Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Have Millennials bucked the obesity trend?

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Something about this article rubbed me the wrong way. And it wasn’t just the ever-shifting arbitrary generation names. But, I have to say, it drives me nuts. I remember when I was just entering my teens, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X came out. Generation X was definitely older than me. Years later, my youngest brother fell into Generation Y, and I was left in some weird void between X and Y. Now, somehow, my brothers are both Millennials, I’m a Gen Xer, and Generation Y has vanished. I just don’t understand how the names and categorization of generations can keep changing. Anyway… End rant one.  Onto the more topical rant for a nutrition blogger.

The article states that a new report shows that Millennials are the only generation (relative to Generation Xers and Baby Boomers) to have bucked the obesity trend. Yes, despite Millennials reporting higher alcohol and cigarette consumption, and lower fruit and vegetable consumption in comparison to the other two currently existing generations.

Apparently Millennials have an obesity rate of 20%, compared to 32% and 33% amongst Gen Xers and Boomers, respectively. Which would seem to be good news on the surface. Is it really though? I’m not sure it has much meaning at all. Most people gain weight as they age so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the rates amongst Millennials (provided they don’t keep shifting the damn generations around) increase in a few years.

The article also raises the important point that weight is not necessarily an indicator of health. So what if Millennials aren’t overweight. If they’re leading unhealthy lifestyles I’d say that’s more of a concern than their weight. I’d also hazard a guess that Gen Xers would have lead similarly unhealthy lifestyles, and had lower (than they currently do) rates of obesity when they were the age that Millennials are now.

Then, when I see the way they determined how healthily everyone eats, I wondered about the entire survey. This is what was asked: if they “ate healthy all day yesterday”. That’s so subjective as to be completely meaningless. For one person eating healthy all day might mean eating a plant-based diet. If they also ate some ice cream or chocolate or chips did that mean they didn’t eat “healthy all day”? What about the avid Bulletproof coffee, protein shake drinking person? The juice faster? Or the person who thinks that the salads at McDonald’s are healthy? I just don’t see responses to this question as being meaningful.

So, let’s not get too excited about Millennials beating the obesity crisis or whatever. Let’s focus more on figuring out how to get more people to the place where they’re leading healthier lifestyles and survey makers away from subjective judgemental questions about how healthy people ate on the previous day.


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Only the thin die young

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I’m all for looking at overweight and obesity in new ways. I absolutely believe that it’s possible to be overweight and healthy. I am, however, sick of seeing claims that being overweight is protective against death. The implication being that those of us who are “healthy” weights are actually more likely to die than those who are slightly overweight.

Yet another article came out last week touting the headline: People deemed overweight may actually have a lower risk of dying than those who are healthy, study says. The fact that we’re all going to die notwithstanding there are other significant issues with such claims.

To start, I’d like to take exception to the headline itself. Who writes these things? If they had inserted weight after “healthy” it would have made quite a difference. As it’s written it implies that “healthy” and “overweight” are two discrete mutually exclusive categories. This is not the case. It’s entirely possible to be overweight and healthy. It’s entirely possible to be “healthy” weight and unhealthy.

Now that, that’s out of the way, let’s get to the bigger problems with the study results, as covered in the news article. When people are ill, especially mortally ill, they often lose weight. As a result, when looking at death rates and weight it’s incredibly difficult to tease these issues apart. Thus, claims that being overweight protecting against death are essentially meaningless and potentially detrimental. I say detrimental, because if people are dissuaded from eating healthily and exercising regularly by the suggestion that it’s healthier for them to be overweight then it’s quite likely that their health will suffer. We also know that many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension can be better managed with weight loss, following a balanced diet, and incorporating regular physical activity. While it’s possible that being overweight is actually protective, it’s more likely that the apparent association between lower weight and death is a result of weight loss during illness.

The other significant problem with the claim that overweight is protective against death is that it doesn’t take into consideration quality of life. Many people who are overweight will be prescribed various medications to keep related conditions in-check. This may result in a longer lifespan than someone who’s “healthy” weight who, because of appearing to be in good health (as a result of the conflation of overall health and healthy weight) may go without similar treatment. The “healthy” weight individuals may lead shorter but higher quality lives without the side effects of medications (i.e. they may have shorter lifespans but longer healthspans).

To sum it up: yes, you can be healthy and overweight. You can also be unhealthy. Ditto for both for “healthy” weight. Regardless of your weight the best way to ensure that you lead the longest healthiest life possible is by taking care of yourself.

 


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Where did her body go?

I was standing in line at the grocery store on the weekend and I noticed a magazine with a photo of Britney Spears in a bikini with the headline “How Britney Got Her Body Back!”. I didn’t take a photo of the magazine because I felt like that would be weird. Instead, I promptly googled it when I got to the car. I couldn’t find the current issue but I did discover that this wasn’t the first time Brit got her body back.

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It would also seem that she’s not the first celeb to have lost and found her body.

Apparently, over the years, myriad celebrities have been losing their bodies and then having them returned. Someone should really get Scully and Mulder on this.

Seriously though, why do we tend to believe that we are less ourselves when there is more of ourselves? What a weird species/society we are. What a shame that we can’t celebrate and respect bodies of all shapes and sizes. What a pity that when a woman gains weight during pregnancy it’s as though she’s been invaded by body snatchers and not providing a nurturing environment to her child.

I know that it’s a difficult frame of mind to escape. It’s hard to “feel like yourself” when your body is different from the way it’s always been. But let’s start trying. Ladies (and gents) your body is always your own. Try to treat it with love and respect no matter what your weight may be.


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Should doctors be treating obesity?

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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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The irony of #fatlogic

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A few days after my post about the insanity of some government workplace “wellness” initiatives I noticed that I was getting a lot of traffic from a subreddit. Out of curiosity (yes, I never learned from the cat’s misfortune) I clicked on the link to see what it was all about. I discovered a whole little world that I never knew existed. Something called “fatlogic”. Maybe I’m out of the loop (it’s been known to happen) but I’d never heard of fatlogic before.

As far as I can tell this fatlogic is basically the opposite of HAES (Health at Every Size). People who ascribe to this position seem to think that fat shaming is an acceptable way to “encourage” people to lose weight. It’s not just thin people who think this way, there seem to be a number of people who are overweight, or who were overweight, who are staunchly opposed to the notion that people can be healthy and overweight and believe that insulting people who are overweight (or who advocate for HAES) is appropriate.

It was nice of this group to keep their insults to themselves (i.e. voicing them on reddit rather than in the comments on my blog). I was pretty amazed at the vitriol of many of the members of the group. According to them, I clearly had no idea what I was talking about and was a brainwashed moron for believing that weight is not the best indicator of health. The subreddit also went off on a little tangent from what my primary point was. Everyone became fixated on my comments about BMI not being a very good measure of body fat. Herein is one of the clear flaws of their logic. I mean, besides the fact that it’s ignorant and discriminatory. One person mentioned that BMI is a measure of body fat, interpreting that a BMI of 18.5 equates to 18.5% body fat, below which one would be classified as “underweight” according to the BMI. The thing is, BMI doesn’t measure body fat. That 18.5 is not a percent; it’s technically kg/m2. BMI is a body mass index intended to classify people as underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese based on ranges of this index. Someone with a BMI of 18.5 could have 8% body fat or 30% body fat. This is one of the reasons why BMI is widely considered to be an inaccurate tool for measuring weight (and health). You could be very fit and lean and have the same BMI as someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle and has a significantly higher percentage of body fat.

I know that it goes against the basic tenets of the Internet but wouldn’t it be nice if people actually knew what they were talking about before they attacked others? Ever notice how it’s generally those who are the most vocal who know the least?