This picture captures why “no sugar added” is a meaningless concept

It seems that every time I go to the grocery store I see more products proudly announcing that they have “no sugar added”.  Typically these claims are seen on juice and other products that contain a high sugar content.

As Yoni Freedhoff has pointed out in the past (emphasis mine):

[These claims are] there to make you feel that the product inside the box is a healthy one.

A quick peek at the back of the box is probably in order.

Take Mott’s Fruitsations Unsweetened Strawberry Fruit Rockets for instance. Reading the ingredients you’ll find that they include both, “Concentrated Strawberry Puree“, and, “Concentrated Fruit Juices“.

And what are concentrated purees and juices?

Sugar.  Plain old sugar.

I know that some people will say that sugar in juice is different from table sugar or high fructose corn syrup because it is “natural”.   I disagree.  But let’s say that we accept that the sugars found in juice are somehow “better” than added sugars, and that “no sugar added” is a term that has value.  What then to make of the below picture, courtesy of freelance science writer David Despain:
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Category: Miscellaneous, News, nutrition, Obesity Research | Tagged | 6 Comments

Juice is not natural (!!!)

orange juice

The health-impact of juice is a contentious issue. Yes, it’s full of vitamins and minerals. But it’s also full of sugar.  How much sugar?  The below graph compares the calories and sugar content in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Tropicana Orange Juice.  I’ve hidden the names.  Which one is the “healthy” orange juice?

Calories and Sugar Content in 12 ounces of Tropicana, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola

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Category: News | 22 Comments

Exercise protects you from stress

womenactiveThere are few of us who can honestly say they are not stressed out at least some of the time. Too much to do, not enough time, looming deadlines, financial concerns, health problems, etc. can all cause us to feel on edge.

Your heart rate and blood pressure soar, you start perspiring, sleeping becomes a challenge, you’re irritable, and so on.

As you might have imagined, chronic psychological stress negatively impacts on your physical health, increasing the chances of countless chronic diseases. Additionally, stress can also reduce your lifespan.

Findings on a more cellular level suggest that psychological stress expedites the aging process of your body’s cells. Specifically, stress has been correlated with telomere shortening of a cell’s chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, and it replicates and shares the genetic information wound up in its chromosomes with its new copy, the new cell retains a slightly smaller end section of the chromosome, termed the telomere. When the telomere gets to a critical length, the cell reaches a point it can no longer divide properly.

When this begins to occur on a systemic level, you are in trouble.

And this is essentially what happens with aging, leading to cellular senescence.

So what effect, if any, does exercise have on this negative impact of psychological stress on cellular aging?

A recent study investigated this very question in a sample of 63 healthy post-menopausal women who were assessed for stress via questionnaire, physical activity levels over a 3 day period, and telomere length via a process I barely understand, so I won’t try to explain (it is Friday, after all).

For purposes of comparison, the women were divided into sedentary (< 33 minutes during the 3 days) or active (>33 minutes during the 3 days) – not a very high bar for activity.

Not surprisingly, participants with higher levels of stress were less likely to exercise, have higher BMI, less years of education, and shorter telomere length.

In terms of exercise protecting you from the negative cellular effects of stress, the authors found the following:

Among sedentary individuals, a 1 unit increase in perceived stress was associated with a 15-fold increased risk of having short telomeres (in the lower tertile of telomere length in the entire sample).

Among active individuals, a 1 unit increase in perceived stress had NO RELATIONSHIP with telomere length.

In other words, those who are active (and just barely so, based on the categorization in this study: 11 mins per day) seem to be protected against the cellular damage caused by cognitive stress

Keep in mind these analyses accounted for differences in BMI, education, age, and anti-oxidant use.

Bottom line:

Just in case you needed another reason to be physically active, regular activity may protect your cells from the damage caused by daily stresses of modern life. Unfortunately, those people who could benefit the most from physical activity – stressed individuals – are least likely to be active.


Puterman, E., Lin, J., Blackburn, E., O’Donovan, A., Adler, N., & Epel, E. (2010). The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length PLoS ONE, 5 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010837

Category: News | 2 Comments

On the road again

First day of school, 2014

First day of school/work, 2014

The past 12 months have been quite busy for my wife and I.  In September I defended my PhD at the University of Ottawa/Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.  In December we moved across the country to Halifax so that I could begin a post doctoral fellowship at Dalhousie University.

Coincidentally, the day that we drove out of Ottawa in a 14 foot Uhaul, we also found out that my wife is pregnant.  That day was also a massive snowstorm (if anything makes driving a massive truck in a snowstorm even more stressful, it’s knowing that you’re about to be a first-time parent!).  After a short time in Halifax, we have now moved again – this time to Prince Edward Island, where I have begun work as an Assistant Prof in Applied Human Science*.  That makes for 2 separate moves within 7 months (and a single pregnancy!).

I’m really excited to be starting what is essentially my dream job.  I’ll be in a relatively small school doing both teaching and research, which was always my goal.  And it’s in the part of the world/Canada that my wife and I have wanted to be in all along.  I think that both the department and the community will be an excellent fit, and it’s been a very positive experience for us so far.

As I transition from post doc to prof, I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank my post doctoral supervisor Chris Blanchard, as well as his team at Dalhousie.  Although I was only in his lab for 7 months, he was extremely generous to me both in time and in resources.  We’ve begun some very interesting projects that will start to trickle out soon (one is currently under review, two others will be submitted shortly), and have begun prepping for some very cool future projects.  Chris and his team were excellent to my wife and I, and we both thoroughly enjoyed our time in Halifax.  I would also like to thank the Heart and Stroke Foundation for their funding of my work at Dal.  And it goes without saying that I am forever thankful of all the good folks at the HALO research group in Ottawa.

I should also mention that when I was putting together my application for this position I leaned very heavily on the tremendous resources that have been collected by Dr Becca in her Tenure Track Aggregator (in addition to the help of many colleagues).  In particular, I found the Prodigal Academic‘s  posts to be very helpful, despite being in a very different field and dealing with very different types of academic institutions.  Similarly, this handy list of questions to ask/prepare for from SERC was unbelievably helpful. If you are applying to an academic job, I cannot recommend that you click on those above links highly enough.  I also had a lot of help from the Centre for University Teaching at the University of Ottawa, and the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Dal.

However, while I found a ton of advice online about how to prep my application for my current job, I’m cognizant of the fact that grad school is not a perfect preparation for life as an academic.  And so I’d like to ask for input from anyone who has once been in my shoes as a new faculty member: 

  • What did you do that worked well?
  • What would you do differently?
  • How did you balance the responsibilities of teaching and research?
  • How did you transition from being a student/trainee to being a prof/mentor?

And from anyone who was ever a student:

  • What did your profs/supervisors do that you liked best?
  • What did they do that you liked least?
  • What would have improved your experience as a student?

I’ll be doing both teaching and research, so I’m interested in your thoughts on either or both.  If you’re uncomfortable commenting under your real name, feel free to comment anonymously (the email line needs to be completed, but as far as I know, it need not be a valid email address).  And if you’re completely uncomfortable posting online but would like to share, feel free to email me at saunders dot travis at gmail. I’d rather have comments available so that others can benefit/reply, but I’ll take advice in any form that I can get it.  

As for what this will mean for the Obesity Panacea, probably not much.  I will continue to post when I have time (aiming for 1-2 posts/week between Peter and me), focusing mostly on topics that I am currently working on (I will try to work in some posts related to my course content as well, so that it’s not 24/7 sedentary behaviour).  Peter and I began this blog almost 6 years ago, a month before I defended my MSc.  So for the handful of people who have been reading since then (I’m looking at you, Angie & Yoni!), you’ve actually seen a frightening amount of my professional development!

As always, thanks for reading, and I look forward to any advice you’d like to share!


*As always, a reminder that the opinions and info expressed on the blog belong to Peter or I (or the guest post author, as appropriate), and do not reflect those of any other institution or funding agency.  I hope that’s pretty obvious, but this is a good opportunity for a reminder.  It is also why I don’t specifically list my active academic affiliation(s) here on the blog, although they are by no means a secret.

Category: Miscellaneous, News | Tagged | 7 Comments

Walking meetings: a step in the right direction?

Image by Sangy23.

Image by Sangy23

Today’s post comes from Allana Leblanc.  You can find more on Allana at the bottom of this post.

Right next to coconut water, and standing desks, “walking meetings” are the newest buzzwords for the ever trendy workplace.  A quick Google search will show pages of magazine articles and news stories touting the benefits of taking your work to the streets.  Travis has mentioned them a couple times here, and a summer student with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group gave a compelling overview of why they are beneficial to health.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I want to share with you the results of a recent article on the benefits of walking meetings. But rather than the health benefits of walking meetings, I want to talk about the benefits for creativity.  Because in a series of 4 experiments, Oppezzo and Schwartz show that walk is your first step to a creative day (full text available here).

To test creativity, they used a couple different tests, but basically, during the sitting, or walking conditions, participants were audio recorded while they completed different word association tasks.  After the test was over, they were scored according to novelty and appropriateness of their responses

Experiment 1

Two conditions:

  1. sitting + test
  2. walking on a treadmill + test

Results: Walking on a treadmill produced an average creative output of 60% higher than sitting.

Experiment 2

Three conditions:

  1. sitting + test, followed by treadmill walking + test
  2. treadmill walking + test,  followed by sitting + test
  3. sitting + test,  followed by more sitting + test

Results: The walking condition, was associated with the highest test scores.  Order of the conditions also mattered so it wasn’t just that people were getting better at the tests.  Walking had a carryover effect such that the walking + sitting condition produced higher scores than the sitting + walking condition. The sitting + sitting condition produced the lowest scores for creativity.

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Category: Guest Post, Peer Reviewed Research, Sedentary Behaviour | Tagged | 4 Comments

Why you should serve unhealthy snacks in a small bowl

snack bowlIt is often stated that the accumulation of excess body weight is a simple matter of energy intake exceeding energy expenditure. While this notion is certainly correct, it does not account for the myriad of factors that drive one to consume more calories than necessary.

Take for example the size of a bowl from which you eat your snacks.

Could this simple factor play a role in the number of calories you may consume?

Back in 2005, Wansink and Cheney performed a wonderfully simple study and found that when snacks are offered in a large bowl, people take 53% more food (146 extra calories) and eat 56% (142 calories) more than when offered the same amount of food but in a smaller bowl (roughly half the size of large bowl).

In the study, 40 graduate students were invited to attend a Super Bowl party (not sure why I was never involved in such “research” in my department). Right after they entered the party, the participants were led to 1 of 2 snack bars where they were offered snacks to consume during the game.

Both snack bars had the same amount of identical snacks (roasted nuts and pretzel/chip variety mix).

While the one buffet offered the snacks in 2 large bowls (4 L capacity) the other offered the same quantity of snacks in 2 medium bowls (2 L capacity).

Each participant served themselves on 10-inch plates, and had their plates weighed prior to joining the other participants in another room and watching the game.

One hour later, each participant filled out a survey and the amount of food they ingested was measured (difference between how much initially taken and how much was remaining).

A total of 5 of 40 participants did not take any snacks when offered. It is not reported whether these individuals were smuggling carrot sticks in their pockets. Regardless, they were swiftly and forcibly removed from the party. (Okay, that didn’t actually happen. The non-snacking weirdos were allowed to stay at the party and probably make the rest of the participants feel guilty.)

The effect of bowl size on caloric consumption was not influenced by body weight, hours since last meal, age, or education. However, gender did play a role; males were more susceptible to the influence of bowl size.

Take home message?

If you have friends coming over for a party, or you’re making snacks for yourself or your family, try the following: place the healthy snacks in large bowls and the unhealthy ones in small bowls. Theoretically, this would result in a greater consumption of healthy snacks and a limited consumption of unhealthy ones.

To help limit my intake of all things salty, especially chips and prezels, I now only ever buy the “single serve” packs. If I am really craving something awful, it guarantees I have to leave the house and head to the grocery store to score some snacks. No more family size bags of chips – it may be economical, but it certainly ain’t helping my waistline.

Even better, you can do away with the unhealthy snacks altogether.


Wansink, B. (2005). Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 293 (14), 1727-1728 DOI: 10.1001/jama.293.14.1727

Category: News | 2 Comments