Call for activity icons on food labels

A public health expert wants food labels to carry symbols that show how many minutes of several different activities are needed to burn the same amount of calories being consumed, with the aim of helping people to change their behaviour and reduce obesity.

With more than two-thirds of the UK population either overweight or obese, Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, calls for ‘activity equivalent’ calorie labelling in an article published in The BMJ.

Current labelling not working

She argues that the current ‘traffic light’ labelling found on food and drink packaging doesn’t change behaviour.

The society found in a public poll that 44% of people were confused by current front-of-pack information on food labels.

Shirley Cramer mentions that the Nutrition Society has found people spend an average of 6 seconds looking at food before buying it, so labelling information needs to be understood within that length of time. She explains that symbols are easier to understand than figures, and that activity symbols would be clearer to people who lack nutritional knowledge.

She has given an example of how the activity icon labelling could work: the calories in a can of fizzy drink take a person of average age and weight about 26 minutes to walk off. This would be a simple symbol that anyone could recognise.

In another article, she describes a symbol of a person walking with the figure ’26’, and the figure ’13’ alongside a person running.

In her BMJ article Shirley Cramer writes that the society’s “initial studies show this approach can change behaviour by reducing intake or modifying choice”.

The society’s poll found that 53% said they would positively change their behaviour if this type of labelling appeared on food packaging. They would:

  • Choose healthier products
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Do more physical exercise.

All of these choices could help counter obesity.

Getting people active

Shirley Cramer says that people need to balance how many calories are consumed with the calories that they expend – focusing on diet or physical activity alone won’t reduce obesity. Labelling on food and drink packaging that uses activity icons would help to promote a physical lifestyle.

She writes that the “aim is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, to encourage them to be more physically active”.

Exercise also has other advantages. Shirley Cramer refers to how the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has “described regular physical activity as a ‘miracle cure’ because it boosts self-esteem, mood, sleep quality, and energy levels and reduces the risk of stress, depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease”.

Activity symbols not for everyone

She explains that concerns have been raised that activity symbols could have an adverse affect on people with eating disorders, but she continues, “we have a responsibility to promote measures to tackle the biggest public health challenges facing our society, such as obesity. In any future development of activity equivalent calorie labels, these risks can be mitigated by working with groups who have concerns about the unintended effects of this information”.

She points out that it is still important to continue to get messages about the importance of healthy and varied eating across to people – they shouldn’t expect to “out-run a bad diet”.

Another consideration is that European legislation governs food packaging and most pre-packaged foods are required to carry certain nutrition declarations on their packaging. The society is calling for detailed research to “explore the potential effects on activity labelling on consumer choices, including the potential harms.”

LighterLife diet

What is it?

LighterLife has a number of diet plans including a very low calorie diet (VLCD) where, depending on how much you weigh, you consume between 600 and 1,200 calories a day. An average man needs about 2,500 calories a day and an average woman about 2,000 calories a day. The NHS defines a VLCD as containing 1,000 or fewer calories a day.

In the LighterLife VLCD meals are replaced with shakes, soups and bars and the diet is aimed at people who have 3 stone (19 kg) or more to lose.

There are weekly counselling sessions in small, same-sex groups to help you identify why you overeat and to help change your behaviour.

The amount of weight obese people following the diet lose, and the speed with which they lose it, has made the diet controversial and means it frequently makes the news, not always for the reasons the company which runs LighterLife would hope for.

Actress, Pauline Quirke – best known as Sharon in the comedy Birds of a Feather – endorsed LighterLife back in 2011, losing three dress sizes in 2 months on the diet plan. However, not all the weight has stayed off.

But, according to the LighterLife website, Loose Women star, Denise Welch lost 2 stone on the diet and has maintained the weight loss for over 3 years.

What you can eat

It depends on how much you weigh. If you have a lot to lose and have a BMI of 30 or above you will follow the LighterLife Totally Different or Total plan where all your meals are replaced with nutritionally-balanced bars, shakes and soups, and you have no conventional food whatsoever.
Before you can start this diet you’ll need to see your GP.

The NHS recommends a VLCD should be undertaken for no more than 12 continuous weeks. After 12 weeks on LighterLife Total, you increase your calorie intake to more 1,000 calories a day for one week only, before returning to the diet.

Adding milk is one way to do this.

If you are following LighterLife Lite, which is for men or women with a BMI of 25-29.9 with 1 – 3 stone to lose, you have three meal replacements a day, plus one healthy, conventional meal from a list of everyday ingredients.

You can drink black tea or coffee on either diet and you’re encouraged to drink up to two litres of water during the day, or flavoured water with added fibre.
LighterLife also has a fasting diet and a management plan for when you’ve reached your ideal weight.

How it works

You’ll lose weight quickly because the amount of calories you consume will have been cut dramatically. You have also stopped eating in the same way that lead to your weight gain.

The speed of weight loss and the fact people feel re-educated about why they overeat are reasons why people keep to the diet.

Once you’ve reached your agreed healthy weight there’s a 12 week programme which slowly re-introduces food, starting with proteins and then progressing to vegetables and carbohydrates.

What the experts say

The NHS says in a few cases following a full VLCD style diet, substituting normal diet for meal replacements, could be a suitable choice for someone needing to lose weight. However, it cautions these diets should only be followed for a limited time and you should talk with your GP before you start.
It says cutting calories significantly can cause health problems such as gallstonesand heart problems.

Sian Porter, consultant dietician with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) says: “I personally wouldn’t recommend [VLCDs] but they work for some people.”

She says you have to make sure you follow them to the letter and cautions that: “If you’re replacing meals with drinks and bars and stuff like that you are not re-training yourself to live with real food.”

For some people, removing the distraction of ordinary food is the key to success on a VLCD. VLCD diets should be followed exactly as recommended by the company, which includes drinking plenty of fluids, and ensuring your GP or your diet counsellor checks your blood pressure and pulse regularly.

Sian also says the diet may be socially isolating because you can’t go out to eat with your friends or sit down to a meal with your family.

Food for thought

During the first few days on the diet it’s possible you’ll experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache or dizziness. After a few weeks a small number of people may experience excessive hair shedding while on the diet. Others may have bad breath.

Sian Porter says the LighterLife weight loss counsellors are not necessarily health professionals and says the important thing while on the diet is to learn how to cope with food when you’ve stopped following the diet. Otherwise there is a danger of putting the weight back on.

Man loses 70 pounds on potato-only diet

harvested potato tubers different varieties

Andrew Taylor has spent the last 100 days consuming nothing but potatoes—plus a beer now and then—and he’s really happy about it. Quite a bit lighter, too.

A quarter of the way into his challenge to eat a potato-only diet for one year, the 36-year-old Melbourne man says he’s lost 70 pounds and is experiencing fewer episodes of clinical depression, per 9 News.


“I feel amazing,” he tells Vice. “I’ve got a lot of energy. I’m sleeping better.” He’s also lowered his blood cholesterol and is “doing better” than other patients on “cholesterol-lowering drugs,” his doctor says in a video, per UPI.

“The uric acid level is slightly elevated” but “that’s commonly observed in people who are rapidly losing weight,” the doctor adds. “Generally speaking there’s nothing I’d be concerned about.” But one health expert isn’t so confident in Taylor’s plan.

Dr. Joanna McMillan says he could be losing calcium in his bones or suffering from an iron deficiency. “It takes a long time for something like an iron deficiency to show up but that certainly will happen eventually,” she says, adding blood tests alone “won’t give us a window into what’s happening in his body.” But Taylor, who is exercising six days a week and taking a B-12 supplement, questions whetherMcMillan has really done her research like he has.

He adds he’s not trying to push his diet on anyone else but believes the diet meets his body’s nutritional requirements and helps him battle his food addiction.

Healthy diet may cut blood pressure risk after pregnancy-related diabetes

Diabetes during pregnancy, known as gestational diabetes, raises a woman’s risk of high blood pressure years later, but eating healthy may bring that risk back down, according to a new study.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, low in red and processed meats, and low in refined grain were related to lower risk for gestational diabetes and also a lower risk for type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure later, said senior investigator Dr. Cuilin Zhang in email to Reuters Health.

Gestational diabetes, which often has no symptoms, affects about 200,000 U.S. women each year.

From 1989 to 2011, the researchers tracked almost 4,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II with a history of gestational diabetes.

Over an average of 18 years, 1,069 women developed high blood pressure.

Women with the healthiest diets were about 25 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those with the least healthy diets, the researchers reported in the journal Hypertension.

Fiber from whole grains and legumes could help improve the way the body processes sugar and handles inflammation, said Zhang, who works at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health in Rockville, Maryland.

Fruits and vegetables contain high potassium and vitamin K, ascorbic acid and antioxidants, which could help the heart and blood vessels, she added.

A healthy diet helps reduce the risk of high blood pressure for all people, not just women who’ve had gestational diabetes, she said.

The new results are not surprising, said Dr. Cheryl Bushnell of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston Salem, North Carolina, who was not part of the new study.

“The healthy diets in this study all emphasize nutrients (fruits and vegetables, fresh vs. non-processed food) that are high in potassium and low in sodium, both of which can help lower blood pressure,” Bushnell told Reuters Health by email.

High blood pressure “is the single-most modifiable risk factor for stroke, so avoiding (it) will help reduce the risk for stroke,” she said. “Other major conditions associated with (high blood pressure) include heart disease, heart failure, and chronic kidney disease, all of which shorten the life expectancy.”

Women should discuss their history of gestational diabetes with their doctors, Bushnell said.

And doctors should encourage women who had diabetes in pregnancy to adopt a healthy diet after giving birth, Zhang said.

How your diet affects your risk of colon polyps

A grilled ribeye steak with a baked potato and vegetables

Eating foods known to promote inflammation may increase a person’s risk of developing polyps in the large intestine, or colon, a new study finds. These polyps are a common precursor to colon cancer.

Compared with people whose diets contained the lowest amounts of pro-inflammatory foods, people whose diets contained the highest amounts of pro-inflammatory foods — such as processed meats and red meat — were 56 percent more likely to have one of these polyps, also called an “adenoma,” according to the new study.

“Inflammation is very consistently associated with [a person’s] risk of colon cancer,” said Dr. Roberd Bostick, a professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Georgia and the senior author on the study that was presented here Tuesday (April 19) at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting.

In the study, the researchers used a “food-based inflammation” score that they had developed in a previous study. Foods received scores based on how they affected a number of markers of inflammation in the body, Bostick told Live Science. The researchers included multiple markers — such as different proteins and molecules in the blood — because inflammation is complex, and there isn’t one single thing in the body to measure it by, he said.

The foods that had the highest inflammation scores were processed meats and red meat, Bostick said. Dairy foods that contained fat also had pro-inflammatory scores, whereas poultry and fish were neutral; they didn’t cause inflammation, but they didn’t appear to fight it either, he said. Fruits, vegetables and nonfat dairy, on the other hand, were determined to be anti-inflammatory, he said.

To look at how diets with different levels of inflammatory foods affected a person’s risk of developing an adenoma, the researchers recruited 1,955 participants who were planning to have a colonoscopy, Bostick said. None of the patients had been previously diagnosed with any type of cancer, he said.

Before the procedure, the participants filled out questionnaires about their diets, Bostick said. At this point in the study, none of the participants — or the researchers, for that matter — knew if the colonoscopy would yield positive results, he said. This may have reduced some bias in how the participants reported their diets, he added.

During their colonoscopies, 496 participants were found to have adenomas, according to the study. The people who ate diets containing the highest amounts of inflammatory foods were more likely to have an adenoma than were those whose diets contained the least amounts of such foods, the researchers found.

Bostick said it’s possible that switching from a pro-inflammatory diet to an anti-inflammatory diet could help reduce a person’s risk, although the study did not look at this. However, the effect would depend on timing of this switch, he said.

“The development of an adenoma or colon cancer takes place over a really long time,” and there are numerous molecular changes that occur, Bostick explained. If a person switches his or her diet today, but those molecular changes already occurred, that person will still develop an adenoma, Bostick said.

The findings have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Drowsy during the day? High-fat diet could be the culprit

Your ticket to sleep apnea?

If fat is satisfying, there is a price to be paid—and not just in one’s weight. Australian researchers are reporting in the journal Nutrients that a diet high in fat appears to increase daytime sleepiness, as well as poorer sleep quality at night.

After electronically monitoring 1,800 men between the ages of 35 and 80 for obstructive sleep apnea and reviewing sleep and food questionnaires, University of Adelaide researchers found that even after adjusting for several factors known to affect sleep—including depression, medications, alcohol, smoking, physical activity, and waistline—the men in the top quarter of fat intake were 78% more likely to report daytime sleepiness and nearly three times as likely to have apnea compared to men in the bottom quarter.

“Poor sleep and feeling sleepy during the day means you have less energy, but this in turn is known to increase people’s cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods, which is then associated with poor sleep outcomes,” says study author Yingting Cao.

“The poor diet-and-sleep pattern can become a vicious cycle.” She goes on to tell the New York Times that the timing of the meal itself could be a mechanism, but the team didn’t ask for that information.

The researchers do not report whether they distinguished between types of fat—i.e. lots of bacon and burgers versus salmon and avocado—and did not study the impact on women, but they did find that the link between one’s fat intake and sleep apnea was strongest in participants with the highest body mass.


Weight loss may limit diabetes-related brain changes

Losing weight may help people with diabetes limit damaging changes to the brain that can result from the disease, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers followed a group of diabetics for more than a decade, offering 164 of them intensive counseling with diet and exercise support designed to help them shed at least 7 percent of their weight and keep it off. Another 155 diabetics received only a standard disease education program.

The counseling group lost more weight and achieved greater gains in cardiorespiratory fitness than their peers in the control group.

And, in a sign that weight loss might protect against diabetes-related brain damage, the control group had smaller volumes of gray matter and more white matter disease by the end of the study. Smaller volumes of brain tissue and the presence of white matter disease are linked to cognitive decline.

“If individuals with diabetes change their behavior in mid-life to lose weight and increase physical activity, this can lead to long-term benefits in brain health later in life,” said lead study author Mark Espeland, a public health researcher at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Globally, about one in nine adults have diabetes, and the disease will be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.

Most of these people have type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes. Their bodies can’t properly use or make enough of the hormone insulin to convert blood sugar into energy.

The brain consumes about 20 percent of the energy the body uses, and the main source of that energy is blood sugar, Espeland said. Diabetes makes blood sugar a less reliable energy source, which can compromise brain function and lead to cognitive decline over time.

To see if intensive lifestyle changes might counter the effect of diabetes on the brain, Espeland and colleagues offered one group of study participants intensive counseling, encouraged calorie-restricted diets with limited amounts of fats and proteins and set exercise goals of at least 175 minutes a week of moderate activity, which amounts to brisk walking.

The counseling group participants initially had weekly sessions, followed by monthly meetings for an extended period of time. By contrast, the other group receiving just standard care was invited to attend group classes a few times a year.

Over the first year, the intensive counseling group lost about 12 percent of their weight on average, compared with less than 1 percent in the control group. Cardiorespiratory fitness, or the ability to supply oxygen to the muscles during exercise, improved about 26 percent for the counseling group over the first year, compared with 7 percent for the others.

While the counseling group gave back some of these initial gains over the course of the 10-year study, they still did better than the other diabetics over the long run.

Total brain volume was similar between the two groups. But the average volume of so-called white matter hyperintensities – concentrations of white matter that represent damaged areas, which can happen with age and be worsened by diabetes – was 28 percent lower for the counseling group than the other participants.

Another sign of deterioration, the average volume of fluid-filled cavities called ventricles, was 9 percent lower for the counseling group than for the others.

Overall, both groups had similar cognitive function at the end of the study, although the counseling group performed better on tests of attention and processing speed.

One limitation is that researchers didn’t look at other factors that might lead to better diabetes control and potentially protect the brain, such as blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, medication use and inflammation, the authors note in the journal Diabetes Care.

Still, weight loss and other lifestyle changes reduce high glucose levels that are toxic to the brain, Dr. Caterina Rosano, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“The results from this and other studies suggest that a healthy lifestyle with appropriate diet, exercise and cognitive stimulation may help preserve brain function and structure in diabetics over pharmacological treatment alone,” Dr. Joe Verghese, director of the Montefiore-Einstein Center for the Aging Brain said by email.