Saturday, March 28, 2009

Genius boy

We have been reading these old books from when Sarah was a little girl called My Bible Friends. It's a series of books with various well known stories from the Bible with really cheesy 70s-era illustrations. Sacha thinks they are the cats pajamas. And even though we've only read some of them for about a week, Sacha surprised us the other night by reading large parts of the story to us.

We have started pausing at the end of a sentence without saying the last word and to our surprise he is often finishing the sentence. So I decided to test him with one of these books. To my complete bewilderment, he knew damn near the whole story! And some really big words too!

For example, we were reading the story called Jesus and the Children, where Jesus shows up at the Temple in Jerusalem to find it's been converted into a marketplace. The narration proceeds as follows, loosely:

Jesus entered the Temple and found the moneychangers selling goods. They were saying:

"Buy cows for your offering. Buy doves for your offering."

I pause.....Sacha says "Buy seep for offewing." (Translated: Buy sheep for your offering.)

He continued to fill in large segments of this story that he had probably only read 10 times at most. He also filled in the word "prophet" in another story.

Then today when he was rough housing with his mommy, he stopped and said "Hosanna to son of David." and then giggled uncontrollably. What a cutie!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Kids are so adorable. Now that Sacha is talking regularly, there is no end to the cute, hilarious things he says. It has become quite clear from his little show the other day that I have been working too much lately and that I am also hopelessly addicted to coffee.

We have this cat toy that consists of a long thin plastic handle and a long fluffy tail. The idea is that you would hold the handle and wave the tail back and forth in front of the cat to taunt them. Sacha, being the creative boy he is, picked up the toy the other day and wrapped it around his neck and said, "'Dis tie." Sarah said, "Oh, that's a tie?" Sacha: "Yup. Like daddy." (I wear a tie to work most days.) Then Sacha said, "Me go work now." He proceeded to get on his toy car to 'drive' to work.

He suddenly stopped, jumped up quickly, and with a look of sheer concern, stated "Oh no! Coffee! No coffee! Where coffee?" He walked over to one of his plastic cups, grabbed it, took a sip, and said "Ahhh, coffee. Me have coffee now. Me go work now. Bye mommy."

So cute!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Misleading labelling

In looking for my favorite Berry Burst carbonated water, I came across two beverages that intrigued me momentarily: Aquafina Plus and Fuze. You may have seen these drinks. Marketed by Pepsi and Coca-Cola respectively, they are vitamin enriched waters that are promoted as healthful alternatives to soft drinks and less boring than regular water. I thought, oooh, flavored water, let's check this out. Then I noticed something peculiar: no nutritional information anywhere.

Why is that? Because these products are vitamin enriched, they are classified by Health Canada as natural health products and nutritional information is actually prohibited from being displayed on the product. Well, if it's an NHP with vitamins in it, there must be no calories, just like multivitamins, right? And it's just flavored water like Berry Burst, so again, no calories, right? But if you look at the ingredients, sugar is listed. So what's the damage?

I had to dig pretty deep for this because the company's aren't just handing out this information. Both of these products contain roughly 100 calories each. Now, in fairness, this is not nearly as much as most soft drinks or even fruit juices for that matter. But the fact that this is not published in plain sight is alarming.

The average American consumes 500 calories per day in "beverage" calories. If you just cut out these calories, every North American would lose 50 pounds over the course of the year. The most nefarious aspect of beverage calories is that we tend not to compensate for them. Studies have shown that when a caloric beverage is consumed with a meal, there is no change in the total caloric value of solid food consumed.

So why are these enriched waters so concerning to me? I'm not concerned about the individual that would switch to them from an energy drink or a soft drink, because at least it'd be a step in the right direction. I'm concerned about someone like myself who just wanted a tasty alternative to water and figured because no calories were listed on the bottle, that no news is good news. If you drank even just one of these a day without compensating in the rest of your diet, you'd gain 10 pounds over a year. That's the kind of insidious weight gain that sticks.

I'm sorry, but I just can't agree with Health Canada allowing this product to be classified as a natural health product without also forcing an open reporting of the caloric content of the product. Just another reason I'm starting to think that the whole natural health products directorate is a bit of a shambles.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I did it!

Last week after 18 weeks of hard work and willpower, I finally reached my goal at Weight Watchers of 164 pounds. I started out the journey at 197 lbs, for a total weight loss of 33 lbs. I haven't been 164 pounds for a VERY long time!

As a congratulations, my wife sent me one of those hilarious Someecards that said "Congratulations for losing the weight we were all pretending you didn't need to lose." After peeing myself laughing, I realized there was some truth to that. I can't count how many times I asked Sarah if she thought I was getting bigger and she'd just tell me she still thought I was as handsome as ever. Of course, I knew she was dodging the question, but it was all I needed to convince myself that nothing was wrong, that I could go on like before and nothing would happen.

Then I hit 200 lbs just before November. I started seeing my old self from high school; the awkward chunky rugby player that won MVP for being a good leader because my athletic prowess would not suffice. The popular kid who walked down the hallway everyday saying hello to his friends while deep inside fearing what everyone was thinking about him. The taunts from a couple of bullies, one who was fierce enough to call me a "fat fuck" from across the hallway. All the girls I liked who just wanted to be friends because they couldn't see past the double chin.

The real kicker came as many revelations do these days, when I was watching my boys play. As a healthcare professional I know the risks of being overweight or obese, I was just refusing to accept that the statistics would hold true in my case. But what if my reckless eating habits and inactive lifestyle meant I would be around for even 2-5 less years with my children and my beautiful wife? And what if that lifestyle meant my boys would grow up to be overweight in school just like me and I would have to have the bedtime chats with them just like mom did with me about how the girls in high school are just stupid and they don't know a good guy when they see one, about how there's absolutely nothing wrong with them even if some cruel classmates point out otherwise?

But even with all of my training and my obesity management certification, I never realized how serious obesity really is. Then I read a mind blowing study published in the medical journal, the Lancet, that attempted to quantify the health effects of being overweight and obese. It was a metaanalysis, which takes all the good quality studies done on a certain topic, in this case overweight and obesity, and lumps the results together in a summary dataset. Lumping the data like this allows for a measure of statistical power that cannot be achieved in a single study. In this case, 57 studies were included, following a total of 900 000 subjects. You basically cannot argue with the conclusions of such a study. What were the conclusions? (The following is borrowed from Yoni Freedhoff at Weighty Matters):

People with a BMI of 22.5-25 had the lowest mortality rates

For every 5-unit increase in BMI over 25 there was a:

30% higher risk of all-cause mortality (death due to any cause)
40% higher risk for death due to heart disease or stroke
60-120% increase in kidney, liver, and diabetic mortality
10% increase in risk of death due to cancer

All said, a BMI between 30-35 reduces life expectancy by 2-4 years.

The real kicker: a BMI between 40-45 reduces life expectancy by 8-10 years, a result similar to smoking!

So for a person my height (5'8") that would translate into a weight of 263 lbs or more. I never reached that level (at my largest I had a BMI of 33, and most recently at 197 lbs I was roughly a 30) but I know plenty of North Americans are well beyond that. In fact, roughly 5% of North Americans have a BMI this high, and I suspect this number is somewhat outdated.

Am I proud of achieving my goal? Absolutely. And why was that my goal? That is the upper limit of a healthy BMI of 25. So I essentially just massively cut my risk of death from multiple causes just by eating a bit less. (Honestly, it really hasn't turned out to be that difficult, which was the biggest surprise!) As long as I stay anywhere between 147 and 164 lbs for the rest of my life, I'll be a happy camper.

I remember a time when I used to scoff at the notion of BMI just because I was convinced I was not overweight and that reaching even a BMI of 25 would be unattainable. But the evidence speaks for itself. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of disease and premature death. And those numbers are based on BMI cutoff points. No more copping out with the "big-boned" defence as I used to. No more complaining that you don't have the time to achieve a healthy weight.

It's attainable and sustainable if you do it right, that is, not too fast (no more than 1-2lbs per week) and making changes that are realistic and fit into your life.

Here's to me maintaining my weight loss and here's to you achieving success (or staying where you are if you're already at a healthy BMI!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why I don't own a Blackberry

I just got back from a business meeting in Calgary. While I had a great time at the conference I noticed some disturbing developments since I last ventured into urban society. You see, up here in small town Peace River, we live a quiet simple life. Although many people have cellphones and Blackberries, I find the use and existence of them somewhat less ubiquitous than that which I witnessed in my travels.

First, when I got to Grande Prairie I stopped at Starbucks to get a doppio espresso. As I walked in I saw a family sitting at a table. Two of the four people, the mother included, were 'visiting' while reading the texts on their cellphones. Do they do this at supper time? What does that teach your children that you can't pay attention to what they're saying for more than five minutes without looking at your bloody cellphone?

Then I got on the airplane in Grande Prairie. Even after two announcements informed all passengers to turn off all electronic devices and stow them until the plane was at full altitude and the seatbelt light was off, two schmos next to me had to be told by the stewardess to turn off their Blackberries. They didn't even hear her the first time. She had to repeat herself like she was talking to a couple of children. And the way they reacted to her request leads me to believe that may have been the case.

We landed in Edmonton and you want to know the first thing most people on the plane did when the seatbelt sign went off? That's right. They grabbed their Blackberries and cellphones and made sure they didn't miss any crucial calls or texts informing them that something they said was "LOL".

Once I got to the conference, I thought things would improve. Surely, a room full of professionals would have the decency and respect to not only turn off their gadgets but refrain from using them while someone was speaking. Guess I'm old fashioned, because I was wrong. I know people are busy, but can they not wait until the break between speakers? No matter how often you check your Blackberry, the e-mails will still be there.

It will take no more time or less time to deal with each e-mail if you check it more often. The frequency with which you check your e-mails has no impact on how many you receive. It's like those people who think every time they watch their team play they always lose as though their observation has some impact on the outcome. In fact, I would surmise that the more often you check your e-mails the more you will receive because you will see only 2 e-mails and say 'Oh, I only have two, I'll reply to them right now.' This then begets a reply. You then realize you missed something in the first e-mail and address it quickly. Another reply. 2 replies. Had you left it until later when you could fully concentrate and crafted a more thorough response dealing with all the important issues raised in the e-mail, you would have received only 1 reply. There. You cut your e-mail traffic in half.

Most users of these devices argue that they are a great advance in human history because they bring us together and shrink our world. I can't help but conclude the opposite: that cellphones and Blackberries have actually increased the distance between us, made our communication less meaningful, and diminished our common sense of civility.

Complete garbage

GlaxoSmithKline, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, has a drug called Imitrex, otherwise known as sumatriptan, for the alleviation of migraine pain. It works remarkably well, as do other medications in its class, known as the 'triptans'. For years, GSK pushed Imitrex as superior to all the other triptans even though the differences are very minimal in most cases. But they do this to push the market share of their product in order to recoup the costs of developing it before the patent runs out. As long as they are not blatantly lying, and only marketing to healthcare professionals capable of separating the wheat from the chaff, I have no problem with that. (Marketing directly to consumers is a different story, but a topic too complex to cover in one post.)

It is exasperating to then see them turn around and start saying that their product is lame as soon as it loses its patent and starts being threatened by generic competition.

I saw an ad on TV tonight for a new product from GSK called Treximet. They went on and on about how superior it is to Imitrex. So what is this miraculous substance GSK is pushing? The same thing as Imitrex, but they've added naproxen, an antiinflammatory akin to Advil.

Of course it works better at relieving headache pain. It'd be the same as giving someone Imitrex and telling them to take a couple Advil with it. But I can guarantee it'd be a HELL of a lot cheaper.

What a complete bunch of garbage.