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The Perfect Push Up

The Perfect Push Up Exercise Gimmick Although push-ups are the most rudimentary exercise in existence, multiple companies have produced ridiculous gimmicks to help you do the Perfect Push-up!

Research Blogging Award Finalist!

Research Blogging Awards 2010 Finalist Obesity Panacea has been named a Finalist for the 2010 Research Blogging Awards! You can see all the nominees by clicking on the link below.

Kevin Trudeau's Bogus Cures That No One Should Know About

Friday, February 27, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses
I'm sure by now most of you have had the displeasure of witnessing one of Kevin Trudeau's infomercials.

Over the years he has been publishing numerous self-help books, such as "The Weight-Loss Cure" and "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want you To Know About." Interestingly, despite being full of nonsense these books have become best-sellers.

We have for a long time been planning to critique some of his outrageous claims, but it looks as though 20/20 beat us to the punch. Please view the below video to see Kevin Trudeau's scam nicely exposed.

And on a less serious note, please see MAD TV's skit which perfectly illustrates the ridiculousness that is Kevin Trudeau.

Have a great weekend,

[A note to our email subscribers - please log onto the blog to view the videos.]


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And now for something completely different: The GoWear Fit Armband

Thursday, February 26, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 1 Response
Peter and I have been a couple of negative nellies the past few days – we obviously aren’t fans of Acai Burn, and if nothing else, the ROM is ridiculously overpriced. Today, we have decided to turn over a new leaf and discuss a product that might actually benefit some people – the GoWear Fit Armband.

The GoWear Fit Armband is a very fancy accelerometer. Think of it like a pedometer on steroids. Pedometers are used to count the number of steps that you take, and are a great way to get a sense of the amount of physical activity you accumulate throughout the day. However, one big problem with pedometers is that they only tell you about quantity (the number of steps) not quality (intensity) of that physical activity. This is where accelerometers like the GoWear Fit Armband come in. Accelerometers keep a record not only of the amount of total physical movement, but how quickly that movement is taking place. In this way, accelerometers can tell you about both the quantity and quality (intensity) of your physical activity. This is very important for two reasons:

1. Moderate to vigorous physical activity is likely to result in greater health benefits than low intensity exercise performed for the same duration, and;

2. As we increase exercise intensity, we also increase the number of calories that are being burned (30 minutes of running burns many more calories than 30 minutes of walking).

In addition to quantifying physical activity, the GoWear Fit Armband also measures the amount of heat produced by the body in order to estimate calories burned by non-exercise sources (basal metabolism, digesting food, etc). The result is that the Armband can be used to get a relatively accurate measure of the number of calories you are burning on a daily basis. To be fair, the Armband tends to slightly underestimate total energy expenditure, which might be due to the fact that it's hard to measure the energy needed to digest food by analyzing heat production in the arm (See studies examining its validity here and here). The basic model runs around $200.00, which is only slightly more than a good heart rate monitor or pair of running shoes (you could buy 70 Armbands for the price of one ROM!).

To me, this little gadget seems pretty cool. It gives a reasonably accurate measure of the calories burned in a day, which I think could be very useful information for people to have. It’s not uncommon for people to think they are more active than they really are, and this would be an excellent way to educate people on their activity patterns, as well as their energy needs. Obviously we don’t want people to obsess over the number of calories they are burning every single day, but as an educational tool I think the Armband and similar accelerometers could be quite useful.

I haven’t used the Armband myself, but I would love to try it out. If, like me, $200 is still more than you want to spend, think about picking up a pedometer at your local pharmacy or electronics supplier. If you are getting less than 10 000 steps/day on a regular basis try to increase the amount of time you spend walking, and reduce the time you spend sitting and standing. We can't all afford an Armband, but most of us can afford a little more physical activity.


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AcaiBurn: "the world's most extreme weight-loss solution"?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 8 Responses
UPDATE:  Acai Berry Scam Exposed: We called it!


I’d like to thank all those readers who logged on to Obesity Panacea and filled out the survey on the type of blog posts you prefer to see. Apparently, the most popular feature was “debunking myths”.

Our readers spoke, and we listened!

Travis had already posted on the cumbersome $14 000 ROM machine earlier this week and today I will evaluate another interesting weight-loss product.

When we initially started our blog back in November of last year and decided to focus primarily on debunking various weight-loss gimmicks, we feared that we may quickly run out of products to critique. Were we ever wrong!

In fact, I recently realized that we don’t even have to look beyond our own blog for great fodder. I’m not sure how many of you have paid attention to a very cool widget on our blog that is near and dear to our hearts – the ClustrMaps. This little widget allows us to keep a nice tally of all the visitors to our blog with a map depicting the location of the visitors – the bigger the dot, the greater the density of visitors from that area. I am embarrassed to admit that I now check our blog’s ClustrMaps before I even log onto my email in the morning. Of course, since our blog is focused on obesity and weight-loss, the google ads provided on our ClustrMaps are very often for the very products that Travis and I want consumers to steer clear of.

For the past few mornings as I am checking our previous day’s visitor hits I kept seeing the same ad which read the following:

“1 rule of a flat stomach: Cut down 1 lbs [sic] of stomach fat every day by obeying this weird rule. Click here!”

Because my curiosity got the best of me I clicked “here”, and before I knew it, I had hit a goldmine. The nonsense was everywhere on this ad page- it was exhilarating. I became drunk with giddy as I madly scrolled through the site reading one ridiculous caption after another. For me, this ad was like the Clinton-Lewnisky scandal was for David Letterman – endless material.

Across the top of the screen, in large red font, this website provides the first message:

WARNING... Quick-Loss AcaiBurn Is Fast Weight Loss That Works. It Was Not Created For Those People Who Only Want To Lose A Few Measly Pounds. AcaiBurn was created to help you achieve the incredible body you have always wanted... USE WITH CAUTION!”

So right away, I’m thinking to myself that this product, apparently named AcaiBurn, must really work! I mean there is a “WARNING” to “USE WITH CAUTION” – imagine such a potent weight-loss aid. This is the obesity panacea Travis and I had been searching for! (For those unfamiliar with my dry humour, please read above with a heavy dose of sarcasm.)

Next, because I have taken the time to write about some of quotes from the site and haven’t been active for a while, an “IMPORTANT NEWSFLASH!” appears across the webpage giving me the following critical information (I guess I seem hesitant and need more convincing):

“Acai Berry was recently featured on Rachael Ray and seen on Fox News and NBC! AcaiBurn trials with Acai Berry extract and research-backed ingredients are going fast! You must act now!”

Wow – even Rachael Ray endorses AcaiBurn – this must be a miracle. In fact, Travis had previously posted a video of Rachael Ray, the chef, discussing the medicinal efficacy of acai berry based on her critical review of available scientific literature on the topic. In reference to the magical berry, Ray stated the following: acai berry is the "supergenius smart food of all smart foods!" AND its juice is "the healthiest drink you can get!” Well put, Rachael!

But wait! In addition to Ray, this panacea for obesity is also endorsed by a Dr. Nicholas Perricone, an expert in obesity, nutrition and weight-loss. Well, the latter part may be a bit misleading – he’s actually a dermatologist by training. This, of course, has not stopped Perricone from writing countless books on weight-loss, because as some of our readers are hopefully beginning to realize – when it comes to losing weight, EVERYONE is an expert! And so what if he appears to have published more books on staying young and thin than research papers – he also has a line of cosmetic products, which includes the Neuropeptide Facial Conformer, sold for $130 for a 1 oz. bottle. Click here for a scathing review of some of Perricone's work on

So again, I am comforted to know the claims regarding AcaiBurn’s efficacy are backed by obesity experts, Rachael Ray and a cream peddling skin doc.

Further, the ad claims that according to “scientific research of the West” using the “active ingredients in AcaiBurn” people who used these ingredients lost 9-12 more lbs over the placebo group in 8 week clinical trials. Now just like with every similar advert – the reference to this “scientific research” is never to be found and thus can’t be evaluated for accuracy. Also, the product being sold is never directly evaluated – only its “active ingredients” – whatever that means. Another staple of these scientific studies is that diet and exercise is always prescribed ALONG with the potion that is being evaluated – thus the 9-12 lbs lost were accomplished via diet, exercise, AND the magical potion. As a simple comparison, a randomized-controlled trial from our lab published back in 2000 showed that men who just went on a caloric-restriction diet (700kcal/day) lost over 16 lbs (in comparison to a control group) during 12 weeks. And it is important to remember that these men received no “supergenius of all smart foods” and even no exercise – they simply cut out some calories.

Now, in all honesty, I could spend the entire day discussing the nonsense on this website, as really there is no shortage of it. I encourage all of you to check out the site for yourselves and comment here on what aspect of the ad you found most entertaining. I would really like for us to have a discussion which includes you – our readers- on these products, so that we can all become smarter consumers and thus less likely to be duped by bogus claims.

I personally like the overlaid video woman, Julie Parks, self-proclaimed“fitness guru”, who talks to you directly about the benefits of AcaiBurn. However, if you are prone to seizures, you may want to avoid this website – the various colours, pictures, graphics, sounds, pop-ups can become overwhelming at times – but it is all part of the fun.

Another favourite is the picture below - that woman is not only buring fat, but she is on fire!

You can also get a free trial of the product by visiting the website – but you have to check if you are eligible – I did the test and was, in fact, eligible (I pretended I was 100lbs overweight.) A bottle of 60 pills of AcaiBurn is also going for about $60 online.

To end off I just wanted to leave you with a key message from an online presentation I just saw given by friend, colleague, and scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network, Dr. Arya Sharma:

“There is no magic cure for obesity; there are only treatments.”

And I’m willing to bet AcaiBurn is not one of the treatments credible physicians would prescribe…

UPDATE: Acai berry scam officially exposed! Read about it here.


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The Launch Of Obesity Panacea Podcasts!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses

Today we announce the official launch of the Obesity Panacea Podcast, the purpose of which is to compliment the Obesity Panacea blog, by covering some hot-off-the-press news that we did not address on the blog as well as some topics that had previously been posted on the blog that seem to have hit a nerve.

You can listen to the podcast directly from our blog, using the embedded player in the upper right-hand corner of the page. The Obesity Panacea podcast is also available at iTunes and thus can be downloaded free of charge onto your mp3 player.

The topics addressed in the inaugural podcast include: The Slender Shaper, obesity in the workplace, sizing issues, and a summary of the problems with high fructose corn syrup.

We thank those of you who have already commented on our first podcast attempt and we welcome everyone to provide us constructive feedback in the hopes that your feedback will lead to better podcasts from us in the future.

Have a listen!


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High Intensity Training and the Range of Motion machine

Monday, February 23, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 9 Responses

If you have ever read Popular Mechanics, or Discover, or any other remotely "sciencey" magazine, then you have probably come across the full paged ads for the Range of Motion (ROM) machine. I'll admit, I have wanted to try one for years! From what I can tell, the ROM has two major components - a rowing machine (the side of the machine with the seat) and a stepper (the portion behind the seat). The ROM ads are interesting for several reasons; the machine looks different from any piece of fitness equipment I have ever seen, the machine costs a lot of money (over $14,000 USD), and most importantly, they claim that you can get fit by exercising just 4 minutes a day! Forget about long hours in the gym, forget about active transportation, 4 minutes is all you need!

Ok, well, maybe not. From what I can tell, a typical workout on the ROM involves 4 minutes of exercising as hard as possible. The makers of the ROM claim that this can result not only in improved cardiovascular fitness, but also in reduced fat mass. As you might guess, I am pretty skeptical about a product that claims that you only need 4 minutes of high intensity exercise to stay fit. However, I was surprised to find that there is a reasonably large amount of evidence suggesting that high intensity training (typically done in several 20-30 second bouts of near-maximal cycling) has been reported to result in dramatic increases in cardiovascular fitness and even insulin sensitivity in lean, healthy individuals. There is some evidence that high intensity training may increase overall metabolism throughout a 24-hour period, but again this has never been demonstrated in obese individuals.

I did come across a very interesting paper from a recent issue of the journal Circuluation, which suggests that exercising at a very high intensity may be more beneficial than low intensity training in reducing both body fat and metabolic risk in individuals with the metabolic syndrome (a pre-cursor to both diabetes and heart disease). However, this study did 4 separate 4-minute intervals within a 40 minute workout - far more than the 4 minutes prescribed by the ROM. In fact, one of the key studies cited by the makers of the ROM as proving that this type of high intensity training increases metabolism included 30-minute aerobic sessions as well high intensity sessions taking much longer than 4 minutes (the warm-up alone took 5 minutes), making it difficult to extend these results to a single 4-minute continuous high-intensity burst on the ROM.

Despite these limitations, it is possible that high intensity training, and machines like the ROM, may be of benefit to some individuals. As I mentioned earlier, high intensity exercise has been linked to increased fitness and insulin sensitivity. In fact, high intensity training (in conjunction with longer aerobic training) has been used by elite athletes for decades precisely because it elicits adaptations that are not achieved through long aerobic sessions alone. Further, high intensity training may inhibit post-workout caloric intake (I can't stomach food for an hour or two following an intense workout), and it may even result in increased energy expenditure post workout. However, there are also risks - as Peter mentioned in an earlier post, jumping straight from a sedentary lifestyle into high intensity training may be a recipe for disaster. And to date, there is little evidence suggesting that performing such short bouts of exercise alone can reduce body fat levels in obese individuals. And let's not forget - it costs fourteen thousand dollars! Think of how many rowing/stepping machines you could buy with that amount of money. Or gym memberships. Or high quality food. Or personal trainers. In fact, you could finance most of a Kinesiology degree with that much money!

I am personally very interested in the way that exercise intensity influences health and fitness. In fact, I am currently overseeing a study which examines the influence of exercise intensity on health risk in overweight men. However, I am far from convinced that high intensity sprint training is the best way for most people to get fit. In the end, the greatest health benefit of the ROM may be due to its pricetag - if you spend $14,000 USD for a piece of exercise equipment, wouldn't you think twice before skipping your next workout?


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MyActivity Pyramid

Friday, February 20, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 1 Response

The Department of Nutritional Sciences from the University of Missouri Extension recently released an updated version of an activity pyramid based on the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans as developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

You can download your own copy of the MyActivity Pyramid here in PDF format and then post it at your work, home, etc. in the hopes of motivating others to an active lifestyle.

The main recommendations illustrated on the diagram include the following:

1) Perform ‘Lifestyle Activities’ as often as possible (walking, chores, gardening)

2) Perform 150 mins of moderate intensity or 75 mins of vigorous intensity ‘Aerobic Activity’ per week (swimming, tennis, jogging)

3) Perform strength and/or flexibility training at least 2 times per week (Yoga, calisthenics, weight training)

4) Limit the amount of inactivity (sitting, television, computer)

While the diagram is surely visually appealing, do any of you have any thoughts or comments on this recent attempt to motivate activity?

Have a great weekend - hopefully with many ‘Lifestyle Activities’ included.


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High Fructose Corn Syrup is Ruining Everything

Thursday, February 19, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 4 Responses
Image by wwarby.

In past posts, I have discussed the numerous reasons why high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a substance worth avoiding - first and foremost, it is a key player in the obesity epidemic, contributing hundreds of calories (but no nutrients) to many of society's favourite foods (Fluff is my personal favourite). But now it turns out that the negative effects of HFCS are even more far-reaching than I had thought. I am not speaking about the recent reports that HFCS may be tainted with mercury (detailed here by Darya Pino at Thought for Food), although that is also very frightening. No, according to the interesting new book Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen, HFCS also plays an important role in the recent decline in worldwide honey bee populations, a situation which Jacobsen suggests will have a dramatic impact on our ability to produce enough fresh fruit to feed ourselves in the coming years.

Historically, honey bees collected pollen and nectar from plants, providing them with both the protein and carbohydrates that they need to live healthy, productive lives. However, in recent years beekeepers have begun feeding bees HFCS as a way to maintain their energy stores in the winter. As I mentioned earlier, HFCS is full of calories, but devoid of protein or other nutrients. Thus, bees whose diet consists mostly of HFCS are nutrient deprived, resulting in weak immune systems, hives that are riddles with viruses (Jacobsen describes it as a scenario similar to bee AIDS) and the eventual collapse of the entire hive. Although HFCS is not the only major problem afflicting modern bee populations (pesticides and less than ideal living conditions also play important roles), Jacobsen suggests that HFCS plays a key role in the recent collapse of bee populations across North America.

Why does this concern us, and how does it relate to obesity? Well, it turns out that commercially raised honey bees are responsible for pollinating a massive proportion of our food supply, including pretty much all our fruits and berries (including the fruit that we tend to think of as vegetables), and thus without bees, our food supply will shrink dramatically. Many people (myself included) are urging people to eat a more healthful diet higher in plant-based foods - that's going to be much harder, if not impossible, if fruit supplies go down the tubes. If Jacobsen is right, this is an issue which won't just affect obesity rates (although it undoubtedly will, one way or the other), but the ability of society to provide itself with nutritious food.

So let's recap. High fructose corn syrup is unequivocally bad for people - the best thing that anyone can say about it is that it is no worse than table sugar, which is hardly a ringing endorsement. It may contain mercury, which is obviously a bad thing. And it may be contributing to an epidemic among a species of animal which we are completely dependent upon for nearly all of our fresh fruit. Why is this stuff being produced at all???

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Yesterday’s ‘Large’ becomes today’s ‘Small’

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 2 Responses
Last week we received an interesting email from loyal reader Becky Mercer who brought our attention to a seemingly dishonest change that has occurred in portion sizing at the Wendy’s fast-food chain. Apparently, Wendy’s has made the health-conscious change to reduce their default size of fries and soft drinks which accompany a combo from the “Medium” to “Small”. Unfortunately, as Becky rightfully noticed, and what has been previously written about in the US, this change was only one of name and not actual portion size. Thus, rather than decreasing some of their ludicrous portion sizes of both fries and drinks, Wendy’s has instead opted to make the following semantic alterations:

Old ‘Medium’ = New ‘Small’
Old ‘Biggie’ = New ‘Medium’
Old ‘Great Biggie’ = New ‘Large’

This sort of stunt is reminiscent of some of the tactics employed by ‘Big Brother’ in George Orwell’s “1984”. Unfortunately, we today are just as vulnerable to these tactics as were the drones in Orwell’s dystopian fantasy: our reader, Becky was apparently commended on being ‘healthy’ by sticking with the default ‘small’ drink and fries with her meal, which really are the ‘medium’ drink and fries of yesterday. As Becky writes in her email, “apparently the word ‘small’ is enough to make people think that what they are consuming actually is small.” This, of course, despite the fact that a ‘small’ drink consists of 37 g of pure sugar while ‘small’ fries contains 340 kcals, half of which are derived from fat.

Now if you are feeling REALLY hungry and were previously ashamed to order a ‘Great Biggie’ drink and fries – fret no more! You can now get the combined 820 kcals of sugar and fat with your order of the less stigmatizing ‘large’ drink and fries.

Way to go Wendy’s!

While this is news to both us and Becky, apparently this change occurred in US Wendy’s locations over 2 years ago – the same may have happened in Canada. Thus, if this is old news to regular Wendy’s customers, I do apologize for being so behind the times.

On another sizing note, recent news from the UK suggests that many children’s clothing manufacturers are attempting to change the sizes of their clothes to accommodate the larger bodies of today’s youth. Apparently, today’s youth clothing sizes are designed based on the average proportions of children from 1990 and are usually sold by age ranges (i.e. 7-8 years). Given the drastic increase in the proportions of today’s kids, parents of 7-8 year olds have had to purchase clothing for 10-11 year olds to accommodate their children’s expanding waistlines.

In response, a number of clothing stores in the UK are performing a survey of 6000 boys and girls to get a better idea of what a typical 7 year-old of 2009 looks like in contrast to what he/she may have looked like 20 years ago.

So now you can eat an order of medium fries but not feel bad about it because it comes in a container labeled ‘small’ and soon enough morbidly obese kids will be able to fit into a ‘small’ pant size for their age.

The obesity epidemic is cured by an easy shift in perceptions as Orwell turns in his grave.

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Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – It’s NEAT!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 3 Responses

Although a focus is often placed on structured physical activity (e.g. spending 45 minutes on a treadmill 5 days a week), it is far from the only component of daily energy expenditure. In fact, your total energy expenditure consists of your resting metabolic rate (your “metabolism”), the thermic effect of food (the energy needed to digest your food) and active energy expenditure (energy used to move your body). Active energy expenditure includes structured physical activity, but also includes unstructured activities such as walking, standing, and even sitting (remember that anything that requires muscle contractions also requires energy). Collectively, these unstructured activities are referred to as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and include all activity-related energy expenditure that is not purposeful exercise.

Although structured exercise has been the focus of most exercise physiology research in the past, new evidence is suggesting that NEAT may also play a role in health, and even in obesity. The first paper to focus on NEAT was performed by James Levine and colleagues at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This paper examined weight gain in 16 non-obese adults who were purposely overfed by 1000 calories (roughly the equivalent of 2 Big Macs) a day for 8 weeks, while keeping their level of structured exercise constant. Not surprisingly, all of these subjects gained weight, but there was a huge variability in individual response to this overfeeding (some individuals gained as few as 1.4 kg while others gained as much as 7.2 kg). What is very interesting is that changes in NEAT directly predicted fat gain in response to overfeeding - changes in NEAT accounted for roughly 50% of the variation in fat gain. In other words, when overfed, some individuals naturally began to burn more calories through activities of daily living, postural changes, and even fidgeting, and this increase appears to be at least partly responsible for their resistance to weight gain.

A second paper by this same group compared the amount of NEAT performed by obese and non-obese individuals. As you might expect, obese individuals performed less NEAT than lean individuals. In fact, if obese individuals had NEAT levels similar to the lean non-obese subjects, they would have burned an additional 350 calories a day, equivalent to roughly 1lb of fat every 10 days. What is also interesting, however, is that this reduced NEAT was found in obese individuals even after weight loss, suggesting that NEAT levels are least partially genetically predetermined.

So, what is the take-home message? Individuals vary in their amount non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and this variability may be related to weight gain and obesity. However, these studies also suggest that there is a strong genetic component to NEAT, and that some individuals are just more predisposed to high levels of NEAT than others. But, all of us can make a conscious effort to move more on a daily basis – even small changes like standing, rather than sitting at your desk can make a significant difference over the long term. So, remember, walking to work isn’t just a good idea, it’s NEAT!


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Mariko Takahashi's Fitness Video

Friday, February 13, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses
First off, I wanted to draw our readers' attention to an interesting and quite heated debate over some Canadian television shows focusing on what many consider to be unhealthy and inappropriate weight-loss and lifestyle strategies - "Bulging Brides" and "The Last 10lbs Bootcamp." In particular, I encourage all to check out the associated comments posted to get an idea of the different perspectives on the issue.

On a lighter note, please enjoy a segment of the oddest fitness video I have ever come across - Mariko Takahashi's Fitness Video. This will hopefully attenuate the triskaidekaphobias some of you may be experiencing on this Friday the 13th.

Despite her interesting physique and an odd choice of exercise class participants, Mariko even has some salient advice to give with regard to exercise: "The point is not only to lose weight." Well put, Mariko...

Have a romantic Valentine's day as well as a peaceful Family Day - we will resume posting on Tuesday of next week.


[Note to our email subscribers: please log onto the site to view the video]

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Healthy Living and the Environment

Thursday, February 12, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses

Photo by Futurillo.

When we think of the upside a healthy lifestyle, we tend to think mainly of the personal health benefits. And there certainly are many personal reasons to adopt a lifestyle consisting of daily physical activity and a healthful diet – you are almost certain to improve your health, it will make you feel good, and it may even reduce your body weight. However, there is one very important reason which is often overlooked – living an active lifestyle can also have a very positive impact on the environment.

I started thinking about this last week when I was listening to the excellent CBC radio documentary Climate Wars (you can download the podcast here). In it, Gwynne Dyer discusses in frightening detail the events that are likely to unfurl should the average temperature of the planet warm just by just a few degrees Celsius. By nature I'm pretty skeptical of this sort of thing, but Dyer makes a compelling case that as global warming makes life in many tropical and/or low lying locations unbearable (including much of my home province of New Brunswick, which could be under water by mid-century), it will result in a flood of "climate refugees". This flood of refugees, along with food and water shortages, has the potential to lead to large-scale military confrontations, and a number of other extremely unpleasant scenarios. What is truly scary is that, as Dyer points out, if you are born after 1980 (as I am) these events are very likely to occur in your lifetime, and if your children are born after 1990 (as mine presumably will be) it is almost certain to occur in their lifetime.

As I listened to the documentary, I started to think about the things that I could personally do to reduce climate change. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that adopting a healthy lifestyle can also be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. There are the obvious options like active transportation; simple things like walking or cycling to work (if you can't walk the whole way, you can park the car halfway, or even most of the way there), or avoiding the elevator whenever possible. Another simple solution is moving to a diet higher in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Meat production accounts for a tremendous portion of greenhouse gas emissions – cows pump out a lot of methane. And think of all the energy that goes into refining fruits and vegetables into junk food, which could otherwise be used for much more productive purposes. And then of course there are the more intense, but also really cool options like building a home-made bike generator (see instructions here) to charge your laptop or cell phone while you get your daily physical activity (I really want to try this!).

So if the personal health benefits aren't enough to convince you to take the stairs this afternoon, consider the consequences not only for yourself, but also for the environment.

For other good ideas on ways to reduce your environmental impact from someone who knows far more about this area than I do, check out Daun Lynch's Environmental Experiments with Truth blog here.

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Krispy Kreme and Denny's battle the North American underweight epidemic!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 1 Response
A dozen doughnuts during a charity run and free country-wide Grand Slam breakfasts are likely not going to help the bulging waistlines of North Americans.

Since obesity prevalence in North America is the highest it has ever been (approximately 2/3 of US and Canada are overweight/obese), it is important that all organizations combine efforts in an attempt to curb the problem. Unfortunately, certain companies such as Krispy Kreme and Denny’s may actually be going out of their way to exacerbate the problem.

Take for example the Krispy Kreme Challenge – an annual race for charity organized in South Carolina. The event has grown exponentially since its inception in 2004, and just last week, approximately 5000 competitors were involved in the challenge. While running 4 miles may be a challenge for some, this actually entails the easy part of the process. Here is the detailed description of the event provided on the Krispy Kreme Challenge website:

“Beginning at the NC State Belltower, each runner runs 2 miles to the Krispy Kreme store located on Peace St. in Raleigh. After downing a full dozen of the famous Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the runner must run the two miles back. All in one hour.”

According to the not-so-fun “Fun Facts” on the website, each runner will consume the following during the race (contained in a dozen original glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts):
- 2400 kcal total
- 1200 kcal or 144 g of fat
- 120 g of sugar
- 1140 mg of sodium

Given that the runners will expend somewhere around 400-600 kcal during the event, they will end the race with approximately 2000 more calories than they started with – half of which is fat – that has got to feel good!

But since it is for charity, that makes it kosher, right?

Well, not exactly, but at least some good has come from the event – over $30 000 raised for the local Children’s Hospital. On the other hand, the free Grand Slam breakfast give away by Denny’s last week doesn’t even benefit a good cause.

That’s right – a free 800 kcal breakfast for all Americans was handed out last Tuesday at every Denny's franchise - the implications of which have been previously discussed by fellow blogger Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters. See the advertisement below.

And here is a heart-warming follow-up to the event from a local news station reporting on the 2000 happy customers served at one Denny's franchise:

We are doomed...


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Wanted: Exercise Participants

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses

As many of you know, Peter and I are PhD students in an exercise physiology lab at Queen's University. One of the most enjoyable parts of being a grad student in this area is performing interventions - we have volunteers come to our lab and perform certain types of diet or exercise programs, and examine the resulting changes in their body composition and metabolic risk. I am currently overseeing a project examining the effects of short-term exercise on hormone levels in sedentary, overweight and obese men aged 25-50. Specifically, we are examining how treadmill exercise affects adiponectin, a hormone which has been shown to be protective against both heart disease and diabetes. And this is your chance to get involved!

Adiponectin is a very interesting hormone in and of itself - it is produced exclusively by fat tissue, and yet the more fat tissue you have, the less adiponectin that is produced. And even though it is produced by fat tissue, adiponectin has numerous positive effects throughout the body. Adiponectin has been shown to increase fat oxidation and reduce glucose production in the liver, while also increasing fat oxidation and glucose uptake in skeletal muscle. These combined effects result in reduced fat content in the liver and muscle, as well as reduced blood sugar and increased insulin sensitivity - all of which reduce your risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

At present, it is unclear if aerobic exercise has any influence on plasma adiponectin levels. Some small studies suggest that it may have an effect, but these studies have typically been performed in athletes, who already have quite high levels of adiponectin (and low risk of chronic disease). We are examining whether 3 sessions of treadmill exercise are able to increase adiponectin levels in overweight and obese men, which is the population most likely to benefit from an increase in adiponectin levels.

We are nearing the end of our study, and are making a final push to recruit an additional 10-15 participants. All participants receive detailed information on their fitness and metabolic risk factors, as well as financial remuneration. Overseeing this study has been a lot of fun for me personally (and hopefully for our participants as well!), and it has been great to see how many of our volunteers have used the study as a springboard to healthy lifestyle changes. If this sounds like it might be of interest to you or someone you know, please send me an email at Or, for more information feel free to check our Facebook page, which can be found by searching for "Queen's Exercise Study".

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Kingston seniors get fit for research

Monday, February 09, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses
Study participants, Marilyn Campbell and Doreen Martin ‘pumping iron’

Recently, I discussed the findings of a major study from our lab that was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. To further advertise our work, spread the information to the general population, as well as thank those individuals from the local community who made the study possible, I wrote an article for the local paper, Kingston This Week, which was published late last week.

Here is the article:

New research suggests that older adults should regularly engage in both endurance (walking, swimming, etc.) and resistance (calisthenics, weight training, etc.) exercise to improve physical function and to reduce diabetes risk.

The study, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Ross at Queen’s University, demonstrated that seniors who performed the prescribed exercise saw tremendous improvements in their ability to perform physical tasks as well as their ability to metabolize sugar - improvements that occurred in concert with reductions in fat mass and increases in muscle mass.

“While separately the endurance and the resistance exercise modality provided some benefit, participants who performed a combination of both types of exercise had ‘best of both worlds’ effects,” states Dr. Lance Davidson, primary author of the study.

As individuals age, they tend to store more body fat, particularly in the abdomen, but lose skeletal muscle throughout the body, leading to a condition termed ‘sarcopenic obesity’. This combination of detrimental bodily changes elevates the risk of disease and disability among the older demographic.

Fortunately, the right exercise prescription reverses these aging trends.

“Incredible!” Exclaims study participant, Mr. Bob Wells, describing the physical benefits he noticed while participating in the study. In particular, Wells describes a significant loss of abdominal weight in response to the exercise – a finding shared by many fellow participants.

Encouragingly, since participating in the study back in 2005, Wells has maintained his fitness regimen by regularly engaging in a combination of endurance and resistance exercise at the local gym.

And what is the benefit of his regular exercise?

“On my next birthday I will be 73 and I’m still climbing trees,” laughs Wells, who does, in fact, climb trees while hunting.

Wells was one of over 130 dedicated older adults from the Kingston community who participated in the study, each for a six-month duration.

“The success of this study is, in no small measure, owed to the personal sacrifice of these dedicated volunteers,” states Davidson.

But in the end, in terms of their health and the important scientific knowledge gained, all the participants’ hard work certainly paid off.

So how can you get started?

The easiest way to improve your health and physical function is by adding a few refreshing walks to your regular schedule with the goal of obtaining about 90 minutes of walking every week. Once you have become accustomed to the walking routine, try adding 20 minutes of resistance training, three days per week.

With a total of 90 minutes of endurance exercise and 60 minutes of resistance exercise per week, you will be performing the same routine as did the participants in the study.

And before you know it, you just might find yourself alongside Mr. Wells, climbing trees.


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Pets get the idea...

Friday, February 06, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Back when we first started Obesity Panacea in November, I wrote a post concerning the increasing prevalence of obesity in the pet world (see the original post here). Well, it appears that some pets have decided to leave their owners behind and are getting plenty of physical activity on their own! Enjoy the videos and have a great weekend!


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Psychological Exams for Obesity Surgery Revisited

Thursday, February 05, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 5 Responses

Photo by Boliston

Last week I wrote a post discussing whether or not candidates for obesity surgery should be required to undergo a psychological exam prior to treatment. My post was in response to a recent editorial in The Guardian by Dr David Ashton which can be found here, which described the psychological exam for obesity surgery candidates as prejudiced and unjust. A few days later I received a detailed response from our friend and colleague Danielle Gabert, who works in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta, and who is much more familiar with this type of treatment than either Peter or I. I found her email so informative that I have posted excerpts below (with her permission), in the hopes that others will find it as useful as I did.

“I don’t feel that a mental health evaluation needs to act as “gate-keeper” for Bariatric surgery, but given the number of candidates for surgery, it seems quite reasonable to determine if a pre-operative psychiatric status has any impact on post-operative success. Dr Ashton made it seem that these psychological evaluations are pass/fail, and that if you “fail”, you get no medical help. The reality is that even if a patient has a psychiatric diagnosis, they can still undergo surgery at the discretion of a health professional, as was demonstrated in a study by Sarwer et al. in 2004:

[out of 90 total patients]Almost two-thirds of patients received a psychiatric diagnosis, the most common of which was major depressive disorder. Nearly two-fifths of all participants, and more than half of those given a psychiatric diagnosis, were engaged in some form of psychiatric treatment at the time of the evaluation. Nevertheless, 64% of patients were unconditionally approved for [bariatric] surgery; 31% were recommended for additional psychiatric or nutritional counselling prior to surgery [note: still eligible]. Three patients [out of 90] were not recommended for surgery.”

Thus I would never imagine that if someone does have a mental health concern or illness that they should be deprived of any obesity treatment, including Bariatric surgery. However, I would say that if someone is diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, that this could be seen as a barrier that must be addressed prior to placing any expectations of program adherence on that individual (Especially given the often rigorous post-op guidelines). Rather than give the patient bariatric surgery and then hope to address the mental health issue, it would make more sense to address the mental health issue and then approve the surgery. And to know if there are any mental health issues, it seems rather appropriate to administer psychological testing (which sounds more daunting that it is, since this can be anything from the MMPI – Minesota multiphasic personality inventory – or even patient interviewing by trained professionals).

That being said, I believe that guidelines, as useful as they are, are only that – guidelines. “Research is useful and Instructive, but it is not a substitute for clinical sensitivity to the unique situation of each individual patient.” -Alejandro R Jadad.


Thanks again to Danielle for taking the time to inform us on this issue. As Peter mentioned yesterday, we urge all of our readers to vote for their favorite blog topics to ensure that our future posts are as informative and useful as possible.


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Metabolically Healthy Obese: an Oxymoron?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 5 Responses

To date, countless epidemiological studies have shown that as you move from a normal weight (BMI = 18.5-24.9 kg/m2) towards overweight (BMI = 25-29.9kg/m2) and obesity (BMI ≥ 30kg/m2) the risk of many diseases increases exponentially.

Does this mean that every individual carrying excess weight (overweight or obese) is bound to have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or some other disease?

Although that is the commonly held belief, the answer to the above question is a resounding “NO!”

In fact, research suggests that approximately 25% of obese individuals ­are perfectly metabolically healthy (normal blood glucose, blood lipids, blood pressure, and cytokine profile) despite their excess weight.

In the 1980’s when researchers first noted this type of obesity they coined these individuals, Metabolically Healthy Obese.

The defining characteristics of the metabolically healthy obese phenotype, in contrast to obese individuals with metabolic risk, include limited abdominal, particularly visceral fat accumulation, an earlier onset of obesity (<20 years) and high levels of physical activity.

For example, yesterday Travis discussed the notion of sumo-wrestlers who are very obese and yet due to their high level of activity have very little visceral fat accumulation, tons of muscle mass, and a healthy metabolic profile – until they stop training, that is. During their training period, sumo wrestlers much like non-retired football linemen exemplify the metabolically healthy obese phenotype.

As a caveat, there of course are other health issues brought on by carrying excess weight that are not always metabolic (i.e. joint problems due to excess load).

Nevertheless, it is important to note that excess weight alone doesn’t absolutely guarantee the presence of metabolic disease. This once again reinforces the notion that there is more to health than the number on one’s bathroom scale.


[Note: Please vote for your favourite type of Obesity Panacea post on our new poll (right side of the screen under the email subscription link) and help us cater our topics to your preferences. Email subscribers must log on to the original site to vote.]

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Athlete Inaction

Tuesday, February 03, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 2 Responses
Former NFL star William "The Fridge" Perry

My friend and fellow distance runner Matthew Kerr sent me a very interesting article from CNN yesterday which I think makes for an excellent discussion. In it, author Madison Park describes the high rates of obesity and associated health risk among retired NFL linemen (for those not familiar with football, the linemen are the massive men who line up and drive against each other on each play). While they are actively competing, these men strive to be as large as possible so that they are more effective in pushing opposing players. However, the same eating habits that allow them to put on massive amounts of weight as a player can lead to devastating chronic disease risk once their playing days are over.

While interesting, this increase in metabolic risk in former athletes is not unheard of - in fact a similar phenomenon has been observed in Japanese sumo wrestlers. Although sumo wrestlers are known for their large size, they are also extremely physically active, and are characterized by low levels of visceral fat, which is the particularly hazardous fat which accumulates behind the abdominal wall (for a paper by Dr Jen Kuk examining the association of visceral fat and mortality risk, click here). These active wrestlers serve as an excellent example of the positive influence of physical activity on health regardless of body size. In contrast, once sumo wrestlers are no longer competing their levels of physical activity drop dramatically, and we see a large increase in their risk of chronic disease, likely related to an increase in visceral fat levels.

When I first read the article on CNN I actually became a little worried about my own future health - I competed for 5 years as a collegiate distance runner both at the University of Calgary (go Dinos!) and here at Queen's (go Gaels!) and am currently training for the Boston Marathon later this spring. Suffice it to say that with all this running, I do a lot of eating - sometimes it seems that we distance runners do little other than run and eat. So, like the football players and sumo wrestlers, I am accustomed to taking in massive amounts of calories on a daily basis - am I too destined to a life of increasing visceral fat and health risk once my competitive days are over? Luckily, the answer to that question is no (or at least probably not).

Although their physical activity levels are likely to have dropped since college, individuals who were varsity athletes are more likely to be active in middle-age than their peers who were not varsity athletes (for a great review on this topic by Bob Malina, click here). Given the strong associations between physical activity and reduced health risk, it is not surpising then that individuals who were varsity athletes in college may still have reduced health risk later in life, mainly due to the fact that they are more physically active than their peers who were not varsity athletes.

So why do NFL linemen and sumo wrestlers have so much risk that other athletes seem to avoid? Most athletes eat roughly as much food as they need - my appetite and drive to eat increase dramatically with my training load, and drop just as quickly when I take time away from training in the off-season. It is in my best interest to eat as much as my body needs, because too much or too little food will both take away from my performance. If I reduce my physical activity after my racing days are over, I will be much less hungry, and my caloric intake will drop dramatically. However, football linemen and sumo wrestlers are consciously trying to eat more than their bodies need so that they can put on weight. While they are competing, they are learning to ignore the signals that tell them that it is time to stop eating. Once they are done competing, they need to unlearn these habits, in order to avoid excess weight gain.

Thanks to Matthew for passing along the article.


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Arthur's Super Juice: get your prescription today!

Monday, February 02, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 5 Responses
Photo by: M. Komolova

On Friday, Travis posted a video from the Rachael Ray show and briefly discussed some of the wildly inaccurate dialogue exchanged between the host and her guest regarding acai berry juice, or “the healthiest drink you can get.”

Soon after making the post, Travis and I headed to the local grocery store to get some lunch. As we were passing by the juice section, I was struck by a novel product with the most unoriginal name: Super Juice. Upon close inspection, we realized the-so-called Super Juice produced by Canadian company, Arthur’s, was simply jumping on the antioxidant juice bandwagon – made popular by the aforementioned acai berry juice.

Just to be certain the consumer understood the “super” quality of the juice, which came in either a pomegranate or a wild blueberry flavor, the word ‘antioxidant’ is written in capitals on the front of the bottle.

But the fun only starts there.

On the back of the juice bottle, we, the naïve consumers, learned that 100% pomegranate juice is a “Medicinal Ingredient.” Available without a prescription, and at a grocery store – imagine that!

Oddly, no other nutritional information was listed anywhere on the bottle.

Instead of caloric content, quantity of sugar, or any of that useless information, the makers of Super Juice thought it would be more instructive to outline the “Recommended Purpose” of said juice:

“Arthur’s Fresh 100% Natural Pomegranate not-from-concentrate juice provides protection at the cellular level due to the reduction of damage caused by free radicals. Source of naturally occurring antioxidants for the maintenance of good health.”

Disregarding the sentence fragment in the description, who knew drinking juice had become so sophisticated?

And if you are still skeptical of the medical powers of Super Juice to cure all ails, the following is provided under the ‘Recommended Dose’ heading:

“Drink 250ml daily or as prescribed by a health care practitioner.”

So you do need a prescription, after all! More importantly, if health care practitioners are prescribing 100% pomegranate juice, it must be good for your health!

Because our curiosity generally gets the best of us, Travis and I each bought a bottle of Super Juice, which was on sale for $3 per 250ml bottle.

The best way I can describe the taste of my juice (pomegranate flavor) is that it is similar to wine that has been sitting out too long. I had one sip and I had all the antioxidants I needed for a lifetime.

In all, Arthur’s Super Juice resembles actual medicine in one general way: it tastes foul.


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Peter's Publications

Sunday, February 01, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses

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Blog Archive

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Peter's Travel Adventures on PhD Nomads

About Us

We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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