Last night my Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl 45 (woo!). Like many people in Wisconsin and throughout the country, I was watching the game with friends, surrounded by lots of food and drink. I can’t imagine most people are watching how much they eat during parties. Is a temporary overindulgence ok?
A couple months ago I wrote about what effect science suggests the holiday period has on weight gain. My conclusion is that even though the it is much smaller than most people think (on average probably less than 1 pound; people who are overweight seem to be at a greater risk for gaining more during this period), total average weight gain per year is only ~0.5 to 1.7 pounds. Thus, holiday weight gain can be a significant contributor to yearly weight gain. While I think food should be enjoyed, overindulging without monitoring intake during and after the holiday period may explain some of the obesity pandemic in our food environment.
Some of these studies encompassed the period during the Super Bowl, but didn’t look at food consumption during the Super Bowl specifically. Super Bowl Sunday may be the second biggest food-consumption event after Thanksgiving, so it is worth a look to see if it corroborates the holiday research.
Unfortunately, there appears to only be 1 study that has looked at weight change, and it is on hemodialysis patients who have unique dietary restrictions. The study, by Ohlrich et al., examined 122 patients, 15 of which attended a Super Bowl party and tracked serum phosphorus, potassium, interdialytic dry weight gain, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure on days before and after the Bowl. Of relevance to this post, the interdialytic dry weight gain was 1.1% greater in those that attended the Super Bowl party, and 0.1% lower in those who did not attend a party. Dry weight is “the lowest weight a patient can tolerate without the development of symptoms or hypotension” when excess fluids are removed during dialysis. A 1.1% gain is approximately 2.2 pounds in a 200 pound person, a significant amount. The study did not report actual weights of any of the subjects, and I am unsure as to how accurate/consistent measuring dry weight is, but the fact that weight increased in the subjects who attended parties and it did not in those who did not is telling.
How can we mitigate some of the damage of parties?
Beside the obvious serve healthier choices, one of Brian Wansink’s studies showed that if subjects attending a Super Bowl party were served food in smaller bowls, they consume less. See Obesity Panacea’s coverage of the study here. It should be noted that the subjects in that study were students of Wansink. This may suggest that simply being aware of the effect of dish size on intake is not enough- smaller dishes are ultimately necessary.
Beside the nutritional damage, there are other health risks. A recent study linked a Super Bowl loss to increased cardiac mortality rates in Los Angeles after they lost the 1980 Super Bowl, and this was greater in people over 64 years of age. When they won in 1984, death rates were reduced. Other studies have reported such a link a link as well. Our emotional ties to sporting events may be strong enough to have subtle effects on our health (and if you’re at risk, induce major negative cardiac events). It has dramatic effects on testosterone levels, as a specific example.
Another public health message should be to limit driving after the game, and simply don’t do it if you have been drinking. This study found a small increase in driving fatalities after Super Bowls.
Even though the study by Ohlrich et al. itself isn’t evidence that healthy people need to refrain from overindulging during Super Bowl parties, in my opinion the holiday research is enough evidence that even infrequent periodic overindulgence can have long lasting effects on weight. It is possible that a single party/event would have less of a lasting effect on weight, unlike a more extended holiday period. Hopefully future research will look at this, and if overweight people are more at a higher risk for weight gain as the holiday research shows.
Ohlrich H, Leon JB, Zimmerer J, & Sehgal AR (2006). The impact of Super Bowl parties on nutritional parameters among hemodialysis patients. Journal of renal nutrition : the official journal of the Council on Renal Nutrition of the National Kidney Foundation, 16 (1), 63-6 PMID: 16414444