U.K. Daily Telegram September 11, 2008
“Glycemic Instability and Spontaneous Energy Intake: Association with Knowledge-Based Work,”Psychosomatic Medicine, 2008
According to this wire story, a study showed that mental work increased calorie intake—a purported connection between the demands of modern life and the obesity epidemic.
The Subtler Truth
Indeed, this study from the University of Laval in Quebec showed that after a session of “knowledge-based work,” such as reading or taking tests on a computer, subjects who were led to a buffet ate at least 200 calories more than a control group. But the story doesn’t mention the limited scope of the study: There were only 14 participants, all women and none over 30. The study doesn’t quantify how much energy they actually expended during knowledge-based work, and hey, guess what? It wasn’t truly a blind study. Participants were broadly aware that food perception was being measured, and may therefore have convinced themselves that all that mental exercise made them hungry.
The Bottom Line
The idea that knowledge work puts us in the mood for an Oreo binge would explain a lot about the obesity epidemic, but it’s going to take better experiments—and journalists who don’t publish vague findings as fact—before we can blame our waistlines on thoughtful days at work.