Saturday, November 3, 2012

Obesity Prevention: applying lessons from anti-tobacco campaigns

The recent OMA policy paper on the prevention of obesity has referred to obesity as health challenge which requires immediate and aggressive action.

The OMA has released several recommendations on how to reduce the incidence of obesity in Ontario by considering some of the strategies that were effective in reducing rates of tobacco use. A summary of the recommendations can be found here from the October issue of the Ontario Medical Review:

While I personally agree with these recommendations, barring some debate about definitions, such as "low nutritious foods", the connection to the anti-tobacco campaign of recent decades is an awkward one, at best.

It is correctly stated that "tobacco and food products are different in many ways, and unlike food, tobacco products have no safe level of use". Indeed, tobacco and food products are very different in and of themselves, in relation to human health and disease, and, as I will argue, in their simplicity when aspiring to decrease the incidence of a chronic disease.

Point #1: Tobacco is optional, food is compulsory.
The paper states that tobacco products do not have a safe level of use, but that food products do. Not only do food products have a safe level of use, but they are required for sustaining life.

Point #2: Tobacco is not beneficial, foods are often beneficial
Tobacco products do not promote physiological function or well-being of humans in any way - rather they are associated with physiological dysfunction and disease. On the contrary, many foods promote health and well-being.

Points #3: Tobacco is simple, food is complex
Tobacco is a consumer product available for purchase if one so chooses. Food is not simply one product on the shelf...there are myriad types of foods available on the market...some good, some bad. Further to this, obesity, the ultimate goal of these changes in food policy, is a result of many factors at various levels of the socio-ecological model.

The OMA policy paper is a major step in the right direction towards altering the obesogenic environment, and ultimately to reducing the incidence of obesity in children and in adults. Despite only addressing one side of the energy equation, their recommendations could have large impacts on the prevention and reduction of obesity. There are indeed several lessons learned from the campaign against tobacco that can be applied to obesity, and I commend the OMA for these recommendations  However, I fear that comparing tobacco with obesity - by suggesting that "we reduced smoking levels, so we can therefore reduce obesity levels" - does a disfavor to the fight against obesity.

Tobacco is optional, it is easy to convince people that it is bad because it has no health benefits, and it is simple in that it is one consumer product. Food is compulsory, it is much more difficult to navigate the good food/bad food environment for consumers, and food is complex - it is not just a product on the shelf. Further to this, obesity is far much more than just food - it is the result of an imbalance in the energy equation, but is promoted by numerous factors in the obesogenic environment.

In comparison, reducing smoking rates was easy. Reducing obesity is a whole different box of french fries.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Get off the couch to turn down the heat.

A recent Scientific American article (sorry, I can't provide the link without a subscription, and I don't want to plagiarize it - you'll have to trust me!), suggested that an effective way to make it easier for people to turn down their thermostats in the winter would be to use remote controls to do this. The main idea is that people would be able to use their smartphones, or other devices, to turn down their thermostat during the day, and turn it back on just before they're coming home, thus saving energy.

While I appreciate the importance of saving energy, and would advocate for trying to be energy conscious wherever possible, it is likewise important to consider the consequences of implementing such suggestions. I fear that people would not only use this while away from the home, but also at home.

In our eat more, move less, sleep less world, the last thing we need is yet another excuse not to get off of the couch.


Mike Borg

Friday, March 16, 2012

An open letter to the APA and their referencing style

Dear American Psychological Association,

I am writing you today to ask why you invented your referencing style. I understand that in our simple world things can be a bit...well...simple, and although some people may be tempted to add a bit of complexity here and there (and about 3 dozen obscure, arbitrary rules while they're at it), I feel as if the APA style of referencing is taking this idea a bit too far.

Sure, it could be simple and easy to reference a paper by, say, using numbers to identify a particular  reference, but gosh darnit people are just writing too many papers nowadays! If we don't figure out a way to waste everyone's time when they're writing papers the world would be just be a sea of literature. Can you imagine such a place? - the trees that would be lost...the labor force needed to edit and grade papers...the never-ending reading! By God, without any structure to the universe, we might as well all build a tree fort and befriend a leaf named Jose!

Whew, glad that'll never happen...because we have APA style-referencing. Structure, order, and whole potpourri  basket of frustration, agony, and teardrops on computer keyboards...