Not as simple as Calories In, Calories Out? Don't worry; I'll figure out a way to bring it all back around to that by the end. Never doubt the Leaping Lemur my dears.
In case you haven’t heard the news yet; there was a recently released set of results from a set of three prospective cohort investigations. The study’s aim? Find out why that deceptively simple “Eat Less, Move More” mantra fails to explain the general human-wide tendency to gain about 1 pound of weight each year as we age. So, for 20 years researchers followed over 120,000 US men and women to find out what was up.
While I have to almost laugh at such long-range work to find out why human bodies dare to have the audacity to gain an average of less than 1 pound of girth a year; I mostly wanted to point out a few things I noticed when flipping between an article describing the study and the actual study abstract.
Firstly, here’s an article that led me to the study: “Changes in Specific Dietary Factors May Have Big Impact on Long-Term Weight Gain”. The sub-line actually really takes the credit for drawing me in: “Weight-loss Strategy to Only “Eat Less, Exercise More” May be Overly Simplistic”. Huh! Actually looking at how telling people they are just lazy food-stuffing assholes is useless, perhaps? No. Silly April.
In a series of three separate studies looking at how changes in multiple dietary and other lifestyle factors relate to long-term weight gain, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that modest changes in specific foods and beverages, physical activity, TV-watching, and sleep duration were strongly linked with long-term weight gain. Changes in diet, in particular, had the strongest associations with differences in weight gain. (Emphasis mine)
Turns out it is just a re-packaging of the same mantra; with slight modifications to insist that (and I quote):
“The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked.”
When has the idea of no moral judgments on food been something proposed seriously by anyone outside of this small realm of the internet known as the “Fat-o-Sphere” and related books?!
Not only that, but I point you again to that last line, which I’ve bolded. Here’s where I take an even larger glance askew at this article. Only 5 days out in the New England Journal of Medicine (despite these studies ending in 2003 and 2006; but I’ll leave more intense ripping apart of the study’s mechanics to others for now. You know, where someone actually gains access to the entire study paper to read into the hows and whys, etc. Is this self-reported data every 4 years? Why so long a gap between the studies and the results being released?) and already authors are clamoring that changes to diet and exercise were the most strongly correlated with that distressing 1 pound per year weight gain. Here’s the kicker though. Even taking just the information from the abstract I am currently able to access, Long Term Weight Gain is NOT highest for the demonized eaters of more potato chips and drinkers of more soda. It is highest for newly quit former smokers. And, depending on the number of drinks per day, alcohol drinkers.
Interesting how the focus, despite what the numbers show, becomes the way that we in the US are somehow Almost Unknowingly eating enough additional chips and sodas each year (yay! Let’s look forward to more “Don’t you realize how much you’re eating, Fatty?!” initiatives to come!), bit by bit, to merit gaining an average of nearly an extra pound of weight each year. Perhaps this has a slight something to do with a few of the supports of the grant funds given towards funding this research? (GlaxoKlineSmith, Aramark) Or perhaps a bit of conflict of interest might be seen in one of the researchers
“being listed as a coinventor on a provisional patent application filed by and assigned to Harvard University for the use of trans-palmitoleic acid to prevent and treat insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and related conditions” (emphasis mine)
Related conditions? Like… obesity? Which is always fronted as the dreaded boogie-man of type 2 diabetes? Maybe I’m digging too deep here. Surely studies aren’t done and promoted as drastically important when they barely show the results you’re looking for; simply because you have a vested interest in studies confirming that levels of obesity are threatened (with risk of RISING) by that pesky 1 lb per year phenomenon. Surely… right?
Wording is everything. Here again we see that in a study focused on such a minute (in comparison with, say, the weight change needed to move from one end of a BMI range to another) gain of weight across human beings over time; the results can even indicate that bodies are not as simply broken down as “Calories In, Calories Out” and STILL the focus by the end of an article highlighting these results will boil it all down to :
“Overall, the weight-changes associated with any one lifestyle change were fairly small. However, together they added up, especially for diet. “Small dietary and other lifestyle changes can together make a big difference – for bad or good,” said Mozaffarian. “This makes it easy to gain weight unintentionally, but also demonstrates the tremendous opportunity for prevention. A handful of the right lifestyle changes will go a long way.”
That’s right. The effect of any of the actions examined individually was small; yet cumulatively the effect can be monstrous! (Bring to mind the initial article’s declaration of changes leading to a “Big Impact”) Like… a whole pound a year people! Change your ways before it is too late!!! Isn’t it so wonderful that the researchers are optimistic that these studies reveal such great chances out there for more prevention initiatives? Opportunities that no doubt they’d be willing to throw themselves out there under the push of well-funded initiatives to encourage and promote?
Perhaps I’m too cynical. Still, anyone have any delusions that this will stop people from pinning weight gain on a laundry list of “wrong” lifestyle changes since obviously weight gain is not as simple as In/Out? Yeah. Me neither.