Boing Boing 

New hypothesis proposes a link between obesity and carbon dioxide

Let me preface anything else in this post by clarifying something important. What we are talking about here is a hypothesis—it's not been proven. In fact, it's not even really been tested yet. The studies that will put the hypothesis to the test are currently underway. So please (please, please, please) do not walk away assuming this is a given. It's not. It could very well be completely and utterly wrong. But it's interesting. And it will be in the news. And I want you guys to hear about it in the proper context.

Make sense? Okay, then ...

There are scientists who think that there could, possibly be a connection between air pollution and obesity.

This idea is (for now) based on "what if" extrapolation rather than data. But it's not totally crazy. We know air pollution affects health in ways would not have been obvious just a few decades ago. For instance, there is a strong, well-documented connection between air pollution and heart disease. In 2009, Aruni Bhatnagar, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville, told me that studies from 250 different metropolitan areas in the United States showed that a spike in air pollution was reliably followed by a spike in cardiac deaths within next 24-48 hours. The people primarily at risk are those who already have underlying heart health problems, but it's not always clear who those people are. We don't yet know exactly how pollution affects the heart—it could well be a cascade of effects that actually starts in the lungs—but we can see that the affect is there.

This new hypothesis, proposed by Arne Astrup, head of the department of obesity and nutrition at the University of Copenhagen, does not come with that kind of supporting evidence. Instead, it's more of an extrapolation.

At Discovery News, Emily Sohn explains why this hypothesis could make sense—and why it's way too early to say whether or not it's actually right.

The idea proposes that breathing in extra CO2 makes blood more acidic, which in turn causes neurons that regulate appetite, sleep and metabolism to fire more frequently. As a result, we might be eating more, sleeping less and gaining more weight, partly as a result of the air we breathe.

...Obesity and its associated health risks have escalated dramatically in the last few decades. And even though just about everyone thinks the reason is obvious -- we are eating too many calories and exercising too little -- research has revealed that obesity is far more complex than that, with multiple genes, metabolic pathways and even gut microbes involved, said obesity researcher David Allison, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Read the full story at Discovery News

Image: Pollution, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from akeg's photostream

After a diet, your body might be working against you

The New York Times has a fascinating story about the current state of the science on weight loss, including the results of one recent (albeit small) study that suggests that the human body responds to weight loss by actively trying to regain weight—a finding that could help explain why it's so difficult to maintain significant weight loss, even when you are able to shed pounds.

Useful vocabulary for the holidays

Kummerspeck Literally, "grief bacon." A German word meaning weight put on through emotional overeating. (via Reddit)

TV, video games, or Internet: Which activity makes teenagers fat?

I talk a lot about the importance of context in understanding science. The results of one, single research paper do not tell you everything you need to know on a given subject. Instead, you have to look at how those results fit into the big picture. How do they compare to the results of other studies on the same subject? Have the results been independently verified? How do the specific experiments being done influence what you can and cannot say about the results? What questions aren't answered by the study, and what new questions does it bring up?

You should be thinking about that every time you see anybody talk about the results of a single, new study. Without context, you get situations like this one, described by Travis Saunders on the Obesity Panacea blog:

Earlier this year my friend and colleague Valerie Carson published an interesting paper examining the health impact of various types of sedentary behaviour in a sample of 2500 children and adolescents. They created a clustered risk score (CRS) which took into account a child’s waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation, and then examined whether it was associated with 3 different measures of sedentary behaviour – accelerometry (an objective measure of movement), self-reported TV watching, and self-reported computer use.

Here is what they found (emphasis mine): For types of sedentary behavior, high TV use, but not high computer use, was a predictor of high CRS after adjustment for MVPA and other confounders. Here is what the Daily Mail had to say: Watching TV most damaging pastime for inactive children, increasing risk of heart disease.

Last month, our group in Ottawa published another paper (led by Dr Gary Goldfield) looking at different types of sedentary behaviour and heart disease risk factors in a cohort of overweight and obese teens (in contrast, the earlier study was on a sample of nationally representative youth). Interestingly, we found that neither TV time nor computer time was associated with increased risk in this group - in our dataset it was video games that were by far the most important sedentary behaviour.

Why is this a problem? Put yourself in the shoes of someone who just read the Daily Mail article, and who now believes that TV viewing is the single most damaging sedentary behaviour for kids to engage in. What reaction are you going to have when you read a similar article about our new study, suggesting that TV viewing and computer use aren’t important at all, but that video games are actually “the most damaging activity an inactive child can indulge in”?

As the source of this problem, Saunders rightly calls out journalists for pushing every individual study as a "GROUNDBREAKING NEW FINDING". It is, unfortunately, rare to find TV and newspaper coverage that treats new studies in context, rather than as the final word. But to that, I'd add university PR people. The sad truth is, with newspaper layoffs, many of the people writing about science aren't specialists. They cover city council one day, school board the next, and a new research finding after that. The press releases they get (and I know, because I get those press releases, too) push GROUNDBREAKING NEW FINDINGS not research that fits into a larger context. It's the journalists job to know better. But it's also the university's job to not manipulate journalists.

Cupcakes made from Coke, Ruffles, Mountain Dew, Doritos, Cheerwine, and Nehi grape soda

Orlando's new 4River Sweetshop sports dessert-like semi-edible object made by combining iconic junkfood in unthinkable ways, such as "Coke and Ruffles cupcakes, Mountain Dew and Doritos cupcakes, Cheerwine cupcakes and, still in the works, Nehi grape soda cupcakes."

Rivers tells us that the baked goods will be available for online purchase – just in time for the holidays! But if you want to experiment with your own chips and soda cupcakes, Rivers shares a couple of tips.

* The key secret to using soda in cakes is to create a syrup out of it; boil it and reduce to about 25 to 30 percent, until it’s nice and thick – you can use that in place of some of other liquid in the batter recipe. You can also use it in the icing, but you only need a little bit; otherwise it will become runny.
* You can use potato chips in the batter and they will turn out fine when baked, but chips like Doritos should be reserved for a topping ,as they turn black when baked.

Coke and potato chips in cupcakes? Yes, and yum! (via Neatorama)

(Image: Thumbnail of "Coca Cola and potato chip cupcake from 4Rivers Smokehouse in Orlando, Florida." by Katie Quinn / TODAY.com)

Jabba the Cupcake


Who knew that fondant icing was such a great medium for sculpting Hutts?

Jabba cupcake (via Super Punch)

21 lb layer cake containing three pies


Chef David Lowery created this "Cherpumple" -- a "dessert version of the turducken," composed of "CHERry, PUMpkin and apPLE pie," baked into three separate cakes, then assembled into an enormous layer cake.

Working in the Grand Geneva Resort pastry kitchen, I had some time to make a Cherpumple and serve it at Sunday Brunch. My Cherpumple weighed 21 lbs 10 oz and was seen by over 200 guests that Sunday. I was very pleased that it stayed standing until the final 1/8 was cut 4 hours after the first slice was taken. Will be doing this again.

Sunday Brunch Cherpumple (via Neatorama)

Congress: pizza is a vegetable when it is fed to children


After intense lobbying from frozen pizza makers, and the potato and salt industry, Congress is poised to pass a spending bill whose riders establish that pizza is a vegetable and can be served in school cafeterias in substitute for actual vegetables.

We’re now facing a policy decision that has replaced science-backed common sense with the assertion that pizza ought to count as a vegetable when it’s served to schoolchildren.

(Side note: we’re not even talking about whole-grain pizza loaded with veggie toppings! We’re talking about frozen cheese pizza with tomato paste.)

If you want to take a look at the bill’s language, go for it, but the main takeaway is this: our Congressional leaders are on a fast track to overrule nutrition science in favor of political expediency. This is a dangerous precedent to set and not good public policy.

Pizza Counts as a Vegetable? How the Spending Bill in Congress Could Unravel Progress on School Nutrition (via Reddit)

(Image: Gryfes frozen pizzas - cooked, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from grongar's photostream)