Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saturday Stories: Poverty, Eels, and the Marketing of "Gross"

The Guardian covers a recent and incredibly important study on the impact of poverty on individuals.

Buzzfeed with an insane story on Maine's eel wars (yes eels).

Susan Krashinsky in the Globe and Mail covers the marketing power of "gross" foods.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, my US News column this week covers how if guilt and shame helped kids to lose weight, they'd already be skinny]

Friday, August 30, 2013

You Really Ought to Watch This

Sometimes Funny Fridays just aren't funny, and today's one of those.

I'm guessing that many of you will tear up like I did watching this sweet man and his tribute to his wife of 73 years - a song he wrote for her one month after she passed away.

Make sure you tell someone today how much they mean to you because someday you won't be able to, and do yourself a favour, try to squeeze a little extra joy out of your life this weekend.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Guest Post: Book Review - Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters

[Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher]
Today's guest post comes from our office's very own RD Mark McGill.
To start, I’ll disclose that I do not have any children of my own. So when it comes to knowing how to properly feed kids, I have to rely on evidence along with the experiences of those who have children. And like Jill Castle, RD one the authors of “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School” I felt confident that I would know how to feed my child when the time came seeing as I’m a dietitian and studied and worked in pediatric nutrition in the past. But as I read through Fearless Feeding, which is co-authored by Maryann Jacobsen, RD, I realized that I have much to learn and that being a nutrition expert and having some professional experience may not mean as much as I had previously thought when it comes to knowing how to feed children. And although I did not agree with everything presented (more on that later), overall I found this a very useful, informative, evidence-based resource that should be on the bookshelf of any health professional who works with parents or kids.

The authors not only explore what to feed your child but (and more importantly) the why and how which, according to the authors, is often overlooked by parents as they struggle to simply “get healthy foods into their kids, day in and day out.” without thinking about the how or why (p. 13). While what you feed your kids is obviously important to help ensure they are getting all the nutrition they need, to be most effective at raising someone who will know how to eat healthy for a lifetime, parents need to consider how and why they feed their children. Combining all three is what makes up the Fearless Feeding Strategy. According to the authors, this approach will help parents effectively navigate the challenges of feeding kids by creating positive experiences around food. Parents will be able to adapt to difficulties and do so in a positive manner as they better understand why their kids are behaving they way they do when it comes to food (e.g. picky eating is normal for toddlers, growth and appetite slow down during the second year of life). They’ll also learn how to effectively approach feeding their children (e.g. an authoritative style is best while permissive, neglectful and authoritarian styles will likely lead to problems). Authoritative parenting involves “responsiveness to the child, structure and boundaries around mealtime, and respect for the child’s food choices.” (P.24). Parents who follow this style do not worry when their child doesn’t clean their plate or if they ask for seconds. They also don’t make a big deal when their child choose treats such as ice cream or potato chips but offer these types of foods less often. As a result, kids have a more enjoyable view of food, are better able to regulate their intake (something that is inherent to all of us) and are more likely to experience a lifetime of healthy eating habits.

Simply focusing on what is a short-term view; about getting kids to eat healthy today. This can lead to frustration around eating by both parents and kids. Parents may either be too forceful in trying to have their children eat certain foods or give up entirely. As a result, kids view food as being good or bad, have difficulty regulating their intake and tie foods to rewards and feelings, potentially setting them up for a poor relationship with food later in life.

The book is divided up into chapters covering the age groups six to twenty-four months, two to five years, six to twelve years and thirteen to eighteen years which is very handy as you can choose to read only the section that applies to the age of your children or the children you work with in your practice. There are also chapters on common nutrition problems, meal and grocery shopping strategies as well as appendices covering food sources of nutrients, healthy snack ideas, professional resources, and a fruit and veggie list covering domestic peak season, selection, storage, key nutrients and how to prepare.

One of my favourite features is the “Real Life Challenges” that appear at the end of each chapter which put information presented into practice. Each case is broken down by challenge e.g. Lee Anne, who had an overweight son, a picky daughter and was making three different meals, diagnosis: Lee Anne was a short order cook, intervention: encouraging Lee Anne to be authoritative, set the menu, keep it simple and make only one meal, and outcome: Lee Anne saved time by planning only one meal (p.178). Meal-time myths are also explored at the end of each case.

I was also thoroughly impressed with the recipes presented at the end of each chapter. Why? For one, the toddler and preschooler recipes offer variations e.g. the Pumpkin French Toast (p. 128) that suggests transitioning from a plain version to one with pumpkin for selective eaters. There’s also a “Little Helpers” tip suggesting that the child crack the egg and measure the ingredients. Getting kids involved in meal preparation can help them make healthier food choices. Finally, the “Daily Dialogue” suggests how to respond to questions from the child e.g. “Why are you adding pumpkin, Dad?” “It’s fun to try new foods when you cook.”

As for what I didn’t agree with, the list is short. The Fearless Food Guide (the what) stresses balance and acceptance of all foods (I fully support that). It puts foods into three categories:
  1. Nourishing Foods - that are meant to be given daily and throughout the day. Examples: vegetables and fruits, whole-grains, lean meats, healthy fats and low-fat dairy. 
  2. Half-and-Half Foods – offered daily or weekly but not as often as nourishing foods. Examples include fruit and vegetable juices, refined grains, full fat dairy, fatty meats and animal fats. 
  3. Fun Foods – offered least often and made up of sweets, salty snacks. 
Nourishing and half-and-half foods should make up ~90% of the diet, while the fun foods make up the remaining 10%.

I’m not okay that fruit juice, vegetable juice and refined grains be offered on a daily basis. Giving kids the equivalent of flat soda (fruit juice), sodium-laden vegetable juice and white bread has no nutritional value. Besides the sugar and salt, you’re missing out on a very important nutrient by offering kids these foods: fibre. It would have been better if these foods took up company in the fun foods category as offering them as frequently as the authors suggest may result in kids accepting them as healthy foods and consuming them more often than they should.

I also do not agree with the idea that you should not hide healthy foods you want your child to eat in foods that they already enjoy and accept. The authors reasoning is that the child will almost always find out and may feel betrayed and not trust the parents. Perhaps. There was a study done by Spill et al. that found covertly adding vegetables to 3-5 year olds meals significantly increased their consumption. That being said, the authors of the study note that hiding vegetables should not be the only way vegetables are provided to children so I'd recommend doing both!

Bottom line: If you do have kids or work with them and/or their parents, do yourself a favour and get a copy of this book!
As with all positive reviews here - if you'd like to purchase a copy, you can do so by means of this Amazon Associates link.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Predict Gary Taubes' NuSi's First Experiment Will Show Dramatic Low-Carb Benefits

Because that's exactly what it appears it's designed to do.

Taubes lays out the experiment in his recent NuSi promoting Scientific American piece. He's going to take 16 individuals with overweight and obesity and house them in a research facility so as to ensure careful and total control over their dietary intake. Next he'll feed them a diet that's 50% carbs, 35% fat and 15% protein. He'll then tweak calorie intake until subjects are neither gaining or losing weight. Once weight stable he's going to pull the carbs out from under their feet and drop the 50% carbs in their diets down to 5% but will do so while keeping calories entirely stable.

And here's Taubes' description of the implications of his study design,
"In this case, if fat accumulation is primarily driven by an energy imbalance, these subjects should neither lose nor gain weight because they will be eating precisely as many calories as they are expending. Such a result would support the conventional wisdom—that a calorie is a calorie whether it comes from fat, carbohydrate or protein. If, on the other hand, the macronutrient composition affects fat accumulation, then these subjects should lose both weight and fat on the carbohydrate-restricted regime and their energy expenditure should increase, supporting the idea that a calorie of carbohydrate is more fattening than one from protein or fat, presumably because of the effect on insulin."
I'll get to why in just a second, but I predict they'll all lose between 6-20 pounds in the first 2 weeks of a diet consisting of 5% carbs following a step down from one that consisted of 50% despite the fact calories will remain constant. I also imagine that the experiment won't last much longer than the time it'll take for them to lose that weight as most folks don't have the time/luxury of spending months and months in a metabolic ward.

So why will they lose so much weight while calories are kept stable? Won't that indeed confirm Taubes' hypothesis is right on the money?

Not exactly. No doubt some of their losses may well be consequent to the fact that there are differences in what I'll broadly describe as the bioavailable calories of different foods and macronutrients - and so indeed, Taubes may well demonstrate that calories in and calories out is a far from perfect equation (though that's not exactly news), but the bulk of their losses will be consequent to the fact that during the low-carb phase these individuals will burn through their bodies' natural carb stores, their glycogen, and in so doing they'll liberate all the water stored with it.

Depending on your source and each body's level of training, by weight glycogen is responsible for 1-4% of muscle weight in an individual with fully stocked stores (as the study subjects' here will given their 50% carb loading diets). Every gram of glycogen in turn also carries with it near 3 grams of water and if you lose the glycogen, you'll lose the water too. Folks with obesity carry a great deal of muscle. According to friend and author Brad Pilon, in his work he'd found those with obesity to sometimes have a full standard deviation more lean mass than he'd have predicted and regularly carried with them 100lbs of muscle (especially taller men). That's consistent with my findings here in my office and also passes McMaster Professor Stuart Phillips' sniff test. Consequently this study subjects' muscles' glycogen stores will weigh somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1-4lbs. Add in the water associated with those pounds and now we're talking 4-16lbs that will be rapidly mobilized when carbs are cut (and even more if the deck is super-stacked by only including men with class II or higher levels of obesity). They'll also have liver glycogen stores of between 50-150 grams which when lost along with associated water, will drop them an additional 0.5-1.25lbs. Couple those losses with the tiny bit extra you might expect consequent to the differing thermic effects of food and I'd bet, in total, losses will range between 6-20lbs despite the fact total calories won't have changed.

I'd bet too that there's a great chance this will be a crossover study (or one will soon follow) where Taubes will show us his subjects' massive and total regains when carbs are reintroduced (and glycogen and water reaccumulate) as that will certainly appear to support his hypothesis. Subjects may even gain back more as some papers suggest glycogen starved muscles are able to acutely store larger amounts of glycogen following a carb reintroduction.

I imagine glycogen will be mentioned in the study's discussion section, how could it not be, but what do you think the headlines are going to focus on when the findings that keeping calories constant in a metabolic ward setting but dropping carbs led to massive weight loss are published? Do you think the press will appreciate the result is entirely expected and hence perhaps not even newsworthy?

If simply cutting carbs was a sustainable, enjoyable, and consequently realistic, strategy for the masses, the world would already be slim as it's been down the low-carb road plenty of times before, and I'm unclear on how this particular study is going to do anything other than confirm something we already know to be true.

Lastly, I must as always point out, I'm not anti-low carb. I don't think low-carb is unsafe. I do think low-carb helps many with weight loss. And I do think society's increased reliance on heavily processed carbs has been a contributor to its growing weight. But I also think that low-carb diets have proven themselves to be difficult for many to sustain and consequently that low-carb diets are far from a realistically applicable global panacea for the problem at hand.

Taubes has rightly raged against the damage done by the oversimplified application of calories-in-calories-out, which is why I find it so confusing that he seems to be championing the equally oversimplified message of, to paraphrase, it's the carbs stupid.

[UPDATE: A source who wishes to remain anonymous has informed me the study's formal primary endpoint will be energy expenditure and the secondary endpoint changes in fat mass.]

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Understanding Nutrition Is About More Than Simply Knowing How To Eat

A few weeks ago National Post columnist Jonathan Kay wrote a 1661 word polemic extolling the wonderful foods available at McDonald's.

Apparently, Kay, inspired by David Freedman's Atlantic piece on how junk food will beat obesity, downloaded an app that provided him with the calorie counts of McDonald's menu items, and armed with the app he headed out to McDonald's and interviewed McDonald's Director of Menu Management - Anne Parks.

Besides suggesting that anyone who thinks we eat fast and processed foods too frequently are, "food elitists" and "culinary snobs", Kay's thesis apparently is that with careful tweaking and rejigging of ordered items via the app, something that may lead you to be, according to him, "one of those “When Harry Met Sally" types who hold up the line with instructions and substitutions", you too can shave calories and fat off of your order.

Having been at a McDonald's myself 2 weeks ago in New York (they've got that great free wifi, and admittedly, I'm a sucker for their Egg McMuffins), the line at each of the 6 cashes was over 8 people deep. People were in a rush and clearly it's not called fast food for nothing. I'd argue with Mr. Kay that it would only be a "food elitist" who would think that the folks in that line should, could or would use an app to fine tune their orders to non-standard specifications as special orders take much longer to receive. I guess what I'm saying is that just because something is theoretically possible does not necessarily make it theoretically plausible.

Moreover, it would appear from the text of Kay's piece that even those in the possession of this wondrous app aren't able to use the information they're being given to evaluate their choices or understand purchasing behaviour.

Kay first talks of the existence of salads on McDonald's menu as evidence of how McDonald's "walks the nutritional walk". Of those salads, while some indeed are low in calories and sodium, others, when combined with dressing, have more calories than a Big Mac and nearly a full day's 1,500mg recommendation of sodium. Of course suggesting restaurants are healthy simply consequent to the availability of salads forgets the question of whether or not people actually order them. The answer would be not so much as McDonald's recently reported that salads make up just 2% of sales, and go figure, here again we're talking about a fast food restaurant. I can likely down a Big Mac in under 90 seconds and can do so on the run, but a salad's going to take a great deal longer, and require me to sit down and pull up a chair.

Next Kay waxes nostalgic about McDonald's fruit smoothies which according to him,
"taste remarkably similar to the ones I make at home from scratch."
He goes further and states,
"The McCafĂ©’s Blueberry Pomegranate variety is particularly impressive, because it contains no sweetener beyond fruit juice."
That statement demonstrates Kay really isn't clear on this whole nutrition thing, or that his app isn't helping him as much as he thinks. Looking at the Blueberry Pomegranate's ingredients reveals quite a lot of sugar (I've bolded each added sugar addition for ease of reading), both in the smoothie base and in the low fat yogurt added to it
Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie Fruit Base: Blueberry puree, water, clarified demineralized pineapple juice concentrate, raspberry puree, apple juice concentrate, pomegranate juice concentrate, natural (botanical) and artificial flavours, cellulose powder, peach juice concentrate, pear juice concentrate, citric acid, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum, pectin, dimethylpolysiloxane, natural colour (fruit and vegetable juice).

Low fat yogurt for Smoothies: Partly skimmed milk, sugar, milk protein concentrate, modified corn starch, bacterial
If Kay were more familiar with nutrition I imagine he would know that when you boil off all the liquid of fruit juice and concentrate it, you're left with plain old sugar. A lot of sugar in fact in the case of these smoothies, with sugar accounting for 88% of their calories. How much sugar? Even if you forgo the yogurt in your smoothie, a so-called "snack" size Blueberry Pomegranate smoothie contains 7.25 teaspoons of sugar, a small - 11.75tsp, a medium - 14.75tsp, and a large - 18.25tsp. For comparison, a Mars bar contains as much sugar as the "snack" sized Blueberry Pomegranate smoothie, while the large has sugar just shy of that which you'd find in 750mL of Coca-Cola (or that of nearly 3 Mars bars).

Mr. Kay, while I realize a correction is never going to happen I beg you, before doing another nutrition piece, maybe also run it by someone with a background in nutrition who doesn't in fact have a massive conflict of interest regarding the topic at hand?

(For my take on Freedman's thesis of fast food saving the world and why I think health-halos might get in the way, you can read my piece on US News and World Report's Eat and Run site)

Monday, August 26, 2013

What's a More Pressing Public Health Concern? Vitamin D Deficiency or Sugar Overconsumption?

Sure seems like it's a pretty clear cut answer to me.

But apparently it's not so clear cut for Health Canada.

You see Health Canada has recently approved the discretionary fortification of cereals with vitamin D. Their thinking is that because many Canadians aren't getting sufficient vitamin D, rather than encourage the consumption of terrifically inexpensive vitamin D supplements, that it'd be wiser to allow the food industry to, at their discretion, fortify cereals with it - and sell cereals with it too as its inclusion will undoubtedly lead to front-of-package and commercial marketing of those fortified cereals as good for you (just like you see on the top of that box featured up above).

And while you might think, hey, what's the harm in that, Health Canada, in their infinite wisdom, has decided to allow Kellogg to fortify Krave, Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Corn Pops with vitamin D.

Brilliance there - let's give kids and parents more reason to serve themselves big bowls of sugar for breakfast. Oops, pardon me, big bowls of vitamin D fortified sugar, leading me to quote for the Toronto Star on the matter, "Putting nutritional lipstick on a nutritional pig does not make that pig pretty".

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday Stories - Extended Edition (too many to list)

Cardiologist Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum with a thoughtful piece in the Atlantic on why she thinks improved resident doctor's sleeping did not improve patient care.

Valeena Elizabeth Beety with a scholarly piece in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice on weight bias in the courtroom.

An amazingly candid and hard hitting piece from super model Carre Otis on what life as a model was like for her.

A quick but useful read by prolific strength and conditioning specialist Lou Schuler with basic starting advice for anyone involved in or considering weight lifting.

If you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's this week's US News and World Report piece on the incredible arrogance of thinking "natural" means "good.

Almost lastly, here's my segment with the BBC series The Men Who Made Us Thin - here we discuss how exercise does not in and of itself tend to lead to weight loss as well as the food industry's sponsorship of sport (I come on a minute or two into the clip).

......and finally here's a bonus video of my friend Dick Talens, the founder of Fitocarcy talking about how it came to be on Small Empires (true story - I laughed out loud at the 11:59 mark or so)

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Two Oddest Movie Star Interviews I've Ever Seen

They're today's Funny Friday and they come via the BBC, a young, charmingly awkward man named Chris Stark, and both Mila Kunis and Jennifer Aniston.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

GoodLife Fitness Says Partnership with Dare Cookies Won't Help Dare Sell Cookies

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

So after I blogged about the contradictory message of Canada's largest national fitness club promoting the purchase of Dare cookies by bundling a 14d free membership with them, Dr. Tim Moran, a medical resident here in Ottawa, decided to write to them,
"Dear Goodlife,

I recently read Goodlife is partnering with Dare Cookies. As a physician I am quite troubled by this strange relationship with Dare cookies given Goodlife espouses to promotes a healthy lifestyle. I am in fact so troubled by this campaign that I am seriously contemplating cancelling my membership, Moreover, I could not in good conscience recommend Goodlife given this corporate partnership with Dare. I look forward to your reply in this matter.

Regards, Timothy Moran MD PhD
They were kind enough to write him back. In their reply they pointed out that the partnership's intention isn't in fact meant to sell cookies, but rather to help those people who eat cookies as apparently GoodLife Fitness thinks that people who eat Dare cookies could probably stand to join a gym,
"Dear Dr. Moran,

Thank you for your email message and your concern in the partnership with Dare Cookies. I can understand your concern upon reading such information. There is a partnership in place but not in the aspect you might assume. The partnership is not to promote the cookies but the importance of physical fitness directed towards those who might consume the cookies. On certain types of cookies there will be an offer for a 14 day trial membership to encourage those to attend a facility.

I hope this explanation will help ease your mind in Goodlife's intentions.

Should you have any additional questions or concerns please feel free to contact us.

Yours In Fitness,

Member Experience Department
So I set out yesterday to find a co-branded package of cookies and when I came up short (couldn't find any in our local supermarket), I tried a Google search.

While I haven't yet found the package, I did find the graphic up above. It was posted on GoodLife Fitness' official blog and, I kid you not, it was part of a blog post from August 6th which's headline read,
"Looking to beat the summer heat? Why not try this cool, wholesome summer treat!"
And what's the, "wholesome", summer treat being promoted by Goodlife Fitness?

A Dare cookie frozen yogurt sandwich, and, according to GoodLife Fitness, while it formally requires 2 Dare cookies to make it may also require,
"a few extras for tasting"
Oh, and GoodLife Fitness also provides this helpful advice,
"Looking to try other Simple Pleasures cookie flavours? There are 8 in total, all baked with 10 (or less!) simple and familiar ingredients. Choices include Oatmeal, Oatmeal Dark Chocolate, Social Tea, Chocolate Thins, Spice Snaps, Cinnamon Snaps, and Almond flavour.

At GoodLife Fitness, we encourage Canadians to live fit and healthy lives which includes a balanced approach to nutrition. This might include having a cookie after playing with your kids. Through our cross promotion with Dare, we are partnered with their Digestive Cookies.
And lastly - I must point out that the blog tags included on this post were, "Healthy Living", and "Nutrition".

Does this all ease all of your minds about GoodLife's intentions not to sell cookies?

[Thanks for sharing Tim! Good luck with the rest of your residency.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Can Jamie Oliver, England's Prince of School Lunches, Fix Canadian Supermarket Sobeys?

A press release last week reported that celebrity chef and food activist Jamie Oliver, champion of school lunch reforms, signed a partnership with Canadian supermarket Sobeys to,
"educate, inspire and empower Canadians to eat better"
I suppose the good news for Jamie is that the only way left to go it would seem is up.

Have a gander up above at last week's Sobey's flyer that highlighted what they referred to as, "lunchbox favourites". Sure there are a few cans of fish, but then there's piles of salty white pasta, bags of actual candy, and a fruit drink.

Page 2 wasn't any better and features processed cheese, frozen waffles, cookies, chips, sugar spiked yogurt, pudding and more candy.

Fingers crossed for you Jamie!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Coca-Cola's New Anti-Obesity Ad Provides Truly Valuable Advice (No Kidding!)

Thanks to blog reader and exercise specialist Mike Wigger for sending along the latest in Coca-Cola's anti-obesity ad campaign. It's a commercial called, "Grandpa", and in it they juxtapose Grandpa's then life (which according to Coca-Cola included more walking, smaller meals, biking to work, snacking on fruit, taking the stairs, enjoying the outdoors, homemade meals, eating at the dinner table) with his grandson's now life.

And of course the commonality between Grandpa and his grandson's lives in the advertisement is that Grandpa apparently also enjoyed Coca-Cola with the clear implication being that it's all those other things, not the consumption of Coca-Cola, that a person ought to change if they want to enjoy the same weight and health as Gramps.

But is Grandpa's Coca-Cola the same as your Coca-Cola? Not on your life and so I produced a video to explain what I mean and why it is that I in fact totally agree with Coca-Cola's latest message that we should try to live like Grandpa (and yes, I know my collar looks funny).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Beloved Pre-School Literary Character Teaches My 4 Year Old Fat Hatred

So I was putting my four year old to bed two nights ago. We were reading Kevin Henkes' Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. It's the one where Lilly adores her teacher Mr. Slinger, but when Mr. Slinger doesn't let her show off what she brought for show and tell, she gets mad.

And when she gets mad she draws an angry portrait of the teacher and leaves it for him.

That's the portrait up above. As you can see, in it she draws Mr. Slinger as fat, wielding both the image and the word as purposeful insults given that Mr. Slinger in the rest of the book is thin. Fat Mr. Slinger is also described as "mean", and "bad", and is portrayed as monstrous.

You know studies have shown that children as young as 3 discriminate against those with obesity. Given the pervasiveness of anti-fat bias in children's books and movies (this weekend we also saw/heard fat wielded as an insult in Despicable Me 2 and The Croods), and society as a whole, I'm betting it's a learned trait, not an intrinsic one.

(Needless to say, that page got modified during the read and the book has somehow disappeared from my daughter's library)

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Star Studded Total Eclipse of the Heart

This week's Funny Friday - 18 of your favourite female performers belting out Total Eclipse of the Heart....and all coming from one talented impressionist.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Biggest Loser Pediatrician Joanna Dolgoff Still Misinforming Nation Regarding Childhood Obesity

On The Biggest Loser, pediatrician Dr. Joanna Dolgoff promoted weight losses so rapid that prior to her involvement with the Biggest Loser she herself had cautioned they were unhealthy, and while thankfully there are no kids on The Biggest Loser's upcoming Fall season, that isn't stopping her from using her influential platform to further misinform a nation about childhood obesity.

Her current project is called, "Rally for Recess", and it's a Dannon initiative designed to increase the sale of three of their products - Danimals Smoothies, Danimals Crunchers and Dan-o-nino drinks. It's charitable healthwashing in that with every product purchased schools, parents and kids are encouraged to mail their labels into Dannon and the school sending in the most is awarded a $30,000 playground makeover.

So what are these products?

Here are some photos:

Before I get into their nutritional breakdowns, for perspective, I want you to know that the percentage of calories coming from sugar in Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream clocks in at 41%. These products? Of the Danimals Cruncher's 120 calories, 60% of them come from its 4.5 teaspoons of sugar, of the Danimals Smoothie's 60 calories, 66% of them come from its 2.5 teaspoons of sugar (crammed into a serving that's barely larger than a third of a cup with nary a raspberry to be found in its ingredient list), while Dan-o-nino drinks' see an astonishing 80% of their 70 calories coming from their 3.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Of course Dannon's Rally for Recess is a brilliant move for Dannon. It directly encourages the consumption of their products in the name of charity, and by tying it to physical activity and school recess the program perpetuates the myth that childhood obesity is a consequence of inactivity and that childhood obesity can be treated or prevented by means of kids just running around a little bit more. In turn that may lead parents to not notice (or not care) that the yogurt based sugar-spiked desserts they're feeding their kids have a substantially greater percentage of calories coming from sugar than does Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream.

And what of recess? A wonderfully objective 4 year study that utilized accelerometers to measure kids' actual activity levels found that even a ten fold difference in physical activity did not protect against obesity.

So what did Dr. Dolgoff have to say about Dannon's products and physical activity in regard to childhood obesity? The "sponsored by Dannon" TV news segment (embedded below) opens with scary childhood obesity statistics, and then a direct tie to decreased physical activity, and then to Dr. Dolgoff who explains that she's teamed up with Dannon because kids weren't getting much P/E at school so she's championing their rally for recess campaign. She doesn't mention that energy intake matters far more than energy output when it comes to childhood obesity. In fact her only real mention of intake involved her pointing out how committed Dannon is to kids that they've quietly cut the sugar in their product lines (apparently they were 25% worse before), and that,
"Dannon is very committed to the health and wellness of kids"
Because what could be healthier than yogurt desserts with chocolate candies or drinks where 80% of their calories come from sugar, or an expert physician spokesperson supporting a marketing initiative that by its very nature encourages those products' excess consumption, or that same expert physician helping to perpetuate the myth that childhood obesity and inactivity are tightly linked and that the problem, or the solution, lies with more recess or simple play?

I'm all for kids running around more, and I'm all for more recess, but to infer simple running around will help with childhood obesity (or that not running around led to childhood obesity) and to help to sell kids and parents dessert as a healthy snack isn't something I would expect from a pediatrician whose specialty is childhood obesity.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The American College of Cardiology's Torrid New Love Affair with Coca-Cola

The mind boggles.

Last month in Forbes Larry Husten detailed how according to the American College of Cardiology's (ACC) Board of Trustees, Coca-Cola and, "its brand fit with the ACC's goals and values", and later how the ACC has tapped Coca-Cola to pay for ACC branded educational programs for its members. Well guess what? Now the ACC is foisting its love affair with Coca-Cola on young families.

Above is a screen capture from the ACC's Cardio Smart page highlighting their promotion of, "Coca-Cola Family Field Day". The event description notes a non-surprising focus on physical activity, and also notes that a Coca-Cola Open Happiness Truck will be in attendance.

Don't know what an Open Happiness Truck is? Here's a video of one such truck in Asia.

But even if the ACC hosted and promoted event didn't have a truck handing out Coca-Cola to children and tying Coca-Cola's brand and beverages to happiness, sport, and by extension of the ACC's involvement, health, have a peek at what else the ACC is promoting by taking a look at the banner just below the Family Field Day description.

That banner, stating, "Balancing Calories with Physical Activity. What is Weighing Us Down? Calorie Imbalance Impacts Us All" when clicked, takes you directly to an ACC hosted, but Coca-Cola designed, infographic. An infographic that anyone who took a moment's time to consider it was able to see right through - including Alanna Nunez from Shape Magazine who had this to say,
"As part of its "Coming Together" campaign, a program that aims to help consumers and their families make smarter choices, Coca-Cola just released a new infographic that blames the obesity epidemic on chicken dishes, bread, and grain-based desserts (while conveniently omitting the fact that the No. 4 source of calories in the standard American diet comes from soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks).

The graphic also highlights the old, outdated idea that "calories in" versus "calories out" equals weight loss...while ignoring that not all calories are created equal. After all, 400 calories of pizza or soda is different than a 400-calorie sandwich made from lean turkey, avocado slices, tomatoes, and whole-grain bread.
The venerable and lovely Marion Nestle also took this infographic to task on her blog,
"The infographic gives no guidance about food choices or amounts best for health, but it is quite specific about physical activity. Do lots!

Overall, I read the infographic as saying “Hey, it’s not our sugar-water that’s making you put on weight. It’s up to you to choose what you drink and work it off with physical activity.”

Getting active is always good advice, but doesn’t Coke’s phenomenally comprehensive and astronomically expensive marketing offensive have anything to do with food choices? Coke must think all that is irrelevant.

I think it’s quite relevant. And so does the research.
And so here we have a family day where the ACC actively polishes Coca-Cola's image, is directly involved in the distribution of Coca-Cola's products, and where Coca-Cola's own blatantly self-serving and self-exonerating infographic is being presented to readers as a formal ACC educational aid.

So what's going to happen on "Family Field Day"? Probably something akin to what happened on the ACC and Coca-Cola's springtime "Family Track Walk" - a video of which the ACC has posted. Keep your eyes open for the Coca-Cola products (including those being consumed by children) and consider the emotional branding opportunities this collaboration provided Coca-Cola in terms of joy, health, and happiness.

Anyone want to take a guess as to why the ACC would partner with Coca-Cola?

Yup, dollars, plain and simple.

Here's the immediate past ACC Board of Governors Chair Dr. Dipti Itchhaporia and current chair Dr. David May with their ACC posted video that expresses their and the ACC's extreme gratitude to Coca-Cola's coffers:

You know I've got nothing against Coca-Cola aggressively promoting its brand, that's the nature of a free market, I just can't fathom how Drs. May and Itchhaporia sleep at night knowing they're leading the ACC, and by extension all of its members, in helping Coca-Cola to do so.

Any ACC members there care to weigh in our this? Do the ends justify the means? Would love to hear what you (and everyone else) has to say.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Your Eyes Aren't Trustworthy!

Today a quick video I made this past weekend.

See that glass up there beside the wine bottle?

Here's another view of it beside one of our usual wine glasses.

And here it is full.

The lesson to be learned here - as predators our eyes are designed to catch moving objects, but not to weigh or measure them.

Don't believe me? Then watch the video.

Bottom line - if you're trying to watch consumption, don't expect your eyeballs to help.

[And a special thank you to the patient who so kindly brought me the glass]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Will Cookie Monster's Latest Video Reinforce Weight Bias?

“Me get this feeling when me see a cookie on a plate.
Me want to grab it but to eat it, oh me no can wait.
But now me know that self control is something me must learn.
Me want to grab it but to it, but me wait.
Me want it.
But me wait.”
Those are the first lines of the new Sesame Street Cookie Monster musical video that according to Sesame Street is about teaching pre-schoolers about delayed gratification and "self-regulation".

Are pre-schoolers really a population who should be thinking about "self-regulation"?

Having been through 3 of my own pre-schoolers I'm dubious that there's a pre-schooler on the planet who will learn to "self-regulate" treat consumption consequent to this video (and let's be fair here too, despite being on film Cookie Monster himself only holds out for 2 minutes and 46 seconds), however I do think plenty will learn that those who can't resist cookies lack self control.

I worry a little bit about that last message as no doubt society will teach them that that's exactly why people are fat - too many cookies and other treats and by extension, lots of wanting it but little waiting, aka gluttony (a message I've seen taught in many G rated cartoons and movies).

So I can't help but wonder whether this video will serve as further cement for future schoolyard weight bullies' unconscious drivers.

Or maybe I'm just way too keyed into this stuff.

You can be the judge:

[Hat tip to author Ann Douglas for pointing my way]

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Friday, August 09, 2013

Ever Struggle To Open Something?

Sitting in the green room with me a few days ago was a ridiculously ripped young man named Christopher. I asked him what his segment was about (thinking it was probably something fitness related) and his response was, "you won't believe it".

Of course I did believe it because the second he started telling me his story, I jumped in to tell him I'd already seen his video - and that I'd already tee'd it up for my week's Funny Friday video!

I should note too, him saying I wouldn't believe it wasn't in reference to what you'll see on the video, but rather to the amazing virality of the clip (the ad laden version that I did not embed below is now up near a million views) leading him to The Today Show. I'd also like to speculate, it must have been a gag bottle as there is not a chance that the bottle in the video below wasn't rigged, and while the joke might have been on Christopher, he sure has had a rapid ride into the spotlight as a consequence.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers you'll need to head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Airplane Pretzels - Just Say No!

So yesterday I had the exciting pleasure of appearing as a guest on The Today Show.

On my flights to New York City and back, almost immediately after takeoff the stewards walked down the centre aisle and placed a package of pretzels in front of every passenger prior to asking them for their drink order.

Unlike with the drinks, they didn't ask anyone if they wanted the pretzels, and if you didn't want them, you literally had to hand them back.

No one did, and looking around me I noticed everyone ate theirs.

I opened mine up and tasted one.

Let's just say it was not a party in my mouth.

Honestly the only possible reasons that I could imagine why anyone was eating those things were the simple facts that: A) They were there, and B) Others were doing so (I felt kind of like I was in a Brian Wansink mindless eating study).

Nutritionally they're not much more exciting than they tasted.

Not particularly high in calories at just 60 for the entire teeny-tiny bag, but somehow those scant half ounce of pretzels pack 200mg of sodium coating on their pulverized white flour, spackled with artificial butter flavour, cores.

Next time you're offered these salty, wastes of calories, just say no!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Tomorrow 170 Children's Hospitals Will Sell Millions of Dairy Queen Blizzards

So ridiculous.

Tomorrow is, "DQ Miracle Treat Day", the day where $1 from every Blizzard sold is divvied up via the Children's Miracle Network to the 170 Children's Hospitals it represents (here in Canada it's 100% of the proceeds).

Again, while I'm not knocking Dairy Queen for the event (it makes great business sense), nor am I knocking Blizzards (I'm told they're delicious), what I am knocking are the hospital foundations and administrators who feel that money makes the further normalization and permission of sugar bomb consumption worthwhile. No doubt too events like these help to improve brand loyalty and may well create new customers out of those who, enticed by the charity health-washing, decide to give a Blizzard a whirl.

For those of you keeping score the least damaging Blizzard you can buy (in terms of calories and sugar) is the Mini sized Choco Cherry Love Blizzard. It has 320 calories and 11 teaspoons of sugar. The worst is the large Rolo Blizzard which packs 1,350 calories along with closing in on a cup of sugar (41 teaspoons). The average medium sized Blizzard hits with 800 calories and over a half a cup of sugar.

Seems to me that the "Miracle" here is that junk food has become so normalized (in part due to partnerships like this one) that virtually no one bats even a single eyelash at how obscenely hypocritical these partnerships are.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Why Is GoodLife Fitness, Canada's Largest Fitness Chain, Selling Cookies?

So GoodLife Fitness has decided to partner with Dare Foods whereby if you buy a package of Dare Foods' Simple Pleasure cookies, you get a free 14 day membership to GoodLife Fitness.

As Bryan Brown rightly pointed out on Twitter, there are so many healthier products than cookies for GoodLife to partner with. Which of course is all fine and good, but does beg the question whether or not helping to sell cookies is included in GoodLife's mandate of helping Canadians to live a "fit and healthy good life"

Seems to me we as a nation we could probably use fewer reasons to buy cookies, not more, and that an outfit purported to care about health would know that.

Monday, August 05, 2013

More Evidence It's Not Just Restaurants Where Portions Have Grown

Reminiscent of the work of Brian Wansink and Collin Payne who showed that those few recipes that found in every edition of the Joy of Cooking from 1936 through 2006 grew with time, here's a group from Denmark who've gone and done the same with seminal Danish cookbook "Food" with editions from 1909 through 2009.

What'd they find?
"The mean portion size in calories from a composed homemade meal increased by 77%. The mean portion size in calories from meat increased by 27%, starchy products increased by 148%, vegetables increased by 37% and sauce increased by 47% throughout the years."
Well at least they're eating more vegetables....

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Saturday Stories: White Men Talking, Hubris, Ants and Afghanistan

A great piece from Salon and Erika Nicole Kendall on how arguing about whole foods vs. processed forgets about poverty.

Cardiologist John Mandrola on how we doctors need to get over ourselves.

Do you love chocolate? Well get prepared to hate ants.
(by Ed Yong)

An astounding glimpse into what was Afghanistan in the 1960s, before the wars and before theocracies.

And just a housekeeping note - I've just switched RSS and email feed servers to Feedblitz. Seems like everything's working fine, but if you run into any difficulties, please let me know - yonifreedhoff over at

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, this week in US News and World Report I tackle night eating.]

Friday, August 02, 2013

True Facts About the Tarsier

God bless Ze Frank.

Today's Funny Friday video is Frank's ode to the tarsier.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, August 01, 2013

What's Your Most Valuable Relationship?

I love my wife.

We've been married now for 11 years, have 3 wonderful children, and I'm regularly and truly awed by what a tremendous human being, mother and wife she is.

But that doesn't mean we never fight.

We probably fought more often at the beginning of our marriage than now. Usually our fights are better described as disagreements and more often than not they last just the course of a heated discussion. Sometimes however, they last an evening. And on extremely rare occasions, they've been lengthier, weeks even, with the impact of our frustrations interfering with the very nature of our relationship and causing us to take real steps backwards.

Eventually though, we find our way back together.

Now if we'd decided to throw in the towel after our first major blowout (which if my memory serves believe it or not somehow began with us arguing over how to install an in-window air conditioner), we'd have been done our first year in. But the reason we haven't thrown in the towel when times have been tough is because we consider our marriage and one another to be tremendously valuable and worth working on in times of need.

I'm guessing you're seeing where I'm going with this.

Living healthfully is tremendously valuable too, and like a marriage, it's a long term commitment. It may be more difficult that first year or two as you truly get to know one another. There are going to be regular ups and downs and out of the blue fights and disappointments. And some of those fights might well last week or months leading you to slide back to towards less healthful living, but if health is something you value, you're going to need to work on it, to nurture it, and sometimes, especially after a major blowout, it may require very slow, gentle, purposeful baby steps, before you find your way back.