Posts by tatyana:

    Scotland’s Ambition Leads U.K.

    September 1st, 2017


    Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, but engages in a great deal of self-governance. Although the country boasts many hardy athletes, people don’t seem to pursue very much physical exertion. The weather is often vile, and many Scots enjoy sedentary indoor pursuits.

    The national diet is notorious for sugar, salt and fat. And historically, according to Dr. Marisa Wilson of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s relationship with sugar has been “intense.”

    The level of economic deprivation is high, which generally implies more exposure to fast food takeout joints, and less availability of healthful fresh produce. Journalist Vicky Allan writes:

    Even today sugar-intake among children is higher amongst those in deprived areas. A 2008 study in Scotland found children in the most deprived areas of society ate 12 per cent more sugar than those in the least…

    As previously mentioned, the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum conference in April brought participants from all over the United Kingdom to discuss policy. Heather Peace, of Food Standards Scotland (FSS), divulged that her country’s obesity plan would hopefully include some healthy regulation of how supermarkets sell processed foods.

    The group is very unhappy with in-store promotions that emphasize sugar- and salt-laden products. Professor Leigh Sparks, who authored a major FSS report, joins other academics in throwing shade on the industry’s half-hearted self-policing efforts. Apparently, while stores may go a little farther toward promoting healthful options, their good faith is called into question when promotion for unhealthful products still predominates.

    The Scottish Grocers’ Federation points to the government-supported Healthy Living Programme in which more than 200 retail outlets participate. But the anti-obesity forces are not impressed by the examples of self-regulation they have seen so far, and, strangely, the Scottish Retail Consortium (the industry mouthpiece) agrees.

    Spokesperson Ewan MacDonald-Russell told the press:

    Any measures on pricing and promotions will have to be done through regulation or legislation; it’s not feasible, or legal, to ask retailers to voluntarily take collective measures in this area.

    Scotland is aware that it has a serious obesity problem, and that education has not been effective. Vicky Allan consulted experts who see the need for a change in the food supply or “food culture,” and wrote:

    By and large, it’s considered that since sugary drinks offer no nutritional value they represent a straightforward, fairly uncontroversial target. Where there is controversy however, is over whether they will result in any significant reduction in obesity, and whether, even, sugar really is the problem.

    Of course the current trend is to absolve fat, especially since the discovery that, several decades ago, crooked science let sugar off the hook as the main obesity villain. But some experts still believe that sugar is unjustly demonized. Some do not even acknowledge any link between sugar and diabetes.

    One quoted viewpoint is from the University of Glasgow’s Professor Mike Lean:

    The problem linking sugar and overeating is not the sugar itself, or the calories in the sugar specifically, but the relentless exposure to extreme sweetness, which alters taste perceptions and leads to people to choose more sweet snacks between meals.

    Many Scots are concerned that leaving the European Union will, because of different rules and new trade agreements, lead to the replacement of sugar with high fructose corn syrup, which is even worse. Meanwhile, Food Standards Scotland would like to see a reduction of portion sizes, and more extensive calorie information on menus.

    There is also talk of extending the soda tax to cover sugary food products, without waiting for Great Britain to take the lead. Allan writes:

    Some believe that the UK’s adoption of such a tax could be a tipping point, the start of a wave that spreads across the world, in the same way that the smoking ban did…

    And Scotland could be the trim tab that affects the rudder that turns the ship.

    Your responses and feedback are welcome!

    Source: “Can a sugar tax help save us from obesity?,”, 04/08/17
    Source: “UK sugar debate becoming more measured,”, 05/01/17
    Source: “Scottish food watchdog wants ‘revolution’ on food sales,”, 06/16/17
    Photo via Visualhunt

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    Informal Science Makes a Difference

    November 3rd, 2016


    A couple of years back, the Today show collaborated on an experiment with Brian Wansink, a Cornell University professor who had previously been executive director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To prove his point that the sensation of fullness can be engineered, they offered a TV audience a free buffet.

    The subjects of the experiment were divided into two groups of 12 each. Jeff Rossen and Josh Davis wrote:

    For the first group, the buffet was laid out with fruit and salad first, then fatty pasta dishes at the end. The first group was given normal size plates and normal serving spoons.

    [For the second group…] The order of the food was switched so that the healthy stuff went in back while the fatty stuff was placed at the beginning. In addition, group two was given slightly bigger plates and serving spoons. But the food itself was exactly the same.

    The first group loaded up with the items they saw first, the healthful offerings, and left little space on their plates for high-calorie pasta. The second group, encountering the pasta first, took more of that.

    Prof. Wansink summarized:

    The first food you see in a buffet is a trigger food… What we find is, about 70 percent of what people are taking are the first three foods they see.

    The second group of subjects, with the larger plates and spoons, averaged around 1,500 calories worth of pasta per person, while the smaller-plate group kept their pasta consumption down to around 890 calories. Also, the large-plate group ate about one and a half times as much total food as their small-plate counterparts. Apparently, humans are subconsciously imprinted with the conviction that a plate must be full.

    The message is to use smaller plates and serve healthier foods first. By the time Today did their televised experiment, some American schools were already trying new methods of presenting and serving in their cafeterias.

    By applying to school lunches the science of behavioral economics as advocated by Prof. Wansink, administrators were able to increase the consumption of salads. All they had to do was rearrange the physical environment so the salad bar was encountered first.

    Fruit consumption was increased by placing it, rather than chips and desserts, in the checkout line. The researchers learned that keeping the lid of the ice cream freezer shut would cut ice-cream sales in half. Students still had a choice about what to eat, but making the high-calorie, low-nutrition items less visible and less convenient makes a noticeable difference in eating habits at school.

    The take-home message

    The obvious lesson for parents is to do the same at home. If the kitchen must contain snack items, put them away inside cabinets so the temptation doesn’t jump up, multiple times per day, and hit people in the face. At mealtime, serve the healthier items first, and, as for the rest, don’t leave serving dishes on the table.

    Make it just a tiny bit inconvenient to take a second helping of high-calorie dishes. Use smaller dinner plates and spoons. Stash ice cream it the back of the freezer, behind and underneath other things, to make it just a bit harder to access. All these little “tricks” can add up, making the path to obesity avoidance a little smoother.

    Your responses and feedback are welcome!

    Source: “Experts say you can trick your mind into helping you lose weight,”, 04/22/14
    Photo credit: Natalie Maynor via Visualhunt/CC BY

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