Archive | August, 2011

Healthy Nibbles: 22 August 2011 Edition

31 Aug

After a brief hiatus to cope with yet another semester’s end (sporadic madness … such is the life of a student), NUTRInitiative’s weekly link dump is gearing up to get back on schedule. Okay, so technically this post is a little past due, but better late than never, non?

From our eyes to yours … here’s what (was) up in health and nutrition news for the week of August 22nd, 2011:

There are always two sides to every story. After touting the many benefits of farmers’ markets, here’s the flip (down) side of that story. Supply and demand – it’s economics 101 and clearly nothing, not even farmers’ markets, are immune to its principles. [NY Times]

Choosing one’s words carefully is never more important than when discussing life’s sensitive topics. Throw children into the mix and it becomes even more imperative. As such, critics of a forthcoming children’s book, Maggie Goes on a Diet, are debating the nuances of verbiage. According to them, there are two very different messages being conveyed when talking about dieting versus healthy eating. Whatever happened to just silly rhyming fun circa Green Eggs and Ham? Unless of course that has since transformed into an Atkins Diet promotion – in which case, man am I getting old! [TIME Healthland]

Pop is definitely high up on the list of the most miscreant empty calorie foods. Replacing it with other more nutrient rich beverages is therefore one of the fundamental strategies for curtailing obesity. Such is the rationale behind NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed purchasing ban on pop by food stamp users. What about instead of banning food stamp users from buying pop retailers just jack its price up REALLY high and make fruits and vegetables much cheaper instead? After all, it’s not just the impoverished that stand to benefit from accessible nutrition incentives – we could ALL use some extra encouragement in that regard. [NY Times]

Metabolic rate makes a difference, especially when it comes to weight loss.  Given that there is a lot of inter-individual variability in metabolic rate, researchers from the National Institutes of Health have developed a mathematical algorithm and online program that simulates how changes in diet and exercise can differently affect a person’s individual metabolism and, as a result, predict any subsequent weight changes. Yet another innovative marriage between math and science … kind of makes me wish I wasn’t quite so mathematically challenged. [Science Daily]

It’s a well-known fact that shopping on an empty stomach inevitably leads to unhealthy food choices and excessive spending. Darn you peanut M&Ms for being so delicious and easy to grab! To help avoid financial pit falls while stocking up on food, here are some common grocery store marketing strategies to be wary of and tips on how to avoid succumbing to them. [Health Zone]

A Picture Perfect Trip to the Farmers’ Market

8 Aug

Once the warm weather hits there’s no shortage of fun things to do outside. For me, cruising a farmers’ market is definitely one of them. Apart from being able to score some wicked fresh and tasty food (often for much cheaper than you’d pay at a grocery store), you can also get a bit of exercise and, if it’s an outdoor market, some vitamin D as well. What’s not to love, right?

If I haven’t yet convinced you to check one out, well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. Hopefully in this case, it will be worth a thousand (healthy) bites instead!

Cheers to J.Mulik for the many mouth-watering photos, and to all the friendly vendors who graciously allowed for their product to be captured on film – especially the reps from Organic Chef Foods Inc. and Anthony’s Farming & Pruning Co.

Healthy Nibbles: 01 August 2011 Edition

7 Aug

From our eyes to yours … here’s what’s up in health and nutrition news for the week of August 1st, 2011:

The fight against overeating has gone mechanical. Researchers from Clemson University have developed a new device, much like a pedometer, to count the number of bites taken in a meal and estimate the number of calories consumed. All in an effort to help curb overindulging during meal times. Be forewarned though, they cost a RIDICULOUS $799 (!!!). For all that cash, you’d hope they were a least a lot sexier looking. [TIME Healthland]

In a captivating display of show and tell, a new book entitled “What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets” features the personal stories and portraits of what people around the world consume in an average day. Though each image contains an estimated calorie count, it’s the variety of different products depicted (food and err … cigarettes) that I find particularly compelling. Such a cool concept complete with an important message! [NY Times]

We all know that accessibility is key to healthy eating. After all, if we can’t access quality food, we definitely won’t be able to eat it. Unfortunately, cost is a major prohibitive factor to accessibility. Researchers at the University of Washington have recently put an actual dollar amount to just how much MORE it would cost the average American to comply with the federal government’s current dietary recommendations. Definitely an interesting perspective, but in a perfect world, I’m thinking there shouldn’t be a cost (financial or otherwise) associated with accessibility to healthy food. [TIME Healthland]

Timing of nutrient exposure is key for health promotion, say a slew of new research studies. Some, including that of UofG’s own Prof. David Ma, suggest that maternal intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy has beneficial effects in offspring for breast cancer prevention. A recent study by researchers from Emory University suggest that in utero exposure to omega-3s may also be beneficial for improving symptoms of the common cold. Great news for young children, but is it me or did pregnancy just get a whole lot more intimidating (if that’s even possible)? [Science Daily]

Speaking of breast cancer, omega-3s aren’t the only nutrient to consider for prevention – you might want to add fibre to that list as well. In fact, according to a report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the more you eat on a daily basis the better (for every 10 gram increase in daily fibre there is an estimated 7% risk reduction of breast cancer). To help bolster your daily fibre intake, registered dietitian Leslie Beck identifies various fibre-rich foods and offers some tips on how to easily incorporate them into your daily diet. [Globe & Mail]

The ABCs of GCP: Therapeutic Misconception Edition

6 Aug

With recruitment for the mint tea study well underway, we’re getting a lot of interest from individuals seeking an alternative “therapy” for their osteoarthritis. From a recruitment perspective, this is great! From a bioethics perspective, however, it warrants some pause for consideration.

Good clinical practice (GCP) is a set of guidelines for the design and conduct of research involving human participants (aka clinical trials). One of, if not THE primary goal of GCP is the protection of participants. Fundamental to this is the informed consent process. Indeed, the informed consent form (ICF) is an essential document for any clinical trial.

Within the GCP guidelines, therefore, is a list of 20 specific items recommended for inclusion in each ICF, including a description of the study, a statement that it involves research, and a summary of the associated risks and benefits. What this list does NOT explicitly address, but is nevertheless an important consideration for ICFs, is the concept of therapeutic misconception (TM).

Though there is some debate regarding the precise definition of TM, it basically is what it sounds like – a misunderstanding that there is a direct therapeutic benefit to be gained by virtue of participating in a clinical trial. Specifically, Canada’s 2nd edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS2), defines TM as “a misunderstanding, on the part of participants, of the purpose, benefits, and/or risks of clinical trials.”

From a researcher’s perspective, what can be especially counterintuitive about the concept of TM is that it is in our very nature to WANT to be able to “treat” our participants. After all, if they’re getting better, then our intervention must be working. But contrary to our expectations and good intentions, it is important to remember that the immediate goal of research is to produce generalizable knowledge, NOT to provide therapy. After all, we’re in research to advance health on a global scale, not just within a single study or a single participant.

As researchers, therefore, it is important that we take precautions to avoid perpetuating TM. This is best achieved by maintaining a clear distinction for participants, and indeed for ourselves, between therapeutic treatment and research. Blurring the lines between the two can be especially challenging when research facilities begin to “feel” like actual doctors’ offices (with their sterile devices and white lab coats), or when physicians become too closely involved in recruiting patients for their own research studies.

Consider this: how many times do you use words like “therapy” or “treatment” in your ICF, or refer to your investigational product as such? Can you see how that may be suggestive of clinical care rather than of investigative research, and therefore potentially misleading for participants?

That being said, I’m definitely not one to preach. In fact, I just caught myself almost typing investigational “therapy” instead of “product” (go figure, eh?).

Definitely something worth thinking about …

Plea from a Novice Researcher

3 Aug

Pic courtesy of J.Mulik

Dear Participant,

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this study. Its success, and ultimately that of my academic career, rests to some extent in your hands. Over the course of this study, I will likely see you more regularly than I do my own loved ones. Seeing as your participation therefore marks the beginning of a significant partnership, let’s just do each other a favour and lay all of our cards out on the table. From my perspective, if you would kindly note the following:

(1) Be totally up front with me.  If you know deep down that you will be unable to manage the requirements of this study, be it the time commitment or protocol demands, then just say so … as soon as possible. I’m sure you’re trying your best to be accommodating, but if you miss too many visits or eventually drop out, I likely won’t be able to use your data anyways. Nor will I be able to get back all the time I spent on you to put towards another participant. You could save us both a lot of stress and frustration if you just tell me straight up that this isn’t going to work. I’m a big girl, I promise I can handle it (and if not, the campus pub is only a few short strides away).

(2) Even though I’m conducting this study, I did not develop everything I’m asking you to do. As a novice researcher, I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve got. If what’s available is in any way offensive or sub-standard in your regards, I apologize. I did not intend for your particular ethnic group to be omitted on questionnaires, nor did I mean to make you do tasks that are particularly tedious, onerous, or irrelevant to your daily life. These are standardized, which means my hands are tied with respect to changing them. If it makes you feel any better, you are totally within your right to refuse to participate in any such portion of the study. Just please don’t take it personal.

(3) I’m a student not a doctor; please don’t expect a miracle cure. Please understand that the primary goal of this study is to produce general knowledge, not to treat you in particular (though if that happened it would be awesome!). This is still research, which means I can’t guarantee that this intervention will even work. If you’re looking solely for a treatment, please see your health care provider. Likewise, I can’t even guarantee that you’ll receive the actual intervention we’re investigating. There’s a good chance you may be randomly assigned to receive the placebo, in which case, your current condition is likely to remain as is. As much as I would like to help treat you, I definitely can’t promise that I will (please see item #1 if you still have some concerns).

(4) I don’t know everything & my ego is fragile. As a student, I’m still in the process of learning. Please don’t expect me to have all the answers. Even worse, don’t try to grill me, quiz me, or one-up me with your own knowledge base. Being yelled at, interrogated, or belittled by you for NOT knowing something would definitely be enough to make me want to hide out in the bathroom for a little while, and almost enough to make me reconsider my competency as a researcher altogether. If I have in any way come off as a know-it-all, I apologize. I’m probably inadvertently over-compensating for being nervous. That being said, what I do know I‘m happy to share with you, and what I don’t know I promise to seek out for you. Just please be kind and I promise to be the same way to you.

(5) Let’s just have fun with it. Need I say more?


Your Humble Student Researcher