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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.

500 lb Texas inmate hides gun in folds of fat

Monday, August 31, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 0 Responses


I had heard of this news a while back, but due to a constant stream of more pressing issues it got put on the back burner.

Earlier this month, an obese inmate in Houston, Texas, was charged for possession of a firearm while within the prison walls.

The 25 year old George Vera was originally imprisoned for selling illegal CDs - he apparently sold around 500 such items.

The 500 lb man was apparently searched a total of 3 times before arriving at his new home (prison cell), but none of these searches found the unloaded 9mm pistol hidden deep within his rolls of adipose tissue.

For some reason Vera decided to come clean about his fleshy holster to one of the prison guards during a shower break. By doing so, he obviously extended his prison sentence.

A couple things baffle me about this story:

1. How in the world did a man enter a prison with a gun despite 3 separate body searches?

2. After foiling the prison guards upon entry, why did Vera then decide to come clean? He must have known this would severely increase his prison sentence. I would guess this sentence would be more serious then the one for selling some burned CDs.

What are your thoughts?

Peter

Note: Thanks very much to friend and co-worker, Jenn T. for drawing my attention to the article.

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Freshman 15: Fact or Fiction?

Friday, August 28, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 5 Responses


While Travis and I regularly strive to debunk various health myths on Obesity Panacea, it is always a pleasure when we get the opportunity to expose health misinformation to a wider audience, as made possible by popular media outlets. Not that long ago, Travis was interviewed by Alex Hutchinson of the Globe and Mail to clear up issues pertaining to obesity and mortality. Just last week, I had a great discussion with another Globe and Mail reporter, Hayley Mick, who was seeking to debunk the popular myth of the Freshman 15. The result of that discussion is a wonderful article by Hayley which appeared in print yesterday (you can read online here) in which she generously featured my opinions on the topic and even gave a shout-out to our blog.

Thanks again, Hayley!

It is a common held assertion that the average freshman will gain approximately 15lbs during the 2 semesters of 1st year university or college.

However, my experience and the results of numerous studies suggest that the phenomenon is purely myth, and a student who gains 15 lbs during their 1st year is clearly an exception rather than the rule.

The average university school year is approximately 30 weeks. Thus, to gain 15lbs over the 30 weeks of 2 semesters would require an additional 1750kcals per week – which is almost an extra days worth of calories added every week. That is some pretty serious overeating.

During my first year of university, I definitely did not experience a substantial increase in body weight. If anything, the initial stress of being away from home, the foreign environment, the increased academic workload, being forced to eat cafeteria food instead of my mother's delicious cooking - actually caused me to drop a few pounds. By second semester I was well adjusted, had figured out the 'healthier' eating options on campus, and had re-acquainted myself with regular exercise. When I went home for the summer, I had actually arrived in better shape (and approximately 5 pounds lighter) than when I first departed. In her article,

Hayley referred to me as an example of the “freshman minus 5”.

And what does the research suggest?

A study by Morrow and colleagues investigated the idea of a freshman 15, and was published in the journal Obesity back in 2006. This study has one of the largest samples to look at the phenomenon of freshman weight gain, and is the only one (to my knowledge) to assess body composition. In that study, 137 female freshmen at the University of Oklahoma were assessed for body weight and composition at the start of the school year and again at the end of the spring semester.

While the study did find a statistically significant increase in body weight from the start to the end of 1st year, the average weight gain was approximately 2lbs – a far cry from the commonly touted gain of 15 lbs. And of those 2 lbs, about 25% was due to an increase in muscle.

What’s also obvious when examining the results of this study is that about a quarter of the students actually lost weight during the 1st year, and many maintained their baseline weight.

So while I may be in the minority of those who lose weight in 1st year, it appears to be an experience shared by a quarter of first year students.

Additionally, the freshman 15 is more accurately the freshman 2 – but that doesn’t sound nearly as exciting or catchy.

Regardless of the magnitude of weight change, the transition from home to living on your own is a critical period for developing your own dietary and activity patterns, and thus educating 1st year students on proper nutrition and regular exercise is of utmost importance.

Given the appropriate education, first year students can not only resist weight-gain, they can actually improve on the lifestyle habits they had adopted from their parents over the past 17-18 years.

That is, if your parents didn’t have the best lifestyle habits, moving away from home may be an excellent chance to fix the dietary and physical activity patterns that were handed down to you from your folks.

Of course, I had some friends who did adopt a regular diet of beer, pizza, burgers and video games during university - these individuals fared less well with their weight and health - not to mention their academic performance. But this is far from the norm as often popularized by the freshmen 15 myth.

Debunking the myth that all freshmen gain weight may help remove the excuse to eat unhealthy and become sedentary - we often allow suggestion to affect our behaviour more than we'd like to think. If it is expected that most students will gain an average of 15lbs, the incoming students may feel that how their body will look in 8 months it is out of their control.

So all incoming students - don't buy into the hype and fear-mongering. You are more likely to be a freshman 0 than a freshman 15.

Have a great weekend.

Peter


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This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Morrow, M., Heesch, K., Dinger, M., Hull, H., Kneehans, A., & Fields, D. (2006). Freshman 15: Fact or Fiction?* Obesity, 14 (8), 1438-1443 DOI: 10.1038/oby.2006.163



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Sport Skills are Life Skills

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 5 Responses
I came across several wonderful videos last week that I needed to share with everyone here. They are from a Kidsport advertising campaign, and nicely capture the many ways that sport can help children develop into adults who are healthy physically and socially.






The videos are very funny, but they also outline some very real truths. Children who lack fundamental movement skills (e.g. throwing, jumping, swimming or kicking) are extremely unlikely to participate in sports as adults, even if they would otherwise be interested. That can really narrow down the number of opportunities that they have for physical activity. Would you join an ultimate frisbee game if you can't catch, or go snorkeling if you can't swim? Of course not, and neither would many children. In contrast, kids who develop a wide range of fundamental movement skills have the ability to adapt those skills to a variety of sports throughout their lifespan. Since sports are inherently social, lacking fundamental movement skills can also result in social isolation. This is borne out by the research - children with poor motor skills not only engage in less physical activity, but they also suffer from increased psychosocial problems such as lower feelings of self-worth and poorer social support.

Not surprisingly, research also suggests that children who lack fundamental movement skills are at increased risk of overweight and obesity. For example, a study by John Cairney and colleages at Brock University compared the risk of overweight/obesity in children whose motor skills are substantially lower than would be expected for their age, to that of children with normal motor skills. They report that the prevalence of overweight/obesity was 3 times higher in boys with low motor skills than in boys with normal motor skills. Interestingly, there was no relationship between motor skills and weight status in girls. These findings are limited - only 44 children were classified as having low movement skills, and since the study was cross-sectional, we obviously can't conclude that poor movement skills caused these children to become overweight or obese. And I have no idea what to make of the gender difference. But the findings are interesting to say the least, and suggest that boys who lack fundamental movement skills may be at increased health risk when compared to boys with normal movement skills.  It has been suggested that somewhere between 5 and 10% of children exhibit poor movement skills, so it is important to find out if they are at increased risk health risk, and if so, how to improve their skills at a young enough age to reduce their risk.

Enjoy the videos! A reminder to our email subscribers - to see the videos you will need to visit our website by clicking on the title of this post.

Travis

Cairney, J., Hay, J., Faught, B., & Hawes, R. (2005). Developmental coordination disorder and overweight and obesity in children aged 9–14 y International Journal of Obesity, 29 (4), 369-372 DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802893

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Drinking water prior to meals enhances weight-loss, suggests new study

Monday, August 24, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 7 Responses

It has often been recommended in popular weight-loss programs that overweight and obese individuals hoping to shed unwanted pounds should drink more water.


As is often the case, the evidence base behind this recommendation was rather scant. Fortunately, a new study published online in the journal Obesity suggests the recommendation may be quite sound.


In the study, Dennis and colleagues randomized overweight/obese older men and women to either a hypocaloric diet alone or a hypocaloric diet plus increased water consumption for a duration of 12 weeks.


The hypocaloric diet consisted of 1200 calories for the women and 1500 calories for the men. Those in the diet + increased water group were required to consume 500 ml of water (2 cups) 30 minutes prior to each of the 3 large daily meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner).


And what did they find?


While participants in both groups lost a significant amount of weight (5-8kg) in response to the diet, those who also consumed more water before their meals lost an additional 2 kg in comparison to the diet only group.


The greater weight loss in the group consuming pre-meal water could be the result of smaller caloric intake during each meal (~40 calories less per meal), as shown during the baseline laboratory test meals comparing no-water to water meal conditions in all the subjects.


While this is the first randomized trial to investigate the effect of increased water consumption on weight loss, the findings are in agreement with prior epidemiological studies showing that caloric intake in water drinkers is on average 200 calories less than among non water drinkers.


This study provides compelling evidence to encourage all those attempting to lose weight to increase their daily intake of water to help in their efforts. Specifically, one should consume approximately 2 cups of water, about half an hour prior to most meals.


As Travis has previously described, drinking more water will also have the added bonus of forcing you to take bathroom breaks, thereby increasing your level of physical activity.


Peter


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Dennis, E., Dengo, A., Comber, D., Flack, K., Savla, J., Davy, K., & Davy, B. (2009). Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-aged and Older Adults Obesity DOI: 10.1038/oby.2009.235

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Homeopathy does not cure diseases, warns WHO

Friday, August 21, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 5 Responses

In response to a recent letter sent on behalf of the Voice of Young Science Network (of which I am a member), the World Health Organization has stated that it does not support the use of homeopathy for treating HIV, TB, malaria, influenza and infant diarrhea.

In that original letter, young researchers and physicians representing the Voice of Young Science Network, outlined the following:

- Medics working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed. The promotion of homeopathy for serious diseases puts lives at risk.

- Lists some of the examples of recent and planned developments of homeopathic clinics offering treatment for these five conditions.

- Asks the WHO to make clear that homeopathy cannot prevent or treat these five conditions.

The responses from numerous WHO directors have strongly supported these concerns.

Here are a few examples:

Dr Mario Raviglione, Director, Stop TB Department, WHO: “Our evidence-based WHO TB treatment/management guidelines, as well as the International Standards of Tuberculosis Care (ISTC) do not recommend use of homeopathy.”

Dr Mukund Uplekar, TB Strategy and Health Systems, WHO: “WHO’s evidence-based guidelines on treatment of tuberculosis...have no place for homeopathic medicines.”

Joe Martines, on behalf of Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director, Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, WHO: “We have found no evidence to date that homeopathy would bring any benefit to the treatment of diarrhoea in children...Homeopathy does not focus on the treatment and prevention of dehydration - in total contradiction with the scientific basis and our recommendations for the management of diarrhoea.”

As was the hope shared by all in the network, this exercise has created quite the media buzz today being featured on BBC news, among other media outlets worldwide.

Despite the clear condemnation by the most powerful health organization in the world, homeopaths are trying their best to weather the storm.

From the BBC article:
Paula Ross, chief executive of the Society of Homeopaths, states that "this is just another poorly wrapped attempt to discredit homeopathy…”

Touché, Paula! I couldn’t have responded better myself to accusations of being a medical fraud by the World Health Organization. Well played!

For those readers not familiar with the basic tenets of homeopathy, you can click here to download a nice 2-page PDF summary provided by Sense About Science.

In essence, its basic (not to mention completely irrational) principles are the following:

(1) Like cures like: First, homeopaths choose a substance that causes the same symptoms as the disease they want to treat. For example, the runny nose and watery eyes of a cold can be recreated by inhaling onion fumes, so onion juice can form the basis of a homeopathic preparation.

(2) The smaller the dose the more potent the cure: The chosen substance is repeatedly diluted and shaken (also called succussed). This is supposed to reduce the substance’s potential to harm, and also make it more effective.

And what does the scientific literature suggest about Homeopathy’s efficacy to treat or cure certain conditions?

A large scale meta-analysis published in Lancet in 2005 by Shang and colleagues, compared the effects of 110 trials of homeopathic treatments with another 110 studies of traditional medicine matched for disorder treated and the outcome measured.

In the end, after controlling for the poor methodologies of many of the homeopathic studies, the authors concluded the following:

“…there was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects.”

So there you have it, homeopathy’s basic principles are illogical, it is as effective as a placebo, and it is condemned by the World Health Organization for the treatment of many conditions.

If you are still unconvinced as to the flaws of homeopathic practice, then maybe this humorous and yet largely accurate video below may help (email subscribers must log onto Obesity Panacea to view teh video). (Credit for video to Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters Blog ).

As an aside, this whole campaign against homeopathy in the treatment of serious diseases was started by the Sense About Science charity, an independent charitable trust promoting good science and evidence in public debates. It consists of young reserachers and physicians, like us, who can't stand for health myths and thus are on a mission to discredit anything which is not based on a strong evidence base. Check out their website to learn about some of their other pursuits.

Peter





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Shang, A., Huwiler-Müntener, K., Nartey, L., Jüni, P., Dörig, S., Sterne, J., Pewsner, D., & Egger, M. (2005). Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy The Lancet, 366 (9487), 726-732 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)67177-2

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Ottawa transit fee increase - update

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 1 Response
 Photo by Steph & Adam 

Several weeks ago I wrote a post discussing recent changes which would make students 28 and older ineligible for "student" transit passes in the City of Ottawa (where I currently reside).  This has obviously upset a number of mature students, who don't see any reason why they should pay a higher bus fare than their younger counterparts.  It also upset several of my colleagues who study the links between health and built environment, who see this as a step in the wrong direction for the health of Ottawans.

The built environment describes the man-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity.  Not surprisingly, research has consistently shown that the built environment has a strong influence on our health.  For example, if you live in a dangerous neighbourhood with few parks, it is unlikely that you or your children will spend much time being physically active outdoors.  If, on the other hand, you live in a safe neighbourhood with access to parks and playgrounds, there is a much better chance that you will engage in physical activity on a regular basis.  Now of course the relationships aren't perfect - there will be plenty of people in beautiful neighbourhoods who never exercise, and those in dangerous communities who are healthy as a horse - but it does have an effect.

One aspect of the built environment which we have discussed numerous times on Obesity Panacea is public transit use.  Commuting by transit almost always involves more walking (or cycling - many buses now have bike racks!) than making a similar trip by car.  And earlier this year, Canadian researchers reported that people who commute by public transit are more likely to physical activity targets than individuals who do not take public transit (to read an interview with the authors of the study, click here).  Interestingly, individuals who had access to a subsidized transit pass were also significantly more likely to reach physical activity targets.  This has led some of us to suggest that increasing transit use, and reducing transit fees, could be a simple way to increase physical activity levels.

You can see now why many of us were upset when Ottawa City Council chose to raise transit fees for mature students.  Making transit use less affordable is certainly not going to help people become more physically active. In fact, it is likely to do just the opposite.

When word came out that the City had increased transit fees for mature students I wrote a post on the issue, which you can read here.  I urged our readers to email Ottawa City Council asking them to reconsider, and I sent an email to my own City Councillor.  Although I was pleased to recently receive an email from my Councillor thoughtfully detailing the reasons for the increased transit fees for mature students, I was disappointed to see that all of the reasons were purely financial.  

Financial costs are important, but there are other costs that should be considered in this matter.  For example, according to the City of Ottawa website, over 40% of Ottawa residents are sedentary to the point that it negatively affects their health (in my ward of Rideau-Vanier, the number increases to nearly 50%).  Further, recent research has suggested that increased use of public transit can result in significant savings in health spending over the long-term.  Given the fact that the City of Ottawa Public Health Department considers physical activity a "Major Public Health Issue", as well as the known links between transit fees and physical activity levels, it would seem that financial costs should not be the only important consideration when City Council is voting on transit fees. 

My Councillor assured me that the City is committed to growing ridership, and I believe him.  If you have an opinion on this issue, I urge you to email your City Councillor, whose email can be found here.  Or if you are from outside of Ottawa, please contact Mayor Larry O'Brien, whose contact information can be found here.  While financial considerations are important, increasing transit fees may cost all of us in the long run.

Travis

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Exercise won't make you thin, or so concludes misguided TIME magazine article

Monday, August 17, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 11 Responses

If you haven’t heard about it yet, you are in the minority.

The news, blogosphere, academic associations, etc. have been abuzz (rather negatively) regarding a recent cover page story in Time magazine entitled, “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.”

In the story, John Cloud selectively chooses to report singular studies, often incorrectly, misquotes experts, often showcasing his naive understanding of physiology, all in order to arrive at his apparently preconceived (and largely absurd) notion that not only will exercise not help you lose weight – it may actually make you fatter.

In the first page of the article, he asks the question: “Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight?”

Throughout the article, Cloud painfully describes with very apparent distaste his “grueling” 4 hours of weekly exercise in a manner that is reminiscent of many infomercials which also attempt to convince the viewer that exercise is too difficult and should be replaced by whatever product being peddled (see the Slender Shaper video for a great example of “painful situps”). The interesting thing about his confessions is that only approximately 90 minutes of his weekly exercise is actually composed of aerobic activity – the very activity you should be doing if your goal is to expend calories.

In contrast, how much exercise do major medical authorities suggest for weight-loss?
Answer: 60-90 minutes of aerobic-type activity on MOST DAYS OF THE WEEK!

Not on one day of the week, as the author is performing.

Throughout the article you get the impression that while he demonizes exercise as the cause of his apparent inability to shed pounds, the likely cause of his issues is his improper nutritional habits. For example, he admits to previously “self-medicating with lots of Italian desserts”. He also describes craving French fries or greasy bourritos after exercising – not sure how common that is…

It should come as no surprise that nutrition is extremely important when it comes to weight management. You can’t expend 300 calories on a jog, follow it up with a 500 kcal bourrito and expect to lose weight. Additionally, when attempting to create a negative energy balance to shed pounds – it is pragmatically easier to restrict food intake than to burn the same number of calories through exercise. Thus, calorie restriction and proper nutrition (taking into account meal frequency, macronutrient composition, etc.) is a critical component of a lifestyle based approach to dealing with excess weight.

However, to suggest that: “Exercise… isn’t necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder” is simply incorrect and given the popularity of the publication in which this is written, largely irresponsible from a public health perspective.

Back in the early 1990’s, the popular notion was that exercise interventions are not as efficacious in reducing body weight or fat mass as are dietary ones. Unfortunately, these conclusions developed predominantly from a rather unfair comparison of studies: as an example, comparing weight loss of a dietary intervention reducing daily caloric intake by 700kcal versus an exercise intervention which increases energy expenditure by 300kcal per day. You can well guess who the winner was…

However, in a 2000 study from our lab publiched in the Annals of Internal Medicine, we directly compared the efficacy of diet versus exercise to reduce weight, fat mass, etc. in a group of men after controlling for the caloric deficit created (fair comparison). In that study, over the 3 month intervention, individuals lost about 7-8kg, regardless of the intervention (diet or exercise). Our lab then replicated this study in women and showed much the same results: when carefully controlling for the number of calories – diet and exercise produce the same degree of weight loss. Additionally, from these studies it is also apparent that exercise will result in meaningful weight loss – WHEN it is done in appropriate volume.

Of course, the obvious caveat here is that it is much easier to reduce caloric intake by 1000 kcal than to expend that much via physical activity. Thus, for practical reasons, diet is the cornerstone of weight management.

More important than any this is the following:

Regular physical activity is good for your health and reducing basically any disease outcome (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, erectile dysfunction, depression, anxiety, etc.) INDEPENDENT of its effect on body weight.

As I have written in published review papers, and have discussed previously on Obesity Panacea, the focus on weight as the primary outcome in lifestyle based obesity interventions is myopic and misguided – and this is really where the author of the TIME article fails. Individuals of all sizes, and ages, can vastly improve their health without a noticeable budge in their scale weight. Thus, true treatment benefit (on lipids, insulin sensitivity, BP, etc.) may be masked by an apparent resistance to weight-loss. This lack of weight change will likely be interpreted by the individual as a treatment failure causing them to discontinue the healthy behaviors.

Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY the conclusion Mr. Cloud comes to at the end of the article, and it is this conclusion that I believe to be the most damaging.

In the last sentence of the article, Cloud sums up by stating that “tomorrow I might skip the VersaClimber…” I truly hope others do not follow TIME’s misguided advice.

While there is much more that I could discuss in regards to this article, I should also point our readers to other sources of disagreement over the contents of the TIME article – some of them, from the very people who were misquoted in the article itself.

For example, the American College of Sports Medicine released a statement disagreeing with the conclusions reached by Cloud in the recent article.

In that statement, Dr. John Jakicic, states: “The statement ‘in general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless’ is not supported by the scientific evidence when there is adherence to a sufficient dose of physical activity in overweight and obese adults.”

“Again, it is clear in this regard that physical activity is one of the most important behavioral factors in enhancing weight loss maintenance and improving long-term weight loss outcomes,” Jakicic is also quoted as stating in the statement.

What’s worse, Dr. Tim Church, a colleague of both Travis and I, and someone whom I have gotten to know personally over the years, has come out and said that Mr. Cloud has actually misrepresented his professional opinions in the article. This is rather unfortunate for Mr. Cloud, as much of his thesis rests on the results of a recent study by Dr. Church and his erroneous extrapolations thereof.

I feel there is more backlash to come over the next little while (letters to the editor are a certainty) – I will keep you all updated.

I assure you that I will be writing a letter to TIME magazine scorning them on the rather biased and poorly researched article.

Don’t believe everything you read…


Peter


UPDATE: Click here to read my column on the TIME story published in the Kingston Whig Standard, Saturday August 22, 2009.


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Ross R, Dagnone D, Jones PJ, Smith H, Paddags A, Hudson R, & Janssen I (2000). Reduction in obesity and related comorbid conditions after diet-induced weight loss or exercise-induced weight loss in men. A randomized, controlled trial. Annals of internal medicine, 133 (2), 92-103 PMID: 10896648

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Get Fat, Live Longer - An Update

Friday, August 14, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 3 Responses

Two weeks ago I wrote a post discussing a recent Margaret Wente editorial in the Globe and Mail, in which she completely misinterpreted a new study in the journal Obesity, and suggested that we people should gain weight to live longer.  The study itself reported that in a representative sample of nearly 12,000 Canadians, individuals who were overweight at the start of the study actually had a lower risk of mortality than their normal weight peers, but did not suggest that people would live longer if they gained weight.  The study was interesting and worthy of discussion, and for the full details on both the study and Ms Wente's editorial, I urge you to visit my original post here.

Ms Wente's editorial generated a lot of interest outside of Obesity Panacea as well, including among other writers at the Globe and Mail.  Alex Hutchinson, who writes the bi-weekly Jockology column on exercise and athletic performance in the Globe, contacted me shortly after the Wente editorial began making its way around cyberspace.  Alex and I had an interesting discussion about the science of the journal article itself, and he went on to speak with Steve Blair, a legend in the fields of obesity, exercise and health.  The result is this week's Jockology column, in which Alex discusses the original Obesity study, and whether or not he (a normal weight, former elite distance runner who represented Canada at the International level) should gain weight to live longer.  Now while Peter and I do our best here at Obesity Panacea, we have a limited readership.  So it is phenomenal to see a nuanced article in one of Canada's most widely read newspapers dispelling some of the nonsense that has been floating through cyberspace for the past few weeks. And on a personal level, it was also a lot of fun to be interviewed for a newspaper like the Globe!

The article itself is very well written, and is summed up succinctly in the closing statments:

Ultimately, what the Statscan research tells us is not that weight is irrelevant - after all, those with a BMI above 35 were 36 per cent more likely to die than normal-weight people - but that your focus should be on the ongoing process of living healthily, rather than the potentially misleading endpoint of reaching a certain weight.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

To enjoy Alex's article (and send it to anyone who forwarded you Ms Wente's article a few weeks ago), please click here.

Have a great weekend,

Travis

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Obesity as a defense for a DUI charge?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 8 Responses

Back in April of this year, Jaimil Choudhry of New Hampshire was arrested for driving while intoxicated as assessed using roadside sobriety tests. For whatever reason, he refused to take the breathalyzer test.

Now, his defense lawyer is claiming that the tests used to assess Choudhry’s sobriety were inappropriate given that Choudhry is obese (BMI = 33.0 kg/m2) and thus the charge should be dropped. According to the lawyer, the test which has the alleged drunk driver walk toe-to-heel and then turn should not to be used by police officials on people who appear to be overweight or obese.

The police prosecutor, on the other hand, suggests that basing a drunk driving defense on BMI is a “stretch”.

While the case goes to trial this September, there may already be some precedent for such a case, as a man in Illinois has previously walked away from a similar charge using excess weight as a defense.


I am torn as to where I personally stand on this issue - while excess weight may appear to be a 'cop-out' for this alleged drunk driver, by the very nature of their excess weight, obese individuals are likely to be at a disadvantage in performing standardized tests - sober or drunk.

What are your thoughts?

Peter

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Sedentary Behavior, Sleep, and Obesity in Children

Monday, August 10, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 1 Response
Image by studentofrhythm.

It has been reported that up to 16% of children have a hard time falling asleep, resulting in shorter sleep duration.  That might not seem like such a big deal, but an increasing number of studies report that decreased sleep time is a risk factor for obesity.  Although the idea is still quite controversial, it is has been suggested that insufficient sleep is likely to affect the hormones that regulate hunger, resulting in increased food intake, and eventually obesity.  Reduced sleep time has also been associated with reduced cognitive performance. So in general, we want to make sure that kids are getting enough sleep, but how can we do that?

According to a new study (and common sense), increased physical activity may be one way to help kids get more sleep.  In this new study, published in Archives of Diseases in Childhood, Dr G.M. Nixon and colleagues examined the relationship between physical activity and sleep quality in a group of 519 children.  Physical activity was measured by accelerometer, which is the gold standard for large field studies such as this.  What did they find?  The more active children were, the less time it took them to fall asleep.  In contrast, the more time that children spent being sedentary, the longer it took them to fall asleep.  This is important, since the time it took to fall asleep was a strong predictor of total sleep duration.

When these findings are combined with other research, they suggest that sedentary behavior, reduced sleep quality, and obesity may be a vicious cycle.  When children are not sufficiently active they are likely to get less sleep.  This can result in further reductions in physical activity, increased caloric intake and weight gain.  This leads to even worse sleep quality and duration, and the whole cycle begins anew.  All the more reason to keep kids active (and minimize screen-time) right from the start!

Travis

Nixon, G., Thompson, J., Han, D., Becroft, D., Clark, P., Robinson, E., Waldie, K., Wild, C., Black, P., & Mitchell, E. (2009). Falling asleep: the determinants of sleep latency. Archives of Disease in Childhood DOI: 10.1136/adc.2009.157453

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Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic

Friday, August 07, 2009 Author: Travis Saunders 4 Responses
 Image by ingorrr.

An interesting article was published earlier this week on the website of the journal Medical Hypotheses, suggesting that the current obesity epidemic may be caused by salt addiction. The article is provocatively titled "Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic" and as you might expect given the journal that published it, it is wildly speculative.  Now I'm just going to say this upfront - I think the authors are probably wrong.  But it can be fun to speculate, and I did learn some interesting things from the paper, so I think it could make for some interesting discussion.

The authors do their best to build a case that people can become addicted to salt.  Despite my original expectations, the study was quite a challenging read, so I will do my best to summarize what I felt were their main points:

1. Once people are exposed to sodium, they tend to crave more of it.
2. Our current environment exposes us to very large amounts of sodium.
3. Once people become "addicted" to sodium, they are likely to seek out ever increasing amounts, which will almost certainly mean an ever increasing caloric intake.

The authors suggest that dietary sodium may affect reward centers in the brain, just like other addictive behaviors. Or, as they put it:

‘‘Salted food craving” may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of severe dysphoria resulting from a high tolerance and severe withdrawal at mu-s opioid receptor sites, while overeating may be a neuropsychiatrically based maladaptive attempt to self-medicate mood destabilization.

In other words, salt intake may affect opiate receptors, just like certain drugs.  To test this theory, the authors performed a truly novel experiment - they examined whether people going through opiate withdrawal increased their intake of salty food.  Unfortunately, as far as I can tell they didn't actually measure salt intake, which seems like a bit of an oversight.  As you might expect, this is where the paper goes seriously off the tracks.  While going through opiate withdrawal, subjects gained an average of 11 lbs, and self-reported that they increased their intake of fast food.  How much more fast food did they consume?  They don't say, nor do they provide any statistics.  Luckily, the authors don't let this stop them from interpreting their findings!  Since fast food tends to be high in sodium, the authors interpret this anecdotal increase in fast food intake to suggest that the subjects were trying to self-medicate their opiate deficiency by consuming higher amounts of sodium.  WHAT???

This is one of the best examples of over-interpretation that I've ever seen.   It is unclear if there was any measure of the primary outcome (sodium consumption), and their proxy (fast food intake) was self-reported.  What's more, we have no information on how the self-report was done, or even basic statistics.  It's almost too bad that they included the "experimental" data in the paper, because the hypothesis they put forward in the first half of their paper is interesting and at least somewhat plausible, but this "experiment" is so strange that it leaves a bad (and somewhat salty) taste in my mouth.

So what's the take-home message?  Most of us consume far too much sodium, which is almost certainly bad for our health and longevity.  Is it behind the obesity epidemic?  Almost certainly not.

Travis

Cocores, J., & Gold, M. (2009). The Salted Food Addiction Hypothesis may explain overeating and the obesity epidemic Medical Hypotheses DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.049

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The Shake Weight: Spot Reducing Arm Fat Through the Science of Dynamic Inertia!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009 Author: Peter Janiszewski, PhD 17 Responses

What weighs about 2 lbs, is shaped like a phallus, and is used exclusively by women?

Nope – not what you were thinking!

The product I just described is the Shake Weight – the new fitness product sweeping the nation! As described in the brief commercial which has now gone viral on YouTube for all the wrong reasons (see video below to understand exactly what I am alluding to), the Shake Weight is “the revolutionary new way to shape and tone arms ... designed specifically for women!”

Apparently, “in just 6 minutes a day you can get arms you’ll be proud to show off.”

If you have any weight to lose, somehow I doubt that using the Shake Weight for 6 minutes a day will lead to much improvement in body composition in any area of the body. To accomplish this, you need to expend some calories.

But wait, as the commercial plays, I start to think I may have missed something.

The Shake Weight is “based on a completely new workout technology called DYNAMIC INERTIA which ignites the muscles in your arms, shoulders and chest.”

Wow that sounds impressive! Dynamic inertia – that’s got to be good for you! (While I have no idea what this “new workout technology” actually entails, I get the impression it has something to do with vibration training – a topic previously debunked on our site.)

So what exactly is this advanced piece of exercise technology?

In essence, it’s a 2.5 lb dumbbell that you shake.

According to the sexy voiceover, “Scientific studies at a prestigious California university prove that the shake weight increases upper-body muscle activity by more than 300% in comparison to traditional weights.”

As we always try to do at Obesity Panacea, I attempted to find out more details about these studies from this mysterious university, but alas, the Shake Weight website was not working: “HTTP Error 404 - File or directory not found”. This is always a good sign.

However, I did uncover by reading some other (potentially unreliable) sources that the “prestigious” California university in question was actually DeVry.

Then comes the typical product endorsement…

Is this a glowing product endorsement by a physician, or researcher, or exercise physiologist?

Nope, instead the Shake Weight is endorsed by Lindsey Reese, “Professional Personal Trainer.”

You must have heard of Lindsey Reese! No? Ok, me neither.

Lindsey believes that the Shake Weight is the “fastest, easiest, and most effective way to get a beautiful, defined, and sexy upper body.”

ALERT: If this woman is your personal trainer, you should be VERY worried.

You can work your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and chest – all for $19.95! What a steal! (Keep in mind this only buys you ONE 2.5 lb dumbbell).

But wait – there’s more!

Included for the listed price, is a bonus revolutionary exercise DVD which will show you how to perform the most basic exercises ever (i.e. lunges) – but I bet you’ve never done lunges whilst holding a vibrating sex-toy above your head!

Remember – this is revolutionary exercise technology!

Dynamic Inertia!

Science!

(If you are baffled by the highly punctuated and ‘loud’ tone of today’s post, please click here to view a previously featured silly video which should clear things up).

We usually like to direct our readers to the source of the product, in the unlikely event they weren’t convinced by our analysis and were interested in purchasing the discussed product. Unfortunately, as the official Shake Weight website is out of order, you will just have to try eBay.

Enjoy the video.
UPDATE: check out the newly released Shake Weight for Men!

Peter




[Note: Thanks to dedicated Obesity Panacea follower and friend, Andrew for bringing this wonderful video to our attention.]

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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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