Travis Saunders, MSc , Travis

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Travis Saunders and Peter Janiszewski are PhD students in Exercise and Health Physiology at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada. Their research focuses on obesity, body composition, physical activity, nutrition and metabolic health.

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  • September 10, 2010
  • 10:30 AM

How does TV watching increase health risk?

by Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP in Obesity Panacea

Earlier this year I came across a very interesting study on Dr Yoni Freedhoff’s blog Weighty Matters. Yoni described a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health which suggests that the amount of commercial television (e.g. television with advertisements) that children watch before the age of 6 is associated with increased body weight 5 years down the road, even after adjustment for other important variables including physical activity, socio-economic status and mother’s BMI. In contrast, watching non-commercial television (DVD’s or TV programs without commercials) showed no association with body weight. The data was self-reported, but nonetheless these are pretty interesting findings, and suggest that television commercials are likely an important mechanism linking screen time with obesity risk.... Read more »

  • September 7, 2010
  • 01:07 PM

Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?

by Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP in Obesity Panacea

Regular readers of Obesity Panacea will know that I am a huge fan of active transportation, which entails commuting via active means (e.g. walking, cycling, or taking public transit rather than driving). But when I talk with my friends about the many health and societal benefits of active commuting by bicycle, they almost always bring up the fact that they value their lives too much to risk cycling on busy city streets. This is obviously not a trivial concern – here in Ottawa there were three cycling deaths in a three day period in August, and another tragic death occurred earlier this week (although in at least 2 of those accidents, it may have been cyclist errors which resulted in the accidents).... Read more »

Johan de Hartog J, Boogaard H, Nijland H, & Hoek G. (2010) Do the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks?. Environmental health perspectives, 118(8), 1109-16. PMID: 20587380  

  • September 1, 2010
  • 01:00 PM

What Hurts Fitness More: 30 Years of Aging or 3 Weeks of Bed Rest?

by Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP in Obesity Panacea

I recently came across a very interesting study published in Circulation in 2001. In it, authors Darren McGuire and colleagues perform the 30-year follow-up on a group of 5 men who had taken part in the Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study (DBRTS). The DBRTS took place in 1966, when all 5 men were healthy 20 year-olds. They were assessed extensively at 3 different time points: baseline, following 3 months of bed rest, and following 8 weeks of physical training. In 1996 these same 5 men were assessed for a fourth time, allowing the researchers to compare the influence of 3 weeks of bed rest and 30 years of aging on markers of fitness.... Read more »

  • June 25, 2010
  • 11:23 AM

Grow More Fat and Improve Metabolic Health: Insights from TZD Treatmen

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

By now, readers of Obesity Panacea have hopefully learned that excess weight is not directly predictive of health risk, and that excess fat mass is not in itself unhealthy. Recall that approximately 30% of individuals who are classified as obese by their body weight turn out to be metabolically healthy, and in fact seem not to get much metabolic benefit (or may even get worse) when they lose weight. Also consider that individuals who have NO fat tissue (e.g. lipodystrophy) have extremely elevated metabolic risk factors, meanwhile others who can apparently indefinitely grow more fat mass (multiple symmetric lipomatosis - think Michelin man) have metabolic profiles we'd all like to have. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • June 23, 2010
  • 12:20 PM

Are High Glycemic Index Carbs Worse Than Saturated Fat?

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Most people know that consuming too much fat, and especially saturated fat, is bad for your health. That's why there has been a concerted push for several decades to get people to reduce the amount of saturated fat that they consume, and to replace it with complex carbohydrates. Now unfortunately people often misinterpret that to mean that fat is evil, but carbs are ok. This is problematic since consuming too many simple carbs is also likely to increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease - exactly what we are trying to prevent in the first place. So this raises the important question - in order to minimize the risk of heart disease, is it better to reduce the intake of saturated fat, or the intake of simple carbs? An interesting new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examines this issue and while it doesn't provide a definitive answer, it suggests that refined carbs are pretty bad indeed.... Read more »

  • June 14, 2010
  • 11:15 AM

Self-report vs direct measures - new podcast!

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Regular readers know that that Peter and I do a semi-regular podcast on obesity-related issues. This week, I have a discussion with psychology researcher (and fellow ScienceBlogger) Jason Goldman. For the uninitiated, self-report data refers to information that people provide themselves - questionnaires and interviews are very common examples. This is in contrast to direct measurement, which is exactly what it sounds like - researchers measuring your height and weight themselves, etc. The podcast was inspired by a recent conversation where I bemoaned a press release which failed to acknowledge the limitations of self-report data, which I felt could lead to misleading conclusions.... Read more »

  • June 4, 2010
  • 11:45 AM

Increased Physical Activity Prevents the Accumulation of Abdominal Fat

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

One of the most interesting things about exercise is that it results in important health improvements even in the absence of weight loss. For example, just a single session of exercise can result in improved insulin sensitivity, increased levels of HDL cholesterol (aka the "good" cholesterol) and reductions in plasma triglyceride levels - all tremendously important markers of disease risk. In addition to these metabolic changes, new research by our friend and former labmate Lance Davidson suggests once-again that exercise can also prevent the accumulation of abdominal fat, independent of changes in overall body fat percentage.... Read more »

Davidson, LE, Tucker, L, & Peterson, T. (2010) Physical Activity Changes Predict Abdominal Fat Change in Midlife Women. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. info:/

  • June 2, 2010
  • 11:41 AM

New Publication: Big Breasts, An Indicator of Dangerous Fat Deposition?

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

In June of last year, I discussed the results of a large epidemiological study in women that showed that women with larger breasts have an increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes.

As soon as Travis and I read this study, we knew we had to do a follow-up study of our own to see if this finding was simply spurious or if there was actually something to large breasts that indicated health risk - beyond that explained by obesity per se.

The project that Travis and I began over a year ago has culminated in both a hot-off-the-press publication in the journal Obesity, as well as my presentation at this year's Obesity Society meeting in Washington D.C.

In the study, we used body composition data acquired through MRI on about 100 premenopausal women to directly quantify breast size. By using MRI data we significantly improved the methodology used by the authors of the original study on breast size and diabetes risk, who relied on over 20 year recall of cup size as their key measure.

First, we sought to examine if breast tissue volume was associated with any cardiometabolic risk factors, such as glucose tolerance (a known antecedent to type 2 diabetes) and various blood lipids. Since the original authors found an association between cup size and diabetes risk, we expected to find an association between breast volume and cardiometabolic risk factors.

What did we actually find? Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • May 18, 2010
  • 11:32 AM

Canadian Health Authorities Release New Physical Activity Recommendations

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Last week ParticipACTION and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) released recommendations for updated Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. The previous guidelines were released between 1998 and 2002, and although they were based on the best research available at the time, from what I understand there simply wasn't a tremendous amount of evidence to draw on in some situations. Since then there have been a number of advances in physical activity research, allowing for the creation of updated, and increasingly evidence-based guidelines. ... Read more »

  • May 6, 2010
  • 12:56 PM

How much salt is in your fast food order?

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Way too much, according to a recent study by Johnson and colleagues, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Personally, I love salty foods. While I have never been too fond of sweet things (chocolate, candy, etc.), just a few years ago I could have easily gone through a bag of chips or pretzels in one sitting. Just writing about that crunchy/salty goodness makes my mouth water.

However, since hypertension runs in my family, I have recently made a concerted effort to limit my sodium intake - largely by cutting out my intake or salty snacks. This process was made that much easier by living with a partner who is doing PhD research on the effects of salt intake on blood pressure, among other things. She got on my butt to limit my salt intake, while I got on hers to limit her intake of sugar - as diabetes runs in her family.

Regarding dietary sodium limits, it is suggested that adults stay under 1500 mg per day, and should never exceed the upper limit of 2300 mg/day.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Johnson CM, Angell SY, Lederer A, Dumanovsky T, Huang C, Bassett MT, & Silver LD. (2010) Sodium content of lunchtime fast food purchases at major US chains. Archives of internal medicine, 170(8), 732-4. PMID: 20421561  

  • April 12, 2010
  • 04:44 PM

Excess Weight Predicts Younger Age at Hip and Knee Replacement

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Given that I have put myself out of commission due to a musculoskeletal injury I acquired over the weekend, I thought a discussion of joint injuries and such would be most appropriate in my Robaxocet induced state.Just last week Travis discussed the issue of injuries associated with exercise among obese individuals. In that post, based on recent evidence, Travis concluded:" overweight and obese individuals, exercise (in the form of walking) has little or no association with injury or illness."
However, there still remains the issue of various musculo-skeletal problems which appear to happen at a high rate among those individuals carrying excess weight, independent of their activity level.Knee and hip osteoarthritis, for example, are quite commonly listed as a frequent medical consequence of obesity. A new study from our neck of the woods (Ontario, Canada) sought to determine the effect of weight status on the age at which individuals elected to have knee or hip replacement surgery.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • April 9, 2010
  • 12:38 PM

Staircase Signs - Easiest Physical Activity Intervention. Ever.

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

 Image by Randy Son of Robert.

I love simple physical activity interventions.  We all know that physical activity is a good thing, and yet it can be really difficult for people to increase their physical activity levels, especially over the long-term.  So it's exciting whenever any intervention is shown to be effective, but even more so when it is simple.  And an intervention that is both simple and inexpensive is pure gold.  I wrote about one such intervention a few weeks ago, when I described a British study that showed that simply painting lines on a school-yard playground resulted in a dramatic increase in physical activity levels during recess.  The intervention was simple, it was inexpensive and extremely easy to implement, and yet it had an impressive positive impact.  What more could you ask for?

Earlier this week I came across a similarly simple intervention published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, this time focused on adults.  In this new study, Megan Grimstvedt and colleagues placed signs near the elevators of 4 university buildings in San Antonio.  The sign said simply "Walking up stairs burns almost 5 times as many calories as riding an elevator" and included an arrow directing people to the nearest staircase, as well as a cartoon of the school mascot walking up a flight of stairs.  Two of the buildings had very visible staircases, while two of the buildings had staircases that were relatively hidden.  The buildings with hidden staircases had an additional sign on the staircase door to tell people that the stairs were accessible (e.g. no fire alarm would sound). The researchers then positioned themselves in "inconspicuous" locations for 2 hours per day, Monday-Thursday, and tallied the number of people using the staircase and elevator.

Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Megan E. Grimstvedt, Jacqueline Kerr, Sara B. Oswal, Donovan L. Fogt, Tiffanye M. Vargas-Tonsing, & Zenong Yin. (2010) Using Signage to Promote Stair Use on a University Campus in Hidden and Visible Stairwells. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 232-238. info:/

  • April 7, 2010
  • 12:31 AM

Exercise is *NOT* Associated With Injury Risk in Overweight Individuals

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

 Image by Jespahjoy.

Just before moving to our new home here on Scienceblogs, I asked our readers for ideas on what types of content they would like to see here on Obesity Panacea.  One topic that came up several times was the issue of injuries.  I'm not sure why we haven't discussed injuries in the past (aside from the fact that it's not the focus of our research), but it was a great idea, and I've come across a study on the topic that I think will be of real interest. 

The study is titled "The influence of exercise and BMI on injuries and illnesses in overweight and obese individuals: a randomized control trial" and was performed by Carol Janney and John Jakicic at the University of Pittsburgh.  Participants in the study included overweight and obese individuals taking part in one of two  exercise studies - one focused weight loss and the other on weight maintenance.  The exercise component of the two studies were similar, with participants walking at a brisk pace 5 days/week (the major difference between the two studies is that one included caloric restriction to induce weight loss, while the other simply emphasized healthy eating patterns).  Every 6 months, participants reported any injuries or illnesses that impacted their ability to exercise.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • April 1, 2010
  • 11:25 AM

Junk Food Tax or Health Food Subsidy - Which Results in Healthier Food Purchases?

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

In the past few years several prominent researchers have argued for the adoption of taxes on junk food as a means of reducing their consumption. Often, as in a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, the argument is made that money collected through the tax could then be used to subsidize healthier foods. This is an idea that I've found very appealing - we make the bad foods more expensive, the good foods less expensive, and people will probably shift at least some of their purchases to those healthier options. But a very interesting new study by Leonard Epstein and colleagues suggests that things might not be so simple.... Read more »

  • March 24, 2010
  • 11:31 AM

Physical Activity Reduces the Risk fo Childhood Fat Gain

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Over the next few months, Peter and I will be re-posting some of our favourite posts from our Obesity Panacea archives.  The following article was originally posted on December 2, 2009.

Image by Mike Baird.

There is a surprising amount of controversy about the ability of physical activity to prevent the development of obesity. Sure, obese individuals tend to perform less physical activity than their lean counterparts, but that doesn't prove causation. And almost every week it seems that there is a news story reporting that the obesity epidemic is caused by diet. Period. If you believe these articles, physical activity plays a minor role, if any role at all. Some have even (erroneously) suggested that physical activity increases the risk of weight gain (for a thorough debunking of a recent TIME article on this subject, click here).

One of the problems of trying to untangle the role of physical activity in the development of obesity is that most studies use indirect measures of physical activity, like self-report questionnaires. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of error when people are reporting a socially-desirable behaviour like physical activity, as they tend to err on the positive side. And questionnaires also often give several fixed options, for example "Are you normally active for 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes per day?". If you are active for 20 minutes per day, would you pick 15 or 30? Either way, it introduces a lot of error, which makes it very difficult to determine the specific role that your current physical activity levels play in the development of obesity down the road.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • March 19, 2010
  • 12:15 PM

Not enough, rather than too much fat, causes metabolic problems of obesity

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

That's right - contrary to what many religiously believe, it is the inability to grow more fat during times of energy surpluss, rather than the excess of fat which appears to directly contribute to the metabolic consequence often associated with obesity.

A recent article in the New Scientist shines some light on this issue;

Obesity kills, everyone knows that. But is it possible that we've been looking at the problem in the wrong way? It seems getting fatter may be part of your body's defense against the worst effects of unhealthy eating, rather than their direct cause.

While the article goes on to discuss some interesting new research, I feel the author misses an opportunity to really challenge the overwhelming dogma that too much fat, per se, is the cause of metabolic consequence of obesity. From my experience, it is much easier to get the point across by investigating the obvious anomalies or outliers to the often thought direct relationship between excess adiposity and disease.... Read more »

  • March 17, 2010
  • 12:05 PM

Painting lines on the playground - easiest physical activity intervention. EVER.

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

In most developed nations, kids get far less physical activity than they did just a few generations ago. Given the strong links between physical inactivity and health risk (and given that we're now seeing "adult" diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers), this has become a very real public health concern. Unfortunately, when it comes to increasing childhood physical activity levels, people often want to reinvent the wheel. For example, many people are enthralled with the Nintendo Wii as a means of increasing childhood physical activity - even though it is expensive, and the evidence supporting it is weak at best. At the same time, evidence continues to accumulate in support of simple, inexpensive interventions for increasing childhood physical activity. Today I'd like to briefly look at one of the simplest possible ways of increasing childhood physical activity levels - painting lines on a schoolyard playground.... Read more »

  • March 15, 2010
  • 12:42 PM

Is Weight Loss Associated with Increased Risk of Early Mortality?

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

The current recommendations from major health organizations stipulate that if an individual has a BMI in the obese range (30 kg/m2), they should be counseled to lose at least 5-10% of their body weight. This advice appears to make some sense given that increasing body weight is generally associated with heightened risk of various diseases, and that reduction of body weight usually improves levels of risk factors for disease (e.g blood pressure, triglycerides, etc). However, the literature has been much more complicated in terms of the effect of weight loss on risk of early mortality.
Adding to that literature is a recent study by Ingram and Mussolino published ahead of print last week in The International Journal of Obesity. In essence this recent study showed that weight loss of 15% or more was associated with an increased risk of death from all causes among overweight men and among overweight and obese women. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • March 12, 2010
  • 12:05 PM

Google Adds Cycling Routes to Their Maps!

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

Regular readers of Obesity Panacea will know that I am a huge fan of active transportation (e.g. walking or cycling to work, rather than commuting by vehicle). I just can't say enough good things about it. It often takes about the same amount of time as commuting by vehicle, plus it ensures that you're getting at least some physical activity on even the busiest days. Even just taking transit instead of driving yourself increases your chances of meeting the daily physical activity guidelines, since transit trips almost always involve some walking on either end of the trip (for more info on the transit/physical activity link, click here).... Read more »

Wilkinson, P., Smith, K., Davies, M., Adair, H., Armstrong, B., Barrett, M., Bruce, N., Haines, A., Hamilton, I., & Oreszczyn, T. (2009) Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: household energy. The Lancet, 374(9705), 1917-1929. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61713-X  

  • March 10, 2010
  • 11:40 AM

Body mass index (BMI) as a measure of obesity and health: a critical appraisal

by Travis Saunders, MSc in Obesity Panacea

If you go to your physician's office and inquire about your weight status, he or she will measure your height and weight to derive your BMI (weight in kg divided by height in m squared). Then they will compare your BMI to that of established criteria to decide whether you are underweight (30 kg/m2) . Often times, this measure alone determines whether or not you receive lifestyle treatment. But how useful is this measure anyways? What does it tell you about your health? And finally, how helpful is it to measure when assessing the effect of a lifestyle (diet/exercise) intervention?
For quite some time I have been meaning to discuss some of the issues of solely relying on BMI as a measure of obesity and health, and a nice nudge from our friend ERV was just the motivation  I needed to finally get to work.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

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