Junkfood Science: Mythinformation

December 23, 2006


The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Myths about health and holidays abound

There are more health-related myths about the holiday season than about any other time of year. We just made that up, but it has the kernel of reasonableness that helps such untruths endure. After all, the holidays coincide with that other font of mythinformation — the cold and flu season....

1. Americans gain several pounds over the holidays

Not true - or at least it wasn't six years ago. The average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year's was less than a pound, based on a study of 195 adults who were repeatedly weighed from September to mid-January by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

It has been confirmed, however, that Americans think they gain more. In a 2004 survey of 1,000 adults by the Kaiser Permanente health plan, 43 percent of men and 49 percent of women said they tended to gain "a few pounds" during the holiday season....

Throughout time, the body weights of humans have had natural seasonal fluctuations, gaining a little during the winter which comes off naturally during the summer. And overall, we naturally get a bit larger with age, all without us having much say in the matter. A quarter of a century ago in The Dieter’s Dilemma, William Bennett, MD and Joel Gurin documented that our bodies’ natural setpoints are maintained within a genetically-determined range. Dieting and controlled eating isn’t going to change that in the long-run. Research has continued to show us that. Our body types and the amount of fat our bodies carry “is automatically regulated and some people are naturally fatter than others,” they wrote. “It is a biological fact of life, an aspect of the human species’ inherent variability.”

All of the hand wringing over holiday weight gain and the need to count calories and watch what we eat isn’t grounded in good science. “The standard, ‘sensible’ recommendations to change eating habits and diligently use calorie charts are also no more than elaborate folklore, expressions of faith in a world that ought to exist, but in fact does not,” said Bennett and Gurin.

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