Friday, February 05, 2010

Fat kids, junk food and emotion

By Luke Malpass

Every time you open a newspaper or watch the news, you find yourself being bombarded with the news that junk food creates fat kids, and for the crime of unleashing a childhood obesity epidemic on innocent parents and children, the fast food industry should be punished or at least have their commercial activities severely curtailed. Individual or parental responsibility plays no role; it is all the evil ‘fast food industry.’

At least this is what the concerned stakeholders (government funded lobby groups) think. However, in the never-ending competition to see who’s more publicly caring, rational discussion often gets tossed aside.

Takeaways are labelled as ‘bad,’ ipso facto those who sell them are also ‘bad.’ Disagreeing with this lands any dissenter ‘on their side’ and sees them denounced as ‘uncaring’ about poor, innocent fat, diabetic kids.

In Crikey (4 February 2010), Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition wrote an article bemoaning self regulation in ‘the fast food industry.’ She cites an advertisement for chicken nuggets/soft drink/free toy combo that Hungry Jack’s has been offering as an example of ‘the fox looking after the henhouse.’

The advertised meal may not be the healthy option. But does it make fast food chains somehow predatory and evil? No. Does it mean fast food chains are responsible for childhood obesity rates? No. Does it somehow mean parents hold less responsibility to feed their children a balanced diet? No.

The power of claims about the inherent ‘badness’ of the fast food industry lies not in the assertion but in the appeal to emotion, to good and evil, to right and wrong, of some cosmic battle between money hungry capitalists and fearless defenders of the poor downtrodden, burger-loving proles.

This plays to emotions such as compassion and fear, and it is as professional as it is effective. In both New Zealand and Australia, the heads of major obesity action groups are professionals many of whom formerly led anti-smoking groups: another good versus evil campaign.

With the ‘sin’ of smoking now largely purged from public sight, it makes you wonder which is more important: the cause or the battle against some invented goliath?

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated February 5. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Aerobic exercise can be 'a waste of time'

Once again, it all depends on your genes

MILLIONS of people who try to keep fit by jogging, cycling or going to the gym could be wasting their time, a study revealed today. The international research, led by the University of London, found that aerobic exercise does not benefit everyone in equal measures, and its usefulness is determined by a person's genes. According to the results, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology today, 20 per cent of people do not receive any health benefits from aerobic exercise.

The study, which stretched from London to Ontario, saw an international team of researchers from 14 institutions examine the human genome to find a way of predicting who would benefit the most from exercise. The work built on the belief among researchers that one of the best predictors of health was a body’s ability to take in and use oxygen during maximum exercise. In theory the more blood a heart can pump, and the more oxygen muscles use, the less risk there would be of early disease and death.

James Timmons of the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, who headed the study, said aerobic exercise would not help certain people ward off heart disease, diabetes and other potential ailments.

Mr Timmons argued this new research could help advance and improve healthcare. “If a patient is not likely to benefit much from aerobic exercise, the physician could turn to other types of exercise or alternative therapies. This would be one of the first examples of personalised, genomic-based medicine,” he said. Alternative types of exercise include anaerobic pursuits such as weightlifting, push-ups and pull-ups.

Participants in the study were asked to undergo rigorous aerobic training, while researchers took muscle tissue samples before and after. Using new procedures the team then identified a set of about 30 genes that predicted the increase of oxygen their body consumed. By the end of the study 20 per cent saw their maximum oxygen increase by less than five per cent. About 30 per cent showed no increase in insulin sensitivity, meaning that the exercise did not reduce their risk of diabetes.

“We know that low maximal oxygen consumption is a strong risk factor for premature illness and death, so the tendency is for physicians and public health experts to automatically prescribe aerobic exercise to increase oxygen capacity," Mr Timmons said. "Our hope is that before too long, they will be able to target that prescription just to those who may stand a greater chance of benefiting, and prescribe more effective preventive or therapeutic measures to the others,” he added.


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