Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can a Non-Profit Urban Food Initiative Alleviate Food Insecurity?

Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe's

Doug Rauch, former President of Trader Joe’s

Healthy eating (especially produce) is well out of reach for many who have hungry mouths to feed (despite ivory tower experts who proclaim that you can eat healthy for under $2 a day if you only follow their “tips”).

As food insecurity is certainly one of the key drivers of obesity especially within the lower socioeconomic strata, I was very interested in a paper by Deepak Palakshappa and colleagues, who describe a non-profit initiative to address food insecurity, in a paper published in JAMA Pediatrics.

This initiative, that has yet to open its first store, is to be launched by Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s grocery chain, who believes that nonprofit supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods can help provide nutritious low-cost foods by selling food gathered from the fresh produce and perishables that are discarded from other supermarkets. (The first store, named the Daily Table, has been proposed to open in Dorchester, a low-income neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts.)

Indeed, there is an incredible amount of food that goes waste because it either does not meet the high standards of appearance of supermarket chains or is close to or past its “best-before” date.

As the authors point out,

“While most people believe these dates are based on safety, manufacturers and retailers focus on a product’s shelf life, which is based on peak freshness, which is a function of how the food looks and smells. Many manufacturers date their products earlier because of concerns about protecting their brand image. The US Department of Agriculture states the labels are not safety dates and if food is handled and stored properly, it should be safe to consume even if it is past the date. The confusion specifically regarding date labeling is estimated to lead to 32 billion pounds of avoidable food waste a year.”

The paper also discusses whether such an approach would be deemed ethical. As the authors are quick to point out, the first store has yet to be opened so exactly how things will play out in real life awaits to be seen. 

However, there are good reasons to assume that this initiative has the potential to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and offers option of purchasing low-cost healthy foods rather than mandating their consumption of healthy foods. The location of these stores in low-income neighbourhoods should help addresses the disparity in access to healthy foods by providing a convenient place for individuals who otherwise may not have healthy foods readily available.

The stores will also offer cooking and health eating classes to promote the autonomy of clients to determine with items to purchase.

The authors also hope that this approach, rather than blaming the individual, will provide an environment conducive to healthier eating while also respecting local social and cultural values.

Of course, whether all of this will work and whether or not such an initiative can be economically viable in the long term remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the initiators of this idea should at least be commended on giving this a shot.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB 

Hat tip to Geoff and Ximena for bringing this article to my attention

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Obesity Guru – Fringed and Confused

header_Fringe_festival2014As I look forward to a wild and crazy week of performances and shenanigans at North America’s largest and longest running 33rd International Fringe Theatre festival here a short glimpse of a few TV interviews about my “Obesity Guru” show.

If this is a way to get scientific messages about obesity to the public – so be it! I for one plan to have as much fun with this as I can.

Given that all 7 shows for next week are sold out (they were sold out 3 days before start of the festival), I can only assume that a lot of Edmontonians are interested in this rather quirky approach to science communication.

(Note to my international readers – some of these links may not work in your country)

CTV Edmonton News

Global TV News Health Matters

Shaw Television Go Edmonton!

City Breakfast TV

Yours fringed and confused,

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who Likes Fat Jokes?

sharma-obesity-not-funnyAs I prepare for my upcoming comedy show, “Weighty Confessions of an Obesity Guru” at the 33rd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, I am swamped with media interest in the notion of someone doing comedy on obesity.

Obviously, anyone who knows me or has been to one of my shows knows that I do not make “fat jokes” – or jokes about fat people.

This may be surprising to many in the comedy industry, as there is no shortage of comedians who think fat jokes are funny – and they apparently have the audiences that agree.

So, one may ask, who are these people who laugh at fat jokes?

This question was recently studied by Jacob Burmeister and Robert Carels in an article published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

The researchers examined the responses of 500 individuals who viewed 7 video clips from popular film and TV programs featuring weight-related humor.

Participants were asked to rate each clip on a number of dimensions including funniness and offensiveness.

They also completed measures of attitudes and beliefs toward obesity including dislike for obese persons, belief in the controllability of body weight, and a belief in stereotypes about obese persons.

As the researchers (and most of us would have predicted), the greater the participants’ dislike for obese persons and their belief in disparaging stereotypes about obesity, the funnier they thought the jokes were.

Similarly, the more the participants believed in disparaging stereotypes about obesity and that obesity is controllable, the less likely they were to consider weight-related humor distasteful.

While none of this is surprising, these finding do align nicely with disparagement humor theory.

Thus, the widespread use of weight-related humor is nothing else than a direct reflection of the widespread misconceptions and stereotypic beliefs about obesity that feed weight bias and discrimination.

These are exactly the issues that I aim to address in my show – perhaps it is now time to laugh about people who laugh at fat jokes.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Obesity Guru Takes To The Edmonton International Fringe Festival

WCofOG_F2Not too long ago, the CBC’s The National, referred to me as “Canada’s obesity guru”.  This certainly tickled my funny bone enough to venture doing a show on Obesity Gurus at this year’s Edmonton International Fringe Festival, a perfect forum for this sort of fringy fun.

For those not familiar with the ongoings at “The Fringe”, this annual theatre festival, now in its 33rd year, features 100s of artists from across Canada and around the world in over 500 indoor and outdoor shows, literally turning Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue into a wild and wacky 10-day carnival.

My show, “Weighty Confessions of an Obesity Guru” (best described as a comedic monologue) fits in nicely with this years 70′s theme – an era not least known for the popularity of East Indian “gurus”, especially with their Western followers..

In addition, this year’s festival motto “Fringed and Confused” is certainly reflective of how I often find myself in discussions about obesity and weight management both with my patients and colleagues (indeed, there is so much more we need to learn).

For those in Edmonton wishing to come out to see one of my seven (!) shows – the Fringe Box Office is now open.

Look for me at Cally’s Tea at 10151-82 (Whyte) Avenue (VENUE#38)

Yours “fringed and confused”,

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

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Friday, August 1, 2014

The 5As of Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain

5AsPregnancy_PractitionerGuide_rf-final_Page_01Yesterday, the Canadian Obesity Network released the 5As of Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain.

This follows the release of the 5As of Obesity Management (adults) and the 5As of Pediatric Weight Management.

The 5As of Health Pregnancy Weight Gain, was developed by a working group of nurses, midwives, primary care physicians, obstetricians, researchers and policy makers convened by the Network.

It is based on the best available evidence on this topic and is intended to help primary care practitioners discuss and manage gestational weight with their patients.

The 5As of Healthy Pregnancy Weight Gain is based on the following 5 key principles:

  • Discussion about gestational weight gain should occur with every pregnant women and with every woman planning a pregnancy.

  • Achieving healthy gestational weight gain is about improving the health and well-being of both mothers and babies.

  • Early action means addressing root causes and removing roadblocks.

  • Pregnancy related health beliefs can be powerful influences on weight gain in pregnancy.

  • Achieving goals is different for every woman.

The 5As of Health Pregnancy Weight Gain can be downloaded here – pdfppt

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

p.s. if you did not receive the Obesity Network Newsletter with this announcement due to Canada’s new anti-spam legislation, please click here.

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In The News

Diabetics in most need of bariatric surgery, university study finds

Oct. 18, 2013 – Ottawa Citizen: "Encouraging more men to consider bariatric surgery is also important, since it's the best treatment and can stop diabetic patients from needing insulin, said Dr. Arya Sharma, chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta." Read article

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