fitness · research

Sometimes you feel like a nut: the latest on almonds and appetite

CW: mention of articles talking about eating and weight loss.

Nutrition and metabolic scientists are working hard, and they’re working on a really hard problem: what are the effects of eating various foods/beverages on important features of human functioning? I’ve written in detail and with great relish about the swinging research pendulum on the egg question. Tracy has written about coffee and what science has to say about its effects on us. Christine’s even done experimentation on herself in service of our need to know about hydration. Thanks, Christine!

Some of those hard-working scientists came out with results of a study on eating almonds.

They were wondering whether eating some almonds before a meal (vs. eating a snack bar) would provoke what’s called early satiety– feeling full sooner– during the meal. They were going to measure this in three ways:

  1. release of appetite-regulating hormones
  2. self-reported lowered appetite
  3. reduced short-term food consumption, i.e. eating less at the meal

Turns out, despite the fact that 1) happened– the appetite-regulating hormones got released, 2) and 3) didn’t. That is, people didn’t report lowered appetite and they didn’t eat appreciably less at the post-almond-snack meal than they did at the post-snack-bar meal (690 vs. 761 calories on average, which was not statistically significant).

Oh well. Thanks anyway.
Oh well. Thanks anyway.

In all seriousness, what they found was pretty interesting. At the metabolic level, the almonds did their job– provoking release of appetite-lowering hormones. But the effect didn’t migrate up to the conscious awareness level or the behavioral level. Which isn’t a bad or a good thing– it’s just a science thing.

And it spurred some good directions for future research like:

  1. looking for different appetite-release patterns in people with different BMIs (their test group had BMI 27.5–34.9)
  2. looking for longer-term behaviors and weight change and maintenance patterns
  3. looking for favorable metabolic effects in diabetic populations

Yes, this research was done in part because nutrition science wants to find ways to bring about weight loss and maintenance of the results of weight loss. We’ve written a lot-a-lot about this, taking issue with the uniform imperative towards lower weights across almost all BMI categories.

Usually when I write these posts about new research, they’re accompanied by sensationalized and distorted media accounts of the results. This study doesn’t disappoint. Here’s what a google search yielded:

Just a few of the many news articles that got it wrong– this study doesn’t show that eating almonds before a meal will result in eating fewer calories.

So what are we left with? I learned some things about what a nice food almonds are for the body (I mean by reading– I wasn’t in the study!). Also, trying snack selection strategies to distract us from eating by pre-feeding us may not work. Which is okay. Eating is a complex business at every level– from the social to the behavioral to the metabolic.

So, how to decide whether to eat almonds at any given time? I leave you with advice from a 1978 commercial that I remember well from my youth. In short, sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.

Hey readers? Do you like almonds? Do you use them for snacking? For taking the edge off before a meal? Do you remember this commercial. Just curious…

fitness · research

Is high-intensity exercise the new cancer drug? Way too soon to tell

Last week, a new study came out on the effects of high-intensity exercise on metastatic (late stage) cancer. Medical news sites and medical Twitter have been all abuzz about the results. Take a look:

From Medical News Today: metastatic cancer risk reduced by as much as 72% with high intensity exercise.

For those of you who know me or have read some of my critiques of medical journalism, you might think I’m about to lower the boom on the journalists and twitterers who are very enthusiastic about the results of the study. I’m not doing that. Not today… But, a little unpacking and clarifying of what we now know (and don’t know) about exercise and cancer is in order.

Please, take a seat. But I promise not to be long.

First of all, what were the researchers looking for in this multi-part study?

Researchers hypothesize that exercise-induced metabolic reprogramming of organs transforms them into metastatic-resistant metabolic micro-environments by limiting nutrient availability to the cancer cells thus creating a metabolic shield.

That is, they were investigating whether the metabolic effects of exercise might increase the likelihood that our organs would consume more glucose than usual, depriving tumors of the nutrients they need to grow and migrate.

Spoiler alert: the results of their study suggest a “yes” answer.

Exercise protects against cancer progression and metastasis by inducing a high nutrient demand in internal organs, indicating that reducing nutrient availability to tumor cells represents a potential strategy to prevent metastasis.

But (and as RuPaul says, it’s a big but), the details of the study show the results to be promising but still preliminary.

from the study:

Epidemiologic data from a 20-year prospective study of a large human cohort of initially cancer-free participants revealed that exercise prior to cancer initiation had a modest impact on cancer incidence in low metastatic stages but significantly reduced the likelihood of highly metastatic cancer.

In a 20-year prospective study of 2734 men and women in Israel, researchers found that high-intensity exercise lowered the relative risk for more advanced/metastatic stages of cancer (e.g. spreading to other sites in the body) 72%, compared to low-moderate exercise. Note, this is relative risk, not absolute risk. And, this is population-level, not taking into account other factors that strongly influence individual baseline risk. One more and: the researchers say that much more research is needed to know more about which particular cancers respond to increased exercise. All of this is TBD, if incredibly promising.

The study also included an analysis of this effect in mice.

In three models of melanoma in mice, exercise prior to cancer injection significantly protected against metastases in distant organs. 

Note, this experiment was done with melanoma, one form of cancer. It’s well known that different cancers set up shop, as it were, in the body in very different ways. Again, the effects of increased exercise on other cancers is still TBD.

There were other analyses done, and if you’re up to the task, you can access the whole paper here.

The authors themselves issues a bunch of caveats at the end of the article. For instance, the literature doesn’t show how long the tumor-starving effects of intense exercise last. They also point out that high-intensity exercisers, like Olympic athletes, are not themselves immune to various cancers. This suggests to them that “a personalized exercise regime for each patient might provide better clinical outcomes.”

Yes, I fully concur. Until we know more– a lot more– we can conclude that all forms and intensities of exercise are, in many ways, good for health ad longevity. A Healthline article on this study agrees:

High intensity also might not be possible depending on age and other factors. For these people, even moderate exercise still has a protective effect against cancer, Hicks said.

“Hundreds of epidemiological studies, comprised of millions of participants, provide strong evidence that regular, daily activities like brisk walking significantly reduce the risks of many cancers,” he said. “These results show 10 to 20 percent risk reductions for bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, and renal and gastric cancers.

Well, yay for that! Reading those words has given me enough energy to maybe do this high-intensity move:

A woman in jeans and a sweatshirt, Jumping for joy! By Hannah Busing, for Unsplash.
Jumping for joy! By Hannah Busing, for Unsplash.
fitness · research

Is the soleus pushup the key to health? Catherine has thoughts

In case you’ve been outside or busy with other things non-internet this weekend, a) good for you; and b) a dense but very interesting research article came out; and c) this article has made otherwise sensible science journalists go hog wild. Researchers Mark and Deborah Hamilton and Theodore Zderic found:

…the human soleus muscle could raise local oxidative metabolism to high levels for hours without fatigue, during a type of soleus-dominant activity while sitting, even in unfit volunteers. Muscle biopsies revealed there was minimal glycogen use. Magnifying the otherwise negligible local energy expenditure with isolated contractions improved systemic VLDL-triglyceride and glucose homeostasis by a large magnitude, e.g., 52% less postprandial glucose excursion (∼50 mg/dL less between ∼1 and 2 h) with 60% less hyperinsulinemia. 

Very roughly, this means:

  • Our big calf muscle can work continuously for long periods, without fatigue
  • This process doesn’t use much glycogen, as it’s not intense muscular activity
  • But, it has some surprising beneficial effects (insert technical stuff here about V-LDL triglyceride levels, glucose release after meals, and insulin levels related to insulin resistance, a condition that is considered a precursor to type-2 diabetes).
  • Also, this is a surprising result, which is cool.

They were also nice enough to provide an illustration. So, if you like pictures:

The research results, complete in illustration.

But of course, the internet wasn’t satisfied with my explanation from above. Oh, no, that boring information won’t do at all. Here’s what they had to say instead:

Doing this small movement while sat at your desk can boost your metabolism and burn fat.
No no no–they’re not saying we should all do calf raises to burn fat.
groundbreaking discovery of special muscle can promote fat burning while sitting.
Definitely no no no– they didn’t discover the calf muscle; that once was well-known already.

The producers of the second article also got a little confused about where the “special muscle” was:

So many things wrong here, but for starters: the "special muscle"-- large calf muscle-- is not around her waist, but rather in her lower leg. The picture shows a woman with a tape measure around her waist. Sigh.
So many things wrong here, but for starters: the “special muscle”– large calf muscle– is not around her waist, but rather in her lower leg.

To be clear, the researchers tried very hard to stave off a new Tik-Tok calf-raise-at-the-desk craze. They say in the article:

This study was not a clinical trial. This was an experimental physiological study, conducted in highly controlled laboratory conditions. This study also did not test effectiveness of a free-living lifestyle intervention. 

And this:

One should be cautious when interpreting the relative effectiveness in subcategories until follow-up studies with a large sample size are performed. The practicality will also depend on implementation in large parts of the population. The practicality will depend in part on evidence that people are capable of successfully performing SPU contractions outside of a laboratory without EMG feedback. There is a need to test when this could be integrated within the lifestyle without disrupting various seated behaviors.

But the science journalists ignored all this. All they saw was that maybe this– the fancy lab-telemetry-enabled calf raise– could potentially reverse the death-encroaching effects of sitting for too long. So they wasted no time in putting that message out to the public. Even though one of the articles showed the illustration below, it still trumpeted the result as instantly available to office workers everywhere.

I'm not sure I can even do email under these conditions, much less serious work. What about you? The picture shows a person hooked up to machinee with a face mask measuring CO2 output in a lab.
I’m not sure I can even do email under these conditions, much less serious work. What about you?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with calf raises. I do them on airplanes to help circulation (and also pass the time). But the soleus is not the “special muscle” that the internet is all in a swoon over. It’s just another one of our hard working body parts that help us get through our day.

Readers, did you see the calf-muscle-fever articles this weekend? Were you swayed for even a minute? I didn’t think so….

clothing · fitness · media · research

Sports Bra Drama

I usually pay little attention to sports bras, as I don’t seem to need much support and the one I wear is based on whether or not it is clean. Any love I have for sports bras comes wearing them exclusively since giving up underwire padded bras during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sam put it best here: “I’m still in love with lots of my formal work clothes but never again will I wear a bra that pokes in my ribs.”

I am a no-sports bra drama kind of person.

Bras Win Euros?

When I read the headline of the The Guardian article, “Secret support: did prescription bras help Lionesses to Euro 2022 glory?” I rolled my eyes at the sensational lead. Way to diminish the accomplishments of female soccer athletes. Would a male soccer player’s win be attributed to his underwear if he ran around in them after a winning game?

I have already written about how media commentary athletes’ bodies can reinforce gender stereotypes, undermine women’s athletic performance, or both. Our FIFI bloggers have also explored the topic of sports bras and athletic wear, highlighting the challenge of fit, double standards, and other gendered nonsense.

The Guardian’s headline led to more than sensational bra talk. The article described the findings of what little sports bra research is currently available: poorly fit bras can shorten women’s strides up to 4 cm. A seemingly small measurement, but “marginal gains” can add up to a big impact when it comes to athletic performance.

My Bra-Nundrum

When I am in a sports store, I walk right by the sports bras section, eyeing its wares with equal parts suspicion and derision. I am stubbornly uninformed about sports bras because I believe the industry is exploitative: the more women need these products the higher the price they seem to be charged for them. Brand logos inflate prices further. It’s all a bra racket to me.

But as I read article, my mind wandered to my own sad collection of stretched-out or over-tight sports bras I have acquired over the years. If I am honest, most of my off-off-the rack sports bras don’t fit or support me the way they probably should.

four sports bras on a table
Left to right: A black sports bra that is literally spandex; a grey sports bra from Goodwill (lost padding); a teal sports bra I have had since my 20s, a newer yellow sports bra that does not fit because it was an online impulse buy. Not shown: the one well-fitting sports bra own, worn wearing while taking this photo.

The article made me wonder: By not buying quality sports bras, am I forfeiting some comfort and performance out of principle? Did the purported bra drama lead me to realize that maybe I should invest in research-designed sports bras…because gender equality in sports research is a principle I believe in too?

The Need for (Some) Bra Drama?

It’s not new news (to me) that the Lionesses’ custom sports bras would fit better and be more supportive than those found in the bargain bin. And it’s also not newsworthy that the “prescription” outer- and under-wear articles for which elite athletes pay top dollar remove some impediments to their performance.

The real newsworthy story is the paucity of research on the fit, comfort, and support of women’s athletic gear, which includes sports bras. Women’s sports continue to be seen as second-class, right down to the lack of substantial research on an clothing item so clearly necessary for so many women athletes.

It’s a little sad that this disparity needs a woman athlete celebrating in a sports bra to draw attention to it. Perhaps The Guardian article is a fine piece of feminist sports journalism precisely because the sports bra drama is leveraged to spotlight the (lack of) research of athletic clothing design for women.

Let’s hope that an increase in research sports bra design eventually leads to better sports bra products for everyone—so that more than just top female athletes can perhaps get their 4 cm back when they play.

What’s your take? Does media sports bra drama usefully draw attention to the need for more research on women’s athletic clothing? What factors do you consider when you buy sports bras?

fitness · research

Of mice, men, and morning/evening exercise: the commenters weigh in

On Saturday I posted about a new study investigating whether morning or evening exercise is better (in what sense? they don’t say) for us. Spoiler: it doesn’t matter, at least as far as they know.

The investigators did their study using mice– male mice in particular. This did not go unnoticed by me, and certainly was noted plenty in the comments section.

The male bias remains. Even with mice.
The male bias remains. Even with mice.
Don't the most reliable studies include, uh, how do you say, women?
Don’t the most reliable studies include, uh, how do you say, women?
Let me know when researchers bother to study women and then I'll pay attention to them.
Let me know when researchers bother to study women and then I’ll pay attention to them.

Some made inquiries about where the female mice might be, along with plausible explanations:

Maybe no female mice were available.

Someone suggested they (the female mice) were tied up with other duties.

The females were holding the community together, as expected.

There were commenters who tried to defend the use of male-only mouse subjects on grounds of it-being-too-hard-to-do-science-on-female-organisms. Yeah, we’ve heard that before.

Longish quote claiming that organisms with estrogen cycles are way too complicated (and expensive) to do research on. Ah, okay.
Claim that organisms with estrogen cycles are way too complicated (and expensive) to do research on. Ah, okay.

You didn’t think I was going to let that one get by me, did you?

My response: testosterone cycles are complicated. Estrogen cycles are complicated. We don’t favor one over the other in doing research science. That would wrong. The NIH agrees.

Another attempted defense of the men-mice-only research plan came from this comment:

Using males and females in the same study would result in inadvertent mating, primarily among the most popular mice. ???
Using males and females in the same study would result in inadvertent mating, primarily among the most popular mice. ???

There’s a lot here, but let me just say that the mice could be held in separate cages, which would provide a low-tech solution. Am I missing something here?

In response to the male-mice-only defenders, someone suggested maybe doing more and better science might solve the air of mystery surrounding the ovulation cycles of female mice.

If we don't understand something, we should study it more. Duh.
If we don’t understand something, we should study it more. Duh.

And I’m sure this person was trying to help, but…

Bring out the lady mice!
Bring out the lady mice!

Finally, someone got to the heart of the matter, pointing out what scientifically aware readers want to know:

What we need to know is when is the best time to exercise to metabolize cheese? These subjects should be experts on the matter…

Readers, what do you think? Do you personally know any female mice who’ve been turned down for science experiments? Have you metabolized cheese after-hours or only during daylight? Is ovulation too mind-blowing even to think about, much less study in a scientific fashion? I’m hoping that future comments sections will enlighten me as much as this one opened up a host of new questions…

fitness · research

Why it doesn’t matter whether you exercise in the morning or evening

This week, the NY Times published an article with the headline “Is is better to exercise in the morning or evening?” The answer, when I dug into their article and the original research paper, was this: we learned many groovy facts about male mouse metabolism this week, but we still don’t know what time of day is best for you (a human) to exercise. Or even them (the mice), really.

Huh. You might be wondering why, after the NYT went to all the trouble to write this headline, that they don’t have an answer for us. And then there are those scientific researchers, who published this paper that shows a lot of results and many beautiful multicolored charts and graphs.

And yet. I maintain that we still don’t know what time of day is better for exercising. Why not? Here are some reasons.

No one has worked out and gotten other people to agree about what counts as a “better” or “best” time to exercise. Better in what sense? Feels best? Burns the most calories? Burns the least calories? Results in quickest muscle recovery? Contributes most efficiently to this or that training goal?

These are all really different ways to optimize on an exercise session. The researchers do mention time-dependent metabolic processes and effects on the mice-bros, but don’t offer general recommendations. The NYT article cites some studies (here and here) done on type-2 diabetic dudes (always and only the dudes… sigh) that show preferential effects from afternoon exercise. But that’s a particular sub-group, so the results don’t apply to everyone.

This study was done ON MICE. So, any effects they found, they found IN MICE. Yes, animal studies are common and often helpful in directing further investigation. But these results don’t tell us much of anything about humans. Which is no one’s fault, because the research subjects were MICE.

Mouse on a mouse-exercise wheel. Go mouse, go!
Mouse on a mouse-exercise wheel.

The study used only male subjects. In this case, it was male mice. Argh. So, if you’re a non-male person reading this, then you can’t know if the study results (if they had something even approaching advisory, which they don’t) apply to you. This is not a one-off case. Recall the research articles the NYT cited testing the metabolic effects of different exercise times on type-2 diabetes. They only used male subjects, too.

Woman fit to be tied, about to pull her hair out. Yeah, that's me.
Woman fit to be tied, about to pull her hair out. Yeah, that’s me (metaphorically).

What the research article never mentions and what the NYT saves until the end of their piece is the number one reason why it doesn’t matter whether I exercise in the morning or evening: the best time to exercise is the time I actually can and will and do exercise; it doesn’t matter when I move; it matters THAT I move. Here’s what the NYT said:

…as additional studies build on this one’s results, we may become better able to time our workouts to achieve specific health goals. Follow-up studies likely will tell us, for instance, if an evening bike ride or run might stave off diabetes more effectively than a morning brisk walk or swim.

But for now, Dr. Chow said, “the best time for people to exercise would be whenever they can get a chance to exercise.”

Yes, I can fully endorse that recommendation.

Readers, do you need to know what ways you can optimize on your physical activity? Do these results matter to you? Do you have your own optimal times, or do you mix it up in your workout schedule? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · health · research

Are pushups and grip strength the Magic 8 balls of longevity?

There are so many questions we don’t have answers for. Some are extremely important, like “what will life with COVID be like in 2-5 years?” Others are less serious but perhaps more urgent, as in “should I keep those bananas around another day in hopes of actually making banana bread, or give up and throw them out?”

Comic with old  banana saying it will be banana bread, and other banana (who is smoking) says "nobody is ever banana bread".
I never knew some bananas smoked.

Another area where we spend a lot of time and money searching for answers is human longevity. How long will we live? What will help us live longer? What will help us live better?

Chickens discussing bucket lists. One said that chickens don't do that because of the whole KFC thing.
Apparently, bucket list comics are a whole sub-genre.

A few years ago, I wrote about the sit-rise test, a candidate predictor of life expectancy. Sam wrote about it before me (we keep track of these things, so you don’t have to).

But life expectancy prediction science has moved on to other things, namely grip strength and pushups. What is their current revealed wisdom?

Magic 8 ball image saying "concentrate and ask again".
Magic 8 ball image saying “concentrate and ask again”.


In this 2019 Atlantic article, the author cites several studies that suggest grip strength is associated with mortality risk:

In 2018, a study of half a million middle-aged people found that lung cancer, heart disease, and all-cause mortality were well predicted by the strength of a person’s grip.

Yes, how hard you can squeeze a grip meter. This was a better predictor of mortality than blood pressure or overall physical activity. A prior study found that grip strength among people in their 80s predicted the likelihood of making it past 100. Even more impressive, grip strength had good predictive ability in a study among 18-year-olds in the Swedish military on cardiovascular death 25 years later.

So what’s going on here? Grip strength is standing in as a proxy for muscle strength and (possibly erroneously) fitness in people as they age. Muscle strength decreases as we age. There’s not overall consensus on how, at what rates, where, for whom, and why, though.

More importantly, health science doesn’t know to what extent muscle loss is genetic or the result of physical activity and nutrition. In this Washington Post article, one researcher even says that grip strength doesn’t necessarily change with exercise. If that’s the case, then why are these articles using this correlation to admonish us to get out there and exercise more (including, I assume, grabbing lots of heavy things)?

The Magic 8 Ball says, "don't ask me".
The Magic 8 Ball says, “don’t ask me”.

This Atlantic article does have an answer. But first, a few words about the potentially prognosticatory properties of pushups.

In a study done on firefighters, researchers found that pushup tests were better at predicting cardiovascular disease than a standard treadmill stress test. Some experts think this result could extend to the general population.

“Push-ups are another marker in a consistent story about whole-body exercise capacity and mortality,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic whose work focuses on the limits of human performance. “Any form of whole-body engagement becomes predictive of mortality if the population is large enough.”

Hmmm… I guess this means we can just set up hula hoop testing at the local registries of motor vehicles and polling places, and then we’ll know all we need to about people’s overall health?

You've got to be kidding. I'm with you, Magic 8 ball.
You’ve got to be kidding. I’m with you, Magic 8 ball.

What makes health expects so psyched about these sorts of one-and-done health tests is that they are 1) cheap; 2) quick and easy to administer; and 3) believed to offer a snapshot of someone’s overall physical capacities, says the Atlantic article. But do we know this, above and beyond the broad population correlation studies (which have their own limitations)?

No, says Magic 8 Ball.

We do know, for instance, that grip strength declines over time in the absence of disease. We know that osteoarthritis and lots of other common physical conditions interfere with pushup abilities. We don’t know how lower grip strength in younger populations correlates with anything. And, we have no idea whether these statistically significant mortality risks are clinically significant (that is, whether the increased risk will translate into diagnosed clinical conditions).

We do have a lot of evidence that physical activities of many sorts are good for us. They can feel good, they can help us feel good after doing them, and they can bring us together with other people, which also feels good. That’s good.

One last question, Magic 8 Ball: will I make banana bread with those overripe bananas in my kitchen?

All signs point to yes, or maybe no.
All signs point to yes, or maybe no.

Readers, what do you think about these one-and-done overall life expectancy tests? Are you working on your grip strength while reading this? Let me know what you think.

fitness · research

What’s in a name? A lot, if the word ‘obesity’ is gone

Instead of opening my post by chatting and eventually getting around to my topic, let me make like a journalist and offer an actual lede. Here goes:

The main research center for food policy and weight discrimination research, the Rudd Center, just changed its name this week.

You may be thinking, okay, thanks for the info. Now onto the next thing.

Hang on a sec! I forgot the most important part of the name change. The Rudd Center used to be called The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Logo of the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (with a globe that looks like an apple)

As of Monday (that’s when I got the email), the Rudd Center had changed its name to The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health.

New banner for the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, with apple graphic on the left and image of extremely cute kid in the background, possibly holding a piece of fruit.
New banner for the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, with apple graphic on the left and image of extremely cute kid in the background, possibly holding a piece of fruit.


A "wow" emoji as the o in wow, for emphasis. Cool.
A “wow” emoji as the o in wow, for emphasis. Cool.

This is big. No longer using the word “obesity” which I really dislike (read more about why in my post here) represents a shift in the ways a major research and policy center thinks and acts about food practices and population health. Here’s what the Rudd folks have to say about it:

This change reflects how our work has evolved over the past 15 years. When the Rudd Center was founded, the majority of our research focused on strategies to reduce obesity rates. Although many of our current initiatives remain grounded in the idea that improving the food environment will promote better nutrition, we now study a range of health outcomes, and focus on several specific populations. Among our newer areas of work are: food insecurity; the whole school, whole community, whole child model; minimum wage policies; and LGBTQ youth.  

We remain dedicated to using research to inform policy; fighting weight bias and discrimination through research, education, and advocacy; studying the social, economic, and structural drivers of diet quality and health equity; and reducing the harm of food marketing to youth. 

For years, the Rudd Center has been at the vanguard of research into ways our industrial food system and flawed healthcare system harms children, exacerbates health disparities and discriminates against fatter people. But this conscious and very public shift away from research on obesity rates, including getting rid of that word (ob*sity), sends a clear message: we’re not interested in researching about body weight. We’re interested in researching about food policy, access and discrimination. Here’s what they’re focusing on these days:

  • early care and education
  • food marketing
  • food policy
  • food security
  • schools
  • weight bias and stigma
List of research areas from Rudd Center website

Name changes are powerful. They signify changes in identity, changes in the ways we view the world and changes in the ways we view ourselves. This name change is one that I welcome with open arms.

If you are interested in learning more about the work the Rudd Center does, check out their website here.

Readers, does this seem like good news to you? Do you dislike the word ob*sity as much as I do? Any thoughts you have are most welcome.

fitness · research · sports nutrition

Dear exercise scientists: Where are the women?

Alex Hutchinson, writing in the Globe and Mail, asks “Why are female test subjects still being excluded from exercise research?” Lots of friends shared that story on social media, expressing WTF? levels of surprise. To those of us writing here on this blog, it wasn’t news.

Pretty much whenever I share stories about the results of some new fitness research, either I point out on our Facebook page that YMMV since the results came from research which tested university age men or I neglect to point it out and a helpful reader chimes in asking where are the women.

Here are some issues where we’ve pointed out the absence of research on women. There’s Catherine on women and concussions, me on intermittent fasting, Catherine again on women’s hearts. (Catherine is our go-to person for helping readers understand studies. As a public health ethics researcher that’s her bread and butter, as they say.)

Gretchen Reynolds wrote about this 2010, What exercise science doesn’t know about women.

In that story she talks about research that interested me. The original study showed significant recovery benefit from consuming protein after a hard workout. However, the subjects were all men. When the same study used women as subjects, they got a different result. The women experienced no big benefits from consuming protein after tough workouts.

Pick your favourite chunk of research based exercise wisdom. Mine is the research on the effectiveness of sprint interval training on fitness. See here.

“The McMaster team has previously shown that the SIT protocol, which involved three 20-second ‘all-out’ cycle sprints, was effective for boosting fitness. The workout totaled just 10 minutes, including a 2-minute warm-up and 3-minute cool down, and two minutes of easy cycling for recovery between the hard sprints.

The new study compared the SIT protocol with a group who performed 45 minutes of continuous cycling at a moderate pace, plus the same warm-up and cool down. After 12 weeks of training, the results were remarkably similar, even though the MICT protocol involved five times as much exercise and a five-fold greater time commitment.”

Great news, right? Who doesn’t have ten minutes to workout? Except that the subjects were all men.

My worry here isn’t that there are huge differences between men and women. My worry is that basing exercise research solely on one group–university aged cis-men–is not likely to yield results that are generalizeable across persons.

There’s even a nice example in Hutchinson’s story from my new academic home the University of Guelph and the beet research of Kate Wickham.

“When Wickham set out to explore the performance-boosting effects of nitrate-rich beet juice during her master’s degree at the University of Guelph, she found more than 100 studies on the topic that features all-male subject populations. In comparison, there were just seven all-female studies.

Based on the extremely limited data available, it seems that women may actually get a bigger endurance boost from beet juice than men. But it’s not clear whether that reflects some subtle difference in physiology or whether it’s simply a result of women typically being smaller than men (and thus getting a higher nitrate dose from a bottle of beet juice), or the fact that women tend to eat more nitrate-rich foods such as spinach and arugula.”

Three red beets against a pink background. Photo by FOODISM360 on Unsplash.

fitness · research

Getting Fit at the Library (guest post)

This post is by Pamela Hayes-Bohanan: friend, colleague, and librarian extraordinaire. Read and enjoy, and don’t forget to check out the reference (properly formatted, of course). -catherine w

So, what does a librarian know about fitness anyway? Just as she doesn’t need to be an expert in chemistry to find the boiling point of iron (2750.0 °C; 3023.15 K; 4982.0 °F btw) she likewise doesn’t need to be an expert in exercise and nutrition to assist someone with locating the best information to help them help themselves.

As a reference and instruction librarian for the past 25 years, I have helped people do research on more topics than I can possibly remember. Sometimes I’m helping with a course assignment, but often the information is for personal use. It is hard to balance between helping someone simply find what they’ve asked for (a trendy new diet book perhaps) and wanting to do some real education with them about where they can find better or more evidence-based information on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss. Ultimately, however, it is my job not to judge, so if someone wants a recipe for a Paleo Shamrock Shake I will do my dangdest to find it, and I won’t roll my eyes or smirk, either. (And if I piqued your interest, here’s the recipe. Do trust me, though, that no caveman ever drank one of these.)

What I can do via this blog post though is provide some guidance on how to navigate the proliferation of information that one will find on just about anything, whether they ask for it or not. How can you tell if the advice you’re receiving is something to heed? There are several things you can look for to help determine its worthiness.

The first thing to do is to check your own bias. Are you only looking for information that supports what you already believe, or want to be true? If you want good information start with an open mind and be prepared to broaden your horizons.

Once you find some information consider the source. Remember that just because you trust the person who shared the link, tweet, or blog post, it does not necessarily follow that the information is trustworthy.

Look for an author name and organization attached to the site. Then LEAVE the site and start sleuthing. See what else you can find out about the person and/or organization. Once you start your investigation look for things like: What are the authors’ credentials? Do they have other publications? Do they have a medical degree? Or is there something (anything) else that leads you to believe they know what they’re talking about? Are there news stories, or reviews of the people or organizations you are researching?

Don’t take shortcuts. Often people are taught simple rules regarding domains. (e.g. It’s okay use .org, .gov, or .edu sites; don’t use .com). Organizations each have their own biases and need to be researched. For instance the National Rifle Association and Moms Demand Action both have .org domains, and each provides a very different view on gun control from the other. Government information is influenced by lobbyists (many of whom represent commercial interests), and government sites are vulnerable to the whims of the head of state as well. Not all educational institutions are created equal, and even scholarly research published on university websites may be influenced by religious, or political motivations. Commercial sites shouldn’t not necessarily be dismissed. Aggregated subscription databases found at your library are commercial websites. So, my rule of thumb is: eschew facile rules of thumb.

Another question to consider is whether the website is collecting information about you. Are you required to provide personal data in order to access the site? If so, the site may be more interested in gathering information than providing it. Also be aware that sites that appear to require you to enter more information may give you a choice to not provide it, but may make the opt-out button hard to find. Keep looking, it may be below the scroll line, or placed on the left side of the screen rather than the right side where more people look for it, or it may be timed to appear only after a few seconds have elapsed.

Finding information is as easy as typing some words into Google. Taking some time to determine its veracity is a not only worthwhile endeavor, it is, as Daniel Levitin says in his book A Field Guide to Lies, part of a deal we need to make with ourselves:

We’ve saved incalculable numbers of hours of trips to libraries and far-flung archives, of hunting through thick books for the one passage that will answer our questions. The implicit bargain we all need to make explicit is that we will use just some [emphasis in original] of that time we saved in information acquisition to perform proper information verification (p. 253).

If you want to give your brain a real workout, visit a library and ask a librarian for more information on evaluating information, and using it wisely.

Levitin, Daniel. A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age. Dutton, 2016.

A person doing a handstand in a library.