Everything You Know Is Wrong, Part 2

Heart-Check Mark

Not long ago, we looked at some of Kevin Richardson’s ideas about the obesity epidemic and quoted one of his sayings, which is worth repeating:

The ideal consumer is a confused consumer.

Confusion can be created in many ways. In discussing the deleterious effects of advertising on the consuming public, Richardson gives the example of the strange places where the healthy heart check mark appears — “brazenly,” to use his word. He rattles off a list of typical hypermarketed, hyperpalatable foodlike substances on whose wrappers the American Heart Association’s logo can be seen, and states,

None of these products are remotely healthy by any stretch of the imagination, yet somehow they were able to secure backing from one of the most prominent and trusted health authorities in the country. I will leave you to your own conclusions as to how that happens.

If the American Heart Association can’t be trusted, who can? Then, there is the startling advice given by Annabel Karmel, whose books have a very wide readership. On the question of exclusive breastfeeding, she differs from several authorities, and she advocates starting babies very early on pureed fruits and vegetables.

Babies are the #1 consumers of breast milk and society needs to watch out for their interests. Since confusion exists about the optimal breastfeeding program, it seems like a promising area for further inquiry.

Research by the Seattle Childrens Research Institute study, among others, indicates that there is a link between obesity and sleep deprivation, and it appears that boys in their early teen years are particularly susceptible to disruption of their systems when they don’t get enough sleep.

But no, says Dr. Valerie Sung of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia. The subjects of her team’s study were actually 133 American kids ranging in age from 10 to 16, among whom they found no link between inadequate sleep and severe obesity:

Researchers found those taking part on average slept less than the recommended guidelines of more than eight hours a night. More than half experienced some degree of sleep disordered breathing and nearly a quarter had metabolic syndrome…

It appears that teenagers are different from adults, because in adults, there is a relationship between short sleep duration and an increase in metabolic risk factors. But not, they say, for youngsters. In fact, it might even be the opposite.

Sung is quoted as saying,

… [I]f anything, short sleep duration was associated with better triglyceride and cholesterol levels… Despite some international studies suggesting short sleep duration in children is associated with increased risk of obesity, the study found short sleep in adolescence had no relationship to obesity.

As if there were not enough confusion already, interesting news comes from China, where researchers from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine studied the sleep, exercise, and eating habits of teenage boys, in relation to obesity.

Strangely, sleep duration is the one area in which Chinese, European, and American kids all seem to react the same. Insufficient sleep and overabundant screen time are what obese kids everywhere have in common. But diet and exercise? Not so much.

A Science Daily article describes the team’s findings:

Teenaged boys from well-off Chinese families who say they are physically active and eat plenty of vegetables but few sweets are more likely to be overweight…

More likely to be overweight despite a good diet and lots of exercise. But here’s the thing — how much of this data originates from self-reported information? Does anybody really know how physically active these boys were or what they really ate? What did the researchers know for sure, except the subjects’ current weight?

The researchers seem prepared to make broad generalizations about the influences on obesity being dependent on the society and maybe not being cross-cultural, which of course is always true to a greater or lesser extent. But before anyone draws too many conclusions, it would be reassuring to know that research is based on something more substantial than what the unreliable narrators known as adolescent boys say about themselves.

So, there you have it. Or not.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Economics Of Obesity- How The Food Industry Makes Us Eat More- Part 2 of 2,” NaturallyIntense.net, 05/10/11
Source: “Study questions link between sleep and obesity,” mcri.edu.au, 08/11
Source: “‘Healthy’ Habits Linked to Childhood Obesity in China,” ScienceDaily, 07/11/11
Image of Heart-Check Mark is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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