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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.

Vibration Training and Weight Loss: Where's the Evidence?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 3 Responses

Vibration training is a topic that we have wanted to tackle for quite some time, but have been putting it off we because it is not quite as simple as some of the other weight loss gimmicks "tools" we have discussed in the past. As ridiculous as vibration training may seem, it does appear to have some limited health benefits, especially in specific situations (none of them related to weight loss). Of course the websites that sell vibration platforms for the purposes of weight loss are still horribly misleading, but I'll get to that in a moment.

The first time I saw a vibration training platform was during my undergrad at the University of Calgary. A researcher was having athletes perform squats on a small vibrating platform, and at the time I thought it was pretty silly. Why would you want to workout on a vibration platform? It sounds like the gimmickiest thing ever. Despite my reservations, however, I quickly learned that vibration training has been shown to increase at least some components of leg strength/power (especially vertical jump height), and has been consistently shown to increase bone mineral density. While the increase in vertical jump height is of little use to most people I know, the increase in bone mineral density seen with vibration training is a pretty cool finding. Osteoporosis is a real problem, and a simple tool that can increase bone density is worth looking into (I believe NASA is also looking into the use of vibration training to reduce bone loss in astronauts).

When it comes to weight loss however, the research tells a different story. While two separate studies (available here and here) suggest that vibration training reduces fat accumulation in rodents, there is no evidence suggesting that vibration training has any effect on body fat levels in humans. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine reports that 24 weeks of vibration training had no effect on fat mass in untrained women. Another paper in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation concluded that "this type of exercise is not expected to reduce fat mass in obese subjects".

Not surprisingly, the lack of evidence supporting vibration training as a tool for obesity reduction in humans has not stopped companies from promoting their products as weight loss tools. For example, one of the first claims on the VibraDepot website is that vibration training can burn body fat, something which has no support among the literature that I have read, nor in the literature I found on their website. In fact, VibraDepot has a whole page dedicated to weight loss vibration machines. Most of these, like the VibraPro 5500, are "designed... to provide the user with the ability to use different vibration exercises that focus on specific problem areas like thighs, abdominals, buttocks, and waist...". Exercise cannot specifically target fat loss in "problem areas". As a general rule, any weight loss tool that promises body shaping is a gimmick. From what I can tell, there is no reason to believe that any of these claims are supported by research, otherwise I'm sure they would have included at least one weight loss or body shaping study in their list of research studies supporting vibration training.

Did I mention that these machines cost upwards of $1500 USD? If you want to lose weight, there are a myriad of options that are more affordable (not to mention more effective) than vibration training. Think of the high quality nutritional and diet advice you could obtain with that much money! Vibration training may be useful in the treatment of osteoporosis, or for some high performance athletes, but as of right now there's no evidence to suggest that it is useful in obesity management. If you are still interested in purchasing a vibration trainer of your own, you can visit the VibraDepot website here.


Thanks to Ashlee McGuire and Danielle Gabert for suggesting this topic.

Travis

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You are not doomed by your genes

Monday, March 30, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 3 Responses
 Photo by MASH DnArt

Several studies in recent years have suggested that people with specific genetic profiles are at increased risk of obesity.  The FTO gene in particular has received a lot of press since a 2007 article in Science reported that individuals who are homozygous for the risky FTO allele are an average of 3 kilograms (roughly 6.6 lbs) heavier than individuals who do not have the risky allele.  After reading one of the mainstream news article on the topic (such as this 2007 article from the BBC), you could be excused for thinking that obesity is nearly completely genetically determined.  Luckily, this is not the case - your genes are just one of many factors which influence your risk of numerous diseases, obesity included.  This point was nicely illustrated by an article that was published by researchers at Brown Medical School in the April 1 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In their recent study, Jeanne McCaffery and colleagues examined obesity rates in 8627 adult male twins. As we might expect, obesity exhibited a strong hereditary component (e.g. individuals with obese parents were more likely to be obese themselves).  However, they found that the heritability of obesity was significantly reduced in individuals who performed vigorous physical activity.  In other words, individuals who performed vigorous physical activity were less likely to be obese, regardless of their genetic makeup.  As with the findings of similar studies, the results of this study suggest that genes are strong predictors of obesity in sedentary individuals, but that this relationship is significantly weakened in individuals who are physically active.  Interestingly, in this study the positive influence of vigorous activity appeared to increase with age, such that obesity was even less genetically determined in vigorous older men than in vigorous younger men.  Unfortunately the effects of diet and low-to- moderate intensity physical activity were not examined in this study, although I hope I am not alone in assuming that they are likely to play a role as well.



Hopefully the results from this study are not all that surprising to regular readers of this blog.  Genes affect our risk for numerous diseases (cancer and high blood pressure jump to mind), but rarely are they completely deterministic.  In fact, I would wager that most of us are at heightened risk for some disease or another (what a wonderful thought to start your week...).  It is also not surprising that some individuals show a greater propensity for the storage of body fat - an adaptation which would have been quite advantageous until relatively recently.  The important thing to remember is that by living a healthy lifestyle (or healthstyle as Darya Pino would call it), you lower your risk of obesity, regardless of your genetic background.  As the saying goes, "genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger".

Travis

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Featured Weight Loss Products

Friday, March 27, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 6 Responses
There are a lot of weight loss products in the marketplace today. Obesity Panacea was created in order to evaluate these products, as well as their health claims. The following list contains every weight-loss gimmick that has been featured on Obesity Panacea, in alphabetical order.

Acai Burn

Acai Berry Products

Accelis

Air Climber

Arthur's Super Juice

Cardio Twister

Equmen Core Precision Undershirts

George Foreman Lean Mean Fryer

Hoodia

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin

Hydroxycut

Kevin Trudeau's "The Weight Loss Cure"

Kymaro's New Body Shaper

Leptothin

Metabolic Syndrome Fighter

Neckline Slimmer

Nutella

OSIM uKimono

Perfect Push Up

Power Ball

Power Pops

Range of Motion Machine (ROM)

Scala Anti-Cellulite Pants

Shake Weight

Shake Weight for Men

Slender Shaper

SurfShelf Treadmill Desk

The SMART Device

uGallop (aka iGallop)

Vibration Training

WiFi Scale

Xocai and the Chocolate Weight Loss Diet

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TV Turn-off Week

Thursday, March 26, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
In the past, I have discussed Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which includes all calories which are burned through non structured physical activity. For example, calories that are burned while performing chores around the house, or while walking up and down stairs at work, or making whipped cream by hand for your girlfriend's birthday supper because you don't have the foresight to buy an electric mixer - these would all fall under the category of NEAT.

NEAT is interesting as a potential treatment for obese individuals for several reasons. First and foremost, studies have shown that obese individuals often do not enjoy structured exercise as much as their lean peers, making longterm exercise adherence a real issue. Further, research suggests that obese individuals who are taking part in structured exercise interventions may compensate by performing less physical activity in their daily lives (e.g. less NEAT), to the point that some interventions report that inviduals in exercise programs end up burning less calories than "sedentary" control subjects who are not performing structured exercise. Finally, despite burning relatively few calories at any one time, since NEAT can be incorporated into the entire day, it can still be used to burn a considerable amount of calories.

All of this brings me to an initiative which is taking place here in Ontario the week of March 30th, which is called the TV Turn-Off Challenge (although you and your family could try it any time in any location). Families and individuals are being urged to turn-off their TV's, computers, and all other screens during their free time, in order to spend time doing other things - playing games, eating a sit-down meal, whatever you like. It doesn't necessarily have to be exercise all the time, it just has to be something which doesn't involve a TV or computer screen. And if you decide to actually do the Challenge, there is an allowance for 2 hours of total screen time during the week, so you can still check your emails or catch SportCentre a few times. If you like the idea of the TV Turn-Off Challenge, some cable providers allow you to go one step further and shut off your cable without penalty during the summer months, which is an option that you might want to seriously consider.

Turning off TV and computer screens does not guarantee that you will spend more time in physical activity. But it's very likely. Perhaps as importantly, you might spend more time with your family or friends, learn a new skill (juggling and jogging are my personal favourites) or engage with your community by doing some volunteer work. Screen time zaps us of many important things, NEAT just happens to be one of them.

For TV Turn-Off information or resources, see the Kingston Public Health website here, or see the City of Ottawa website here.

Travis

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Acai Berry Scam Exposed: We Called It!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 13 Responses
Photo credit: Jeff Cronin

In the recent past both Travis and I have taken a jab or two at the evolving acai berry craze, whether it was making fun of celebrities (i.e. Rachael Ray) who endorse it or by critiquing weight-loss products based on the magical berry (i.e. AcaiBurn). Apparently, we were onto something.

This past Monday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has released a consumer warning, urging consumers to not fall prey to the viral ads of countless acai berry based products for weight loss, sexual dysfunction, cancers, and other ailments.

In the warning, the following is stated:

“There's no evidence whatsoever to suggest that açai pills will help shed pounds, flatten tummies, cleanse colons, enhance sexual desire, or perform any of the other commonly advertised functions.”

In a more light-hearted tone, David Schardt, the CSPI senior nutritionist said:

"If Bernard Madoff were in the food business, he’d be offering 'free' trials of açai-based weight-loss products."

Aside from the lack of evidence backing any of the acai berry product claims are sketchy business practices of most of the companies peddling the products.

In fact, almost 3 months ago, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) had released their own warning concerning online sales of such products.

In that warning, it was said that the “BBB has received thousands of complaints from consumers nationwide who thought they were signing up for a free-trial offer of acai berry weight loss products that were supposedly endorsed by Oprah, Rachel Ray and other celebrities; in the end, the free trial cost them, month after month.

Apparently, the “free-trials” all these companies are offering, just like the AcaiBurn that I recently blogged about, can end up costing you quite a bit. In a scheme called “negative option”, the consumer must log in a credit card number to receive the free trial – as soon as they do so, they unknowingly also purchase subsequent orders of the product for which they will be charged in the near future. And cancelling your subscription is apparently close to impossible (stories of being on hold for 75 minutes while attempting to cancel product purchase), such that the “14-day free-trial” can turn into a lifetime expense.

Additionally, various companies have also been setting up fake blogs, written by non-existent people touting the benefits of acai berry based products, particularly for weight loss. According to the CSPI report there are at least 80 different blogs written by different people, with all of them having the same personal before and after pics of their acai-berry body transformation. And who is the woman in the photo? It turns out she's a German model whose photo has been photoshoped to give a nice before and after comparison. Thus, Tara, Olivia, Alicia, Becky and others of “ [Insert name] Weight Loss Blog” are all the same German model who was totally unaware her picture was being used to scam consumers into purchasing a bogus product.

Even more interesting, a recent study has shown that while acai juice is often touted to be the highest in antioxidants, it apparently pales in comparison to many other juices in its anti-oxidant properties such as grape, blueberry, and black cherry juice.

For future reference, if you come across a product that you are tempted to purchase, first check the BBB for a review of the company selling that product at http://www.bbb.org/ , where you will find a free online database with over 4 million reports on different businesses

Also you can check out this Fraud Alert written by the CSPI for how to ensure you don't get scammed by online health products which has a bunch of helful tips.


Peter

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Meat intake and Mortality

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Photo by procsilas.

I have mentioned a few times in past posts that I believe a diet high in "plant-based" foods (fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, whole grains, etc) is something we should all strive towards. One key reason to eat as many plant-based foods as possible is simply to reduce the proportion of animal products (mostly meat) that we consume in our diets. Meat is great for a lot of things (I like the taste the most personally), but research continues to show that high levels of meat consumption has negative effects on our longterm health.

Take for example the new study by Sinha and colleagues in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, (available here) which examined meat consumption in over 600 000 Americans 50-70 years of age. Meat was categorized as red meat (including bacon, beef, cold cuts, ham, hamburger, hotdogs, liver, pork, sausage, steak, and meat in foods like pizza chili, lasagna, and stew), white meat (including turkey, chicken, and fish) and processed meat (sausages, cold cuts, and smoked meats). Subjects were then divided into categories based on their consumption of each type of meat.

What were their findings? Men and women with the lowest red meat consumption also had the lowest rates of mortality from all-causes, as well as the lowest rates of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Similarly, individuals with the lowest processed meat consumption also had the lowest rates of overall and cancer mortality in both genders, and the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease mortality in women. The results remained significant after control for confounding variables including education, fruit and vegetable consumption, smoking, body weight, and physical activity levels. In contrast, individuals who consumed the most white meat (including fish) actually had the lowest risk of mortality in both genders, although the magnitude of this effect was considerably smaller than those seen for red meat and processed meat.

I am not advocating that anyone become a vegetarian (I eat a considerable amount of meat myself), but it is pretty clear that eating a diet high in red and/or processed meats puts you at increased health risk over the long-term. If, like me, you love meat too much to give it up completely, consider going for quality over quantity. I used to eat several $2 steaks a week - now I save my money for very good steaks much less frequently. Similarly, now I make fajitas that are mainly vegetables with a bit of meat, rather than the other way around. I have also come to realize that non-animal sources of protein like lentils and hummus not only keep you full, but they are also quite a bit tastier than the low quality deli-meats and ground beef that I used to eat on a daily basis when I was an undergrad.

If you don't believe that plant-based foods can be tasty as a matter of principle, try this experiment. Find a good vegetarian restaurant (The Table and The Green Door are my favourites in Ottawa, while Fresh in Toronto has some amazing burgers and desserts) and see if they have anything you like. Buffet style restaurants like The Table and The Green Door are also great because they allow you to sample so many foods at one sitting (I would especially recommend good vegetarian lasagnas or shephard's pies, which are often far tastier than the salty and bland meat versions they sell in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store). Once you give it a chance, you might be surprised just how tasty a life with less meat can be.

Travis

UPDATE: For a detailed review on meat consumption and the implications for both personal and environmental health, click here.

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Unrealistic Weight Loss Goals

Monday, March 23, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 1 Response

General observation would suggest that at any time point many people are attempting to lose weight – many go on fad diets, get gym memberships, or purchase some home-exercise gadget (Slender Shaper, Air Climber) or nutritional potion (Accelis, AcaiBurn) from a late-night infomercial – all in an attempt to shed the pounds. In fact, studies suggest that approximately 50% of Canadian men and 75% of Canadian women have tried or are currently attempting to lose weight. While the public awareness of weight loss need may seem encouraging, despite the high frequency of weight-loss attempts, obesity rates continue to climb. This is likely at least in part explained by the high recidivism to weight-loss strategies.


But why do so many people begin and drop a weight-loss program?


One possibility may be that people set the bar too high with regards to their weight-loss goal, making it almost impossible to ever succeed. In fact, a number of studies have shown that women attempting to lose weight want to lose approximately 30% of their current body weight. Additionally, it is suggested that a weight loss of less than 40 lbs would be considered a failure by most attempting to lose weight. While I don’t want to point fingers, I’m sure popular TV shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and the isolated news success stories of individuals losing hundreds of pounds have done nothing to tame these unrealistic expectations.


So what happens in reality?


Short of resorting to bariatric surgery, which is a viable option for some extreme cases, for most with garden-variety obesity, achieving a sustained 5% reduction in weight would be considered a success. Indeed, results from the Diabetes Prevention Project, suggest that given a structured lifestyle based weight-loss program, only 37% of participants met the weight-loss goal of 7% at the 3 year follow-up. In other words, this intensive program failed to reduce body weight by 7% or more in almost two-thirds of the participants in the long term.


On the other hand, while the weight-loss achievement was poor, almost 70% of the participants in this study met the physical activity goal of performing at least 150min/wk of moderate-intensity activity. Astonishingly, despite the abysmal weight-loss, this resulted in a 58% reduced risk of type-2 diabetes. Thus, as we have argued before, rather than setting up for failure with unrealistic weight-loss goals, merely focusing on healthy behaviours – increasing physical activity, limiting refined sugars, excess salt etc. – will improve health even if the scale barely budges.

Peter

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Scientific Publications Authored by Travis Saunders

Friday, March 20, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Changes in Weight but not Physical Activity or Cardiorespiratory Fitness Are Associated with Change in C-Reactive Protein: Results From the INFLAME Study. Church, T., Conrad, E., Priest, E., Rodarte, R., Saunders, T.J., Ross, R. and Blair, S.N. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Epub ahead of print. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181c03a43

Breast Volume is an Independent Predictor of Visceral and Ectopic Fat in Premenopausal Women. Janiszewski, P.M., Saunders, T.J. and R. Ross. Obesity. 2009 Oct 22. Epub ahead of print. DOI: 10.1038/oby.2009.336

Age-related changes in total and regional fat distribution.  Kuk, J.L., Saunders, T.J., Davidson, L.E., and R Ross.  Ageing Research Reviews. 2009; 8 (4): 339-348.  DOI:10.1016/j.arr.2009.06.001

Associations of the Limb Fat to Trunk Fat Ratio With Markers of Cardiometabolic Risk in Elderly Men and Women. Saunders, T.J., L. E. Davidson, Peter M. Janiszewski, J-P. Despres, R. Hudson, and R. Ross. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. 2009; 64A (10): 1066-1070. DOI:10.1093/gerona/glp079

Lifestyle treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Peter M. Janiszewski, T. J. Saunders, R. Ross. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2008; 2: 99-108

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Join the 50 Million Pound Challenge

Thursday, March 19, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses

It is often said that keeping track of your progress towards a given goal increases the probability of reaching that goal. In the case of obesity, it is recommended that people keep track of the calories they consume, the types of foods they eat, the calories they expend through exercise, and measure their weight and waist circumference as they progress.

Just under 2 years ago, Dr. Ian Smith launched the 50 Million Pound Challenge website to help people monitor their progress. While Dr. Smith has been on TV shows such as Celebrity Fit Club and authored poorly titled books such as Extreme Fat Smash Diet, which make me a tad skeptical regarding his intentions, the website itself is actually quite neat – and more importantly, it is free!

The site includes a weight tracker, a food journal, and an activity tracker in which you can record your daily pedometer count in addition to other activities. You can also create a team along with your friends, family, school mates or co-workers and keep each other on track as well as compete with other teams. I have actually just joined the Challenge and created an Obesity Panacea team which I encourage our readers to join (just search for “Obesity Panacea” in the “Search Teams” tab once you've signed yourself up). Note: If you are one of our Canadian readers you will have to make up a US address as I did.

To date the participants of the 50 Million Pound Challenge have lost a total of 3,772,105 pounds – if you have a few pounds to shed, you can contribute to the cause. If you care less about the pounds but want to keep track of your activity and diet, as I plan on doing - also check out this useful and free resource.

Peter

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The Air Climber - Walking on a Cushion of Hot Air

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 3 Responses


Yesterday afternoon I came across a device known as the Air Climber. Developed by former American Aerobics Champion (yes, that is an actual title) Brenda Dygraf, the Air Climber is a stepping machine that is small enough for home use. However, this isn't your grandmother's stepping machine - this stepping machine is powered by "Air Technology"! The promotional video (available on our blog) says it all:


"...one of the biggest breakthroughs in workout technology! Instead of boring workouts, now you can have fun - on a cushion of air! With one of the most effective weight loss and body shaping programs ever [emphasis added]."

That's right, one of the most effective programs ever. How effective is it? Well the video goes on to show a graph from a "University Report" claiming that people burn an average of 493 calories an hour using the Air Climber. Now it's unclear who this average includes - is it lean individuals, endurance athletes, overweight and obese individuals? In all likelihood, it's probably male college students, because these are the typical subjects who get roped into "University Reports". I feel it is important to point out that in a recent study in our lab, overweight and obese men were typically able to burn that same number of calories by walking for one hour on a treadmill at half of their maximum capacity. This means that one of the most effective weight loss programs ever is roughly as effective (in relatively healthy, overweight men) as walking at a very leisurely pace. Wow!

There is a similar video available here, which fails to mention how many calories were burned by the average person in the "University Report" and instead claims that "a University Study proves that the Air Climber burns over 900 calories an hour!", which is apparently the greatest number of calories burned by anyone in their study. Unfortunately they once again fail to mention the population used in the study, as well as the intensity of the exercise. Like most steppers, the resistance level of the Air Climber can be adjusted, and one would assume that individuals can perform each resistance level at a variety of speeds. So the claims of the Air Climber are a bit like me saying that a treadmill can be used to burn over 1000 calories an hour - it's certainly true that some people can burn that many calories in an hour on the treadmill, but most people won't. And even among people who can do it, they probably won't want to go that hard every single day.

The final claim of the Air Climber is that it can result in weight loss of up to 10lbs in 10days. Now you need to burn roughly 3500 calories to lose one pound of fat. That means that the "average" person in their "University Report" would have to exercise for 7 hours a day to lose 10lbs in 10 days! Of course the small print explains that everyone who has seen these types of results has followed a low calorie eating plan, which you would expect to be the reason for most of the weight loss. And I should point out that most health professionals would never advocate losing that much weight that quickly.

Now all this is not to say that the Air Climber could not be useful. Anything that gets people moving is, in my opinion, a good thing. However, I don't think many people are going to enjoy this over the long term (how many people have old fashioned non air-powered steppers gathering dust in the basement?), and I don't see why you should spend $119.97 plus shipping and handling for something that is roughly as effective as walking.

If you are interested in purchasing the Air Climber yourself, please click here.

Travis


Please visit our online store for health and fitness products that we recommend.



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'Spring Ahead' to a Heart Attack

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 2 Responses

Did you know that ‘springing ahead’ the clock in accordance with daylight savings time increases you chance of a heart attack?

Yesterday I gave a presentation on circadian rhythms in the graduate neuroendocrinology course that Travis and I are taking. While preparing the presentation, I came across some very interesting research that I decided to share with our readers.

Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that occur in humans, animals, insects, plants, and even bacteria with a period of approximately (circa) one day (diem). These rhythms are determined internally by a part of our hypothalamus and are synchronized perfectly to our 24-hr days by the sun and other cues. This internal clock mediates daily variation in everything from hormone levels, to sleep/wake cycles, feeding bahaviour, thermoregulation, to bowel movements and cardiovascular function, among many others.

It is largely due to these predictable circadian rhythms that risk of a myocardial infarction (heart attack) is significantly highest in the morning (by about 40% as compared to other times in the day). Right as we awake, our cardiovascular system is in the most compromised state –systolic blood pressure and heart rate show the largest upward spike in the morning, blood vessels ability to dilate in response to increased blood flow is compromised (relative endothelial dysfunction), blood clots are more likely to form, and the ability to break them up is at its lowest point in the day. Is it any wonder then, that the first snowfall – shoveled early in the morning by people at risk - always leads to a spike in heart attacks?

Interestingly, the 1hr shift experienced by citizens of many countries during the fall and spring in accordance with daylight savings time also has a detrimental effect on cardiovascular risk. The problem lies in the fact that our circadian clock takes time to adjust, and it is best adjusted by changes in day/night or light/dark cycles – not simply the adjustment of our watch. Thus, the few mornings after the clock change our internal clocks are at odds with our watches and particularly in the spring – when one hour of sleep is lost, we wake up with our cardiovascular system being in an even more compromised state than normal.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine clearly shows this effect. In the study the authors investigated the number of heart attacks in Sweden the week before and the week after the 1hr clock changes in both the spring and fall. As would be predicted, individuals had an approximately 5% greater risk of having a heart attack immediately after the ‘spring ahead’ clock change compared to the previous week.

The authors rightfully suggest that individuals at risk of cardiovascular complications would be better off changing their clocks more gradually (i.e. by 15 minutes, starting on the Friday before the change). Even more importantly, avoiding strenuous activity and stress right in the morning may also be a valid suggestion.

Peter

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New York says goodbye to the "fat tax"

Monday, March 16, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 2 Responses
Many of our readers are no-doubt aware of the recent proposal of a "Fat tax" to be levied on soda in New York. The idea was to charge a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in the Empire State, with the increased price acting as a deterrent, and reducing the number of calories consumed by New Yorkers in liquid form. Although the effectiveness of such a measure could be (and has been) debated, it appears that it was all for naught - Governor Paterson has decided that the money from the "fat tax" and numerous other small taxes are no longer needed due to billions of dollars that New York is receiving in the form stimulus money from the federal government.

I am a little disappointed, as I had envisioned this tax as a deterrent to soft drink consumption, rather than a way to generate income (although I have now read that it was originally devised as a way to reduce the State's budget gap). Although we will never know whether or not the fat tax itself would have improved nutrition among New Yorkers, let's hope that the State's commitment to obesity prevention does not disappear as quickly as the fat tax.

Travis

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Parkour!

Friday, March 13, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses
When I was in grade school BMX biking was all the rage. Later on, everyone (including me) wanted to be like Tony Hawk, bought a skateboard and tried desperately to learn how to olley a pop can - yes I eventually succeeded:)

Over recent years one of the most popular activities emerging is that of parkour. According to Wikipedia, parkour is "is an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently and quickly as possible, using principally the abilities of the human body." It has even become so mainstream that the new James Bond film series often have extended parkour scene sequences- such as this one:



For an example of non-Hollywood edited parkour action by various traceurs or traceuses (practitioners of parkour) check this video out:



Have a great weekend.

Peter

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Sleep and childhood obesity

Thursday, March 12, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Photo by peasap.

Although we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet, these are not necessarily the only factors affecting obesity prevention and reduction. One very interesting area that is receiving increasing attention is sleep duration, which appears to strongly influence obesity and metabolic disease risk, especially in children.

Although the exact physiological function of sleep is still unclear, the idea that sleep deprivation can lead to negative consequences is not a surprise to anyone. What is interesting, is that new studies suggest that even partial sleep restriction can result in increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and CVD. For example, adults who sleep less have been reported to have increased levels of ghrelin (a hormone which stimulates eating) and decreased levels of leptin (a hormone which inhibits eating). For a great review on this area of research by Dr S Taheri at the University of Bristol, click here. The idea that sleep deprivation might somehow affect hormones or eating patterns in the short term is not all that surprising - think of how most of us crave greasy, energy dense foods after a late night on the town. However, a recent study in Pediatrics suggests that sleep duration in childhood is a significant predictor of obesity rates well into adulthood.

In their recent study, Landhuis and colleagues from the University of Otago assessed sleep time in 1000 individuals at 5, 7, 9, 11 and 32 years of age. They report that sleep duration in childhood was a significant predictor of adult BMI, even after control for confounders like socioeconomic status and childhood BMI. Interestingly, adult sleep duration was not associated with adult BMI. Individuals who were classified as childhood "short sleepers" (less than 11 hours/night) had significantly higher BMI's than moderate (11.0-11.5 hours/night ) and long sleepers (>11.5 hours/night) at all ages. Although they did not investigate mechanisms (or suggest how to convince your kids to sleep more), the results of this paper are nonetheless very interesting, and suggest that sleep patterns in childhood (when the brain is still developing) may influence the control of energy homeostasis years down the road. These results also offer one more way that simple lifestyle modifications could help reduce the prevalence of obesity in future generations.

On a somewhat related note, Peter and I would like to publicize a joint venture of the Canadian Obesity Network (of which we are both proud members) and the Addressing Childhood Obesity through Research and Networking group. Together, they are conducting an online survey of the pediatric weight management services available for children and their families available throughout Canada. The questionnaire can be completed by any Canadian Obesity Network member (clinician, researcher or administrator) who leads a Canadian pediatric weight management program/service. The survey takes approximately 20 minutes to fill out. If you work in the pediatric obesity field, we strongly urge you to take part in this study, and to follow the results which will be available through the Canadian Obesity Network website to improve collaborations between clinicians and researchers.

To perform the survey, click here and note that Login = acorn, Password = acorn.

On a final note, my Twedometer experiment is going great! I have taken just over 20 000 steps each of the past two days, although well over half of those steps have been during my nightly training runs. It has been an interesting experience already, and I urge everyone to share their own Pedometer step counts in the comments section of our blog. To follow my own Twedometer messages on twitter, click here.

Travis

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What does the function of your penis tell you about your cardiovascular health?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses



More than you might think.



But first, as a bit of a background, I should point out that the focus of my PhD project is on the effects of exercise on erectile dysfunction in abdominally obese and sedentary men – the significance of which I will describe in a later post. Accordingly, I have been doing much reading about the condition while writing the grant for my study which was thankfully funded and is now underway.



More that anything else I have previously done research on, the topic of erectile dysfunction catches many peoples’ attention, and for the first time since starting grad school – some non-academics are actually interested to hear about my work. Thus, I thought I would introduce our readers to this interesting area of research, as I will undoubtedly be writing on the topic in future posts.



Erectile dysfunction is defined as the persistent inability to attain or maintain an erection for sexual intercourse. Current estimates suggest that affects approximately 30 million men in the US and 152 million men worldwide have some form of erectile dysfunction – an estimate that is projected to double by 2025



Although erectile dysfunction can have a detrimental impact on many facets of health, particularly on quality of life, its association with cardiovascular disease is quite relevant.
Specifically, erectile dysfunction is primarily a disease of the vasculature supplying blood to the penis. However, in most cases, this vascular disease is not isolated only to the penis, but involves all other vascular beds throughout the body.



The interesting thing about erectile dysfunction is that is appears to foreshadow future cardiovascular disease risk (i.e. heart attack), as men who seek medical attention for cardiovascular disease symptoms often report that their penis stopped working long before they had any signs of heart problems. Thus, it is now believed that the exact same disease process which leads to erectile dysfunction also leads to cardiovascular disease. Symptoms of erectile dysfunction become apparent earlier on in the disease process due to the very small size of the arteries supplying the penis in contrast to those supplying the heart – it takes longer to plug up a water hose than a drinking straw.



Current treatment of erectile dysfunction involves the use of a class of drugs called PDE-5 inhibitors, including the well known Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. Not only are these drugs not effective in about half of men with erectile dysfunction, but they only temporarily improve the symptoms meanwhile the vascular disease throughout the body is allowed to progress. There has even been some fear that sexual intercourse facilitated through the use of these medications may actually give some men a heart attack – given that they are at greater risk of one and that sexual activity may be the most intense exercise they had done in some time (sort of like the heart attacks that always occur after the first big snow fall in Canada).



So there you have it: if your penis stops working today, there is an excellent chance you may have greater problems on the horizon. Thus, seek the advice of your physician, and ask for more than just a prescription for Viagra.

Peter

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Travis Steps into the Future

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 1 Response

Since Peter and I began writing this blog in November, I've written several posts about the importance of incorporating physical activity into your daily life. The reason that I feel people should focus on increasing the amount of exercise they get throughout the day is that many (if not most) people don't enjoy structured exercise (by structured exercise I mean going to the gym, the pool, or out on the roads to do a "workout"), which makes it incredibly difficult for them to sustain that exercise over time. Even among those people who enjoy structured workouts, it can be incredibly hard to find the time to get to the gym on a regular basis.

Rather than trying to convince people to perform more structured exercise, I think most sedentary individuals would be much better served by increasing the amount of physical activity they get throughout the day.  Although they may burn less calories than if they were doing a structured workout, I believe they are much more likely to maintain this type of physical activity over the long-term.  I can't overstress how critical that is.  Physical activity has to be maintained over the long-term to reap the most health benefits.

So, what is the first step to increasing your daily physical activity level?  One very simple step is to buy a pedometer.  They cost very little, and they can give you a very good sense of how much activity you are getting on a daily basis.  My mother has been using one to great effect for years, and I have always been impressed with the way that it has not only educated her about her physical activity levels, but also motivated her to move more on a daily basis.  After years of admiring her pedometer, I have finally purchased my own.  I bought it at The Source (formerly Radio Shack) for $19.99.  In the 7 hours since I purchased it, I have taken 2305 steps.  I can already tell that it's not perfect - each time the pedometer is shaken it counts as 1 step, so it tends to slightly overestimate the number of steps I am taking.  Be that as it may, I think this will be a very educational experience for me, and I look forward to measuring the number of steps that I get in my day-to-day life.

I will also be sharing my daily step count with others on my twitter page, which you can find here.  Each night before I go to bed, I will Tweet the number of of steps that I took that day. I will wear it when I go running, when I go cycling (by placing it on my shoe), and any other time that I am awake and wearing clothes (which, sadly, is the way I spend most of my day).  Today, the Twedometer is born.

Travis

How many steps do you take on a daily basis?  What are some ways you can incorporate more walking into your day-to-day life? 

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Metabolic Syndrome Fighter "May" Cure All Diseases*

Monday, March 09, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses

Although the metabolic syndrome is now common in medical lexicon, there still exists no universally accepted definition of the condition. Various organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and others have all developed their own unique definitions. So if someone tells you they have the metabolic syndrome – this largely depends on what definition they used.


There does exist at least some agreement in the various definitions with the inclusion of four fundamental components: abdominal obesity, dysfunctional glucose metabolism, dyslipidemia, and elevated blood pressure – but the criteria for these factors also vary widely. Thus, metabolic syndrome really is just a clustering of individual metabolic disturbances, with insulin resistance being hypothesized as the common causative factor (still hotly debated).


The clinical relevance of the metabolic syndrome is also commonly critiqued since it is unclear how treatment is influenced by the presence of metabolic syndrome over the individual components. For example, if someone has high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels – they will likely be prescribed medication to treat each problem without regard to whether they meet criteria for metabolic syndrome or not. Additionally, to my knowledge there is yet to be an approved medication specifically for the metabolic syndrome.


Nevertheless, some have already developed non-prescription potions to cure the metabolic syndrome – now that is being proactive! For example, Bronson Laboratories have developed the Metabolic Syndrome Fighter. According their website, “metabolic syndrome may be connected to weight gain, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, hypertension…” but have no fear because “Bronson's Metabolic Syndrome Fighter may provide assistance.” Interesting that the metabolic syndrome would be “connected” to the very things that define the condition – akin to saying that diabetes is connected to high blood sugar levels.


And how might the Metabolic Syndrome Fighter treat the metabolic syndrome? With its active ingredient, corosolic acid. I had previously discussed corosolic acid as it is also contained (as the active ingredient) in a popular weight-loss potion, Accelis. As I said then, there exists some (very limited) evidence that corosolic acid may improve glucose tolerance (possibly via enhanced GLUT-4 translocation). More research needs to be done before we can even be sure of this effect. However, it is extremely doubtful that this compound will be able to improve the other components of the metabolic syndrome.


My favourite thing about the product description for the Metabolic Syndrome Fighter are the following 3 sentences which all end with an asterisk:
1) Banaba leaf extracts have been safely used for years to control blood glucose levels, and may assist with overcoming insulin resistance.*
2) Our formula contains a high potency of this powerful ingredient to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.*
3) May assist in overcoming insulin resistance by helping the body utilize glucose more effectively*


After scrolling all the way to the bottom of the screen we find out what the asterisk means:
* This statement has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration.


Wow, that sure inspires confidence in the product, don’t you think?


And finally, after informing us how great this product “may” be, we learn that “this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” But wait, isn’t the metabolic syndrome a disease?


Get 60 pills of Metabolic Syndrome Fighter for $19.98 today!


By the way, I, Peter Janiszewski, can fly.*
*This statement is completely false:)


Peter

Thanks to loyal reader Caitlin Mason for drawing our attention to this product.

Related Posts:

1. Acai Berry Scam Exposed: We Called It!
2. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin for Fat Loss: "Fallacy and Hazard"
3. Accelis: The Panacea for Obesity?


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Do what you love

Friday, March 06, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses


In my opinion, one of the keys to a lifelong commitment to physical activity is doing something that you love.  It can be walking, cycling, dodgeball, whatever - if you enjoy it, you are more likely to keep doing it on a regular basis.  As many of our local readers are well aware, when I am not blogging or performing research I am often found juggling and unicycling (seriously!).  So, today I have decided to post a video of two gentlemen who clearly love unicycling.  These tricks are amazingly difficult, and I can assure you that just getting on a unicycle can be quite a workout in itself! (for a video that demonstrates this, check out my juggling website here).

Enjoy the extreme unicycling, and have a great weekend.

Travis

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Supersized Exercise Equipment

Thursday, March 05, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 3 Responses
Due to our exercise physiology background, Travis and I often promote the adoption of an active lifestyle including both leisure (structured exercise) and non-leisure time (i.e. stairs vs. elevator) activity. With regards to structured exercise, I had never truly considered the difficulty some individuals, particularly those who are carrying a significant amount of excess weight, may have while attending a typical gym for their work-out. Specifically, much of the cardio equipment, including ellipticals, treadmills, and bikes is not specifically designed for an obese exerciser.

Interestingly, I just came across a website aptly named LivingXL.com, which carries some exercise equipment specifically designed for larger individuals, among many other things such as supersized towels and high-capacity heavy-duty scales.

The line of exercise equipment includes:

1. Living XL™ Universal Tricycle ($1,349.95), with a 500lb weight capacity



2. Livng XL™ Men's Heavy-Duty Bicycle ($549.95), also with a 500lb weight capacity – different styles for each gender.



3. Theracycle 200XL Motorized Total Body Workout Machine ($4,999.95): sort of a cross between a recumbent bike and a row machine as far as I can tell with a 550lb weight capacity.

4. Aqua Jogger Hydro Therapy Belt & Weights Combo ($79.95): for aquafit type resistance exercise in the pool.


I bet companies like this, specifically offering items for the larger demographic, will become more and more popular and profitable. I only hope that it doesn’t get too silly with the products – think Ned Flanders’ Leftorium in the Simpsons.
Peter

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Is the Smart Cycle the way to increase Childhood Physical Activity Levels?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 2 Responses

We know that kids need to be physically active. We also know that kids are spending more time watching TV and playing video games (collectively known as screen time) than ever before. Well, it's not surprising then that people have started to develop video games centered around the idea of physical activity/physical fitness. Now this certainly is not a new idea - I remember having a blast playing on my friend's Nintendo PowerPad as a kid. But I think we are kidding ourselves if we expect these products to have a real impact on childhood physical activity levels, and I will use an example to illustrate.

Pictured above is the Smart Cycle, a new children's toy produced by Fisher Price. The general idea is that the kids will ride the stationary bike, while being entranced by the screen that shows them pedaling through a virtual environment, playing games, and learning about math and spelling. Many people are excited about this new toy, and genuinely believe that it will help to increase physical activity levels in our children. And I can see the appeal - kids love video games, why not give them a video game that involves some physical activity. But in my opinion, video games like the Smart Cycle are not the best way to increase physical activity levels, and in fact, these types of games might even have a negative impact on physical activity levels in the long-term.

For physical activity to be sustained over the long-term (e.g. the entire lifespan), it has to be done in a way that is natural for that individual. I would argue that pedaling on a stationary bike while watching TV is not the natural way for kids to develop a lifelong love or physical activity. In my opinion, it's a better way for them to develop a lifelong love of video games, and we know that screen time is a strong predictor of obesity rates. One of the most enjoyable aspects of physical activity at any age is its social nature. For example, I played a ton of road hockey as a kid - partly because I love road hockey, but mainly because I loved hanging out with other kids. In fact, it was that social nature of physical activity which drew me to hockey throughout my childhood, and which drew me to distance running in high school and university (I will admit that female runners also helped draw me to running in high school). Video games cannot match the level of camaraderie found in traditional games like hopscotch and road hockey, and I don't think they ever will. And let's not forget that moving through the physical world (on a bike, a skateboard, or on your own two feet) can be a very fun and exhilarating experience that no video game will ever be able to match. No matter how fancy, I don't believe that any stationary bike will ever be as engaging for a 6 year old (or 60 year old) as riding their own bike outdoors. And if kids aren't engaged with physical activity at a young age, I don't think there is much chance they will be engaged as adults.

As always, we love to hear your comments - what are your thoughts and experiences with fitness games aimed at children or adults?

Travis

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What is more likely to kill you: smoking or obesity?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 1 Response

While smoking has an obvious detrimental effect on health and longevity, some individuals are known to take up the practice in order to lose weight, while those who are current smokers are hesitant to quit for fear of gaining weight.


Indeed, some reports suggest that adolescent girls who are trying to lose weight are twice as likely to be smokers as girls who are not attempting to lose weight.


Additionally, it has been shown that cessation of smoking on average results in an increase of body weight of 2.8 kg in men and 3.8 kg in women. Further, a total of 10% of men and 13% of women who quit smoking may gain in excess of 13kg.


Given the interplay between excess weight and smoking, an interesting question recently addressed by an article in the British Medical Journal is which of these factors, smoking or obesity, are more important with regards to risk of death.


The study used nationwide conscription data on 45 920 Swedish men who performed mandatory military conscription tests at approximately 18 years of age back in 1969-70. Some 38 years later the authors investigated who of these men had since died, and the relationship between their weight and smoking status and conscription and their subsequent likelihood of mortality.


In comparison to normal weight men (BMI = 18.5-24.9 kg/m2) obese (BMI >30.0 kg/m2) men had more than double the risk of dying, while overweight (BMI = 25.0-29.9 kg/m2) men had a 33% greater chance – even after smoking status was accounted for in the analyses.


Secondly, in comparison to non-smokers, heavy smokers (>10 cigarettes/day) had more than double the mortality risk, while light smokers (1-10/day) had a 54% higher chance – even after weight status was accounted for in the analyses.


When looking at the combined effect of smoking and weight status on mortality, it became apparent that both have a similarly detrimental effect on longevity. That is, normal weight/light smokers have the same risk of death as overweight/non-smokers, while normal weight/heavy smokers have approximately the same risk of death as obese/non-smokers.


Predictably, worst off were men who were both obese and heavy smokers who, in comparison to normal weight non smokers, had almost a 5-fold risk of dying.


So there you have it – smoking and carrying excess weight are equally likely to kill you.


On a grander scale, in order to establish the true importance of these two risk factors on mortality rates in a given country, the prevalence of both smoking and obesity must be considered. In the recent Canadian past, while obesity rates have been on a steady climb, smoking rates, particularly among adolescents, have been on a severe decline (from 14% in 2001 to 8% in 2005) – likely due to the strong anti-tobacco movement. Thus, it would appear that the time has come for the government to step up and do for obesity rates what has shown to be so successful for smoking rates.


Peter


(Thanks to loyal Obesity Panacea follower, Ian Kudryk for drawing my attention to the article)

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Obesity a growing concern in the Australian army

Monday, March 02, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 0 Responses
Photo by Army.mil.

In our first podcast, Peter and I discussed the recent increase in obesity rates within the American armed forces. However, it appears that this issue is not confined to the US. For example, a recent article from Australia's Sunday Mail reports that roughly 14% of the country's 53,000 troops are classified as obese. As a part of the Sunday Mail piece, they interviewed a corporal who was being threatened with discharge due to his weight. Since that original piece, the corporal has been charged with three counts by the Australian Defense Force for speaking to the media without permission from his superiors. Although the charges are not yet known, one would not think this would help his chances remaining with the Forces.

The story of the corporal is detailed here, in a follow-up piece in the Sunday Mail. Interestingly, the Sunday Mail reports that since the first article was published on Feb 21, they have received several messages from Forces personnel deploring the quality of food available to personnel. In recent years the Australian Forces have also changed their recruitment guidelines to allow individuals with BMI's of up to 33 to enlist (well above the cut-off of 30 which denotes obesity), which one would expect to also contribute a great deal to this increase in obesity rates among Forces personnel. Just one more reminder of how the obesity epidemic is influencing every aspect of society.

Travis

(To listen to our podcast discussing obesity rates in the US army, you can click on the media player on the upper right-hand corner of our blog itself, or subscribe through iTunes by clicking here.)

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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.

Disclaimer

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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