York study of healthy obese people makes world headlines

A new study on obesity and health written by York Professor Jennifer Kuk of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health (see More News) has been making headlines around the world. The story was featured on CNN.com and in newspapers, radio and television reports in the US, UK and South Asia. Below is a sampling of the coverage.

You may be obese, but does that automatically mean you’re unhealthy?, wrote CNN.com Aug. 16.

The conventional wisdom is that if you’re overweight or obese, you’re in mortal danger because that extra weight is like a ticking time bomb ready to unleash diabetes, heart disease and other health complications.

But doctors have known for years that obesity doesn’t affect all people the same way. An obese person could lead a healthy life while another person with the same body mass index, or BMI, could have severe medical problems.

Two studies published Monday suggest reframing the way medical practitioners look at overweight and obese patients. The studies question the notion that BMI and weight determine health – even when someone is severely obese.

"Our study challenges the idea that all obese individuals need to lose weight," said Dr. Jennifer Kuk, professor in York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in Toronto. One in five obese people may not have medical problems, the authors estimated.

In [an] article published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, Canadian researchers found similar results. Although higher BMI was associated with increased death risk, there was "considerable variation in the health risk profile" in the obese population, according to the report.

The study used data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, consisting of 29,533 individuals, and assessed their mortality 16 years later. They found no difference in death risks between normal-weight individuals and obese individuals who were in stages zero or one of the Edmonton Obesity Staging System.

They "are at no greater risk of dying than normal weight individuals," said Kuk.

The ranking system shows not everyone is the same and helps "to identify who should actually lose weight and who are we torturing for no reason," Kuk said. "It’s a bad thing to have a sweeping brush for everybody," she said.

  • It is the perfect excuse to push aside that salad and pat yourself on the slightly rounded tummy – scientists have shown it may be better to stay fat than go on diet after diet, wrote London, England’s Daily Mail Aug. 16. A study of thousands of obese men and women found that one in three was healthy or had only slight health problems.

They were healthier and less likely to be killed by heart disease than those who had battled their weight by repeatedly dieting, only to pile the pounds back on. Toronto’s York University tracked the health of 6,000 obese people for 16 years and compared them with slimmer people.

  • A new test that can predict which overweight and obese people face the greatest risk of death is much more accurate than relying on body mass index alone and should become the new standard of care, according to two large new studies, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 16.

It’s an idea that could result in better allocation of scarce health resources and improved prioritization for patients who could benefit most from bariatric surgery and other interventions aimed at overweight and obese populations.

Instead of a person’s weight, the key to predicting future health problems or obesity-related death is how healthy an individual is overall, said Jennifer Kuk, professor at York University’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science [Faculty of Health] and lead author of the study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Many people in the higher stages [of obesity] also had a history of gaining and losing weight throughout their lives, something that experts now believe is linked to heightened health risks.

The results demonstrate that the Edmonton obesity staging system (EOSS) can be an accurate predictor of future health risks and that doctors should incorporate it into their practice, Kuk said. The challenge now will be convincing large numbers of clinicians to begin using the new staging system.

"With any development of a new tool there’s always a lag between development [and] people using it," she said.

Despite the growing recognition that not all overweight or obese people face serious risks, no one should interpret that message to mean carrying extra weight is good for health, Kuk said. "The heavier you are, the more likely you are to progress into the stage 2 or 3," she said. "This isn’t the licence to gain as much weight as you want. Clearly there’s a line that has to be drawn."

  • Being fat doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in poor health, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 16.

Or so suggests a study done by Jennifer Kuk, a York University professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health.

The study found [some overweight people] had a similar risk of dying as normal-weight individuals, and in some cases may even be healthier than those individuals. "They actually had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular causes such as stroke, heart attacks and heart failures than normal-weight individuals," Kuk said.

Frequent yo-yo dieting and weight loss can put someone’s health under stress, Kuk said. "The process of going up and down is stressful for your body. It can be mentally stressful and these individuals have a higher risk of dying from heart disease and cancer."

  • Kuk also spoke about her new study on CBC and CTV News Aug. 15. 

Property becoming virtual says Osgoode instructor

Property is not necessarily an identifiable thing, but rather an amorphous "bundle of rights" and the case is consistent with this idea, said Stuart Hargreaves, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto who teaches property law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote the National Post Aug. 17, in a story about an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that Internet domain names can be characterized as personal property.

The decision could potentially apply "to a broader range of ‘virtual property’ – objects that individuals create, buy and sell, but that exist only as collections of ones and zeroes in online worlds," Hargreaves said, noting that new types of virtual property could theoretically be passed on as inheritances, for example.

Researchers probe Nortel bankruptcy

Two Ontario researchers are trying to discover if there were any warning signs of Nortel’s fall from grace by surveying former workers, wrote CBC News Aug. 15.

Administration Professor Ken Ogata from York University [School of Public Policy & Administration, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] and accounting professor Sandra Scott from the University of Guelph have launched a study into organizational decline.

Scott, who used to work in Nortel’s finance department, and Ogata said they hope to find out if problems were clear to staff years before the collapse. The questions will focus on workers’ experiences between 1997 and 2001. "In the event of something like Nortel, were some of the warning signs missed? How can we build upon that knowledge to provide advice to other organizations?," Ogata told CBC News.

York profs speak on border issues at  international symposium

The Historic Saugeen Métis hosted an international symposium at The Walker House in Southampton on Friday, wrote Port Elgin’s Shoreline Beacon Aug. 16.

The meeting, which was organized by The Centre for the Study of Indigenous Border Issues (CSIBI), focused on the borders that were established around the Great Lakes and how they have affected people living in the region over time.

The list of presenters included professors [in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], David McNab and keynote speaker James Laxer of York University and Phil Bellfy of Michigan State University.

McNab believes that meetings such as these are important due to the "unexplored area of indigenous border issues in North America.

"Basically, there’s been no research on it," said McNab. "The governments, especially the Canadian government, pay no attention to the implications of the border. And they ignore our vision, a Métis vision, of homeland security."

Laxer believes that these historic border issues have implications for the 21st century. "People have to have a sense of who they are, what their relationship to the land is, what their history is, what their memory is, and they have to have a sense of respect and mutual discovery amongst other peoples," he said.

Canadians at risk from investor-state dispute resolution clauses

Canada must stop signing trade deals that allow for investor-state arbitration, wrote Gus Van Harten, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Hamilton Spectator Aug. 13, in a story about flaws in the NAFTA and other trade agreements.

For Canadians, the biggest worry right now is the Canada-Europe trade deal under negotiation by the Harper government. If signed, the deal will extend…NAFTA privileges to European companies with major interests in the water sector, for example. The deal would also likely allow US investors to sue for provincial decisions that are now somewhat protected under NAFTA.

As an academic, I have raised concerns about this system in Canada and other countries. It was only a matter of time before the system would come to my own back yard. But, regardless of who gets sued and where, the implications are typically the same: Democratic choice and responsive regulation get trumped unfairly by the special rights of foreign investors.

Other countries have pulled away from this system. Most recently, Australia announced it would no longer include investor-state arbitration in any of its trade agreements.

Canada should have abandoned investor-state arbitration then. Following Australia, it should do so now. If not, Canadians need to know that the wrong-headed decision to allow these unfair lawsuits against democratic choice continues to rest squarely with the federal government.

Hobby courses make way for professional designations

Not long ago, continuing education calendars were filled with courses designed to fulfill personal interests and hobbies, wrote The Toronto Sun Aug. 14. For some, continuing education also provided the chance to land their first academic credential.

Fast forward a decade and a whopping number of continuing education students already have a diploma or degree under their belts. They’re interested in additional qualifications that build upon their skills – ensuring their marketability in a fragile economy and rapidly changing labour market.

York University has noticed the same trend. "People are taking courses that lead to either professional designations or career progression," says Ken Withers, director of recruitment. "They’re beefing up their resumés and doing things they think their employers are going to value."

York offers continuing education courses through numerous faculties, including its Health Leadership & Learning Network, Osgoode Hall Law School Professional Development Program, Schulich Executive Education Centre and the York University English Language Institute.

Continuing education at York also includes transition and bridging programs designed to help those who would not otherwise consider university to develop the skills and confidence to continue their education. "A student may have dropped out of high school and has desire to go to university but doesn’t have the background to succeed," Withers says. "They’re able to take pre-university courses."

Still, general interest, non-credit courses remain a strong draw. "You can learn about witches and vampires and find out how that weaves through current modern literature," says Withers.

Barkeep, a few more like this one, please

Sometime around the year 1620, America walked into a bar. It’s still in there, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press Aug. 13 in a review of America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops, by York PhD student Christine Sismondo of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

But as Toronto writer Sismondo makes clear in this delightfully erudite exploration of one the most peculiar byways of American history, what has emerged from that bar in the centuries since has shaped the United States and changed the world. Taverns have always been and remain today an important force in American history, politics and social mores.

Sismondo is something of an expert in strong spirits – she is also the author of another history called Mondo Cocktail – is fond of quoting contemporary drinking songs and verses. Most cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

America Walks into a Bar is history at its best. One puts it down with a sense of satisfaction and a strong urge for a large glass of flip and bounce and a question: Why can’t all history books read like this?

Canada backs profits, not human rights, in Honduras, says York prof

On Friday Aug. 12, Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader to visit Honduras and meet with President Porfirio Pepe Lobo since the country was readmitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) June 1, wrote Todd Gordon, political science course director in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, in the Toronto Star Aug. 16. This shouldn’t be a point of pride for Canada, however; it reflects a very dangerous and problematic feature of the Conservative government’s foreign policy in Latin America.

Canada is one of the largest foreign investor nations in the country, with over $600 million in investment, according to Ambassador Cameron Mackay. Canadian companies play leading roles in mining, maquilas and tourism, and are central actors in the recent announcement of plans for a tourism-focused model city, the first such city announced.

When I was in Honduras in June, I spoke with activists organizing against Canadian companies in all these industries. They spoke of being displaced from their land, environmental destruction and exploitative working conditions. Some alleged they had received death threats for their opposition to Canadian company practices. Canada, I was told, is acting like a colonial power: supporting a repressive government to facilitate the exploitation of the country’s natural resources and cheap labour. It is unlikely that Harper’s visit and the new trade agreement will change this perception.

Honduras is the latest target of an increasingly aggressive Canadian foreign policy for the Americas, guided by a very simple but frightening philosophy that places corporate profits and geostrategic interests well above human rights.

How long can housing prices continue to go up?

My bigger concern is that bad economic news tends to come in clusters, wrote Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, in the Toronto Star Aug. 15. If and when housing prices decline in Canada, you will likely have other problems, as well. That is where your vulnerability lies.

This is what statisticians call correlation. You might think the odds of losing your job, your RRSP declining and your house tanking are all independent events, but they are not. The risks are correlated.

A good time to be a geek

If Dan Riskin [MSc ’00] isn’t the smartest person on Canadian television, then he’s certainly the most educated, wrote Andrew Ryan in The Globe and Mail Aug. 15. The Edmonton native brings three degrees to his new duties as co-host of the Discovery Channel’s science flagship series “Daily Planet”. Specifically, Riskin holds a BSc in zoology from the University of Alberta, a master’s degree in biology from York University [Faculty of Science & Engineering] and a PhD in zoology from Cornell University.

Riskin’s interest in science began with studying bats in high school. Years in academia led to his hosting the science programs “Evolve”, “Monsters Inside Me” and “Curiosity: The Questions of Life”. In recent years, he has also established his reputation with regular appearances on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson. As Jay Ingram’s replacement on “Daily Planet”, Riskin hopes to spread the science word while sharing hosting duties with Ziya Tong. He spoke to us last week in Toronto.

Q: How did you first become interested in bats?

A: When I was in high school, I read a really well-written book about bats by a man called Brock Fenton, who was a professor at York University. These are neat animals, they surprise you, they do funny things. For a high-school kid, it really hit the mark. A few years later, I was lucky enough to do my master’s degree with Fenton at York.

Osgoode grad holds key to Toledo plant’s future

The final decision on whether the city’s largest manufacturer will invest at least $365 million in its Toledo Assembly complex and hire 1,105 or more new hourly and salaried workers there will rest on the shoulders of the man some call the automotive industry’s new philosopher king, wrote Ohio’s Toledo Blade Aug. 14.

Sergio Marchionne [LLB ’83], the espresso-drinking, workaholic, Italian-born Canadian lawyer and accountant, has been the subject of a long series of profiles since he took control in 2009 of what would become Chrysler Group LLC – and they all seem to focus on his clothes.

But those who have spent any time talking with the 59-year-old chief executive officer of both Chrysler and Italian automaker Fiat SpA know that what sets him apart is not his ever-present black sweater, but what’s going on in the 12 inches or so above that sweater’s neckline.

Marchionne, a barrister, solicitor and chartered accountant, had a major in philosophy and a minor in economics when he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto. He also holds a bachelor of laws degree from York University [Osgoode Hall Law School] in Toronto and a master’s of business administration and bachelor of commerce degrees from the University of Windsor, as well as a number of honorary degrees. A native of Chieti, Italy, who grew up in Canada, Marchionne holds dual Canadian and Italian citizenship.

Unlike some other auto executives, he refuses to offer huge rebates that make his products unprofitable. "I am not in business to make cars. I am in business to make money," he frequently tells journalists and analysts.

Beckett vaults to York

A big part of Emma Beckett‘s love of pole vaulting derives from the fact there’s always something new to learn about the event’s nuanced technique, wrote BC’s Abbotsford News Aug. 12.

Given her enthusiasm for self-improvement, Beckett could hardly have found a better postsecondary fit than York University.

When she arrives on the Toronto campus this fall, Beckett will have the opportunity to work with York Lions track and field assistant coach Arye Rosenoer, a pole vault specialist who trains some of Canada’s elite in the event.

"It’ll be really great to work with someone like him," enthused Beckett, a 17-year-old who recently graduated from the Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts. "He works with a lot of world-class athletes, not just at the University."

As much as she’s fired up about joining the track team and competing at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) level, Beckett chose York as much for academic reasons as athletic. The aspiring screenwriter has been accepted into York’s exclusive theatre program.

"I auditioned with screenwriting," said Beckett, who earned an academic scholarship to York. "My first year, I’ll be doing everything – stagecraft, acting, costume design, learning about the history of theatre. It’s kind of an opportunity to figure out what you like with theatre, and what you want to focus on."

York, Lakehead will face off in Orillia again this year

For the second consecutive year, the Lakehead University Thunderwolves men’s hockey team will visit Orillia this fall to face off against one of their rivals, the York University Lions, wrote The Orillia Packet & Times Aug. 13.

And according to a verbal commitment between the two universities, the clubs will lock horns at Rotary Place in the West Orillia Sports Complex on Saturday, Oct. 22 of this year and for the next three years.

The Lions, led by former Couching Terriers junior sensation and Orillia native Mackenzie Micks, disappointed a sellout crowd by blanking the Thunderwolves 3-0 last October.

Micks, who is entering his third year at York, is expected to be back in the lineup for the Lions as one of their key forwards when the two squads meet in the Sunshine City once again.

Being roomies hasn’t dulled rivalry between Ticat and Argo

There’s dinner riding on the outcome of the game between the Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday night, which, in a sense, is fitting, wrote The Winnipeg Sun Aug. 13.

If the Argos win, Ticats kicker Justin Medlock will treat Toronto slotback [and former York Lion] Andre Durie to a meal. If the Ticats come out of the Aug. 13 Classic with a victory, Durie will be taking Medlock to the restaurant of his choice.

The friendship between the two dates to training camp in 2009, when they were Argos teammates. Now, they’re roommates in Burlington, with Medlock renting Durie’s basement. "We like to talk football, but we don’t go into specifics," Durie said. "We talk about how we’re feeling and everything, and with me, a lot of the stresses have been about the losses lately. It’s just a lot of roommate talk…. There’s a good connection. It’s good to see him playing well in Hamilton and it is going to be fun to play against him."

Durie, a 30-year-old Mississauga native, went to school at York University prior to signing with the Argos as a free agent in 2007.

Communism ‘hidden’ in Toronto

Showing no sign of backing down, a Toronto city councillor is continuing the war of words that has erupted since he vowed to ban "communists" from a Facebook page designed to elicit input on balancing the city’s books, wrote Postmedia News Aug. 13 in a story about George Mammoliti.

Earlier this week, in response to Mammoliti’s vow to block Communists from his Facebook page, one self-described Marxist called the councillor’s comments "profoundly offensive" and "ignorant".

Jordy Cummings, who is studying towards a PhD in political theory at York University, said Mammoliti "doesn’t realize the impact of this kind of rhetoric," which has the hallmarks of the "red baiting" that occurred during the McCarthy years in the US. "Mammoliti is ignoring the fact that people who have described themselves as communists, socialists and anti-capitalists helped to build the city of Toronto."

Dusk wows crowd

One of Canada’s most beloved male crooners, Matt Dusk [BFA Spec. Hons. ’02] certainly felt the admiration last night during a performance at Celebration Square, wrote The Mississauga News Aug. 13.

No doubt, the local crowd knew very well that Dusk has a special place in his heart for the city, the place his teacher and mentor, Oscar Peterson, lived. Dusk performed at Celebration Square’s Live ON Stage series, much to the delight of hundreds.

Mississauga, after all, was the longtime home of the jazz piano legend, under whom Dusk studied at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts] with an Oscar Peterson scholarship. Dusk was obviously a good student. He’s now one of Canada’s most beloved male crooners.

York filmmaker’s first feature film a hit at Locarno

A favourite of film and media-arts festivals, with more than 20 short films under his belt, Daniel Cockburn [BFA Spec. Hons. ’99] received a whole new level of acclaim after his feature debut You Are Here had its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival and its North American unveiling at TIFF last year, wrote The Globe and Mail Aug. 13. The highly experimental feature is comprised of a series of psychological-philosophical puzzles.

Raised in Tweed, Cockburn studied at York University [Faculty of Fine Arts]. He is married to installation artist Brenda Goldstein. They will soon be moving to New York City.

Crowds seek out circus performers

Aged 11 to 21, the youth circus troupe [has] been training three times a week in three-hour sessions since mid-June, wrote The Owen Sound Sun Times Aug. 15 in a story about Owen Sound’s third annual Streets Alive! Buskerfest and the very first public performances by the new, local Lookup Theatre Troupe – local youth who have been learning circus skills all summer with Toronto-based performer/trainer Angola Murdoch.

"Everybody who came here started from scratch as far as circus skills go," said Levi Dow, a York University music student studying percussion. "I’m just amazed with how far we’ve come since the beginning of the summer."

Recruited to the program for his interest in free running and parkour – a non-competitive physical training discipline which involves vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping around urban obstacles – Dow said the new juggling, aerial and other skills will ultimately help shape his career in music performance.

"Angola was looking for people in the area who had transferable skills that could be applied to the circus environment," Dow said.

Whitaker spikes in China

Sharon resident Caleigh Whitaker and Kristina Valjas of Toronto are one of two Canadian women’s beach volleyball teams competing at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China this week, wrote the Newmarket Era Aug. 16.

Whitaker, a fourth-year student at York University, is a veteran of two world under-21 tournaments, placing ninth at the 2009 event. She also finished ninth at the 2008 under-19 championships.

Cause of Liu’s death is still unknown

Four months after York student Qian Liu was found dead in her North York basement apartment near the school’s campus, the mystery surrounding how she died still lingers, wrote the National Post Aug. 17.

Brian Dickson is accused of first-degree murder in the case. The 29-year-old man appeared in court Tuesday via video link. Dickson was booked for a preliminary hearing in January, where the Crown will lay out the evidence against him.

York University has created a $5,000 scholarship in memory of the slain student.

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at York’s Glendon College, spoke about the latest survey results on the upcoming Ontario election campaign, on Radio Canada TV, Aug. 15.
  • Dayna Scott, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about a lawsuit by two members of an Aboriginal band in Sarnia over the effects of pollution on their reserve, in an “Academic Minute” audio clip published by InsideHigherEducation.com Aug. 16.