Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Should doctors be treating obesity?


Image “Bigger than your head” by Mandy Jansen on Flicker. Used under a creative commons licence

I was thinking about Western medicine the other day and how all too often it seems that the approach is to treat the symptoms rather than to determine the cause and to try to remedy that. That got me to thinking about our approach to obesity and how, in a sense, having doctors (or any medical professionals) treat it means that we’re treating the symptom rather than the cause.

Yes, there are many causes of obesity. But when we boil them all down it really comes to our environment and collective lifestyle as a society. The way our lives are set-up it’s a battle to avoid becoming overweight or obese. Our jobs, our food system, our neighbourhoods, our social activities, our sleep habits, etc. are all contributing to the ever climbing obesity rates.

Sure, many medical professionals are fighting the good fight. Some are trying their best to help their patients learn to reengineer their lifestyles to lose weight. Some are pushing for changes to our built environment. But these battles are large and weren’t intended to be fought by MDs, RDs, and RNs. None of us learned how to design communities, to build grocery stores, or to structure offices while we were in school.

The real battle needs to be fought by government officials, engineers, designers, and planners. These are the people who can get to the root of the problem. Maybe as healthcare professionals we can help direct them to the sources of the issue. We can also continue our efforts to treat the symptoms as they surely deserve some tending to. However, until we can create some sort of coordinated widespread interdisciplinary approach to curbing obesity we’re just going to be continuing to give out bandaids to those in our care.

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Do artificial sweeteners cause type 2 diabetes?

An article published in the latest issue of the American Society for Nutrition stated that women who consumed more than 359 ml of artificially sweetened beverages (e.g. diet pop) were at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This was in comparison to women who consumed no soda (sugar or artificially sweetened). Women who consumed traditional sugar sweetened beverages were also at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (no news here).

The researchers did point out that this was a correlational relationship. This means that with no certainty can we say that consumption of artificially sweetened beverages causes diabetes. However, they also said that: “randomized trials are required to prove a causal link between ASB consumption and T2D”. This, to me, suggests that they believe that artificially sweetened beverages can cause type 2 diabetes.

Personally, I would be quite surprised if it was the artificially sweetened pop causing type 2 diabetes, rather than a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. I also think that this sort of research (and probably most of us) is looking at the problem from the wrong direction. Rather than looking for a single cause of “lifestyle” illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, we should be looking for the “causes” of health.

Consider this: One in every three American children will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime and similar rates are anticipated for Canadian children (1). Type 2 diabetes is just one of many chronic diseases affecting Canadians. I think that we need to shift our focus from seeking a likely non-existent single cause of such diseases and start looking at what we can do to retain our health for as long as possible. It’s the difference between a preventative model of health care rather than our current model which treats only those who are already ill. There is much truth in the adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


Blind faith versus science

What’s up with the hating on science lately? I’ve been noticing a number of people talking about science with disdain and it’s really getting under my skin. It’s as if there’s something superior about subscribing to unfounded treatments. And wanting scientific proof of the efficacy of a treatment is a lack of faith. When did healthcare become a religion? Why would someone say, “Oh, dietitians follow science” with a tone as if we’re a bunch of unenlightened atheists while they follow the true word of their holistic god. I’m open to new developments and if you can prove to me that there is some benefit (beyond a placebo, although admittedly placebos can be pretty powerful) to consuming whatever extract or supplement you’re extolling the virtues of then I’ll gladly change my tune. But is it really so wrong of me to want proof? Why should I blindly throw my money and support behind unproven remedies? And why can’t this dialogue go both ways? I watched those Food Matters documentaries. I want to hear all sides of a story. It baffles and frustrates me that so many people buy into this sort of thing. Not only without bothering to check out the validity of claims being made but wantonly ignoring evidence that goes against their viewpoints. I’m sorry but there is nothing virtuous about putting blind faith in unproven remedies and spurning science.