Highlights of UBC media coverage in September 2009

The skinny on how others influence our eating habits

Marketing experts at UBC, Arizona State University and Duke University released a study that shows we mirror the eating habits of a thin person we dine with and eat differently from a heavy person.

The researchers enlisted 210 college students to partake in what they said was a study about movie watching. Each student was paired with another student who was in fact a member of the research team and whose size was manipulated to make her appear to be either size 0 and 105 pounds (her actual build), or size 16 and 180 pounds (when wearing the obesity prosthesis). A UBC student was one of the undercover researchers who wore a prosthetic suit to make her look heavy.

The researcher was served first and helped herself to either a large or a small serving before the student participant was offered the same food. The study demonstrated that the participants tended to mirror the choices of a thin person, and choose differently from a heavy person.

“If you see a thin person eating a lot, you will eat the same portion,” Brent McFerran, an assistant professor of marketing at UBC, told the Toronto Star. “You see a heavy person ordering a salad and you think, ‘I’m not like that, I’m going to order more.’ ”

Because eating and socializing often go together, McFerran said it’s important to be aware of how vulnerable we are to eating more or less based on the people around us even those we do not know.

This story was also covered in the Los Angeles Times, Ottawa Citizen, The South African Star and the Vancouver Province.

Dash of spice to keep away pests

Murray Isman, an entomologist at UBC, says farmers are starting to use oils from thyme, rosemary, mint, and other herbs and “killer spices” instead of synthetic pesticides. Just like any conventional garden pesticide, the plant oils repel insects, while other oils can kill them.

Research suggests the oils hinder the insect’s nervous system, creating muscle spasms that kill the insects. The oils can also disturb an insect’s cellular membranes, causing loss of vital fluids. The plant oils are most effective against bugs that feed off plant juices, such as aphids, whiteflies and spider mites.

The green pesticides should be inexpensive when they hit retail shelves, Isman told National Geographic, since they are already widely used in perfumes and food. Companies are already working to stock their retail shelves with spice oils for farmers, he said.

“At the end of the day, what matters is how much it costs and the health and environmental impacts,” Isman said. “And there the plant-based pesticides have an advantage.”

Broken bones can kill

Suffering a hip or spine fracture can dramatically increase the odds of an early death in people aged 50 and over, according to a new UBC study.

Karim Khan and Maureen Ashe of the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility at Vancouver’s Coastal Health Research Institute and the UBC Department of  Family Practice says health professionals have long known that a patient’s health can decline rapidly after suffering a hip or spine fracture.

In the study, researchers followed a group of 7,753 Canadians over five years and found those with hip or spine fractures were much more likely to die within the follow-up period compared with those without fractures. The study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal underlines the importance of osteoporosis screening and fall-prevention strategies in at-risk populations.

Health Canada estimates that one in four women and one in eight men over 50 will develop osteoporosis. Even so, patients often don’t receive vital treatments such as bone mineral density assessments, vitamin D or calcium supplements, which could increase their chances of surviving years after a fall.

The Ottawa Citizen, the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail reported the findings.