By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 0 Comments
It’s tied to obesity, diabetes and cancer–and exercise won’t make up for it
On Sept. 24, 2007, a Monday evening, Cathleen Renner sat down in her home office to tackle a project. Renner, 47, was a manager at AT&T, where she’d been for 25 years. It isn’t clear how many hours she spent at the computer that night, making a plan for a possible employee strike, but she did send an email to a colleague at 12:26 a.m. When her son got up at 7 a.m., she was at her desk. Renner took him to the bus a little later, and as she walked out the door, she clutched her leg and let out a cry of pain. Still, she returned to work. At 11:34, she called an ambulance. Renner was dead by the time she reached the hospital.
Like most of us, Renner spent long hours on the job seated at her computer; in a workers’ compensation claim filed after her death, her husband argued that sitting was what killed her. (Renner died of a pulmonary embolism after a blood clot formed in her leg.) The case was not exactly straightforward; AT&T called an expert who pointed out Renner was morbidly obese, weighing 304 lb., and had recently started taking new medication, birth control pills. But in 2011 a New Jersey judge ruled in James Renner’s favour, noting his wife’s job required her to “spend unusually long hours at her computer” and awarding him workers’ compensation benefits as a result. The decision was extremely unusual, the first of its kind legal observers could recall. But if a growing number of health experts are right about the dangers of sitting, it could be a harbinger of things to come. Continue…
By Kate Lunau - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
How to survive the restaurant meal’s health horrors: slow down
At a Hardee’s restaurant in Champaign, Ill., two food psychologists recently did some redecorating. Half the seating area was left as-is—the strong lights, bright colours and hard metal chairs typical of fast-food places—while the other half was transformed with white tablecloths, plants and paintings. “We softened the surfaces to make it quieter, put in nice lights, played some Miles Davis,” says Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
As the lunch rush arrived, customers were randomly selected to eat in the regular restaurant or on the made-over side. Wansink and collaborator Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology thought people on the fine-dining side would linger at their tables and order more food. But even though those customers spent longer in the restaurant, they consumed less food. And they rated what they ate as more enjoyable.
Restaurants inﬂuence us in all sorts of ways—everything from lighting and music to words on the menu can cue us to indulge. The trouble is, for most of us, restaurants are no longer for special occasions; they’re an everyday thing. A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) says Americans spend nearly half their food budget on, and consume about one-third of their daily calories from, food outside the home. Canadians do better; according to Statistics Canada figures published in April, households spent an average of $7,443 on food in 2010, $2,066 of that in restaurants. (In 1997, we spent an average of $5,608, $1,152 of it in restaurants.) All that eating out isn’t very healthy, as the new Symptom Profiler quality-of-life survey results show: the more respondents ate out, the more negative health symptoms they reported. Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 6:40 AM - 0 Comments
Could a junk food tax fight back the bulge?
Every once in a while an issue hits the headlines that isn’t an issue at all, but a combination of a someone’s pet peeve and a slow news month: the rising tide of misandry (the war on men), reverse discrimination (the war on whites), draconian political correctness (the war on everything). And now, the ultimate non-issue issue: the war on fast food—or the “WAR ON FOOD FREEDOM” as Sun TV likes to call it. Even though the Canadian Medical Association Journal says “obesity is expected to surpass smoking as the leading cause of preventable mortality” in Canada, and roughly one-quarter of Americans eat fast food every day, our right to gluttony is apparently on the line. Big Brother is watching what you eat. In September, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced the “Big Gulp” ban, which outlawed the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. everywhere except supermarkets and grocery stores (the ban is currently being contested in court by both the American Beverage Association and National Restaurant Association). Meanwhile in Ontario, student leaders are boycotting the fast food joints neighbouring their high schools; it appears the province’s year-old, health-food-only-cafeteria policy has teenagers running for the nearest McDonald’s. Students involved in the “Stick it to Fast Food” campaign are urging students to bring their own lunches through November, in the hope that their cafeterias will one day adopt lunchtime fare that is both nutritious and tasty. Continue…
By Aaron Hutchins - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
Several middle eastern nations have an obesity problem worse than the U.S.’s
When it comes to obesity around the world, there is one constant: more money, more problems. The world’s dependence on foreign oil has allowed people in the Gulf States to go from impoverished to belt-busting. With the influx of money, hardier lifestyles of the past have given way to very little physical labour, an expansion of fast-food chains and swaths of the population moving from one air-conditioned environment to another without breaking a sweat. As a result, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among the fattest countries in the world, in even worse shape than the United States.
The heavyweight champion, however, is Kuwait. It can be tough to notice the bulge under the traditional clothing, but the tiny nation of fewer than three million leads the eastern Mediterranean for obesity prevalence among men (36 per cent) and women (48 per cent), according to the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO). Compare that to Canada, where the prevalence of obesity is 27 and 24 per cent for men and women respectively. “They have a culture where entertainment is food,” says Philip James, president of IASO. “And they don’t have to do any physical activity because everyone drives around in luxurious cars.” Children fare badly, too: more than 45 per cent are overweight or obese.
Eating habits are partly to blame. Inside exquisite shopping malls are endless fast-food options: KFC, Fatburger, New York Fries. “They’ve got everything we have here and more,” says Andrew Faust, a fellow at the Pulitzer Center who was in nearby Dubai last July to report on its obesity crisis. In a region that restricts alcohol, the concern is high-sugar drinks. “They bombard every guest and drink multiple glasses of fruit juice a day,” James says.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Surprisingly, some obese people seem to be as metabolically healthy as their normal-weight peers
Ragen Chastain, who carries 284 lb. on her five-foot, four-inch frame, has been an athlete since she was a kid: she was cheerleading captain, a varsity athlete and has won three national championships as a competitive country and western dancer. “I focus on my fitness as a dancer, I get my five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and make healthy choices,” says Chastain, 35, who lives in Los Angeles. She isn’t our typical picture of health. With a body mass index of 48, Chastain classifies as morbidly obese. (BMI is a measurement of body fat based on weight and height; 25 or greater qualifies as overweight, and 30 or greater is obesity.)
Obesity has been linked to all sorts of serious health problems, such as hypertension, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. But not all obese people are alike. Surprisingly, some seem to be as metabolically healthy as their normal-weight peers—maybe even more so. The notion that it’s possible to be “fit but fat” is still very controversial. “I think it can be misinterpreted to suggest that obesity doesn’t matter in many people,” says Robert Ross, an expert in exercise physiology at Queen’s University. “I’m as fat as you can get on the BMI chart,” acknowledges Chastain, author of Fat: The Owner’s Manual. She believes it says little about her overall fitness and health. On her blog, Dances With Fat, she writes: “I am not a thin woman covered in fat, I am a fat woman who is also a very fit athlete.”
A new study in the European Heart Journal, the largest one ever to examine this, suggests just how common these “fit but fat” people might be. Over 43,000 participants were given a detailed questionnaire and physical exam, including a treadmill test. Researchers concluded that 46 per cent of obese participants were metabolically healthy: they didn’t suffer from conditions like insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. (To qualify as “metabolically healthy” in this study, they could have one or none of those conditions.) These people were at no greater risk of death from any cause than those who were of normal weight—in other words, their excess pounds didn’t seem to make a difference.
By Blog of Lists - Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 2:28 PM - 0 Comments
Amid the excitement over Canada’s first four medals going to Quebec based athletes, we wondered just how regional an issue fitness is in Canada.
Here, then, are the 10 fittest regions, by percentage of the population overweight or obese:
1. Vancouver Health Authority 35.0%
2. Toronto Central Health Integration Network 39.3
3. Fraser Health Authority, B.C. (incl. Burnaby and Surrey) 43.9
4. City of Toronto Health Unit 44.5
5. York Regional Health Unit, Ont. (includes Newmarket) 45.2
6. Central Health Integration Network, Ont. (incl. Newmarket and Richmond Hill) 45.6
7. Région de la Capitale-Nationale (incl. Gatineau) 46.7
8. Calgary Health Region 48.2
9. Calgary Zone 48.2
10. Région de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec, Que. (incl. Drummondville) 48.2
And, the least fit regions, again, by by percentage of the population overweight or obese:
1. Burntwood/Churchill, Man. 73.4%
2. Colchester East Hants/Cumberland, N.S. 71.3
3. South Shore/South West Nova, N.S. (incl. Yarmouth) 70.2
4. Prince Albert Parkland Regional Health Authority, Sask. 69.9
5. Nor-Man Regional Health Authority, Man. (incl. Flin Flon) 68.6
6. Prairie North Regional Health Authority, Sask. (incl. North Battleford) 68.5
7. Interlake Regional Health Authority, Man. (incl. Gimli) 68.4
8. Kelsey Trail Regional Health Authority, Sask. (incl. Melfort) 68.3
9. Central Regional Integrated Health Authority, Nfld. (incl. Grand Falls-Windsor) 68.1
10. Sunrise Regional Health Authority, Sask. (incl. Yorkton) 68.1
Note: Because of how the data is collected, there can be overlap between the regions; names are those given
Source: Statistics Canada (2010)
Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The nswers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists.
Buy your copy of the Maclean’s Book of Lists at the newsstand or order online now.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, June 1, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
It’s part of a journalist’s job description to be an unflinching, rational observer in the face of phenomena that tempt one to recoil or spew: a crime scene, a mass grave… in this spirit, and in the spirit of Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test, I asked myself, “What’s the best possible defence one could make of New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed Big Gulp Ban*?” Bloomberg, as you may have heard, intends to outlaw the serving of sugary beverages in bottles or cups larger than 16 ounces at city-regulated food establishments.
Imagining the best defence of this measure is not the same thing as looking for the best defence that has actually been made. The mayor’s own pretext for the program had logical holes that Reason‘s Jacob Sullum quickly drove five tanker trucks of frappuccino through. Other defenders seem to have chosen one of two stances: the semi-cynical (“It will be popular, and while it is certain not to work, it might make future plans, ones that are actually effective in fighting obesity, easier to introduce”) and the fatuous (“As the biggest organic-kohlrabi consumer in Park Slope, I don’t drink sugary beverages, and I look down on those who do: therefore I support Bloomberg”). Continue…
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 11:47 AM - 0 Comments
Who would have thought that a little lizard spit could help dieters with self-control?
One of the most challenging aspects of dieting is self-control—you simply want what you can’t have. But new evidence out of Sweden suggests a way around that. A substance called exendin-4, which is a peptide found—oddly enough—in the saliva of North America’s only venomous lizard, the Gila monster, may be able to stop those pesky cravings for snacks both savoury and sweet.
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy decided to look into exendin-4 after they noticed patients receiving it for treatment of Type 2 diabetes tended to lose weight (previous research had shown it helped control blood-sugar levels). Working with lab rats, assistant professor Karolina Skibicka and her colleagues found exendin-4 effectively dispelled rodents’ cravings for chocolate and sugar. Given the mechanism that causes cravings—the release of dopamine in the brain—is the same in rats and humans, their hope is that exendin-4 can be used to chemically reduce the urge to overeat. “With the Western world obesity epidemic ballooning, any help to reduce food intake and body weight can have enormous health potential,” says Skibicka.
The results of their study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, have caused speculation that the substance might also hamper alcohol addiction, since the dopamine circuitry of the brain is also involved in the desire to drink.
By Alex Ballingall - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 4:03 PM - 0 Comments
Our semi-regular roundup of findings from the world of academia
Alberta: People who suffer one concussion are three times more likely to suffer another, according to a study from the University of Alberta that examined a decade of Edmonton emergency room data. The odds get worse. The study found patients who experienced a second head injury were six times more likely to have a third concussion.
Manitoba: Ice age humans living just south of the U.S.-Canada border more than 13,500 years ago feasted on ancient gargantuan sloths, according to a University of Manitoba researcher. After examining a 1,300-kg femur found nearly a century ago in what is now Ohio, the scientist concluded that it bore marks from ancient human stone “cutlery.”
Ontario: Long thought to be absent from the backwoods of Ontario, scientists say wild cougars have returned to the province. From 2006 to 2010, researchers reported sightings and analyzed footprints, droppings and fur. They said the returned cougars likely came from animals that escaped captivity, or were raised as pets and released. But they also said the wild cats might have been there all along.
By Julia McKinnell - Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Petites who overeat by just 28 calories a day could gain 30 lb. in a decade
“Have you ever wondered why they make clothes for petite women but not food?” asks fitness expert Jim Karas in a new book that’s specifically written for women five foot four and under.
The Petite Advantage Diet is aimed at shorter women who are wondering, in frustration, why regular diets don’t work for them.
“Petite women can’t eat like the big girls,” Karas tells Maclean’s from his office in Chicago, where he’s been personal trainer to celebrities like Diane Sawyer, Hugh Jackman and Oprah Winfrey’s best friend, Gayle King.
With the release of The Petite Advantage Diet, “women are looking at me like I’m the second coming,” he says. “They’re saying, ‘Oh my God! I always knew there was something different! None of these other programs is working for me.’ It’s an interesting sense of urgency for this book. In the United States, 47 million women are five foot four and under. There are tens of millions of women in the U.S. and Canada who are falling into this category.”
By Julia Belluz - Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 2:36 PM - 5 Comments
Last month, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq unveiled reforms to the way the government regulates energy drinks, including a change in the classification of these caffeine-filled beverages from “natural health products” to “foods.” This means the feds can better control the ingredients the drinks contain and mandate that they carry labels listing their contents and related health warnings. Health Canada will also cap the concentration of caffeine per 250 ml at 100mg, require labels that indicate total caffeine content, and force manufacturers to include a warning that the drink shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol.
But just exactly how bad are energy drinks for the body? Continue…
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 3:45 PM - 20 Comments
We’re fatter than ever and efforts to reduce our ever-expanding waistlines are failing, according to a new report by the Community Foundations of Canada.
Our padded figures have left governments scrambling to address the chronic condition. Carrying extra weight increases the risk of a range of health conditions (from Type 2 diabetes to high total cholesterol and several cancers), meaning health-care costs balloon with our waistlines. (The Community Foundations of Canada put the price tag on health spending related to obesity at between $4.6 and $7.1 billion each year.) Continue…
By macleans.ca - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Saudi Arabia grants women the right to vote, U.S.-Pakistani relations deteriorate further
Steps in the right direction
The king of Saudi Arabia has granted women the right to vote, acknowledging they can make “correct opinions.” This in a place where females can’t travel without a male’s permission, and where one woman who drove, despite a ban, was sentenced to 10 lashes. King Abdullah’s decision also permits females to run for Shura Council. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has approved draft regulations allowing women’s shelters to remain independent from government, and receive donations without state intermediation.
It was an exciting week in space news: NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, deployed by the space shuttle in 1991, fell from orbit. A troublemaker on Twitter, armed with some Orson Welles quotes, managed to spread rumours worldwide that UARS had fallen near Okotoks, Alta. Fortunately, it appears the satellite crashed harmlessly somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. A few days earlier, space geeks were titillated with another report: physicists think they saw neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, which, if conﬁrmed, would disprove Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
By Richard Warnica - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:25 AM - 0 Comments
Easy on the paprika
In the land of goulash, paprika has long been king. Hungarians obsess over their national spice. Guards sometimes paw through travellers’ bags at borders, hunting for illicit batches of the burnt-orange flavouring. But new tastes have come to dominate Hungary in recent years. The Western trio of salt, fat and high-fructose corn syrup has moved in, adding inches to the average Hungarian waistline. Hungary is not Europe’s fattest country. That remains the United Kingdom. But its people are getting larger. Nineteen per cent of Hungarians are considered obese, according to numbers compiled by Der Spiegel magazine. That compares to just eight per cent of Romanians and 10 per cent of Italians.
But beginning on Sept. 1, Hungarians will pay a steep tariff on packaged junk foods and sugary drinks. The government expects to raise about $97 million annually from the levy, which has been earmarked for Hungary’s cash-strapped health care system. But researchers differ on how effective so-called “sin taxes” are at changing behaviour. Hungarians, as a result, may be as chubby as ever after the tariff comes into force—they’ll just be a little poorer, too.
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
McDonald’s is trimming french fry servings in Happy Meals and adding fruit
The Happy Meal, introduced by McDonald’s in 1979 and coveted by billions of tykes ever since, has seen jollier times. Under pressure from critics, the fast food chain says it will cut the calorie count in the meals by 20 per cent thanks to smaller french fry servings and the addition of yogourt and fruit (sans caramel). The changes have done little to quell critics who have blasted the company for putting a toy in each meal, which they say amounts to bribing kids. Of course, if parents are really worried about their kids getting fat, they could take the apparently radical step of saying “no” the next time Sally demands a Happy Meal. The critics blaming McDonald’s for overweight children have yet to answer the real question surrounding the obesity epidemic: why is it up to a clown what parents let their children eat?
By Barbara Amiel - Friday, July 8, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 37 Comments
Lotsa luck Kate. Enjoy those bandage dresses while you can.
Unlike some observers of the duke and duchess of Cambridge, I am not, to borrow the easy grammar of a Globe and Mail columnist, “conflicted” by royalty. I’m often ambivalent about eating another chocolate biscuit and I certainly have conﬂicting feelings about whether to get another dog since my husband has said one more and he’s building a house for people, but a constitutional monarchy isn’t something that bothers me. As an organizing principle of society compared to religion or tribal rule it looks harmless.
Royalty may irritate some female columnists given the infernally good-looking crop of princesses these days, all of them young, size four and about six feet tall. As if it were not enough to be sporting about the stunning former Miss Kate Middleton, now we have the wincingly gorgeous South African champion swimmer Charlene Wittstock beaming next to new husband Prince Albert II of Monaco. I saw their wedding announcement in last Sunday’s New York Times.
The Monaco royal marriage did not get the featured spot in the Times’ wedding section, which is called “Vows” and is ever a gold mine of joyous moments in courtship. This week’s “Vows” was given over to Laura Hwang, a classical viola player and former cashier at Blue Apron Foods in Brooklyn who married Steve Rosenbush, a business writer. Steve had to spend up to $100 a visit getting to know Laura because obviously it’s tricky to chat up a cashier with an impatient lineup behind you. They were married by a Universal Life minister, an unfamiliar denomination but apparently used by almost every American Jewish person who marries a non-Jewish person.
By Alex Ballingall - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
A school board in San Antonio will soon be monitoring students’ lunch choices
Kids accustomed to wolfing down nothing but chicken nuggets and fistfuls of fries might not feel as comfortable doing so at several elementary schools in San Antonio, Texas. In what some say is a bizarre mix of Orwellian intrusiveness and health-conscious fanaticism, the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) is poised to become the first to install high-tech camera systems that will monitor and identify all the food students eat in five of its school cafeterias.
Roberto Trevino of the San Antonio Social and Health Research Center received a US$2-million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to execute the idea. The hope is that it will help accurately measure what children are eating and eventually affect their food choices. “We know the present research science is not accurate,” says Trevino. “Most of it depends on self-reporting, on surveys, on pencil and paper. We’ve been funded to develop a new instrument to measure human nutrition.”
This is important, he says, because accurate accounts of nutritional intake are vital in the fight against childhood obesity. According to the Texas Children’s Hospital, more than 40 per cent of children in Texas are obese or overweight. “In order for us to attack that problem we need to understand it, and in order to understand it we need better measuring tools.”
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
Not everyone who is overweight develops adult-onset diabetes. The Winers believe they know why.
Identical twins Daniel and Shawn Winer ﬁrst started working together as babies, appearing in commercials for products like Wet Ones and Spic and Span. (Identical twins make the best baby actors, Shawn says, because “if one cries, you can swap the other one in.”) Now they’re both medical doctors based at the Toronto General Hospital, and colleagues still mix them up today. “We’ll play tricks on people sometimes. It’s fun,” Dr. Shawn Winer says. “The only time it gets annoying is I do get called Daniel. It’s happened so often, I’ll just answer to it.” Dr. Daniel Winer calls himself and Shawn “big science geeks.”
Two high-achieving identical twins like the Winer brothers are unusual enough, but what’s even more remarkable is the actual work they’re doing. For a few years now, they’ve been collaborating on a big question: Why do so many overweight people develop type 2 diabetes? (Type 2, which tends to appear in adulthood, represents 90 per cent of all cases.) With obesity rates skyrocketing, diabetes is now one of the most common chronic conditions in Canada, and leads to everything from kidney problems and blindness to heart disease. About 3.7 million Canadians are living with all types of diabetes, but the Winers’ work could very well change our understanding of the condition—and maybe one day pave the way for a vaccine.
As a person gains extra weight, “their tissues stop responding as well to insulin, the hormone that keeps blood sugars in check,” Daniel says. To compensate for insulin resistance, the pancreas starts pumping out more insulin, but it eventually can’t make enough, burning out the system. The end result is type 2 diabetes. (In type 1 diabetes, which is more typically diagnosed in kids, the body’s immune system attacks and kills insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.) “We know obesity contributes to insulin resistance,” Daniel says, “but we don’t know how or why.” He and his brother are exploring an entirely new theory that suggests type 2 diabetes might not only be a metabolic disease, but something closer to type 1.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 3:01 PM - 1 Comment
Children who are bottle-fed until age two are more likely to be obese
According to a new study in the Journal of Pediatrics, babies who are bottle-fed until age two are more likely to start school obese. U.S. researchers looked at nearly 7,000 kids who were still regular bottle users at 24 months, and found that they were 30 per cent more likely to be obese by age five-and-a-half. Meanwhile, 22 per cent of the two-year-olds they studied were using a bottle as their main drink container, or were put to bed with a bottle with a drink that provided calories. Nearly one-quarter of them were obese by age five, compared to 16 per cent of those who hadn’t been using a bottle at age two. Parents should stop using a bottle by age one so they don’t risk overfeeding, they said.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 2 Comments
WikiLeaks cables prove Omar Khadr was no naive bystander, while Syria cracks down hard on protesters
Omar Khadr should never have spent nine years of his young life locked inside the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But as the Toronto native prepares for his imminent return to Canada—and the hero’s welcome he will no doubt receive—newly released Pentagon documents offer a timely reminder of why the Scarborough-born teenager was such a prized catch. According to a 2004 intelligence assessment published on the WikiLeaks website, Khadr’s father was al-Qaeda’s “fourth in command,” and young Omar provided “valuable information” about the inner workings of Osama bin Laden’s network. Child or not, Khadr was hardly a naive bystander.
Resurrecting road hockey
Another week, another doomsday report about Canada’s obesity epidemic. The latest version, from the advocacy group Active Healthy Kids Canada, says only seven per cent of children in the video game generation get the recommended 60 minutes of daily “active play.” Which is precisely why we’re rooting for Alexander Anderson, Andrew Polanyi, Liam McMahon and Bowen Pausey. The Toronto teens are petitioning the city to overturn its long-standing ban on road hockey—a misguided bylaw that has no place in any Canadian neighbourhood.
Doing the right thing
It was a good week for those who act on instinct. In Fayetteville, N.C., a high school basketball coach saved dozens from a tornado by herding 300 players and parents into a safe area of the school—just before the twister began shredding cars and flipping vans. Then on Sunday, crew members on an Alitalia ﬁight from Paris to Rome overpowered a would-be hijacker who was armed with a knife, and who demanded to be flown to Libya. Not everyone can play the saviour. But when crisis calls, it’s reassuring to know that some folks step up.
Researchers have found a natural remedy for stubbed toes and hammered thumbs: swearing at the top of your lungs. According to a British study, F-bombs and other curse words help relieve drastic pain, especially if the person cussing isn’t a typical potty mouth. Michael Ignatieff may want to remember that tip next week.
Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on Syrian protesters drove home the cost of political freedom in certain Arab countries—leaving open the question of whether the international community is willing to help pay the price. No sooner had U.S. drones levelled part of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli than al-Assad unleashed tanks and troops on his own people, killing as many as 25 in Daraa. Britain, France and other countries voiced outrage, but having already committed air and logistical support in Libya, the best they could do was seek a toothless condemnation from the UN Security Council. The long-awaited Arab Awakening may yet reach Damascus. For now, though, it must proceed without help.
Later this year, Canadian soldiers will begin the next phase of our military mission in Kandahar: training Afghan security forces. Perhaps they could help the prison guards, too. In a plot straight out of Hollywood, nearly 500 inmates—including senior Taliban commanders—escaped from the Saraposa jail through an underground tunnel burrowed by insurgent allies on the outside. A Taliban spokesman said the getaway route took five months to dig, with the help of “skilled professionals” and “trained engineers.” Said one escapee, in between giggles: “The guards are always drunk. Either they smoke heroin or marijuana, and then they just fall asleep.”
Spare us the spin
Well, that’s puzzling: after the fatal tasering of Robert Dziekanski, the mysterious death of a man in custody in Houston, B.C., a series of botched 911 calls in Saskatchewan, an officer’s kick to the face of a co-operative driver in Kelowna, and obstruction of justice charges against an allegedly drunk-driving Mountie who killed a motorcyclist, a survey has found that nearly 85 per cent of Canadians still trust the RCMP. And who commissioned this survey? The RCMP, you say? Never mind. Puzzle solved.
Head in the clouds
The union representing U.S. air traffic controllers is pushing for new measures to stop members from sleeping on the job. Their recommendation? Monitored naps. Here’s a better suggestion: a coffee maker in each tower, and a good night’s sleep. At home.
By From the editors - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 26 Comments
Schools everywhere are stripping away the freedom of students, and parents, to make their own lunchtime decisions
What’s the difference between school and prison? Not much, if you listen to your kids.
Lately, however, it seems adults have been going out of their way to reinforce this grim connection. In the name of fighting obesity, schools everywhere are taking away the freedom of students, and parents, to make their own lunchtime decisions.
Last week, the Chicago Tribune documented the peculiar and controversial food policy of the Little Village Academy on Chicago’s west side. Bagged lunches have been banned: every student is required to eat lunch in the cafeteria. The reason? Principal Elsa Carmona doesn’t trust parents to pack a proper lunch. “Nutrition-wise, it is better for the children to eat at school,” she told the newspaper sternly. Exceptions are only made for allergies or similar medical reasons. Other Chicago-area schools apparently inspect their students’ lunches and confiscate food deemed unhealthy.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 11:14 AM - 6 Comments
More than one-third Americans are obese, compared to one-quarter in Canada
More than one-third of Americans are obese, as are one-quarter of Canadians, according to research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Their study found obesity has grown a lot over the past two decades, Reuters reports, but when comparing only non-Hispanic white populations in both countries, the authors found that 25.6% of Canadians were obese, compared to 33% in the U.S. Reasons for this difference are unclear, and require further study. Overeating, poor diet, and physical inactivity are generally thought to be major causes behind the obesity epidemic.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 9:57 AM - 1 Comment
The fatheads who resent the war on fat, plus Quebec announces a new anti-corruption unit
Fatheads resent war on fat
The latest conservative smear campaign against the White House circles around Michelle Obama’s waistline. According to radio host Rush Limbaugh, the first lady could stand to lose a few, particularly since being seen munching on braised short ribs while on vacation in Colorado. Limbaugh, who is no Adonis, suggested Mrs. O is a hypocrite for not following her own dieting advice. “Our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue,” he said. Sarah Palin has ridiculed Obama’s anti-obesity efforts, too, arguing she has no business in America’s kitchens. Meanwhile, Andrew Breitbart’s website ran a cartoon depicting a double-chinned first lady hoarding hamburgers while mouthing pro-health slogans.
The simple life of an Amish schemer
Unlike fraudster Bernie Madoff, Monroe L. Beachy lived a simple life among his fellow Amish in the quaint village of Sugarcreek, Ohio. But the Securities and Exchange Commission alleges Monroe, 77, ran a Ponzi-style scheme for 24 years, costing his largely Amish clients millions. It began to unravel after Beachy declared bankruptcy last June. (A horse, buggy and harness are among his personal assets, the Washington Post reports.) By then, less than US$18 million of the original $33 million invested remained. Ironically, some of the loss resulted from the dot-com bust, a shock to his investors, who shun modern technology. Investors don’t want to pursue the claims in court, saying it’s a matter for the church. “Members of the Plain Community love and trust one another in all their relationships,” an Amish creditors group said.
Where have we heard that before
Maclean’s took a thrashing last fall for calling Quebec “the most corrupt province” in Canada. While we don’t wish to reignite that debate, it’s refreshing to see the announcement last week of a permanent anti-corruption unit in the province. It will have a $30-million budget and 189 investigators and support staff, said Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil. He called it a better anti-corruption strategy than the public inquiry demanded by the opposition. “We want to have these criminals in jail, not on television,” he said. Stéphane Bergeron, public security critic for the Parti Québécois, conceded the unit “wouldn’t hurt” the corruption fight. It’s “also an admission that the problem is bigger than [the government] has been willing to admit,” he told reporters.
What would Jack Bauer say?
Kiefer Sutherland is considering a return to TV after his break from eight seasons playing CTU agent Jack Bauer on the hit series 24. The Hollywood Reporter says he’s in talks for the lead role in Touch, by Heroes creator Tim Kring. He’d play the dad of a mute, autistic son who predicts the future. Meantime, the past of his real-life grandfather Tommy Douglas resurfaced in declassified documents, the Canadian Press reports. In one curious item, the former RCMP security service claimed Douglas, then NDP leader, met with actress Jane Fonda in 1970 about efforts to stop the Vietnam War and to bring Vietnamese to Canada for a public inquiry.
And baby makes four
Little Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen has an impressive parentage. “Katherine” honours her father Rufus Wainright’s late mother, singer Kate McGarrigle, and “Wainright” his father, Loudon Wainwright III. The other “proud parents” are “Deputy Dad” Jorn Weisbrodt (Rufus’s romantic partner), and Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard Cohen. No pressure to deliver on a dazzling musical career, kid.
Party for one!
Kim Jong Il usually uses his birthday celebration to instill confidence in the North Korean people by giving them at least a day’s worth of rice and corn. This year, though, the Supreme Leader failed to carry out the ritual, since food shortages are crippling the country, with the UN predicting shortfalls of more than 500,000 tonnes of grain. Even senior officials felt the pinch, reportedly receiving knock-off celebratory Rolex watches and Gucci bags in lieu of real ones. But the day wasn’t all for naught: Jong Il went home with presents including a fleet of Mercedes Benz automobiles and a US$16-million yacht. And heir apparent Kim Jong Un was named vice-chairman of the defence commission on the eve of his proud papa’s birthday.
Tears of a clown
Coming from a world of squirting flowers and joy buzzers, Brazilian clown and newly elected congressman Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva would surely be adept at pushing buttons. But last week Silva, a.k.a. Tiririca, generated more groans than laughs when he blew his first congressional vote. He’d pledged to back the government’s austerity measure for a new minimum wage. But he pressed the wrong button on the computerized system and backed an opposition motion for a much higher wage. Tiririca had outpolled all candidates by admitting he knew nothing about politics. But his slogan, “It can’t get any worse,” apparently underestimated his abilities.
High art with a very low brow
Fallen women tend to figure in opera—think of Violetta in La Traviata. But most divas haven’t fallen this far. The Royal Opera House in London dressed itself in sequins and hot pink this week for the premiere of Anna Nicole, an opera about Anna Nicole Smith. Richard Thomas’s libretto—called “caustically witty”—follows the life of the late Playboy model who married an 89-year-old billionaire, then died of a drug overdose. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage said people will be “surprised how seriously we’ve taken the subject,” and soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek was hailed as sensational. Not all critics were moved: the Financial Times said the opera “belongs in the same genre as Jerry Springer, strung along a clothesline of lewd ditties and frothy choruses.” But the masses gobbled it up: all six performances sold out.
Ye can’t fight city hall, matey
Rodney McGrath calls his backyard—with its homemade two-storey pirate ship and “Mohawk Mountain,” a sculpture of tires and concrete—an “enchanted kingdom.” But what city inspectors and many of his neighbours on Midwood Avenue see is an unsightly safety hazard. Last week, after a two-year fight, councillors issued a demolition order for both ship and mountain. City engineers say the structures are unstable and aren’t built to code. Pirates, of course, aren’t big on rules and codes. “It’s beautiful,” McGrath says of his land-locked ship. “When the sun comes up in the morning it… reflects on the whole structure,” he told the CBC. “It comes alive.”
The new Wonder Woman
It wasn’t enough to possess superpowers, fight crime and look impossibly good in satin granny underpants; in a TV remake starring Adrianne Palicki of Friday Night Lights, she also has a power career and work-life balance issues. The new show departs from the old, but apparently Lynda Carter approves.
Home, sweet KABOOM!
Steve Jobs ended a decades-long battle to tear down his own house. In 1984, the Apple CEO purchased a Spanish-style mansion in Woodside, near San Francisco, in the hopes of demolishing it and building a new residence. But Jackling House was the 1920s dream abode of copper industrialist Cowan Jackling, and Jobs faced legal challenges and cries for preservation of the manse. When he finally obtained a demolition permit this week, Jobs’s demo team destroyed the house in a single day, prompting Wired magazine to note the move was consistent with Jobs’ career: “He doesn’t have any doubts about deleting the past to create the future.”
Unlikely queen of queens
At age 15, Phiona Mutesi may be Uganda’s best female chess player. She’s certainly the unlikeliest, living in a Kampala slum, and just learning to read. She was attracted to the game at age nine, after her brother learned it from Robert Katende of the U.S. charity Sports Outreach Institute. Soon she was beating Katende. By 2009 she’d won regional tournaments. Last fall she travelled to Siberia for the Chess Olympiad, where she was beaten by Dina Kagramanov, the Canadian champ, who gave her advice and books on advanced chess. Mutesi continues to improve. “In chess, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” she said, “only where you put the pieces.”
Another day for the Jackal
The French aren’t finished with Carlos the Jackal, one of the world’s most hunted terrorists pre-Osama Bin Laden. The 61-year-old Venezuelan—real name is Ilitch Ramirez Sanchez—goes on trial in Paris in November for a series of bomb attacks that killed 11 people in France from 1982 to 1983. He’s already serving a life sentence for a run of deadly crimes, including an attack and hostage taking at the Vienna headquarters of OPEC in 1975.
It’s all in the mail
A forensic scientist and a student from Simon Fraser University may offer the best hope of solving one of aviation’s great mysteries. Amelia Earhart vanished in 1937 while circumnavigating the world. Donya Yang hopes to collect DNA from the envelope glue of four letters written by Earhart to see if it matches a bone found on the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro. The letters came from a collection held by student Justin Long’s grandfather, Elgen Long, an Earhart scholar. The letters are personal: “One was written by Amelia on airline letterhead while waiting for a flight—so we can be fairly certain that she is the one who sealed the envelopes,” says Long.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 3:50 PM - 4 Comments
Requiring New York City restaurants to post counts lead to decreased calorie intake
Children and adolescents have taken notice of the calorie counts that New York City’s fast food restaurants are required to post, but it hasn’t inspired them to cut the number of calories they’re consuming, according to U.S. researchers. A new study published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that calorie labelling might not actually impact the buying behaviour of teens, or of parents who buy food for their kids. President Barack Obama’s new health care law aims to reduce rates of obesity by measures like mandating calorie countes on restaurant menus, and New York was the first U.S. city to do so, in 2008. But a New York University team surveyed 427 parents and teens at fast food restaurants, before and after the labelling became mandatory, and found that after labelling, 57 per cent of teens had noticed the information and 9 said it had influenced their choices. But they didn’t see any changes in the number of calories.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Barack Obama and Stephen Harper agree to discuss border security, while Silvio Berlusconi’s political career hangs by a thread
A report prepared for Washington lawmakers reached a familiar conclusion: a “truly shocking” lack of security along the Canada-U.S. border. Of the 6,400 km that separate the two countries, only 51—less than one per cent—is under “acceptable control,” the report says. Which is why this week’s announcement of a White House sit-down between Barack Obama and Stephen Harper is welcome news. After months of speculation, the time has come for both leaders to hammer out the final details of a North American security perimeter that will not only boost security, but improve the flow of trade.
By a margin of three to one, Canadians support changes to the monarchy that would rid the system of its males-first succession rules—an issue that was recently raised in the British Parliament. Maybe that explains the report in a London tabloid that William and Kate have chosen Canada as the site of their first overseas tour after the April wedding. Clearly, the United States wasn’t even an option. A new survey found that only nine per cent of Americans are interested in whether the royal marriage even lasts.
In the safe lane
According to new figures released by Transport Canada, death by car is on the decline. In 2008 (the latest stats available), 2,419 people were killed behind the wheel, a 12 per cent drop from the previous year—and the lowest number of fatalities in nearly six decades. The dip is a direct result of tougher seat-belt and drunk-driving laws, not to mention airbags and impact beams. But gas prices deserve some “credit” too; Statistics Canada says the cost of a fill-up jumped 13 per cent over the past year.
Lots of people are lucky to be alive this week. In New Zealand, a hydro worker injured only his thumb and elbow after getting zapped with 19,000 volts of electricity (“I should be in a pine box,” he joked). In Utah, an accused robber is recovering after hurling himself out of the window of a moving police car—while wearing handcuffs. And in Scotland, a mountain climber somehow survived a 300-m fall off the side of an icy cliff. Rescuers found him standing up and looking at his map.
Cruel and unusual
The reported slaughter of around 100 sled dogs in Whistler, B.C. has sparked outrage. The horrifying details of how the dogs were killed emerged in the workers’ compensation documents of a B.C. man claiming post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident. The man’s lawyer says his client shot the dogs after being told by the tour operator he sub-contracted for to make the business more “cost effective.” The tour operator insists it didn’t order the cull, but if dogs were euthanized it would be done in a “humane manner.” The B.C. SPCA and the RCMP are investigating.
Silvio “the Situation”
If the allegations are true, Silvio Berlusconi won’t be in office much longer. He’ll be in jail. The Italian prime minister—already famous for hosting “bunga bunga” sex parties at his home—is now accused of hiring two underage prostitutes. When one was later arrested for theft, Berlusconi reportedly pressured police to release her. Can you blame Jersey Shore producers for deciding to film Season 4 back in the old country?
Big, fat problem
As it does every five years, the U.S. government released new dietary guidelines this week. The mere fact Americans need to be reminded every five years to eat more greens and cut back on the salt is scary enough. But then again, Canadians may benefit from a similar scolding. According to a new report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, nearly 90 per cent of Canadians consider themselves healthy, despite plenty of evidence that we don’t eat nearly enough fruits and veggies, and many of us are packing more pounds than we should.
A new study says creative people are more likely to cheat because they can find “original ways to bypass moral rules.” Although being clever, resourceful and imaginative looks great on a resumé, researchers also found that creativity “allows people to come up with a lot of excuses and justifications for why their behaviour isn’t bad.” Exhibit A: Lise Thibault. The former Quebec lieutenant-governor made her first court appearance this week, accused of creatively spending $700,000 in taxpayer money.