Monthly Archives: May 2008

Breaking News! The government thinks you’re fat!

Jeremy Sammut of ABC News (Australia) has written an article claiming that government sponsored programs that promote public health don’t work.

While his focus is specific to the Australian experience, his claim that Australia’s government has squandered public funds on advertising campaigns may be applicable to both Europe and North America. The fact is, obesity is on the rise in the ‘developed’ world. Attempts by national or regional governments to promote a healthy lifestyle have been unsuccessful in reversing this trend towards obesity.

Sammut makes a few very interesting observations.

First, he claims that when government assumes the role of health nazi/nanny, it absolves the individual of “their primary responsibility for the unhealthy lifestyle decisions they continue to make”, and as a result, “the lifestyle disease ‘epidemic’ is blamed on a lack of government-funded entitlement to preventive primary care”.

This takes us to the second point; “the limits of government authority over individual behaviour, and the importance of personal qualities in regulating it – why nearly 40 years of health promotion has coincided with ascending rates of lifestyle disease”.

And if we are going to allow government to assume authority over our behavior, we have to question the motivations behind this program.

Quite often, “advocates of more spending on lifestyle disease prevention often draw false parallels with the success of the campaign against tobacco smoking”. This argument is specious in that smoking bans and the ‘sin’ taxes applied on tobacco products are examples of public health regulation, not health promotion.

You would think that applying this model to public exercise and nutrition would be near impossible. Smokers were a minority group and their behavior was found to be less than enchanting by a large portion of the population. Simply put, the majority ganged up on them and enacted laws that made smoking a financial and logistical pain in the butt.

How would government apply this strategy when the majority of the population does not exercise, eats junk food and has no intention of changing?

They would start with the children. Apply a little parental guilt. Ban junk food from school (already happening). Slap a sin tax on ‘junk food’. Expand that tax to include bacon, eggs, cheese, filet mignon, etc…

Wow! Big Brother wants to tax my bacon & eggs.

While that is unlikely (I hope) to happen, Sammut’s argument is that the health promotion programs advocated for by certain lobby groups, prepared by marketing companies and approved by governments have not been successful.

In Canada, advocates of the ParticipACTION program (historical info) have considered it a success due to it’s longevity and the fact that “two years after the agency had ceased to operate in 2001, almost 80% of Canadians still recognized the ParticipACTION logo and message”.

No mention of it’s positive impact on the health of Canadians. Wasn’t that the point of the program?

Nope, cheesy commercials that you can’t get out of your head. Like this ,this, this, and check out this spoof. Classic fromage.

My Two Cents

As much as I appreciate the light that Dr. Sammut has shined on this subject, I was a little disappointed by his conclusion.

“It is therefore timely to review the evidence. Because when the assumptions are questioned and the evidence examined with a clear eye, what is revealed is that there is actually slim support for the belief that preventive public health policies – be they ‘community-wide’ or ‘high-intensity’ lifestyle interventions – have in the past brought obesity and lifestyle disease under control, or that they are likely to in the future”.

Review the evidence?

Do nothing?

While I agree that most if not all governments have a great talent for throwing great big bags of money at problems that they have no hope of solving, does that mean that as a society we are doomed to accept gluttony and sloth as our birthright?

Here are two possible solutions.

In the U.K., doctors are able to write prescriptions for exercise.

Personally, while I believe that this plan is flawed due to the fact that when the government is looking to spend public dollars, there will always be bureaucrats and service providers ready and willing to overcharge and under-deliver. However, to be fair, I should mention that this program has not been in operation long enough to show whether it is successful or not.

Another possibility would be to offer tax refunds to those individuals that can prove that they are pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Instead of demonizing the couch potatoes amongst us, reward the energizer bunnies.

What do you think?

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NYC Food Police: Keeping New Yawkers safe from the evil Big Mac

Newsweek reports that as of this past Monday, New York City’s health department began ticketing restaurants that haven’t complied with the new law requiring them to post calorie counts on their menus.

By the end of Monday, five restaurants had been ticketed. The perpetrators: Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds, Popeye’s, Sbarro and TGIFridays.

Lucky for them that the citations were little more than warnings. They carried no fines, because a federal judge had said the city could not impose fines until mid-July. When imposed, the fines will range from $200 to $2,000.

And what about those rebels that refuse to go along with this by-law? While the New York State Restaurant Association has taken the city of New York to court over this issue, the restaurateurs themselves seem to be falling into line.

And just to make sure they do, the form that the city gave to the offending restaurants carried the warning that the health department “expects that the conditions will be addressed promptly.” The form cautioned that “any recurrence of these conditions could result in further action being taken.”

Maybe they should call in McDonaldland’s former Chief of Police, Big Mac.

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Atkins Diet v.s. Epilepsy

Just a quick post.

A study, published by the Lancet Neurology, on-line May 3, 2008, showed that children following a ketogenic diet, suffered fewer seizures than the control group children. (62·0% vs 136·9%, 75% decrease, 95% CI 42.4–107.4%; p<0·0001)

The ketogenic diet has been widely and successfully used to treat children with drug-resistant epilepsy since the 1920s.

The aim of this study was to test the efficacy of the ketogenic diet in a randomised controlled trial.

Like most Atkin dieters, the most frequent side-effects reported during the study were constipation, vomiting, lack of energy, and hunger.

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To diet or not to diet

The debate rages on:

In one corner, we have the current champion: The Atkins/South Beach/Abs/Fat Smash/ You on a Diet KID.

In the other corner, we have the challenger: Healthy Lifestyle

And the winner is…..

With sales of $58 billion in 2007, the diet industry kicks butt. Healthy Lifestyle butt.

But maybe 2008 is a comeback year for Healthy Lifestyle.

Here is some more research showing that a health focused lifestyle is the better way to a trim waistline.

The focus of this study was the effect that stress had upon the health of obese women in New Zealand.

They found that obese women can improve their health and prevent further weight gain by ditching their diets and learning to deal with stress.

The study encouraged women to break free of chronic dieting and make lifestyle changes, including listening to their feelings of hunger and fullness rather than focusing on weight loss.

Following a group of 225 women, the research showed that the women who lost weight by dieting often regained the weight they lost, and more, within five years.

The researchers found that “the most successful intervention involved providing intensive training in relaxation techniques while equipping the women to recognize and avoid stress-related triggers for eating.’’

“Many overweight women had a fearful and guilt-ridden relationship with food, and their eating was often emotionally triggered”.

Additionally, the research showed that this lifestyle approach resulted in “significant improvement in reducing psychological symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, and medical symptoms including headaches, fatigue and lowered blood pressure”

The study can be found in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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Nutrition, Environment and Epigenetics

Take a look at the ‘About this blog‘ page: you will see that I close out my intro by saying that Genetics is Not Destiny.

I truly believe that. I have to believe that.

As a kid, I was always ‘husky’.

Through research, discipline and hard work, I was able to transform my body from fat to fit.

During the past 19 years, I have given my knowledge and perhaps more importantly, my confidence in that knowledge to the people that came to me and asked me to help them re-shape their bodies.

While most of them already knew what they had to do to become physically fit; they just couldn’t do it.

But they had seen their friends / my clients sculpt lean, strong, fit bodies out of the over-sized lumps of clay that they had previously called home.

So they came to me for the secret. Even after I told them there was no secret, and even after I had helped them transform their own bodies, most of them believed that I was responsible for their transformations.

Years of being fat and out of shape had become normal for them. They were fat. Even when they had lost the weight, there was still this little voice in the back of their heads telling them that this was just temporary. If they stopped working with me, they would re-gain their original shape.

It was their genetics.

How wrong they may have been.

Ever since Darwin‘s Survival of the Fittest theory of evolution became accepted as truth, genetics and in particular our DNA has shaped the progress of human biology.

Science searched for a genetic answer to every human ailment. It even spawned a genetic ‘gold rush’ called the Human Genome Project.

But recently, that absolute faith in genetics as fate has been shaken. So

Epigenetics.

Epigenetics looks at the impact our environment has upon our genetic coding.

How is it that one identical twin can develop cancer while the other twin does not?

Was the life-long smoking habit of one of the identical twins responsible for their diagnosis of cancer? Did the healthy lifestyle of the second twin prevent their potential diagnosis of cancer?

While the science is still new, I think down deep, we all know that how we live our lives has a strong impact on our health.

Where we live. Our friendships, or lack thereof. The air we breathe. The water we drink. The amount and type of exercise we perform. The food we eat.

Nature v.s. Nurture.

Bruce Lipton is currently the biggest ‘name’ in Epigenetics. The following two video clips serve as an introduction to Lipton and the science behind Epigenetics.

Like most scientific endeavours, epigentics seems to result in more questions being raised rather than answering the ones that we already have.

For those interested, I will report back with new & interesting research into this field of science and how it applies to health & nutrition.

Remember, genetics is not destiny

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