When it comes to treating weight problems, even experts believe that similar methods can be applied almost universally: Put your patients on a diet, have them engage in regular exercise, and, if all else fails, recommend some surgical procedure. What gets rarely looked at are the differences between overweight individuals that may have led to their unhealthy weight gain in the first place.
A campaign to advertise healthy foods to youngsters, fruits and vegetables has emerged from the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit. But, in reality, I fear that it may do more harm than good especially if it is taken up in this country. All promotions to children, because of their age and lack of development, can end up manipulating them.
By the end of this decade, diseases stemming from poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices will top all other causes of death worldwide. At the same time, there are no effective policies in place to tackle the most pressing problems such as the obesity epidemic and other so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Governments and the private sector should engage in more of these experiments, particularly in terms of promoting healthy choices. If incentives work they can save a lot of dollars over time for the health care system etc. Governments need to take the long term view, especially in terms of well being. But that's easier said than done.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of Canadians living with obesity over the past few decades and it is often cited as a risk factor for other chronic health conditions including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. This means that obesity is frequently a hot topic in the news. But media stories often miss the mark when it comes to informing Canadians about the complex factors that lead to obesity.
A recent study in 43 countries concluded that children in schools where tobacco-free policies were firmly enforced were much less likely to smoke. However, anti-smoking lessons in classrooms had little impact on smoking rates. Not a surprise. Educational campaigns seeking to change people's behaviour regarding consumption are notoriously unsuccessful, by themselves, whether in terms of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, drugs, or non-nutritious eating. The claims of education can sometimes be pretty grand.
As January comes to an end, those who vowed to eat better in 2015 have probably already given up. Not very surprising, considering that most people grossly underestimate the amount of calories they consume, and underestimate their fat, salt and sugar consumption, even after consulting nutrition labels.
A recent study has tied body mass index (BMI) to pollutants. That investigation suggests that exposure to second hand smoke and roadway traffic may be linked to increased BMI in children and adolescents. Several other studies and reports also raise fears about pollutants and other chemicals and their links to obesity.
But there is an even greater danger with a simplistic understanding of diabetes that focuses exclusively on individual choice -- it diverts attention and resources from other approaches which may be more effective at addressing the diabetes epidemic. It is projected that by the year 2020, one in three Canadians will have either diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Obese people, perhaps especially women, face a lot of discrimination. A question that is increasingly asked is whether they should be legally protected from acts of prejudice. Shouldn't people who are obese be judged on their merits with regard to jobs, education, health care etc. and not on their size? As we discuss what should be the legal approach to bias against obese people, let's also change our attitudes. Let's salute nutritious eating/drinking and physical activity for everyone. But let's not allow the size of people to dominate our judgment of them. The Jazzercise instructor had it right: it's time to assess everyone "on my merits, not my measurements".
At the same time there is more to obesity than "calories in/calories out." A case in point is a recent study tying body mass index (BMI) to pollutants. That investigation suggests that exposure to second-hand smoke and roadway traffic may be linked to increased BMI in children and adolescents. These studies and reports on pollutants and other chemicals contribute to the movement challenging the causes of obesity as simple caloric explanations. We have much more to learn about the complexities concerning excessive weight gain.
Caloric labelling is a recent strategy in combatting obesity. It's been tried in the United States in various cities and states. Something similar, in fact, happened in the battle against smoking. No one intervention brought down the rate. Instead a variety of legal strategies (banning sales to children, restricting advertising, mandating warnings, imposing high taxes etc.) working together significantly cut the numbers who use cigarettes.
The idea that providing more information about food served in restaurants, such as calorie and fat content, would reduce the risk of weight problems has widely been greeted with skepticism and outright rejection. Now a new study presented at the Second Annual Obesity Journal Symposium in Boston showed that calorie labeling on menus can indeed influence the choices people make.