I bookmarked a few news items recently, thinking they might be post-worthy. (I’ve accepted that “post-worthy” will never have quite the ring to it that “sponge-worthy” does, by the way.) None of them quite tickles my brain or my sense of righteous indignation enough to inspire a full post, so what the heck … I’ll make this post a collection of mini-posts.

Video-Gamers Are Fat And Depressed

According to this article on MSNBC.com, the average video-game enthusiast is 35, overweight and depressed. Yeah, okay … he probably also lives in a room in his parents’ basement and works for the post office. So what?

I guess the “so what” is extremely important, because this study included investigators from the Centers for Disease Control, Emory University and Andrews University. As the article explains:

The hypothesis was that video-game players have a higher body mass index – the measure of a person’s weight in relation to their height – and “a greater number of poor mental health days” versus nonplayers, said Dr. James B. Weaver III of the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing. The hypothesis was correct, he said.

Well, that’s great. In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, I’m delighted to know my tax dollars are being spent to discover whether people whose primary goal in life is to steal cars and kill bad guys on a video screen are overweight and don’t socialize much.

Video-game players also reported lower extraversion, consistent with research on adolescents that linked video-game playing to a sedentary lifestyle and overweight status, and to mental-health concerns.

You know where they’re headed with this, right? They probably want to warn us that if kids spend too much time playing video games, they’ll turn into fat, depressed, socially-stunted adults. If so, they’ve got the causality backwards.

It’s just like the observation that active people tend to be thinner, therefore (as researchers like to believe), being active must make you thin. Nope. As I’ve pointed out before, active people aren’t thin because they’re active; they’re active because they’re thin. Their bodies don’t like to store calories as fat, so they feel an impulse to move and burn off all that excess fuel.

Playing video games doesn’t make kids or adults fat and depressed, but if you are fat and depressed, you will probably spend more time playing video games.

I spent much of my adolescence as a fat, clumsy kid. When deciding how to spend my after-school time, my thought process went something like this: Hmmm … I could go join that softball game the other guys in the neighborhood are getting together, get picked dead last, strike out every time I’m at bat, maybe get lucky and walk once, then get tagged out at second on the next hit because I’m too damned slow around the bases, then listen to some creative insults delivered by Brian “Stinky” Pinkerton … or I could sit in front of the television where nobody will bother me. Boy, tough choice …

Substitute “video game” for “television,” and you’d probably have an approximate read on the mind of the fat, depressed video-game players – even if they’re 35.
I wasn’t a fat kid because I didn’t play softball; I didn’t play softball because I was a fat kid.

While the study helps “illuminate the health consequences of video-game playing,” it is not conclusive, its researchers say, but rather serves to “reveal important patterns in health-related correlates of video-game playing and highlights avenues for future research.”

Ah yes, this is only the beginning for this fascinating field of research. Next, let’s study the mating habits of the 35-year-old video-game players. Perhaps the research could be funded by the makers of the RealDoll.

The Scientific Method

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: correlation does not mean causation. You’d think trained scientists would understand that concept, but sadly, many don’t. The emphasis on a “link” between playing video games and being overweight and depressed is just one example.

When I was in college, my physics professor showed us this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as an example of how the scientific method can be mangled. It’s still funny, and Sir Bedivere’s logic is every bit as good as the logic behind the “fat raises cholesterol and causes heart attacks” theory.

American Heart Association Warns About Sugar

The American Heart Association is now warning that Americans consume too much sugar.

Let’s see, that would be the same American Heart Association that believes that if a steak weighs the same as a duck, and duck-hunters sometimes die of heart attacks, and ducks lay eggs, then eating steaks and eggs causes heart attacks. That would also be the same American Heart Association that puts its stamp of approval on high-sugar cereals like Cocoa Puffs because they’re low in fat. If the AHA now believes sugar is bad for your heart, they’ve got some explaining to do.

By the way, Ancel Keys, who popularized the Lipid Hypothesis with his bogus study showing an association between fat and heart disease, failed to either notice or mention that sugar consumption was even more strongly associated with heart disease. Keys also ended up on the board of the American Heart Association … and the rest is history.

“Resistant Starch” Reduces Insulin Resistance?

I saw this story about how “resistant starch” reduces insulin resistance and other symptoms of diabetes on several news sites. I ended up reading several versions of the story only because I was wondering how starch of any kind could reduce insulin levels, and I was trying to get an answer to a rather important question: compared to what, exactly?

I finally found the answer here.  Some quotes:

While all dietary fibers decrease the glycemic and insulin response when they substitute for digestible carbohydrates, the fermentation effects distinguish resistant starch from other types of dietary fiber.

23 studies have shown beneficial effects of RS2 from high amylose corn on glucose and/or insulin response. When substituted for flour, it lowers the glycemic and/or insulin response of foods in a dose-dependent manner.

Exactly as I suspected … they’re comparing the effects of resistant starch to the effects of white flour. So let me explain this one more time:

If one group of ducks who aren’t made of wood smoke unfiltered cigarettes, and another group of ducks who aren’t made of wood smoke filtered cigarettes, and both groups of ducks weigh the same as a witch and float in water, the ducks who smoke the filtered cigarettes will end up with a lower rate of cancer.

That doesn’t mean filtered cigarettes “reduce” cancer. It simply means they’re less likely to cause cancer, as Sir Bedivere could tell you. And yet here’s a quote that appeared in most of the news stories:

These improvements are actually bigger than you get with most blood glucose lowering drugs,” said lead researcher Dr. Denise Robertson.

Great … we’ve got a supposed scientists hawking the insulin-reducing benefits of a commercial food product, without bothering to compare the results of eating the stuff with the results of avoiding starch altogether. I bet Dr. Robertson weighs the same as a duck and could turn anyone who points out the flaws in this study into a newt.

Examiner Interview, Part Two

Part two of my interview with Cameron English of the Eldorado County Conservative Examiner appeared today. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

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13 Responses to “Odds & Ends … or Duck-Duck-Goose”
  1. Derrick says:

    Here’s another recent one “Low-carb diets linked to atherosclerosis and impaired blood vessel growth” http://www.physorg.com/news170346116.html

    Of course, they are feeding a high fat/protein diet to mice, not humans. They also fail to mention what type of fat was used in the experiment. I’m just going to assume it was crap vegetable oil.

    I just ran across that one. It’s amazing how often we see these studies in the media, with no mention at all about the actual composition of the diet. So I spent the $10 required to download the full text of the study, and guess what? The low-carb diet was described as “a custom diet manufactured to our specifications.” That’s it. The fat could’ve been olive oil, corn oil, lard, soybean oil, whatever. So basically, this study tells us diddly.

  2. Jay says:

    Derrick, Tom

    I think you’ll both be interested in the latest post at Hyperlipid about this study.

    http://tinyurl.com/apoE-mice

    It’s about the apoE-/-mice used in the study.

    Best,

    Jay

    So they broke the mice genetically first, then fed them a fatty diet, and of course we still don’t know which fats were included. Lovely. Great to see our ever-curious health reporters parroting the press release without asking any of the right questions.

  3. Dave, RN says:

    That was a brilliant comparison, using the Monty Python sketch, on several levels. It’s amazing how we reward the authors of bogus studies (7 countries for example) with honors (picture on cover of Time) just like the character in the sketch.

    Unfortunately, media reporters tend to act like the crowd in that scene as well. The lack of critical thinking is disturbing.

  4. Tinamemphis5 says:

    Has anyone seen that ridiculous commercial with the Buttertons? Mom is serving baked potatos to the family with big sticks of butter in each one. Then they go on to say how much we have learned about saturated fat etc since then so go out and buy margerine. Well everyone in the commercial (supposesd to be from the 50′s) was trim and healthy looking!!

    Yeegads, that is awful. Here’s a link for others who haven’t seen it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPpQ8DLCzJQ

    So they take this “healthy” blend of unnatural oils, and of course they spread it on sweet corn and rolls. Very smart.

  5. Dave, RN says:

    Ok, I just saw this and need soemone to comment. Can this be true?

    Reverse Diabetes in Three Weeks:
    21 Day Diet with Low Saturated Fats, High Fiber & 45-Minutes of Moderate Daily Exercise Reverses Metabolic Syndrome and Type-2 Diabetes in Over 50% of Participants

    and here’s the link: http://www.level1diet.com/reverse-diabetes.html

    Can anyone make heads or tails out of this claim?

    I believe it could work. The diet is high in carbs as percentage of the total intake, but you’ll notice they stressed high-fiber fruits and vegetables. If you take people who’ve developed metabolic syndrome as a consequence of eating a lot of sugar and white flour and switch them to unrefined carbs with lots of vegetables, their insulin levels will drop — not as much as if they restricted or eliminated carbohydrates, but it would still be an improvement.

    Exercising also helps. When you exercise, you take up blood sugar into the muscles and increase your sensitivity to insulin a bit. The minor weight loss that exercise can induce is most likely from the effect on insulin, as opposed to merely burning calories.

  6. April says:

    I agree that video game study is a load of BS, my cousin who I used to live with is a self-proclaimed video game nerd who can play for hours but he’s a skinny stick. It almost reminds me of people who say “Video games cause violence in kids”. Right- but all the violence in the news and movies/TV doesn’t have ANY affect whatsoever.

    I was very surprised to hear about the AHA saying that about sugar. I see their endoresments all the time on products containing loads of sugar. It makes me sick how many of these “credible” organizations are so heavily influenced by food companies. Have you ever read “Stuffed”? It’s a great book that outlines just how influential the food industry is on organizations like that. And the really sad part is that they pretty much have no choice since their funding is so low. Maybe the government should step in and outlaw any corporate influence (ie MONEY) for non-profits that deal with health. Maybe that would help solve the obesity crisis… or put organizations like AHA out of business…

    I just watched Penn & Teller’s Bull@#$% episode about video games last night. Great stuff. Some points they made: Violence among teens has gone down by half during the same period in which violent video games have become popular, and the worst school-killing episodes in history happened before video games existed. It’s yet another cause of mistaking correlation for causation. The troubled teens who shot up schools played violent video games — but so do millions of other teens who never get in any trouble.

    I loved the Three Stooges growing up, but I’ve gone 50 years without a single eye-poking incident.

  7. Gerard Pinzone says:

    Dave, RN’s post reminds me. What about “The Metabolic Diet” by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale? It’s a low carb diet with “carb up” days combined with exercise.

    Here’s the program in a nutshell: 12 days of low carb, then 1-2 days of high carb (25-40% fat, 15-30% protein, and 35-55% carbohydrates), then cyclically go 5 days of low-carb and 1-2 days of high-carb.

  8. Jane says:

    Love the Monty Python correlation!

    The “logic” behind some of these studies reminds me of the logic testing we would do back in grade school. The “if chair is to table then cholesterol is to (fill in the blank).

    Careful … they’ll start blaming high cholesterol on chairs.

  9. Holly says:

    I love the Monty Python skit – in fact, its the ring tone on my cell phone! (1:11 – 1:32)

    As for video gamers – perhaps it’s my age (28) or perhaps it’s that I have a thing for nerds. (All nerds hang out with video gamers but not all gamers are nerds). Either way, I’ve known many of them and their body types range from sickly skinny to obese. However, I’ve also noticed their food of choice for their “game time” is pizza, Mountain Dew, Cheetos or Fritos (usually Fritos because they don’t make the controller “cheesy”).

    They don’t really eat the best food… I bet if they checked into the diets of gamers they’d see more of a correlation to carbohydrates. Then again, that’s probably why they didn’t mention the diet of said gamers.

    I told my wife the same thing after I started working as a programmer … IT people seem to either be skinny and pasty, or big and fat. Of course, they’re probably just the gamers at their day jobs.

  10. Denise Robertson says:

    On your resistamt starch story, RS isn’t flour its a dietary fibre and as such doesn’t contain the carbs or calories of flour. Before insulting people you should perhpas get your facts right. Fibre can alleviate the symproms without the side-effects of many drugs.

    Uh … what facts did I get wrong, exactly? The media stories claimed that RS “reduces” insulin resistance. You made this conclusion after comparing the effects of consuming RS with the effects of consuming WHITE FLOUR. If I substitute unsweetened iced tea for Coca Cola in a study, I promise the tea-drinkers won’t become as insulin-resistant as the Coca-Cola drinkers. But that doesn’t mean drinking tea REDUCES insulin-resistance. It merely means drinking Coca-Cola CAUSES it. Surely you see the difference?

    Now, if you can quote a study that compares two groups of people on two nearly identical diets devoid of white sugar and white flour, the only difference being that one group consumes RS and one doesn’t, and if the RS group shows improved insulin response compared to the non-RS group, then post it here. I’d like to read it. But that’s not what happened in the studies I was criticizing, so we can’t conclude if the effects were from the addition of RS or from the reduction in white flour. If you change more than variable in a study, you’ve got problems. Again, surely you know this.

    And by the way, giving up sugar and starch also alleviates the symptoms of type 2 diabetes without drugs.

  11. You are seriously confused on your data analysis. While there are studies comparing the glycemic and insulin response of resistant starch to white flour, all of Dr. Robertson published studies added resistant starch on top of people’s normal diet. Two of the studies included healthy people (Robertson, Diabetologia 2003, and Robertson, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2005) and one study included overweight individuals with confirmed insulin resistance (Robertson, Diabetic Medicine, March 2009) . She found that the resistant starch caused people to have significantly lower insulin levels. The people who had the highest levels of insulin resistance responded the most and had the highest reductions in insulin levels. Even healthy people had lower levels of circulating insulin. Another study did compare the insulin effects of diets that had exactly the same levels of glycemic carbohydrates (Bodinham, British Journal of Nutrition, October 27, 2009). Guess what – they found lower levels of insulin in people who had eaten resistant starch.

    I suppose researchers could test people who do not eat white sugar and white flour at all – if they could find anybody who fits that description that actually eats what they say they’re going to eat. Scientifically, it’s more effective to test people in their normal dietary patterns, as those are the people who we’re trying to help in the first place.

    And, scientifically, type 2 diabetics who severely restrict their carbs actually do worse than those people who choose better-for-you carbs and manage their condition.

    That’s what I was trying to find and couldn’t: a study that compared resistant starch vs. no resistant starch, as opposed to comparing it to white flour. I will lookup your references; thanks for sending them.

    I have serious doubts about that last statement; I’ve seen rather a lot of data on the effects of carbohydrate restriction for managing type 2 diabetes. If you have any references for studies comparing good carbs vs. restricted carbs for diabetes control, I’d like to see those too.

  12. I’ll even make it easy for you. Go to ResistantStarch.com, send us a request for the studies and I’ll make sure you get them.

    Will do. If it’s what you say it is, I’ll write a mea culpa post.

  13. D. Stanek says:

    Tom,
    Don’t listen to Rhonda Witmer’s rubbish. Bottom line – severly controlling carbs to no more than 30-50 grams per day (mostly green leafy vegetables) drops blood glucose levels far more than any resistent starch crap could ever do. Of the dozens of diabetics I know who actually control their blood glucose (with little to no injected insulin) to a level of <5.5 HgA1C, EVERY SINGLE ONE uses a very low carb diet and moderate exercise like me. As for this little gem

    “And, scientifically, type 2 diabetics who severely restrict their carbs actually do worse than those people who choose better-for-you carbs and manage their condition,”

    I call BS. Since going from low fat to low carb, my HDL has gone from 24 to 52, triglycerides have gone from 280 to 102, HgA1C from 9.0 to 5.3, LDL from 160 to 140. This outcome is TYPICAL for low carb diabetics. And by the way, I take no diabetic drugs or statins.

    Top those numbers Rhonda Witmer with your resistent starch junk! What a goofball!

    You can either take the very low carb approach like I do or eat a normal American diet while cramming down some resistent starch, then see your blood glucose drop 0.1 %. Of course Rhonda would call that a huge success. No thanks!

    I downloaded several articles and papers on resistant starch, with plans to read them all and report back. So far, my initial impression is that they did a bit of cherry-picking of the studies.

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