The Fatter we Get, the Less We Seem to Notice

obesity ratesA significant number of overweight and obese individuals believe their body weight to be appropriate or normal and are satisfied with their body size. Misperception of overweight status is most common among the poor vs wealthy, African Americans vs white Americans, and men vs women. The unfortunate consequence is that overweight individuals who perceive themselves to be of normal weight are less likely to want to lose weight in contrast to overweight individuals with accurate perceptions. Such individuals are also more likely to smoke, have a poor diet, and be physically inactive.

An interesting hypothesis tested by Burke and colleagues in an Obesity journal article is that misperception of overweight status can actually increase over time in response to the secular increase in the average BMI of the US population. In other words, due to a possible anchoring effect, the more overweight the people around you become, the more one’s sense of “normal” weight is raised upwards, and thus the less likely you are to consider yourself overweight, even though you actually may be. Indeed, given that most individuals you interact with on a regular basis are likely to be overweight or obese, it becomes tough to define what someone with a normal weight looks like.

To answer the question at hand, the authors compared two representative cohorts of the United States population (NHANES) – one surveyed in the early 90’s and the other surveyed in the early 2000’s. Stated simply, they divided each cohort by gender and weight status (BMI) and compared the general perceptions of the individual’s weight.

What did they find?

Just as the researchers predicted, overweight individuals today are less likely to classify themselves as “overweight” in contrast to overweight individuals surveyed over a decade ago. For example, the proportion of overweight women who perceive their weight o be “about right” increased from 14% to 21%, and that among overweight men from 41 to 46%. This latter point also well illustrates the gender bias of weight misclassification.

Interestingly it was among individuals aged 20-25 that the greatest shift towards inaccurate weight classification occurred – overweight individuals in this age group were most likely to see themselves as “normal” weight.

Additionally, independent of the effect of time, this study confirmed a number of factors influencing one’s ability to accurately gauge their own weight status: those who are educated are more likely to self-classify as overweight than those who are not, those with higher incomes are more likely to feel overweight than those with the lowest incomes, married people are more likely to feel overweight than never-married people, and members of minority groups are less likely than whites to consider themselves overweight.

So there you have it – as a population, we are all getting fatter. Making matters worse, the fatter we all get, the less we seem to notice and the less likely we are to do anything about our bulging waistlines.

Peter

Burke, Heiland, Nadler. From “overweight” to “about right”: evidence of a generational shift in body weight norms. Obesity. 2010;18(6):1226-34.

Category: News | 1 Comment

Grade 1 class using standing desks

Very cool story out of Saskatchewan this week, with a grade 1 classroom that has converted to standing desks.  Unfortunately I can’t embed the full interview, although it can be seen here. A short video from CBC is included below, which shows children using the desks.

Some highlights from the CTV article:

In September, Justin Sauer raised the height of all the desks in his classroom at Delisle Elementary School, in Delisle, Sask.

He was motivated by research that shows sitting too much can lead to health problems in adults and children.

….

Since propping up all of the desks using metal extensions, most of Sauer’s students are opting to stand.

He’s already noticed some changes.

“(Parents) told me their kids were sleeping better, had better postures,” he says.

On top of that, several appear to be paying more attention in class.

“I can say definitively that five or six kids have really benefited,” he says.

Sauer hopes that his students aren’t the only ones who learn this lesson. He thinks fellow teachers should take note too.

They do note in the video that kids don’t have to stand – they have the option to sit or stand (as we all should).  In the coming weeks I’ll have a Q&A with teacher Adam Aldred, who has converted his high school classroom to standing workstations as well.

Hat tip to my wife Daun and our friend Heather for telling me about the story.

Travis

Category: Sedentary Behaviour | 1 Comment

Participants Needed For Online Survey on Weight Stigma

Norah MacMillan at York University is doing a research project on the topic “Social Media Use on Weight Stigma and Eating Attitudes”.

She is looking for participants between the ages of 18-40 years to complete the survey.

It is a short survey (~78 questions) and should take about 10-15 minutes to complete.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PGRFSS8

If you are in that age group, please consider checking out her survey.  And if you have a study of your own that is in need of participants, feel free to let me know.

Travis

 

Category: News | 2 Comments

Want people to stand? Just give them the option

Today’s post comes from PhD Candidate Justin Lang, describing a cool intervention study that he just had published in Preventive Medicine.  Along with Jessica McNeil, Mark Tremblay and myself, Justin found that an incredibly simple intervention resulted in a considerable increase in the number of people standing at an academic conference.

For media requests or further information on the study, please contact Justin directly at jlang (at) cheo (dot) on (dot) ca.  The full text of the study is available for free at the Preventive Medicine website (here) until March 27, 2015.

Background:

In recent years there has been an accumulation of evidence indicating that sedentary behaviors (i.e., sitting) are associated with negative health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and premature mortality. In light of this evidence, researchers are trying to develop creative interventions to reduce sedentary behaviors – one of which being point-of-decision prompts (PODP). PODPs are used to inform individuals about the health benefits associated with a specific behavior. For instance, PODP are used in the workplace to remind people to stand throughout the day; they are also used to encourage individuals to use the stairs rather than the elevator.

We were interested in testing PODPs as an intervention to encourage standing during the Global Summit on the Physical Activity of Children and Youth conference (Toronto, Ontario, May 2015). Conferences are an excellent venue for sedentary behavior research as they typically involve periods of uninterrupted sitting, especially during oral presentation. Thus, the purpose of our study was to determine if a PODP would influence the proportion of attendees standing during oral presentations.

What did we do?

We selected 12 of 16 oral presentation sessions that took place during the conference. Each presentation session included 4 different, 15 minute, oral presentations on various topics related to physical activity. We then randomly assigned 6 presentation sessions to the intervention group and the remaining 6 presentation sessions to the control group.

During the intervention group sessions we asked the facilitators to read the prompt (see below) at the beginning (before the first presenter) and middle (after the second presenter) of the session.

Prolonged sitting is associated with increased health risks. We encourage you to reduce and/or interrupt your sedentary time while attending the Global Summit on the Physical Activity of Children. Please feel free to stand during this presentation session.

Facilitators for the control group sessions were asked not to address sitting and/or standing, and to not mention the existence of the study.

During all 12 sessions, researchers counted the number of participants at the beginning (first 10 min), middle (30-40 min), and end (50-60 min) of the session. Each count consisted of (a) the number of individuals in the room and (b) the number of standing individuals at any time during the count period.

What did we find?

The results of this study indicated that individuals were significantly more likely to stand during presentation sessions that included the PODP (see Figure 1).  Roughly 60% more participants stood during the sessions with the PODP, when compared to the control group.

Lang et al., 2015 (Source)

Lang et al., 2015 (Source)

Take-home messages:

Our study suggests that frequent prompts and/or permission to stand results in a great proportion of people choosing to do so. This is an exciting finding because it supports the versatility of PODPs. Prompts represent an equitable population health intervention. In other words, they have the potential to influence a large group of individuals equally. In addition, PODPs have little to no cost associated with their implementation.

About the author:

Justin Lang

Justin Lang is a PhD candidate in the Population Health program at the University of Ottawa and holds a research assistantship with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at CHEO. His PhD research focus is on the geographic variation of physical fitness in children and it’s relationship with childhood obesity. Justin also holds a Mitacs internship which provides him with the opportunity to further explore physical fitness in the Ottawa community.

Reference:

Lang, J. J., McNeil, J., Tremblay, M. S., & Saunders, T. J. (2015). Sit less, stand more: A randomized point-of-decision prompt intervention to reduce sedentary time. Preventive Medicine.  Available here.

 

Category: Peer Reviewed Research, Sedentary Behaviour | Tagged | Comments Off on Want people to stand? Just give them the option

When you lose weight, where does the fat ACTUALLY go?

Fat lossThe answer to this question may surprise you.

In fact, according to a recent British Medical Journal article discussing this issue, few health professionals, including doctors, dieticians, and personal trainers know the correct answer.

First, let’s back up for a minute.

When you consume calories beyond what your body needs, you will end up storing that extra energy in the form of triglycerides (glycerol backbone plus 3 free fatty acids) within fat droplets of individual fat cells, or adipocytes. Importantly, whatever the macronutrient composition of your diet (carbohydrate vs. protein vs. fat), when “calories in” exceed “calories out”, the end result is more triglycerides stored in your fat cells. (Before the  carbohydrates or protein you ingested end up filling up a fat cell in the form of triglyceride, they undergo a chemical conversion.) In other words, you could plump up your fat cells by eating only salad (it would take a lot of salad, of course).
Continue reading »

Category: News, Obesity Research, Peer Reviewed Research | 11 Comments

New Year’s resolution pitfalls and how to avoid them

new years resolution“Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.”

-Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Losing weight is the number one resolution people make each year. Getting more exercise or becoming “fit” is usually not far behind in popularity. Seeing as we’re approximately 3 weeks into the New Year, approximately 30% of people who resolved to change their lifestyle this year have already given up. In fact, only about 8% ever succeed in achieving their resolution.

At least some of this spectacularly high recidivism is the result of people setting goals in such a way as to almost guarantee failure, and end up exactly where they started (if not worse off).

Here are the top 5 New Year resolution pitfalls people regularly make. By avoiding these, you can increase your odds of being part of that elusive 8% when 2014 comes to an end.

Pitfall #1: The all or none approach
People have the best of intentions – they recognize the errors in their behaviour and they decide to do a complete 180 and become a new person. Unfortunately, when changes are too drastic, they can be very difficult to adhere to. If you’ve never gone for a jog, don’t set yourself up for failure by resolving to run 10km every day of the week.

Solution: Make small, progressive but easily achievable goals to gain some momentum. Also, try focusing on one change at a time rather than attempting a whole lifestyle makeover.

Pitfall #2: Focusing on outcomes rather than behaviours
What is a typical resolution read like? “I will lose 30lbs by December 31, 2014.” What is the problem? This is largely out of your control. There is marked variability between any two people going on the same weight loss plan. Also, as we’ve highlighted over the years on the blog, achieving sustained significant weight loss is much less common than many would like to believe.

Solution: Instead of worrying about the number on your bathroom scale, focus on healthy behaviours. Improve your diet, move more often, reduce the amount of continuous time you spend sitting, get a good night’s rest – any of these will improve your health and the way you feel. And if you happen to lose some weight along the way, that’s a bonus.

Pitfall #3: Going on a diet
The issue here is more to do with the concept of “dieting”, understood by many as a quick and temporary fix for years or even decades of poor lifestyle. Literally starving yourself for a few weeks or even months will result in weight loss, but how long can you maintain that before you inevitably resort right back to your unhealthy diet? A diet is not something you “go on”, it is a progressive and sustained improvement in what and how you eat.

Solution: Avoid diets that are too restrictive or that sound plain crazy (i.e. grapefruit diet). Instead focus on something more reasonable, such as eating breakfast each day, switching pop and juices for water, eating more small meals throughout the day instead of a couple large ones, slowly replacing your chocolate and chips with healthier snack options, etc. Understand that changing your diet for the better does not happen overnight. It has taken me a good decade to significantly reduce intake of chips and pop – it didn’t happen overnight!

Pitfall #4: Getting a long-term gym membership
While I fully endorse the use of a fitness facility to be physically active, the key error people make here is committing to a gym with a long-term contract (mandatory at many establishments) when they have no idea whether they will like it. This works great for the gym owners – they get tons of money from people who end up never using the facility. The traffic in all gyms swells dramatically every January. By late February, the gym is back to normal and many who started in January have stopped coming (but continue to pay).

Solution: When you head over to your local gym demand that you pay on a per session, per week or per month basis – whatever they allow. Do your best to avoid signing up for a year contract. If in June you are still regularly using the gym – then consider a longer term commitment to save some money. More importantly, get over the notion that you need to go to a gym to get in better shape. You can get a perfectly good workout in your home or at the park. You just have to get creative. The stairs at your office or home are essentially a free gym – use them!

Pitfall #5: Falling for Miracle Weight Loss Cures
The whole reason behind the development of Obesity Panacea waaaaay back in 2008 was to help debunk many of the bogus weight loss products on the market. Judging by the regular spike in traffic from Google to our site early each year for search terms such as “Acai Berry”, “Slender Shaper”, “Air Climber” – too many people will end up buying some utterly useless product they were made to believe is the panacea for obesity.

Solution: Unfortunately, there currently exists no cure for obesity – only treatments. Anyone or any product that suggests otherwise is trying to rip you off: run away!

The best of luck to all of you in 2015.

Peter

Category: News | 2 Comments