Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB All Apparently Endorse a Chocolate Bar


I gave a talk last month at a national conference of personal trainers. In my goody-bag was this Gatorade protein bar.

Its packaging explicitly told me that it contained, "protein to help muscles recover", and the bar itself was named a "Recover" bar.

Turning it over I discovered it sported the logos of the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and the MLB.

Putting it all together I couldn't help but consider how a kid faced with this bar would react. Powerful claims, a trusted (albeit undeservedly) brand, and then the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB's blessings? That's some golden marketing right there.

Curious I wanted to learn more about what was in it.

When I turned the bar over at first I couldn't find a nutrition facts panel. But it was there, it's just that it was hidden under the fold of the packaging at the back of the bar.

When I folded it up I discovered that along with the 20g of protein the bar contained came 7.5 teaspoons of sugar and 360 calories. That's a half a teaspoon more sugar and 30% more calories than a Snickers bar.

As I noted in the brief video I posted on Facebook, kids don't stand a chance.

Monday, August 29, 2016

NYC Dept. of Health Says 2 Mins of Stair Climbing Prevents Weight Gain?!

Of all the Departments of Health out there, I wouldn't have expected this from New York City's.

It's a poster that they're producing and promoting that's meant to inspire stair climbing.

While there's little doubt that stair climbing is good for you, telling people that doing so for 2 minutes per day will help to prevent weight gain dumbs down the purpose and benefits of exercise to calorie burning, and worse, infers exercise, even small bits of it (like 2 minutes of stair climbing), burns boatloads of calories.

And if you believe exercise burns boatloads of calories you may be more likely to struggle with weight, just as this study, Lay theories of obesity predict actual body mass, found when looking at people's inherent beliefs around the root cause of weight gain.

The study went further to infer that believing exercise is the key driver of weight led to a greater consumption of chocolates in an experimental condition.

As far as the prevention of weight gain goes, one recent study concluded 60 minutes of daily exercise is required.

2 minutes of stair climbing? If we're talking calories, that 2 minutes will see you burning a mere 20-30. 20-30 calories? That's 2 potato chips worth (plain Ruffles).

Friday, August 26, 2016

Even A**holes Can Save a Life

Today's Funny Friday video is an amazing PSA in support of organ donation.

Are you a donor? If not, maybe that could be your project for the day?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

In The Lancet, Kevin Hall and I Call Out Weight Loss Studies

Today my piece with the NIH's Kevin Hall was published in The Lancet. The piece, reproduced below, speaks to the lack of clinical utility of large swaths of the weight loss literature and suggests an alternative direction to consider with future studies.

Weight loss diet studies: we need help not hype

Over the past several decades, dozens of randomised controlled trials have compared various diets for the treatment of obesity. Ideally, such studies should have provided strong evidence for clear clinical recommendations and also put a stop to society’s endless parade of fad diets. Unfortunately, the evidence base remains contested and the “diet wars” continue unabated.

One insight that can be gleaned from the existing weight loss literature is that even the most divergent of diets seem capable of affecting a degree of short-term success, with some diets perhaps leading to marginally greater losses than others over periods of several months.1 But since obesity is a chronic condition, it is the long term that matters. An effective diet for clinical weight management needs to be established over time scales of years to decades. Studies that have lasted 1 year or more typically do not show significant differences between prescribed diets, much less any clinically meaningful differences in maintenance of lost weight.1, 2 One example is in the Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial (DIRECT), which has been hailed as proof of the superiority of low-carbohydrate diets over low-fat diets.3,4 The DIRECT investigators used a 2-year workplace intervention and found that a low-carbohydrate diet prescription led to a significant 1·8 kg greater mean bodyweight loss than the prescription of a low-fat diet.3,4 These bodyweight differences between the diets are among the largest differences that have been observed over a 2-year period. But from the clinical perspective, such small bodyweight differences do not instil confidence for prescribing one diet over another to a patient with obesity.

What is especially striking is the similarity of the long-term pattern of mean bodyweight change, irrespective of diet prescription.5 For example, figure 1A shows data from the DIRECT study in which both the low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets resulted in rapid early weight loss that plateaued after about 6 months at a likely disappointing level6 and was then followed by slow bodyweight regain. What can we learn from the physiology underlying such a bodyweight trajectory?

Complex physiological feedback mechanisms regulate bodyweight and resist weight loss. Slowing of metabolism can be substantial and persistent7 and plays a part in halting weight loss and putting subsequent weight regain into motion. However, the typical bodyweight trajectory is primarily driven by patients experiencing an exponential decay of diet adherence due to an increase in appetite in proportion to the loss of bodyweight,8 along with difficulties in sustaining changes to dietary choices and behaviours that affect patients’ ability to enjoy, celebrate, and socialise with food.

Figure 1B shows the energy intake changes underlying the DIRECT trial’s observed bodyweight trajectories, which we have calculated using a validated mathematical model of human energy metabolism and bodyweight dynamics.9 At the plateau point of maximum weight loss, energy intake is balanced by expenditure and has decreased from baseline by about 200 kcal per day. By contrast, mean energy intake at the bodyweight plateau has increased by about 700–1000 kcal per day from its early reduction at the start of the intervention. After 1 year, mean bodyweights, although still reduced by several kilograms, climb back up in response to the average energy intakes returning almost to baseline levels.

Diet adherence is so challenging that it is poor even in short-term studies where all food is provided.10 When diets are prescribed, adherence is likely to diminish over the long-term despite self-reports to the contrary. Figure 1B illustrates that the common self-report methods for measuring food intake (24 h recall and food frequency questionnaire3,4) mistakenly indicate that the reduction in energy intake remained unchanged throughout the intervention. Such erroneous measurements have led to speculation that a reduction in energy expenditure, rather than loss of diet adherence, is the main driver of the bodyweight plateau. However, these self-reported measurements are known to be inaccurate for estimating energy intake11 and provide unreliable data on energy intake changes that are not quantitatively reconcilable with objectively measured weight regain and the known physiology of energy metabolism adaptations.
The similarity of mean bodyweight trajectories between long-term diet interventions, whether targeting macronutrients, calories, or food patterns, is explained by the fact that no diet has yet been shown to be uniformly easier to stick with than another in the long run. If there existed a diet that led to substantially improved long-term adherence in most patients—because it better addressed appetite changes, provided a sustained metabolic advantage, or was simply easier for patients to maintain—such effects would result in substantial and sustained differences in mean bodyweight. This result has not been observed despite repeated efforts using widely different diets.

Nevertheless, and hearteningly, anecdotal long-term diet success stories abound for most dietary approaches, and focusing on mean bodyweight trajectories masks the high individual weight loss variability within each diet group. The question is: why are some individuals more successful than others? When it comes to clinical weight management, success is predicated on long-term dietary adherence. Therefore, we need to increase our efforts to understand the individual differences between patients that have an effect on diet maintenance and prevent its erosion. Studies should determine how to target effective diets to individual patients,12 as well as improve our understanding of the real world considerations that impinge on patients’ abilities to sustain healthy dietary changes,13 such as those wrought by the food environment, socioeconomic factors, cooking skills, job requirements, medical comorbidities, caregiving responsibilities, and many more. After all, as with every chronic disease, successful obesity management requires lifelong treatment and there is a pressing need to help patients navigate day-to-day realities in the face of maintaining a permanent and intentional behaviour change. We also need to better understand how family, community, and society as a whole can help support and sustain healthy lifestyles.

Fewer resources should be invested in studying whether or not a low-carbohydrate diet is marginally better than a low-fat diet, or whether intermittent fasting provides marginally better short-term outcomes than a so-called Paleo diet. Crowning a diet king because it delivers a clinically meaningless difference in bodyweight fuels diet hype, not diet help. It’s high time we started helping.

Yoni Freedhoff, *Kevin D Hall

YF has received honoraria and travel expenses from Boston Children’s Hospital, Canadian Obesity Network, Centre for Effect Practice, Academy of Medicine Ottawa, Physical and Health Education Canada, North York General Hospital, , IDEA Health and Fitness Association, and the Royal Society of Medicine, London, for speaking engagements and for his role as clinical lead in the development of a Canadian Ministry of Health funded tool for primary care providers working with families of children with obesity; and has received fees for developing and delivering educational seminars to medical students and residents from the University of Ottawa. YF writes a blog, Weighty Matters, that is non-monetised with no advertisements or requests for donations. YF is the co-author of Best Weight: A Practical Guide to Office-Based Obesity Management all royalties from the book go to the Canadian Obesity Network and he is the author of The Diet Fix (Random House) and receives royalties from this book. KDH reports a patent pending on a method of personalised dynamic feedback control of bodyweight (US Patent Application No. 13/754,058; assigned to the National Institutes of Health) and has received funding from the Nutrition Science Initiative to investigate the effects of ketogenic diets on human energy expenditure.

1 Johnston BC, Kanters S, Bandayrel K, et al. Comparison of weight loss among named diet programs in overweight and obese adults: a meta analysis. JAMA 2014; 312: 923–33.
2 Tobias DK, Chen M, Manson JE, Ludwig DS, Willett W, Hu FB. Effect of low-fat vs. other diet interventions on long-term weight change in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 2015; 3: 968–79
3 Greenberg I, Stampfer MJ, Schwarzfuchs D, Shai I. Adherence and success in long-term weight loss diets: the dietary intervention randomized controlled trial (DIRECT). J Am Coll Nutr 2009; 28: 159–68.
4 Shai I, Schwarzfuchs D, Henkin Y, et al. Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet. N Engl J Med 2008; 359: 229–41.
5 Franz MJ, VanWormer JJ, Crain AL, et al. Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J Am Diet Assoc 2007; 107: 1755–67.
6 Foster GD, Wadden TA, Vogt RA, Brewer G. What is a reasonable weight loss? Patients’ expectations and evaluations of obesity treatment outcomes. J Consult Clin Psychol 1997; 65: 79–85.
7 Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, et al. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016; published online May 2. DOI:10.1002/oby.21538.
8 Polidori D, Sanghvi A, Seeley RJ, Hall KD. How strongly does appetite counter weight loss? Quantification of the feedback control of human energy intake. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016 (in press).
9 Sanghvi A, Redman LA, Martin CK, Ravussin E, Hall KD. Validation of an inexpensive and accurate mathematical method to measure long-term changes in free-living energy intake. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 102: 353–58.
10 Das SK, Gilhooly CH, Golden JK, et al. Long-term effects of 2 energy-restricted diets differing in glycemic load on dietary adherence, body composition, and metabolism in CALERIE: a 1-y randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85: 1023–30.
11 Dhurandhar NV, Schoeller DA, Brown AW, et al. Energy balance measurement: when something is not better than nothing. Int J Obes (Lond) 2015; 39: 1109–13.
12 Bray MS, Loos RJ, McCaffery JM, et al. NIH working group report-using genomic information to guide weight management: from universal to precision treatment. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2016; 24: 14–22.
13 MacLean PS, Wing RR, Davidson T, et al. NIH working group report: innovative research to improve maintenance of weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2015; 23: 7–15

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ugh, McDonald's Hands Out Activity Tracker With Happy Meals

Though they only lasted a single day, it wasn't public cynicism over McDonald's latest scheme to excuse eating there that sunk them, it was skin rashes that ended their Happy Meal provision of fitness trackers.

But I bet they'll be back.

It's great business for the food industry to state directly (like Coca-Cola's Global Energy Balance briefly tried to) or indirectly that exercise excuses (or balances) a crappy diet.

Though exercise is the world's best drug, as I've noted, it's not a weight loss drug, and though exercise absolutely mitigates the risks of both weight and likely diet too, that McDonald's believes fitness trackers to be a Happy Meal draw is worrisome.

It's worrisome because McDonald's belief that kids and their parents would see the activity trackers as both incentive and permission to eat there suggests that society is well and fully bought into the notion that exercise trumps diet.

So too does the much lauded scheme floated a few months ago that foods fronts-of-packages be festooned with "activity equivalent labeling".

And this photo of an advertisement from a local community centre that I took just 2 days ago.
"HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO! (We'll help you work it off!)"
Listen, for most of us (me included), life includes some junk food, but all this to say, I worry about the potential unintended consequences of continuing to dumb down exercise to calories burned as the one thing people today don't need are more reasons to believe that they deserve a break today.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Stories: Running Women, Putin, and Farts

Meghan Kita in Runners World explains that the problem isn't women running alone.

David Satter in National Review on how terrorism brought Putin to power.

Maggie Koerth-Baker in FiveThirtyEight answers the age old question of how big a fart is.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Did You Miss The Greatest Interview of the Rio Olympics?

If you didn't see this chat with two fantastic Irish rowers then yes, yes you did miss Rio's greatest interview.

Today's Funny Friday video is here to fix that for you.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

We're Giving Away 5 Free Spots for Our Office's New Distance Program!

It's been over a dozen years since we opened our weight management office.

In that time we have worked with literally thousands of patients and while they were each unique and had their own sets of medical concerns and life challenges, they did share one thing in common - they all lived in or near to Ottawa.

In the beginning, that was a necessity. The technology to work with patients remotely simply didn't exist.

I'm thrilled to report that it does now.

For the past few months we've been working with a smartphone app that lets us reach our patients even when they're not sitting in front of us. The app allows us to create customizable and trackable goals that we can monitor remotely (and reach out if we see someone's struggling), and more importantly, the app provides two-way communication - both by way of quick text messages, but also by way of video conferencing, between patients and our office's professionals. While so far we've pretty much only been using the app with our Ottawa based patients, we're about to open our virtual doors and in so doing, use the app to work with anybody, anywhere.

We've designed a 12 week program that will be delivered by our office's registered dietitians to help people with their weight loss and behavioural change goals (and once formally launched, there'll be ongoing support options available once completed). During those 12 weeks people will have regular videoconferences with our RDs and work with them on creating personal goals that are designed to target each individual's specific needs, concerns, and barriers. They will also have access to our RDs by way of the app supported (and both PHIPA and HIPAA compliant) text messaging for quick questions and words of support.

While we will soon offer access to this program to everyone, right now we're looking for 5 volunteers to work through our new program with us and help us iron out the kinks in its delivery. In return for our best efforts to help you achieve your Best Weight, we’re looking for individuals who are comfortable giving us honest feedback on what’s helpful in our program and just as importantly what’s not.

Because the supporting program curriculum is still being developed (videos and articles that will accompany the 12 weeks and serve as offline resources) there is the requirement that those interested own and read my book The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work as it will serve in the offline course curriculum's stead. As well, for the beta-testers only, we need to restrict the offer to those with iPhones as we’re still working out some of the issues with the Android operating system.

If you're interested in being considered as a beta-tester, please send us a letter telling us a bit about you and your history with weight loss (please limit the letter to no more than 400 words), and in 2 weeks we'll contact those who our RDs select. We're looking for divergent people and issues and consequently can't simply take the first 5 people who write. That said, if you do write in and you're not selected, we'll be sure to put your name in the queue for when our program formally launches and make sure you’re at the top of the list.

Please send your emails to

We're so excited to be rolling this out!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Will Personalized Genetic Risk Knowledge Lead People to Change Their Diets?

Image Source: ThinnerGene
Certainly that's the notion behind the rise of the for-profit personalized medicine genetic testing industry. The thinking is that if people are made aware of their personalized genetic risks, and if those risks are modifiable by way of diet, that said knowledge will motivate people to affect dietary changes.

But does it?

That's the question a recently published randomized trial sought to answer. The study, The effect of the apolipoprotein E genotype on response to personalized dietary advice intervention: findings from the Food4Me randomized controlled trial, randomly assigned 1,466 participants to a 6 month trial of one of 4 interventions.

1. Standard non-personalized dietary and physical activity advice
2. Personalized advice based on dietary intake
3. Personalized advice based on dietary intake, physical activity, and standard blood biomarkers
4. Personalized advice based on dietary intake, physical activity, standard blood biomarkers, and genotyping

The genotyping was for apolipoprotein E (APOE) which in turn is thought to be a key regulator of cholesterol and lipids. It's also thought that differing APOE genotypes influence lipid responses to dietary fat and therefore given the known increased risk of certain APOE genotypes with coronary heart disease and on lipid responses to dietary fat, that risk carrying individuals if told about their genotypes, might be more likely to adopt gene-based personalized nutrition recommendations.

The study's findings aren't particularly heartening for personalized medicine as it pertains to individual behaviour change.

Personalized advice was found to be better than non-personalized advice, but there was no additional benefit to change found with those whose personalized advice warned them that their unique genetic makeups conferred greater risk.

There is a silver lining here though. Personalized advice based on an individual's dietary intake alone was just as likely to inspire change. So rather than spending your money on all sorts of tests, if you're worried about some diet related aspect of your health, go see an RD (but maybe not one who tries to sell you personalized genetic testing), and with the money you save on all that other testing, you can book a few follow ups and likely get an even bigger bang for your buck.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

Squirrels are Surprisingly Polite

At least judging from today's Funny Friday video they are.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Another Great Not Junk Food Fundraising Program!

Thanks to my friend and med school classmate Christine Gibson for sharing this with me.

It's called Raise a Patch and it's an Australian initiative that I adore. It's fundraising (school, sports team, whatever) by way of selling "veggie patches", herb pots, and flower gardens.

Healthy foods, beautiful flowers, and the joy of gardening? What's not to love. Hope this catches on globally.

(and if you're looking for more healthy fundraising inspiration, here's a compiled list of other Aussie programs)

Monday, August 08, 2016

Anthocyanins And Flavonones Aren't Fruit!

For the most part, supplement sales and hype are built off of extrapolations. Extrapolations of animal studies to people, extrapolations of basic science to clinical utility, extrapolations of small studies to general conclusions.

And here's an example of another extrapolation - the extrapolation of presumed causality.

The study, Habitual intake of anthocyanins and flavanones and risk of cardiovascular disease in men, is amazing.

Not in that it's a great or conclusive study, but rather that despite the very clear first sentence,
"Although increased fruit intake reduces cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, which fruits are most beneficial and what key constituents are responsible are unclear."
a sentence that spells out the fact that while we know fruit consumption is healthful, we genuinely don't know why, the article goes on to conclude, despite not in fact testing for it, that certain fruits' anthocyanins and flavonone content reduce heart disease risk in men.

How'd they come to that conclusion?

Well they estimated how much anthocyanins and flavonones were consumed as a function of how much anthocyanin and flavonone containing fruit was reported in food frequency questionnaires and then looked at cardiovascular disease risk as a function of same.

Of course fruit contains more than simply anthocynanins and flavonones, so to suggest those were the causal agents of the study's findings is purely a guess.

So putting aside why the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article with a hugely misleading title and conclusion (and how it passed through peer review as is), why did the authors of this US Blueberry Highbush Council funded study (blueberries contain anthocyanins) focus on presumptive causal factors rather than the berries themselves?

Hard to say. Though it's certainly not impossible that the study's lead author's 2013 patent, meant to provide phytonutrients (including anthocyanins and flavonones) to nursing mothers might have had some influence (and is probably something that should have been included in the study's confict of interest statement).

Regardless, one things's certain. For folks selling anthocyanin and flavonone supplements, studies like this one are a gold mine.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Saturday Stories: Supplement Science, CIA Votes, and a Starving Venezuela

Alex Hutchinson in Runner's World with a case study of the slimy salesmanship of science by supplement sellers.

Former CIA director Michael J. Morrell in The New York Times on his endorsement of Hillary Clinton and why Trump would be a disaster as President.

Fabiola Zerpa in Bloomberg on the nightmarish realities of life in Venezuela - a 30 day hunt for food in a starving land.

Friday, August 05, 2016

"You're Never Too Old to Follow Your Dreams"

Honestly, this is a very sweet Funny Friday video.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Sorry Corn Refiners Association, Chocolate Milk Doesn't Increase Intelligence

From the annals of corporate sponsored research comes this gem that was sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association,
"No Effect of Sugar Sweetened Milk on Performance of a Battery of Cognitive Assessment Tests".
Unfortunately for the Corn Refiners, no amount of p-hacking saw chocolate milk increasing brain function.

While undeniably there's great research out there that is and was funded by industry, including the food industry, there's really only one purpose for research like this - sales.

There's no doubt that if even the tiniest change had been found, the finding would have served industry as a talking and marketing point, just as was the case with the Welch's study that had them claiming grape juice gave working mothers better memories.

Those ends certainly aren't a mystery to the researchers who run these studies. And probably not a my$tery either as to why researchers agree to run them.

Maybe by way of a blind universal fund, or by way of sugar-sweetened beverage tax revenues, or by more innovative approaches (see below), we need to find new ways to fund research because clearly, research funding is broken, and it needs fixing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Why Does @HealthCanada Allow Chocolate Syrup To Be Enriched With Iron?

I took this photo at my local supermarket a few weeks ago.

It's a rather mind boggling product.

As is evidenced by the photo up above (and by common sense) this "iron enriched" Nesquik is meant to be added to a glass of milk.

So what's my issue?

Firstly a glass of milk, by way of both its casein and its 300 or so mg of calcium impairs iron absorption so what's added isn't the iron your body will be getting by a long shot.

Second it's vitamin fortified chocolate syrup with a front-of-package designed to infer good-for-you-ness.

That Health Canada allows a product designed to be added to milk to be enriched with iron is bizarre.

That Health Canada allows the enrichment of candy with vitamins, and then allows that vitamin enriched candy to be marketed as healthy, is just plain wrong.