Odds and Ends from the internet and my inbox:
Wow, it’s amazing how many people who were previously unaware of Fat Head have already discovered it on Netflix now that it’s in the instant-play lineup. After being away from home most of Sunday, I checked my email around midnight and found my inbox swamped. There were also dozens of new messages on Facebook (one from a guy who apparently found me there solely for the purpose of writing: Your an idiot. Nothing in your film made sence), DVD orders to fill, lots of comments on the blog, etc. I didn’t even bother trying to tackle the emails until today.
A question I often receive from new viewers is: What happened with your weight during the second diet experiment in Fat Head, when you went on a saturated-fat pigout? I should’ve answered that in the film, but it didn’t occur to me since the point of that sequence was to show that my overall cholesterol dropped while my HDL went up. But for those of you who are new to the blog, the answer is: I lost another two pounds.
The World is ‘Failing’ to Statinate Itself
Oh, horrors. It turns out there are still plenty of people in the world with high cholesterol who aren’t taking statins, according to a World Health Organization Report. Some quotes from a BBC news article:
Most people around the globe with high cholesterol are not getting the treatment they need, claims the largest ever study of 147 million people.
Notice how a completely unsubstantiated conclusion was just sort of sneaked in there: people with high cholesterol need treatment with statins.
The analysis found many at-risk people in middle-income and western countries alike are not on cheap and widely available statin drugs that would substantially cut their risk of heart attack and stroke.
Hmmm … the only thing wrong with that last sentence is that statins don’t substantially cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially among the countless people who have high cholesterol but no actual cardiovascular disease.
Experts stress that things may have moved on since the data was gathered. For example, England last year announced a mass program where every person aged 40 to 74 would be offered a cholesterol check by the GP in a bid to reach those that had previously been missed.
Apparently the National Health Service in England wants pretty much the entire population to go on statins. What’s that saying about mad dogs and Englishmen? Give it a few years and we may be unable to tell the difference.
Taxing ‘Unhealthy’ Food
As you know if you’ve seen Fat Head, some food-evangelist groups want governments to tax unhealthy foods so we’ll eat less of them. A recent study suggests those taxes might actually work:
Should unhealthy food be taxed like cigarettes and alcohol? New research suggests that a financial penalty may be the key to deterring the purchase of diet-busting food-even though other studies have found the opposite.
In a recent Dutch study, college students chose a hypothetical lunch from a menu three times. Each time, the prices of the high-calorie items increased-first by 25 percent, then 50 percent.
“Some subjects had a larger budgets than others, but almost everyone purchased food with fewer calories when the tax was introduced,” explains study author Janneke Giesen, Ph.D., professor at Maastricht University. “People reduced their hypothetical consumption by 100 to 300 calories.”
Just a couple of little problems here: first off, this was a “hypothetical” lunch in what sounds like a rather meaningless experiment. As the online article about the study noted, food taxes may not produce the same effects in reality:
Still, some research suggests taxes won’t do much-like a Duke study finding that people switch to other high calorie beverages when faced with a soda tax. Similarly, a recent University of Illinois review suggests that taxes may work in controlled experiments-but won’t make a dent in the “real world” since people will simply buy other unhealthy items. And a Queens College study of restaurants showed no significant relationship between calorie intake and menu prices.
And now for the bigger problem: even if the taxes worked in the real world, who’s going to define which “unhealthy” foods ought to be taxed? The USDA’s latest guidelines declare that saturated fat is bad, while whole grains are wonderful and “healthy diets are high in carbohydrates.” Do we really want these bozos deciding which foods to discourage through higher taxes?
Wal-Mart Made You Fat?
A couple of economists have concluded Wal-Mart is partly responsible for the rise in obesity. (I like reading books on economics, but these guys won’t be on my reading list anytime soon.) Why is Wal-Mart to blame? Why, by making food too cheap, of course:
We were able to show that Walmart Supercenters increase obesity after all. This is what we expected to find when we first started working on this paper in the summer of 2007: people eat more when food prices fall, eating more leads to weight gain, and Walmart Supercenters reduce food prices; therefore, Walmart Supercenters should increase obesity.
Well, there you have it. If food is too affordable, people get fatter. This of course explains why the well-to-do in America have such an obesity problem, while the poor are so much leaner and healthier. Oh, wait … isn’t it the other way around?
When I was in grade school 45 years ago and there were far fewer fat kids, I never heard anyone recount a conversation like this:
“Mommy, can I please have more food?”
“No, Johnny. We can’t afford it.”
What I did hear, however, were parents trying to guilt-trip their kids into finishing their dinners by telling them about the starving children in China.
As someone who is interested in both economics and nutrition, I want to throttle anyone who suggests we’d all be leaner and healthier if food cost more. I’ve heard from quite a few readers who say they understand low-carb diets are better for their health, but they’re on tight budgets and protein foods tend to be more expensive. That’s true. But guess what? Wal-Mart makes meat, eggs, fish and cheese more affordable for a lot of people. Blaming them for the rise in obesity is just stupid. Low food prices aren’t the problem; bad dietary advice is.
Food Packages Shrinking
So while the food evangelists and certain misguided economists were busy blaming cheaper food for making us fat, USA Today was busy complaining that food manufacturers are giving consumers less for their money by keeping prices the same while shrinking package sizes:
There’s a reason why the tub of ice cream you bought last week looks a tad smaller than ones you bought last summer. It is. Many major ice cream makers, hit by higher dairy costs, have shrunk their standard containers to 1.5 quarts from 1.75 quarts, about 1 cup less. The industry downsized from the traditional half-gallon (2 quarts) five years ago. In both cases, only the package shrank, not the price.
“Downsizing is nothing but a sneaky price increase,” says Edgar Dworsky, former Massachusetts assistant attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division, now editor of Mouseprint.org, a consumer website. “I’m waiting to open a carton of eggs and see only 11.”
So if we get too much food for our money, it’ll make us fat. But if we get less for our money, it’s a consumer rip-off.
This reminds me of something I read in an economics books about the risks companies face when setting prices, depending on who’s running various government agencies: Charge more than other companies — prosecuted for monopoly pricing. Charge less than other companies — prosecuted for predatory pricing. Charge the same as other companies — prosecuted for colluding on prices.
After listing all kinds of food packages that have gotten smaller, USA Today informs us that consumers are getting angry about the shrinkage:
But some shoppers are getting savvy, and vocal. When they spot a product that’s downsized, they let the company know they don’t like it. That leaves executives responding to loyal-but-angry customers.
Here’s how the executives should respond: “Dear customers — Sorry about the smaller packages, but we don’t want to make you obese by giving you too much for your money.”
The Biggest Losers Lose More Than Weight
According to a recent study, the Biggest Losers who are horsewhipped by celebrity trainer (and thermodynamics expert) Jillian Michaels into starving themselves and exercising all day may be damaging their metabolisms:
In an abstract presented at the most recent Obesity Society Annual Scientific Assembly, Darcy Johannsen and friends reported that by week 6 participants had lost 13% of their body weight and by week 30, 39%. More interestingly they reported that by week 6 participants metabolisms had slowed by 244 more calories per day than would have been expected by their weight loss and by week 30, by 504 more calories.
And you wonder why the standard advice for losing weight doesn’t work very often? As the doctor who wrote a blog article about the study put it:
That’s basically a meal’s worth of calories a day that Biggest Loser contestants no longer burn as a consequence of their involvement. Effectively that means they’re eating an extra meal a day. How do you think you’d do at maintaining your weight if you ate an extra meal a day?
China Regulates Reincarnation
Yup, when they’re not too busy buying up our massive debts, the Chinese are apparently preparing to regulate reincarnation:
In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.”
That’s what I love about governments: the unbridled confidence in their ability to effectively manage absolutely everything … you know, like farming and school-lunch menus and reincarnation. This could lead to a new twist on an old joke: What is a jackass? A horse reincarnated by a government committee.
I hope the Chinese think better of it. Our government managed to take previous generations of lean, healthy Americans and reincarnate them as obese diabetics.
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