberta Health Services, the official provincial health folks, are alarmed by vegan diets.

So much so in fact that they published a one page backgrounder for "professional purposes only" developed by the province's official registered dietitians in response to the movie Forks over Knives which in turn makes the case for vegan diets to prevent chronic diseases. The response suggests animals really ought to be part of everyone's diet.

The backgrounder was leaked to me by someone who wishes to remain nameless, but here is part of what they had to say along with the leak,
"This response agitates me, to say the least. Especially about the milk, "low fat" cheese issue and the dairy industry influence."
I reached out to my friend Andy Bellatti who himself is both an RD and someone who enjoys a vegan diet and asked him for his thoughts. As I expected, he didn't mince words,
"This seems more like a press release for meat and dairy than an educational brochure on plant-based diets. To put it simply, every single nutrient in dairy products can be obtained from a plant-based food. I am also baffled that the "meat and alternatives" list does not include beans, nuts, and seeds.

Furthermore, planning is essential for all diets. Without careful planning, an omnivore can end up not consuming enough fiber or dark leafy green vegetables. The idea that the mere act of eschewing meat and dairy practically necessitates a flowchart to make sure one's diet is balanced is untrue
Could the fact that Alberta is the beef capital of Canada have anything to do with the alarm?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Melanie Warner's Pandora's Lunchbox

[Full disclosure: I was sent a free copy of the book by the author]
Sometime around two years ago one of my very favourite food industry journalists - Melanie Warner -  disappeared. Her articles stopped appearing online, and her Twitter feed went dark. I’m not sure how long it took me to notice she was gone, but when I did I reached out to find out if she was ok, and she wrote back that she was working on a book about the food industry – a fact that took some of the sting away from her disappearance.

Well here we are, two years later, and next week her book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal, is set to launch and Melanie kindly sent me an advanced copy.

The book’s fascinating. While other books have been written highlighting what I see as the tragic decline of actual food in North America (Fast Food Nation, Food Politics, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and more), rather than focus exclusively on fast food, or on Big Food’s political shenanigans, or on how-to fix what’s broken, Warner does all three with her lens focused on the history and science behind the industrialization of the food supply, and in the process, highlights some of the health problems and unknowns that are uniquely consequent to the way our land of plenty got that way.

Warner reports that her interest was piqued consequent to her tremendously odd processed food collection – a collection she started to satisfy her desire to see how long beyond a processed food’s printed best before date that food would continue to be edible. From 9 month old only slightly brown around the edges guacamole, to 2 year old somewhat shrunken and crystallized processed cheese slices, to cereals older than 2 of my children that still look and taste like new, to chicken “nuggets” that rather than being immortal, liquefied (rather than rotted) within 10 days, Warner set out to figure out why.

Her book explores the history of some of the food industry’s biggest sellers: “Eternal” sliced cheese and the mistake that led to its creation; processed cereal and the story of a man who bragged that he never consummated his 40 year old marriage; discretionary fortification of foods and how and why your milk might contain extracts of sheep wool to return to it some of the vitamins stripped clean by the unbelievably harsh world of processing; the growth of soy and a tale of food flavourists and the debate over omega 3 and 6 ratios; whether or not there is such a thing as a healthy processed food, and much, much more.

Warner attributes her interest in food to her mother Therese who both accidentally ate the 9 month old guacamole (without negative effect), and also instilled in Warner two important messages, “What you put into your body matters, Melanie”, and, “Just because it’s edible doesn’t mean it’s good for you”.

Warner isn’t as merciless in Pandora’s Lunchbox as I’d seen her be before she went dark and I wouldn’t be at all surprised were I to learn that her editor, or the legal team over at Scribner, had her tone her message down some, but mercy notwithstanding, the book’s fantastic and fascinating and while she doesn’t spend too much time on it, she certainly gives us her prescription for how to stay safe in a land full of more than 5,000 food additives. She calls it a "new food ratio" and I think it’s a great one. Riffing off of the industry’s seminal BS, “Everything in moderation” Warner applies it to processed foods and suggests that if processed foods made up 30% or less of the average person’s diet, that person would be doing pretty well indeed.

Warner, like I’ve been in the past, is very clear, “There are bad foods”, and this book highlights more than a few of them as well as some of the machinations the food industry has wrought to keep them on our tables. As to the food industry’s role as a “stakeholder”, again she bluntly echoes a message that readers of this blog are likely quite familiar with,
It’s not that large packaged-food companies can’t have any impact. It’s that their contribution to the overall problem is always going to be miniscule. Pepsi, Kraft, Kellogg’s ConAgra and General Mills won’t be the ones to improve our diets and fix our health problems, and we should stop asking them to
Amen Melanie.

[If you'd like, you can order Melanie's book on by means of this affiliate link]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guest Post: Dietitians Call for Integrity

Today's guest posting is another from my friend Andy Bellatti, MS, RD. Andy is a Las Vegas-based registered dietitian with a plant-centric and whole-food focus. His work has been published in Grist, The Huffington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Food Safety News, and Civil Eats, among others. He is as passionate about healthful eating as he is about food politics, deceptive Big Food marketing, and issues of sustainability, animal welfare, and social justice in our food system. He is the creator of the Small Bites blog (which, though now closed, spans five years and 2,000 posts). You can also follow Andy on Twitter and Facebook.

Today's post highlights Andy's latest initiative - a group he's named Dietitians for Professional Integrity, and it's one that I wholeheartedly support! And before somebody gets their feathers in a ruffle, neither Andy nor I am suggesting Dietitians don't have professional integrity - rather that his group represents a grass roots rallying cry for their Academy to question theirs.
Dietitians Call for Integrity

Since the release of public health lawyer Michele Simon's report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' corporate partnerships last month, the Registered Dietitian community has had much to talk about. A recent Twitter chat about this topic had such high turnout that “#RDChat” made it to Twitter's Trending Topics, demonstrating that dialogue on this issue has been long overdue.

And, now, a new development: a coalition known as Dietitians for Professional Integrity launched its Facebook page last Wednesday, obtaining 485 “likes” in its first 12 hours. The group – co-founded by myself and 15 dietitian colleagues – is made up of Registered Dietitians, Dietetic Technicians, and dietetic students (as well as their supporters) and advocates for greater financial transparency as well as ethical, socially responsible, and relevant corporate sponsorships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

Apart from serving as a central hub for like-minded individuals to voice their displeasure with AND's current corporate sponsorship model, a “statement of concern” from a dietetics professional or student is shared on the page every weekday. The hope is that these statements will further stimulate discussion, better connect colleagues, and demonstrate that current AND President Ethan Bergman was misguided and ill-informed when he recently stated that every AND member supports the Academy's current food industry partnerships.

Many of the dietetic professionals who joined the group expressed how important it is to have forum where they can express the frustrations they have felt for so long (frustrations that were expressed to the Academy and often did not receive a response) and not just be heard, but also work towards better sponsorships that do not discredit the credential they worked for.

In response to criticism that speaking out against their professional organization is disloyal, the Dietitians for Professional Integrity group states the following in their Frequently Asked Questions document:

“We do not believe it is disloyal to demand that our professional organization behave in a more responsible fashion. We value our credential and want it to be represented in an honorable way.

We believe change can only come from speaking out and voicing concerns. All social movements that led to positive change started with a group of people who expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo and mobilized others. Remaining silent under the guise of loyalty does not address issues, help foster dialogue, or provide room for problem-solving.

As a point of reference: the American Medical Association did not publicly cut ties with Big Tobacco until 1978, despite decades of research showing the harmful effects of smoking. Some doctors began raising concerns about their professional organization's financial ties to tobacco companies as early as 1964. It was precisely this leadership and advocacy, combined with scientific evidence and public pressure, that brought about change. Imagine if no doctors ever dared to challenge their own professional organization and instead simply felt comforted by their professional organization's stance.”

The group wants the Academy “to develop clear guidelines to differentiate between sponsorships associated with foods and products that have no place in a healthy diet (such as soda, potato chips, and candy) and sponsorships that offer some value to a significant portion of their membership and also engage in ethical environmental and labor practices”.

It also suggest five specific recommendations:

1. Host a point-counterpoint panel/moderated debate on this topic at this year's Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics conference (to be held in Houston in October);

2. Greater transparency and full disclosure of finances;

3. Address this issue to its constituents;

4. Reject corporate-sponsored education (with certain exceptions – such as a company that makes parenteral nutrition formula educating dietitians on the management of specific clinical nutrition pathologies);

5. Adopt more ethical corporate sponsorship guidelines that truly reflect AND's mission (using the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Group's ethical sponsorship guidelines as a model).

While the diverse dietitians in this group work in a wide range of clinical, community, research, and private practice settings, they are united by their desire to no longer have their credential tarnished and co-opted by ties to the very companies that have continually fought tooth and nail against public health and sound nutrition. The time has come for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to do right by its members and put an end to insidious and troublesome partnerships with the food industry's most notorious players.

If you support the mission of this group, please head to the Dietitians for Professional Integrity Facebook page and click “Like”!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Am I Dreaming? Walmart Considering Healthy Checkout Aisles?

While I might quibble some with what's defined as "healthy", a Walmart in West Virginia is setting an example for the nation - instead of candy and glossy magazines they've put together checkout aisles with fresh fruits and vegetables, along with sporting goods.

And guess what? According to the store manager customers love it and sales are up!

Wish these were the norm rather than the exception.

To have a peek, here's a news report covering their experiences to date.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Stories: Fats, Depression, and Osama Bin Laden

Great Consumers Reports' review of the state of the evidence on which fats are healthful and which are not.

Overcoming Gymnausea with a heartfelt and personal take on what is depression?

Esquire's Phil Bronstein with a riveting read on what life's been like for Osama Bin Laden's shooter since that night in Abbottabad.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, this week's weekly US News and World Report column is about why I think there is no cure for obesity.]

Friday, February 15, 2013

Triumph the Insult Rabbi Dog?

Today's Funny Friday is a double what were they thinking (and is also not for the easily offended).

Firstly how unbelievably self-absorbed do you have to be to go out of your way to try to throw, "the world's most expensive dog wedding"? Secondly, if you are that self-absorbed, what could possibly have possessed you to invite Triumph?

Have a great weekend!

(Email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: Andrea Curtis' What's For Lunch?

[Full disclosure – I was provided with a free copy of this book by the author]

Andrea Curtis is a Toronto based writer and teacher, as well as a fresh whole foods activist. At her son’s school, she initiated a garden program, and she volunteers regularly at a community food centre.

Months, and months, and months ago Andrea kindly sent me her children’s book, What’s For Lunch? How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to (sorry Andrea), but I’m glad I finally did.

The book’s simple to explain. Exploring 13 different countries’ school systems Curtis knew,
Whether their school is under the vast umbrella of a banyan tree, in a dusty tent held up with poles, or in a sturdy brick structure in the heart of a bustling city, all children need a healthy lunch to be able to learn and to grow”,
and she set out to highlight global school lunches, and at the same time, some of the political social and cultural issues that they underscored. With beautiful photographs and stories, Curtis takes young readers across the globe: From the incredible school food of Japan, to a scoop of dal served on paper on a chalkboard in India, to America’s highly processed no-name fast food pizza, to Canada’s bagged lunch as we here in Canada share the dubious honour of being the only G8 nation without a national school meal program.

Aimed at children aged 8 and up, Curtis’ book will definitely open young eyes – both to the juxtaposition of our processed North American school fare with just how lucky those of us living in North America truly are, as well as to different cultural, political and ideological attitudes surrounding food. Each school lunch is photographed and used to briefly explain that country’s issues and food attitudes.

The book’s truly lovely, but I have two important considerations for Curtis’ next print run. The book perpetuates a few myths about obesity. Firstly the book explicitly explains obesity as a consequence of “unhealthy” food (in two locations, and just in passing), and while no doubt the foods we eat are part and parcel of our growing waistlines, and that obesity is a highly complex issue beyond the scope of a children’s school lunch book, I wonder, especially with younger readers, how the book’s simplified linkage of obesity to unhealthy food might lead them to judge people with obesity. Secondly, and this runs somewhat contrary to the last point, when discussing Shanghai, China’s school lunch (which looks amazing by the way), Curtis notes,
To combat obesity, compulsory folk dancing classes have been introduced as some schools; elsewhere provincial governments require students to run 1km (0.6mi.) a day during breaks
While I don’t doubt whether or not China has attributed obesity to a lack of exercise and believes short runs or folk dancing will help, the fact of the matter is that inactivity is neither the cause, nor the cure for obesity – in fact I think that message is part of the reason society is struggling so dramatically with dealing with weight. So while I’ve no doubt those two erroneous messages are hammered home to kids everywhere, it’d be great if they weren’t part of this school lunch story.

As to whether or not I’d recommend What’s For Lunch? I would. It’s fascinating and I think a great introduction to the issue of food activisim and I’ve given the book to my 8 year old to read. And as for those messages that concerned me up above – they’re few and far enough between that I think they’ll afford me the opportunity for a teachable moment with my daughter where we can discuss those issues in greater detail.

[If you'd like you can order Andrea's book via this Amazon affiliate link.]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Badvertising: Belvita Breakfast Cookies Are Filled with "Sustained Energy"

Thanks to Alison Thomas for sending these my way.

They're Belivta's new "breakfast biscuits" and they're being marketed as a great accompaniment to breakfast as they apparently provide, "sustained energy".

If you're a regular reader here I'm guessing you'll know what "sustained energy" is usually a euphemism for. Sugar.

Eat a 4 pack and you'll be packing in just over 3 teaspoons of "energy" with a smattering of fibre and protein. Sugar wise it's the same amount you'd get if you ate a 4 pack of Oreos.

And of course you'll be buying into the notion that health and nutrition short cuts exist.

Now I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Kraft was using slick marketing to try to not only sell cookies for breakfast but to suggest they're healthful. I was however surprised to find a video featuring registered dietitian and author of The Sonoma Diet Dr. Connie Guttersen telling viewers that yes indeed,
"Belivita is perfect for your on the go lifestyle because it's convenient and nutritious."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Diet Book Review: The 8-Hour Diet

[Full disclosure: I was sent a free review copy by the publisher]

There's a good reason why The 8-Hour Diet reads like a Men's Health magazine article - it was authored by David Zinczenko, former Editor in Chief of Men's Health magazine. The hyperbole begins even before the book does. Here's the jacket cover (Caps lock and bolding theirs),
"In just 6 weeks you're going to have your best body ever. You'll be LEANER, HEALTHIER, MORE ENERGETIC. You'll have the flat, firm belly you've always wanted. You'll sleep better, think more clearly-and have much better sex. You'll look younger, feel younger, and dramatically cut your risk of the major diseases of our time.

You'll lose weight faster than ever-as much as 5 pounds a week-without restricting calories OR giving up your favourite foods.
The promise of the book is simple. Here's Zinczenko's version of it taken from the very first 3 pages of the book,
"Imagine the freedom that would come from being able to do whatever you want, eat whatever you want and know - not think, not hope, but know for certain - that you'll never gain another pound."

"Eat whatever you want as much as you want. But only eat during an 8-hour period each day (with a few cheats thrown in here and there!).

"And the most remarkable thing of all: You only have to follow the diet 3 days a week. Three days a week!
And that message of eating as much as you want of whatever you want (who wouldn't want that in a weight loss plan?) is reinforced over, and over again throughout the book,
"In fact the only challenge to the 8-Hour Diet is finding time to eat lots of delicious food. Heck, you should probably put your favorite barbecue joint on speed dial - just so you can satisfy your most gluttonous cravings at the touch of a button!"
Of course there a tiny bit more to it, and I'll get to that in a bit, but first the science.

There is science backing up intermittent fasting (fast intermittently for 16 or more hours and then eat). Like all areas of research, some of the science is stronger than others, some is weak, and some is crippled by poor methodologies or statistics, however unlike most of the diet books I've recently read, Zinczenko doesn't provide us with his actual references (so if you were interested you could check out the data for yourself) despite virtually every page concluding on the basis of one uncited study or another that certain foods are "Fat Busters", or "Health Boosters", or that fasting improves every last aspect of your life, weight and metabolism. I wonder if part of his reticence to include his sources is the fact that much of the research that has been done on fasting has been done on fasts that are longer, and hence perhaps not applicable, to his 16 hour recommendations, or that the studies themselves while interesting, may not be as conclusive as he's suggesting.

What's also upsetting is the fact that Zinczenko makes no mention of a man named Martin Berkhan. Martin is a Swedish bodybuilder who as far as I'm aware, is the first person to lay out The 8-Hour Diet. Here's an excerpt from Martin's first blog posting from June 15th, 2007,
"the protocol consists of a fasting period, lasting 16 hours. This means you initiate your first meal 16 hours before eating the last meal on the night before (which is easily done by skipping breakfast and lunch). Thus, ideally all eating is done within an 8 +-1 hour timeframe."
Pretty much identical to the protocol Zinczenko is promoting. It's almost inconceivable that Zinczenko wasn't aware of Martin's work as Martin's a very well known guy in the fitness/body building world. I think I first came across Martin's work on intermittent fasting back in 2008 and of course I'm nowhere near as keyed in to the fitness scene as Zinczenko, for as he himself notes,
"I've been working as a health journalist for more than half my life. You name an issue - absorption rates of minerals, causes of metabolic syndrom, funding for prostate cancer research, omega-3 versus omega-6 ratios - and if it has something to do with health or wellness, I'll usually have the background on it. I'm not the world's top expert on everything, but chances are, I know the world's top expert"
Which in the case of the The 8-Hour Diet is almost certainly Mr. Berkhan.

As far as the diet itself goes, when you get to that section suddenly there are a few more rules than simply an all-you-can-eat buffet of whatever you want for 8 hours a day. Zinczenko wants you to, at each meal or snack, eat two of his eight "Powerfoods" which include lean sources of protein, nuts, yogurt and other dairy, legumes, berries, fruit, green leafy vegetables, and whole grains. Looking at his meal plan I crunched calories. Because his recipes include calories (I wish every diet book's recipes did, kudos to Zinczenko) I crunched every day. If you follow his 7-day meal plan, you'll average 1,595 calories. From a low of 1,222 to a high of 1,805. Breakfast perplexed me some. After all breakfast is literal here - you're breaking your 16 hour fast and presumably you're rather hungry which is likely why Zinczenko notes of his,
"I tuck into my fast-breaking meal - whatever time of the day it falls in with gusto - Ditto the other major meal I have during my 8-hour eating time. But there's only so much one stomach can hold, so I make sure I plan my foods carefully",
Clearly Zinczenko is suggesting his breakfasts are rather large as, "there's only so much one stomach can hold", yet his suggested meal plan includes breakfasts that are at once incredibly low in both calories and volume. For instance he has you "tucking in with gusto" to smoothies with less than 200 calories, or to a few lonely blueberry pancakes clocking in at 315.

In the 8-Hour Diet, the conjecture, ridiculous metaphors and hyperbole, like a sweaty, red-faced, whistle-wearing, 1950s gym teacher on an overweight boy trying to climb the rope, come at you hard and heavy throughout (see, I can write that way too), but my favorite stretch had to be when Zinczenko backs up his 8-Hour Diet by means of suggesting Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammed, were big fans,
"Maybe that's why eating the 8-Hour Diet way has been popular with the great minds of the last many millennia. The scientific evidence for this diet is new, but wiser men than me have been following a similar type of eating for eons. The Big Four of religion - Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammed - all practiced and promoted fasting, and chances are they knew a thing or two more than we do."
If you read the 8-Hour Diet's reviews on Amazon you'll see quite a mixed bag with many of the negative reviews talking of the diet's lack of efficacy. Truly, if you take Zinczenko at his word and treat the diet as an eat whatever you want for 8 hours a day lose weight diet, I think you'll be disappointed. Our environment doesn't lend itself to being blindly indulgent. Single meals out can easily contain over 3,000 calories and even while eating in, if not doing the cooking and thoughtfully navigating your choices, the calories can add up incredibly quickly. And if you struggle controlling calories on the 8-Hour Diet, I'm not sure the book will be much help. While it does have a section on 100 ways to cut out the calories they include such things as, "Watch a funny YouTube video", "When a craving strikes, make a fist", "Call your Mom", "Just breathe", "Read a thriller", "Flip through old photo albums", "Play "Words with Friends"", "Chew ice", "Light up candles scented with peppermint, banana, green apple and vanilla", "Watch traffic on the highway", and my favorite by far, "Clean the toilet".

To sum up, there is indeed some young science, much of it still theoretical, behind fasting as a means to improve health, and some studies too suggesting it may be useful in weight management. That said, I've yet to see any long term studies which given the fact that fasting is in and of itself, for many (though certainly not all), a form of suffering, I wonder about the attrition rate over time for fasting approaches. If you're interested in trying a 16 hour a day fasting style diet certainly you can pick up The 8-Hour Diet....or you could head over to Martin Berkhan's Leangains and read through the reams of freely available information he's been posting on his 8 hour diet since 2007, and a good place to start would be his Leangains Guide.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Diet Book Review: Wheat Belly

[Full Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy by the publisher.]

You know I've been blogging now for 8 years, and while diet books have come and gone, I've never had more requests to review one than I've had to review Wheat Belly.

So last week, while I was on vacation, I hauled Wheat Belly with me.

So before my review, here's what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel and criticize the science or lack thereof. Not because there's nothing to explore, but rather because others have already done so, and they've done so well. Here’s Melissa McEwen of Hunt, Gather, Love on some of Wheat Belly's many claims, here's Professor Julie Jones' academic's take, here's psychiatrist and blogger Dr. Emily Deans on Dr. Davis' claims regarding wheat and mental illness, and here's my good friend Tim Caulfield and Dr. Davis debating Wheat Belly on CBC's Q.

What I'd like to discuss is the diet itself.

So is it really, "Lose the Wheat Lose the Weight" like the book jacket says? No. It's lose the wheat - and also most other carbs and a bunch of other foods - and lose the weight, because according to Dr. Davis, if you lose the wheat but replace the wheat with the "wrong" foods (bolding mine),
"you've achieved very little. And you may indeed become deficient in several important nutrients, as well as continue in the unique American shared experience of getting fat and becoming diabetic"
And here I thought wheat was the world's worst food. Seems odd that losing the wheat - a food which according to Davis is basically a highly toxic genetic abomination - regardless of what it's replaced with, would, "achieve very little".

Way down below is an extensive list of the foods allowed and disallowed by Dr. Davis' diet, but given that at the end of the day his admonition is to cut out not only wheat, but also pretty much every other source of carbohydrate, and to keep total carbs at between 50-100grams a day (and if you're diabetic, less than 30g a day), truly this is just Atkins minus cured meats, repackaged with a scary, theoretical narrative and a great book title.

Perhaps the strangest part of Wheat Belly's dietary recommendations are the book's included menu plans and recipes.

As with all of my diet book reviews I calculated the calories the first day provides. Based on the ranges of servings Dr. Davis suggests would be appropriate Day 1 would provide a minimum of 2,156 calories and a maximum of 2,996 calories.

Not exactly weight loss material.

So I decided to calculate the last day as well (maybe calories start high and go low?). I came up with a minimum of 3,518 calories and a maximum of 3,719 calories.

Here's hoping whoever picks up the book doesn't actually bother with Dr. Davis' menu and recipe suggestions as it would seem to me that doing so would certainly not lead to weight loss, but rather would likely lead to gain. That is, unless of course you decide to fast a whole bunch. That shouldn't be a problem because according to Dr. Davis wheat free people are never hungry and can fast, "nearly effortlessly" for, "18, 24, 36, 72 or more hours with little or no discomfort"!?

And please don't expect to enjoy going wheat free. According to Dr. Davis for some going wheat free,
"can be a distinctly unpleasant experience on par with a root canal or living with your in-laws for a month"
The kindest way for me to describe Wheat Belly is as the Atkins diet wrapped in one physician's broad sweeping, yet not particularly well backed up by evidence theory, that wheat's modern genetic modifications are responsible for the majority of society's ills. The harshest would be that Dr. Davis has eschewed his medical responsibility to ensure that the information he conveys to the public while wearing his MD hat is firmly supported by and grounded in science (or at the very least point out when a view is highly preliminary and theoretical), and instead, uses his MD platform to push his own personal theory onto a trusting, vulnerable, and desperate public, as nearly irrefutably factual and scientific.

To gain an appreciation as to the scope of Dr. Davis' concerns about wheat, while reading I compiled a list of those conditions that he reports are either caused by wheat's consumption, or cured by its dietary removal. I also compiled a list of more nebulous feel better claims and of the physical manifestations Dr. Davis reports a person quitting wheat might enjoy. The lists are down below but if reading's not your thing, I've created a short video highlighting a hypothetical visit to Dr. Davis' office which includes these same lists.

To sum up - I'm not at all opposed to low-carb diets, and agree with Dr. Davis that our society eats far too much in the way of highly processed carbohydrates, and that if we could simply cultivate love affairs with our kitchens our health would improve by leaps and bounds. No doubt for many people low carb diets do prove to be helpful in enabling both weight management and healthful lifestyles, and I'm not even remotely concerned about low-carb health risks as the medical evidence to date doesn't really suggest that there are any worth worrying about. So if low-carb's your thing, feel free to pick up Wheat Belly (just don't bother with the recipes), but please just skip straight through to the dietary recommendations. Or if you'd like to save a few dollars, just grab a used copy of Atkins and eschew the bacon.

And lastly, as always, I'll remind you - regardless of the impact of your diet on your weight and/or health, unless you actually like the life you're living (and the food and dietary style you're eating), you're not likely to keep living that way.

[My favorite quote from Wheat Belly had to be this one, "Wheat of course, was my first thought". It was Dr. Davis describing an interaction with a patient with alopecia areata, and yet somehow I'm guessing, it describes Dr. Davis' first thought with pretty much any patient who walks into his office, perhaps even regardless of their presenting complaint.]

Dr. Davis' list of conditions caused by consuming, or treated by removing, wheat:
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Acid reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Schizophrenia
  • Autism
  • Breast cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Celiac disease (with Davis' modern wheat increasing its incidence)
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Osteopenia and osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cataracts
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • "Kidney disease"
  • Dry eyes
  • Alzheimers
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Non-alcoholic steatosis
  • Heart disease
  • Cerebellar ataxia
  • Nystagmus
  • Myoclonus
  • Chorea
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • "Gluten Encephalopathy"
  • Migraines
  • Dementia
  • Seizure disorders
  • ADHD
  • Acne
  • Gangrene
  • Skin ulceration
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis
  • Intestinal lymphoma
  • Angular chelitis
  • Glossitis
  • Cutaneous vasculitis
  • Acanthosis nigricans
  • Erythema nodosum
  • Psoriasis
  • Vitiligo
  • Beh├žet's diseases
  • Dermatomyositis
  • Icthyosiform dermatoses
  • Pyoderma gangrenosum
  • Alopecia areata
  • Gynecomastia
  • Leg edema
  • Bipolar illness
  • Dandruff
What Dr. Davis promises removing wheat will do for your general well being:
  • Improve athletic performance
  • Improve mood
  • Reduce mood swings
  • Improve concentration
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase energy
  • Slow skin aging
  • Improve coordination
What Dr. Davis reports will disappear with wheat's removal (his terminologies, not mine):
  • Wheat bellies
  • Food babies
  • Michelin tires
  • Love handles
  • Wrinkles
  • Man boobs
  • Man cans
  • Mental fog
  • Pretzel brains
  • Bagel bowels
  • Biscuit faces
  • Bagel faces
What other than wheat can't you eat on Dr. Davis' Wheat Belly diet?
  • Cornstarch and cornmeal (tacos, tortillas, breakfast cereals, corn chips, corn bread, sauces and gravies thickened with cornstarch)
  • Snack food (potato chips, rice cakes, popcorn)
  • Dessert including cakes, cookies, ice cream, chips, dry roasted peanuts, fruit fillings, granola and granola bars, licorice, nut bars, pies, tortilla chips, trail mix)
  • Rice (all types to less than 1/2 cup per day)
  • Potatoes
  • Legumes (all beans, chickpeas and lentils to less than 1/2 cup per day)
  • Gluten-free food
  • Fruit juices and soft drinks
  • Dried fruits
  • Bulger, kamut, barley, triticale, and rye
  • Quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, millet, oats, amaranth, teff, chia, etc to less than 1/2 cup a day
  • Cured meats (sausages, bacon, hot dogs, salami, deli meats, etc.)
  • Self basting turkey
  • Canned meats
  • Fruit (though you're allowed small amounts - 8-10 blueberries, 2 strawberries, a few wedges of apple or orange - but markedly limit bananas, pineapple, mango, and papaya)
  • Dairy products (cottage cheese, yogurt, milk and butter to no more than 1 or 2 servings daily)
  • Soy products
  • Fried foods
  • Sugary condiments or sweeteners including ketchup, malt vinegar, soy sauce and teriyaki sauce
  • Beer
  • Scotch
  • Wine coolers
  • Vodka
  • Flavoured teas
  • Blue cheese
  • Hydrolyzed and textured vegetable protein
  • Energy, protein and meal replacement bars
  • Veggie burgers and mock meat products
What are you actually allowed to eat on Dr. Davis' Wheat Belly diet?
  • Vegetables
  • Cheese
  • Oil
  • Eggs
  • Raw nuts
  • Uncured Meats
  • Non sugary condiments
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Avocado
  • Olives
  • Coconut
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Raw seeds
  • Herbs and spices

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Saturday Stories: Good Medicine, Oz, and Siberian Solitude

The incomparable Edzard Ernst shares his vision of what constitutes good medicine.

Michael Specter in the New Yorker on whether or not Dr. Oz is doing more harm than good.

Not a happy story, but a fascinating one, of 40 years of actual solitude for one Siberian family.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's my weekly US News and World Report column on why a diagnosis of sleep apnea may be more of a blessing than a curse.]

Friday, February 08, 2013

Bad Lip Reading takes on the NFL

Don't know how to really describe today's Funny Friday video other than just damn funny.

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Guest Post: Will Organized Sport in Childhood Spell the End of Self Directed Adult Exercise?

Two weeks ago I received an extremely kind and thoughtful email from Maureen McVicar, physiotherapist and ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialist with the Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Health in Motion Program in Nova Scotia.

I'll post her email below, but the question she's asking is thought provoking. What she's wondering is whether the rise of organized exercise in childhood and the consequent fall of spontaneous play will lead today's children to have greater difficulty undertaking self-directed exercise as adults?

Looking forward to your thoughts and comments.
Hello Yoni-

I so enjoy your Weighty Matters blog. Met you at NB Heart Symposium in 2011 - your thoughts never cease to intrigue and interest me. I work with an adult population in a cardiac rehab setting. A patient's comment to me yesterday got me thinking. Yesterday, I referred to your blog of Jan 21st during my exercise class cool-down. It stimulated some conversation and one gentleman posed the question of "what happens to all these kids who we shuffle from team sport to team sport when they become adults? Do they even exercise on their own anymore? " It got me thinking about me and my own kids...and about the value of individual play and activity.

I'm wondering if, in your own readings, you have any answer to what happens to those children whose experience with exercise has occured only on a team? Those who have never needed to make a decision on their own about physical activity because their activities are efficiently scheduled by parents months in advance? Are there any studies to suggest that motivation to exercise at a later age may be affected in these cases? Do they have a personal drive to exercise or was the motivation externally driven?

I wonder because I think about myself and my own long-standing personal belief that I would be the world' s best eater if only I had someone come and make the choices for me (and prepare the meals too!). Perhaps same goes for exercise too.

I played on teams as a child, not to the extent that today's kids played on teams. By high school, my studies took precendent and through these years, due to studies and an hour commute to high school, no team sport occurred. Did I exercise? Well, back then I would have said no. Now looking back, I vividly remember that YES I DID!!! Homework after dinner each weeknight was followed by dancing in our rec room to the top 6 at 6pm on the radio (it was '80's after all - you can only imagine the calorie burn). I was totally excceding the exercise guidelines of the day without even knowing it!!! Even now, it's still my preferred mode of exercise. I wonder then that if I had to rely on team sport, would I even find a good option now? Certainly, choices become more limited as I age.

So in the end, I'd be interested what you think. Are we "balancing" our kids enough and giving them an internal drive to be active? Thanks for listening...

Maureen McVicar, PT
ACSM Clinical Exercise Specialist
Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Health in Motion Program, CDHA

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Badvertising: Special K's Newest Campaign Tells Us All The Things Fat People Are Not

Special K's new campaign slogan is simple,
"What will you gain when you lose?"
Then they ask you - the presumably hoping to lose weight reader/eater - to submit your answer in video form, and they also happily provide you with examples.

Looking to their extended campaign video Special K starts off by explaining how since they day we're born we're defined by a number. They then ask, "but is a number inspiring?" while images of weight scales and body fat callipers flash in the background.

Almost makes you think that they're about to say that you can be healthy and happy at any weight.

But of course that wouldn't sell their highly processed cereal.

To do that they need to make you feel bad about yourself.

And to accomplish that the ad goes on to explain all the things you presumably couldn't possibly be if you're fat, because you'll only gain these emotions and beliefs when you lose weight:
If you want to know the dozens of other things you can't feel or believe if you're fat, feel free to head over to their image gallery.

Way to empower women to feel comfortable and proud in their own skin.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Guest Post: Will the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Stand up for its Members?

Photo by Andy Bellatti, taken at the exhibit hall of the 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics FNCE conference
Today's guest posting comes from my friend Andy Bellatti, MS, RD. Andy is a Las Vegas-based registered dietitian with a plant-centric and whole-food focus. His work has been published in Grist, The Huffington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Food Safety News, and Civil Eats, among others. He is as passionate about healthful eating as he is about food politics, deceptive Big Food marketing, and issues of sustainability, animal welfare, and social justice in our food system. He is the creator of the Small Bites blog (which, though now closed, spans five years and 2,000 posts). You can also follow Andy on Twitter and Facebook.

Andy was one of the resources author Michele Simon utilized in the creation of her report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and I invited him to write a guest post covering the response he'd seen to Michele's report. Here's that post:
Michele Simon’s hard-hitting report on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ corporate sponsorship was released last month. National media coverage (see articles in The New York Times, Civil Eats, Grist, and AlterNet) and online buzz soon followed.

Many registered dietitians on social media expressed their support of Simon’s report, as well as their ongoing disappointment with the Academy’s troublesome corporate partnerships. Perhaps more importantly, some RDs stated they were unaware of the insidious implications of such partnerships (many are now considering not renewing their memberships).

As the roar of RDs saying their own organization is diminishing their credential grew louder each day, support for the Academy was minimal; the only evidence of support came by way of an #IStandWithAND Twitter hashtag that consisted mainly of a handful of Academy spokespeople and gained little traction. Many dietitians who have previously spoken out in favor of the Academy were conspicuously absent from the conversation.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics crafted its own response in the form of a letter to RDs that read more like a media statement (and only appeared on the AND website, as opposed to actually being sent to members), penned by president Ethan Bergman and titled “Facts, Opinion and Speculation: Know the Difference as We Inform the Public”. Bergman’s tone-deafness came through loud and clear when he stated, “for the record, I support the Academy’s sponsorship program, as does the Board of Directors and our members.” It is galling – and inaccurate – for Bergman to say all member RDs support the program, when many have expressed their dissent with the organization’s corporate ties for years.

The letter is peppered with vague accusations (such as “factual inaccuracies” in Simon’s report, which are not identified), irrelevant tangents (a reminder to Academy Spokespeople about the importance of disseminating accurate information to the public), and feeble critiques (such as how many of Simon’s references are to the Academy’s own website ).

In short, Mr. Bergman’s response completely avoids any of the issues raised in Michele Simon’s report and, even worse, makes the categorically false claim that all RDs are in favor of the current sponsorship program. What about an independent survey of registered dietitians showing that more than half do not support AND’s ties to Mars and Coca-Cola? Bergman makes no mention of it, instead citing another survey the Academy conducted that concluded dietitians are apparently A-OK being sponsored by Big Food.

This report has clearly been a public relations blemish on the Academy’s reputation – one they would be happy to sweep under the rug. It seems that Simon’s report is already having repercussions. Several RDs are forming a coalition to continue raising these concerns publicly, sharing the statements of current and former Academy members who feel misrepresented by their organization’s corporate ties. Although some groups of RDs within the Academy have been addressing this issue for years and gaining ground, additional outside public pressure is needed to wake the Academy up from its Coca-Cola sponsored slumber.

Please join me for a Twitter chat on this issue this Wednesday (tomorrow) at 9 PM Eastern/6 PM Pacific. Whether you are a dietitian or not, please add your voice to those who demand professional integrity from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Monday, February 04, 2013

McDonald's and their Purchase of Hockey for Canadian 9-10 Year Olds

Thanks to blog reader "J" who sent this my way.

It's atoMc hockey and in the tradition of Hockey Canada selling access to your children (something I blogged about a few months ago), comes McDonald's atoMc hockey.

What do your little bundles of targeting marketing get from McDonald's?

Free hockey jerseys and toques, McDonald's coupons for teams (that almost certainly will be used to reinforce the notion of fast food as a deserved reward for exercise and/or for celebration), a "Golden Moment" jersey, and "more".

Oh, and if you want other corporate logos festooned on your children's jersey, no problem, but no competing sponsors (no other fast food) and,
"The atoMc Hockey, Hockey Canada or Golden Arches logos cannot be obstructed by any other logos"
McDonald's also has 3 hockey superstars helping to hammer home how great they are into your children's young hearts and minds.

Truly brilliant marketing for McDonald's as it ties the incredibly powerful emotions of sport, competition, victory, camaraderie and joy to their restaurants in the minds of 9-10 year olds. How better to foster lifelong brand loyalty, and all for the cost of a jersey.

Guessing too - if your kid happens to be on a team where the coach has decided to apply to join the program, your only recourse if you don't want them exposed or involved is to pull them from the sport. Because of course parents can always "just" say "no".

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Saturday Stories: Death, Manliness, and School Lunch

A sobering and thoughtful piece from the New York Times - "You're Going to Die"

An amazing piece by Brett and Kate McKay on cultivating the "manliness" of our greatest generation (not just for men).

A story out of the Washington Post that has Japan schooling the world in school lunch.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's my weekly US News and World Report column. This week's topic was whether or not it really only takes 21 days to form a habit?]

Friday, February 01, 2013

Baby Laughing Harder Than You've Ever Laughed in Your Life

God bless the little ones of the world. Today's Funny Friday video is pure joy.

Have a great weekend!

(Email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)