Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Age Debate

In DNA Era, Worries About Revival of Prejudice

Another Debate- Good Calories, Bad Calories;
In fact, Taubes convincingly shows that much of what is believed about nutrition and health is based on the flimsiest science. To cite one minor example, there’s the notion that a tiny bit of extra food, 50 or 100 calories a day — a few bites of a hamburger, say — can gradually make you fat, and that eating a tiny bit less each day, or doing something as simple as walking a mile, can make the weight slowly disappear. This idea is based on a hypothesis put forth in a single scientific paper, published in 2003. And even then it was qualified, Taubes reports, by the statement that it was “theoretical and involves several assumptions” and that it “remains to be empirically tested.” Nonetheless, it has now become the basis for an official federal recommendation for obesity prevention.

Or listen to an economist;
Paying People to Lose Weight Helps Drop Pounds and Health-Care Costs
I thought of that the other day when I was talking to Barry Nalebuff, a professor at Yale University and one the country's top game-theory economists. He has studied weight-loss incentives extensively. When I told him what my wife was paying me, he said: "It's not going to work. It's not big enough. Not even close." He had another idea: Take a picture of myself in a Speedo, and if I don't lose weight, he gets to hang the picture in my office. For extra motivation, he suggested I procure a similar picture of my wife, theorizing (correctly) that she wouldn't want my colleagues to see that much of her. "Then you'll really lose the weight," he said. He has done two nationally televised studies showing that this strategy works.

Nalebuff thinks the weight loss will happen only if there is something of importance being risked. When I told him that my wife might kill me under his proposed arrangement -- thereby defeating the purpose of me losing weight -- he suggested I enter into a contract in which I agree to pay him if I don't drop some pounds. "As much as people don't like to lose money, what they really don't like to lose is their own money," he said.

In fact, some of his Yale colleagues are in the final stages of launching a business based on this very concept. They have started a company called that will allow people to take out a contract on themselves. They pick a price. If they don't lose a certain amount of weight, they lose the money, either to a charity, friends or family. Ian Ayres, one of the company's founders, said he hopes the Web site makes money by selling advertisements and forming corporate partnerships.

"The basic idea is to let economic incentives have a chance," he said. "It's been very hard to produce successful results through traditional weight-loss methods."

Ayres took out a contract on himself with another of the company's founders. He needed to get down to 185 pounds, losing at least a pound a week or forfeiting $500 for each week he failed. Sure enough, he dropped below 185 pounds. Now if his weight goes above 185 pounds, a penalty kicks in. He has avoided more than $21,000 in potential penalties. "It's been a free way to lose weight," Ayres said.

He added, "Thousands of studies have shown that people work harder to avoid losses than to gain a similar amount."

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