Personal trainers are not normal, a bold statement, before you start sending tweets and texts this is the reason why. I posted on FB yesterday the latest statistics from the Chief Medical Officer for England that showed that 75% of the population are overweight or obese. That leaves 25% of the population at a healthy weight. My guess is that most personal trainers fall into a healthy body composition range. I say body composition because I don’t think weight is that useful a measure; so this puts them in a minority straight away. But you now have to take this one step further and only 12% of the UK population are members of a gym. So it is reasonable to assume that this is the percentage of the population that enjoy exercise. Even if you don’t accept that premise, two thirds of the UK population fail to get sufficient activity for health. So whichever way you look at it the personal trainer is in a minority group.
The reason I highlight this is that most PT’s seem to overlook the fact that they are in a minority. They enjoy exercise and on the whole have a reasonably healthy diet; there are of course exceptions to every rule. If you want to be successful as a PT you need clients. A lot of PT’s think they will find these clients in a gym but as only 12% of the population are here that is not the best place to look. What makes this worse is that there are new PT’s being churned out by training companies every week so the number of PT’s is growing but the percentage using gyms has hardly changed in the past few years. This means that year on year you are competing for an ever diminishing amount of clients. The bottom line is PT’s need to adapt and start looking at the 75% who are overweight or obese.
If you are going to work in this market sector you need to know a few home truths. The first is that this 75% are unlikely to be found in the gym (again there will be the odd exception). Second you can forget all your FAD diets. This includes Carb back-loading, Paleo, low carb, intermittent fasting and any other diet that has little scientific evidence to support it or is pushed by so called “nutrition experts” in the leisure industry. In fact forget any diet altogether this also encompasses supplements of any description (especially protein shakes and so called ‘Fat burners’). The overweight 75% of the population don’t want to know about FAD diets and you will be doing well if you can get them to make just a few healthy changes to their diet. Next up you need to forget all your highly marketed exercise regimes this includes Zumba, kettlebells, metafit, HIIT and any other trendy regime being promoted by the leisure industry as a whole. Remember only 12% of the population join a gym, there is good reason for this. Going back to the general population two thirds aren’t active enough to be healthy so the likelihood of them starting one of your regimes is somewhere between slim (excuse the pun) and none existent. Even if you could convince them to start it is highly debatable how long they will continue. Again just look at gym membership sign ups in January, how many continue past March/April? The best you can achieve initially is to just get them more active.
How are you going to target this group?
From a marketing perspective, forget the gym. These people are more likely to be couch potatoes and home lovers. So you need to be using social media and be part of groups that are likely to contain these prospective clients. Remember you need to make sure your programme appeals to this group. So don’t talk about diet, talk about making meal time more interesting or not feeling hungry as often or being able to eat more or learning new cooking skills. So you need a programme that includes healthy eating advice, remember no FAD’s. Next you have to consider activity and this should include practical advice about how to get active. Talk about how it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable and take up loads of time. Consider how it can be fitted into a busy lifestyle and how you can facilitate that transition. I know this doesn’t sound much like anything you covered when you trained as a PT but what you are doing here is laying foundations. My research into the treatment of male obesity found that this approach has quite a high buy-in. As these people become more active and start to see some tangible benefits they are more likely to engage in formal exercise. This in turn often leads to greater dietary change as they start to see the benefits.
The choice is yours – chase the minority or go for the bigger prize
I haven’t seen too much evidence of these types of outreach programmes that are more education based around nutrition and activity. So your choice is that you can continue trying to impose your minority views on the 12% of the population in the gym that may actually be interested or modify your views and get out and chase the 75% of the population that currently do very little. The bottom line is that if you can recruit less than 1% of this group you will make more money than you are ever likely to chasing the dwindling 12% that are in your gym.
A new study commissioned by the British Heart Foundation has added yet more conflicting evidence to that which already exists in the nutrition field when it comes to the question “what is a healthy diet”. The study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2014) 160(6):398-406 looked at the data from 76 different studies which encompassed nearly 660,000 subjects. These studies examined fatty acid intakes and this has now added to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the link between saturated fatty acid intake and cardiovascular disease may not be as clear as was initially stated.
Science and nutrition advice
It is no surprise that this type of thing happens from time to time. Science can never prove anything and the best we will get is a weight of evidence that suggests one viewpoint or another. The problem occurs because the media get hold of one piece of research such as this and then report that scientists now say “it is OK to eat saturated fat”. This study is not saying that at all but you can guarantee that is how it will be reported. What is required in these situations is a good understanding of all the current literature in the field of lipids and health. I use the term lipids, because fatty acids are a type of lipid; not that you’d know that if you are learning from the popular press. It is for this reason that you end up with so much confusion, especially in the leisure industry. I wouldn’t mind betting that over the next few days you will see blogs from so called, and self-appointed “industry experts” stating how yet again science has got it wrong and you should be listening to them.
The saying a little knowledge is a dangerous thing is never truer than in these types of scenarios. These “experts” are working with limited knowledge and understanding so you are therefore getting a limited viewpoint. Diet has been confusing for the general public for as long as I can remember. Yet when I work with clients they are always amazed at how straightforward healthy nutrition can be. I see my job as a registered nutritionist/scientist as being aware of the current evidence base and then converting that knowledge into advice that is practical and evidence based for my clients. A lot of so called industry experts and nutritionist (not registered or properly qualified) think their role is to impress the public with pseudo-science and create a reliance on their schemes and diets. This then guarantees a regular income stream and celebrity status. My advice would always be read the studies yourself, at least the abstract, and see what you think has been uncovered. If you need further clarification ask a properly qualified registered nutritionist or dietitian. If you would like to receive further nutrition and weight loss tips why not sign up for the FREE seven video series by completing the simple form below.
A Study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)1 has highlighted that science may have invested a lot of money on a dead end when it comes to resolving the obesity question and perhaps should look more closely at lifestyle change. Every variation and combination of carbohydrate (CHO) including, high GI, Low GI, low CHO intake, high fibre has been researched. High protein, low protein, specific proteins and fat has also had most variations examined at one time or another; and yet despite these numerous studies, some of which produce quite good results, others really finding not much difference when you consider long-term outcomes the results do not make good reading.
The ability to keep weight off, or should I say fat with just about all these studies is poor if not insignificant when you examine three year and especially five year follow up. They have all demonstrated varying amounts of weight loss the mean differences are as small as 1kg and are also inconsistent. There have been four meta-analyses more recently and these have studied and included somewhere between 13 to 24 trials in each instance. The degree of participation and whether goals for diet or activity were met showed the strongest correlation with weight loss and this was the only thing that could be consistently demonstrated. If when you follow a programme you are losing weight the fact that you stick with the programme is not really a very surprising finding. What these meta-analyses have exposed is that there really isn’t one specific dietary regime that has any efficacy in the long-term.
The article in JAMA then goes on to consider that spending more money researching differing combinations of macronutrients in any variation is not too likely to produce any findings that would significantly advance our understanding of how best to deal with the obesity epidemic. Most research that has been undertaken and in some cases repeated has ended up producing very similar outcomes. What is really required is a far greater understanding of the behavioural, biological and environmental factors associated with establishing and then most importantly maintaining a lifestyle change. These lifestyle changes have to encompass both diet and physical activity/exercise.
One of the most important factors in making any change to behaviour is psychological readiness. My research, which was conducted both in the UK and New Zealand, has found that if an individual is not psychologically ready to make a change there is a strong possibility that they will fail long-term. By assessing an individual’s ‘readiness to change’ I could predict who was likely to be successful at losing weight. The LEAN Man System (www.leanmansystem.com) uses the assessment of psychological readiness as a foundation for the whole programme. Future research into weight management must look at how people make lifestyle changes and most importantly how they then sustain this change in behaviour. It is evident that many combinations of foods can possibly assist fat loss but if these combinations are not sustainable then long-term they are of no use. You must be psychologically ready to change your behaviour (lifestyle) and the changes you make you have to make for life. Therefore from a dietary perspective they have to be both sustainable and realistic.
It might just be time to stop studying diet and start concentrating more on lifestyle change. The evidence from the past twenty years seems to indicate that this is the case. If you would like more information about nutrition and weight loss the simply complete the simple form below to receive seven FREE videos.
- Pagoto, S.L. and Appelhans, B.M. (2013) A Call for an End to the Diet Debates. Journal of the American Medical Association. 310 (7); 687-688.
The most common reason I am given for not following a healthy lifestyle is “I haven’t got time”. This includes either lack of exercise/activity and/or unhealthy diet (poor nutrition). This excuse was also the most common when researching weight loss programmes and why they fail.
Nutrition = Productivity
The irony here is that leading a healthy lifestyle will actually make you more productive and in the long-term save you time. Your brain is an obligate user of glucose. What I mean by this is that it is optimally designed to use glucose as a fuel. It can use ketone bodies, and these are produced when following a low carbohydrate or high protein diet. The thing about this is that it does not function anywhere near optimally when using these ketones. Something like 20% of your total basal metabolic rate (BMR) (this is the kcal you need to survive at rest) is used by the brain. This means that if you have a poor diet your brain cannot possibly be functioning optimally. Let’s take a scenario where you get up early, grab a quick cup of coffee as you run out the door. You now get stuck in traffic on your commute in to the office. Traffic jams are stressful so your body sends out stress hormones these in turn up-regulate your metabolic rate as a flight/fight response. You are now burning more kcal’s as you sit there. You’ve skipped breakfast so your liver glycogen (the body’s backup energy reserve) is depleted because you use this when sleeping. You now get into the office and you have to make some key decisions in a morning meeting. Often when glucose levels are low it affects people’s mood so perhaps you’re a bit irritable as well. This rubs off on your colleagues so they’re not that co-operative either. You make the decision but it is ill judged and not a very good move for the business. You will now spend the next six months living with the consequences of this and firefighting the damage it has caused.
Had you had breakfast that day you would have been properly fuelled, made a better decision and reaped the rewards. Compare this to the previous scenario where you are in damage limitation mode for months. Exactly how much time has this wasted? Let’s say for the sake of argument its five hours a week (different staff members time as well). Can you now see why I am saying you have got time for a healthy lifestyle; in fact your business can’t afford anything else? What is more this scenario takes no account of time lost through illness caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. From this point on spend a bit of time each week planning your meals and working out how you will get active each day. This could be the best hours brainstorming you have ever done, both for the business and your quality of life.
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It is not unusual when discussions about weight management start to hear the conversation steer towards energy balance. After all when put quite simply it’s just “Energy-in Vs. Energy-out” what could be simpler? Well as it turns out a lot of things are simpler and that is because although this equation is fundamentally sound there are a lot of things that are going to impact on this.
Energy balance - Energy in
Numerous factors affect energy in and in its simplest manifestation it is just a case of count how many kcal we eat, job done. But now you have to start looking at other factors. For instance:
- How often are you eating? We know meal frequency impacts on the energy in equation.
- What is the composition of each meal? The fat content will slow emptying from the stomach and this may indirectly affect how many kcal are absorbed. The fibre content of the meal will also influence absorption rate and how much is absorbed. Finally the thermic effect of each macronutrient (Fat, Carbohydrate, and Fat) is different. This means that a diet very high in protein will burn extra kcal as part of the digestive process. Equally a very high fat diet will burn far less kcal’s as part of this process.
- Evidence is coming to light that your gut flora impacts on the energy derived from certain nutrients. This is important because what this implies is that two individuals eating the exact same meals may absorb a different number of kcal.
Clearly from this short and by no means comprehensive list you can see that energy-in is not as straightforward as ‘how many kcal on the plate’. You have to look at the individual and consider all of the above. Obviously this is not easy to do as the majority of these factors are very difficult to measure. It therefore becomes a case of a degree of trial and error to find out what will work.
Energy balance - Energy out
Turning to energy out you would maybe assume that this is just a case of considering how much energy you burn. Well that is accurate, but in itself this is inherently difficult to measure. There is not time within the context of this article to discuss all the errors and difficulties associated with measuring energy expenditure. Suffice to say it is complex and difficult to do. Next what makes up the energy you burn is not down to exercise/activity alone. The first factor you have to consider is the basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the amount of kcal you burn just to stay alive. A number of things impact this and again it is complex. First there is how much muscle you are carrying. Muscle is very metabolically active so burns a lot of kcal, even at rest. Next there is how much fat you are carrying and although nowhere near as active as muscle your fat plus your muscle pretty much makes up your overall weight. There are other elements that make up your weight but for the sake of argument I will stick with these two. Basically the heavier you are the more kcal’s you burn. The exact number could be calculated if you knew the proportion of muscle to fat as they both have a different metabolic component as I have already stated. Your environment will also dictate how many kcal you use; especially extremes of temperature. So when it is very cold you shiver to keep warm, this takes energy and when it is very hot you sweat in order to try an evaporate water to dissipate heat, again this takes energy. I’ve already stated that exercise/activity burns kcal as we all know, but again there are lots of things to consider.
- How much exercise
- What type of exercise
- How intense is the exercise
- What environmental conditions is the exercise performed under
- How fit are you
- How much do you weigh
Again not comprehensive but gives you an idea that it is not a straightforward factor. Finally you need to consider your ‘non exercise activity thermogenesis’ (NEAT). This takes into account twitching, fidgeting and general subtle movements that we all do, some more than others.
You could write a chapter in a book about ‘energy-in’ or ‘energy-out’ in fact books have been written about each exclusively as well as energy balance as a whole concept. This short article is just intended to highlight that it is not as straightforward as energy in versus energy out. The fundamental principle holds true for all weight management; if you eat more than you burn off you will get fatter – FACT. What is more difficult to do is to assess both sides of the equation and ascertain whether this has actually happened.
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Weight Watchers the major weight loss company have reported a 47% plunge in profit to $30.8m (£18.4m) in 2013 according to the BBC news website. Weight watchers claim this is because it has been hard hit by competition from weight loss apps. But does this really sound likely or does it disguise a different underlying cause?
Weight loss regimes that don’t work
Weight Watchers now joins a whole group of diet plans that don’t work, not that this is news in itself. What is news, however, is the fact that perhaps the public have finally come to realise this themselves. The exposes of the diet industry on television can’t have helped; to have your former financial director admit that the business is founded on its clients continually failing isn’t great publicity. There may also be an element of saturation point being reached. What I mean by this is the people who have now joined and re-joined Weight Watchers have finally cottoned on to the fact that this isn’t working for them. If you look at the success rate of any dietary regime you care to mention you will find that the long-term weight loss on these programmes is very poor. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted how ineffective most dietary regimes are. What was striking about this research was that this was the case regardless of which macronutrient was manipulated. So we are at a point where even the scientific community accepts that specific dietary plans/programmes are possibly not the best way to go about weight loss.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, looked at the success of the Weight Watchers programme over five years. Dr Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at Oxford University, has analysed these data. He found that after two years approximately 20% had managed to keep the weight off, but that goes down to 16% after five years. He makes the point that these are the most successful members across the company and that the majority of people on the programme do not obtain their long-term goal weight. Dr Heneghan makes one very profound statement that sums up the situation perfectly “After 40 years of diet programmes when are people going to wake up and say this is not the answer?"
Weight loss drugs are not the answer either
Weight loss drugs are not likely to be the answer in the near future either. Two drugs approved the FDA in the US (lorcaserin hydrochloride (Belviq; Eisai Inc) and phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia; Vivus Inc)) have failed to gain European approval due to serious concerns about the side effects. These side effects include warnings about memory, attention or language problems and depression. What is more the trials for both drugs could not exclude important cardiovascular harms. The European Medicines Agency reported that it was unlikely to approve lorcaserin because of concerns about possible cancers, psychiatric disorders and heart valve problems. So if you are waiting for a magic bullet there is a fair chance your weight gain will kill you before any drug is available.
The only viable answer we currently have is to make a lifestyle change. This might not be sexy or a quick fix but it does work and most importantly it is a safe way to lose weight with many accepted health benefits. The LEAN Man System (Lifestyle Education for Activity and Nutrition) helps clients make those lifestyle changes. If you would like more nutrition and weight loss tips then simply complete the simple form below and receive seven FREE videos.
People are far too concerned about weight loss and they are not paying enough attention to their health. New data from the NHS has confirmed that there are now 3.2 million diagnosed diabetics in the UK. There were 163,000 new cases diagnosed last year, the biggest increase since 2008. The NHS is now spending 10% of its total budget on the treatment of diabetes. If we don’t get to grips with this it will certainly bring the NHS to its knees.
Weight Loss and Health
The increase in diabetes is largely being fuelled by obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. People are very concerned about their weight at times and normally approach this by undertaking some FAD diet. However the key thing to note is that unhealthy lifestyle is a key driver of this problem in conjunction with weight gain. You can try a FAD diet to lose weight and the odds are it will be successful in the short term. However conditions like diabetes are long-term and require a long-term solution. Generally if you adopt some healthy lifestyle practices this will eventually lead to weight loss. But rather than worrying about weight loss it is your health you should be monitoring. It’s all very well being a little bit lighter for a few weeks whilst you go on holiday but your heart and other organs don’t get a holiday so you need to start giving them a break. Some FAD diets may help you lose weight but they are not necessarily healthy.
To put this in perspective, Baroness Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: "The big increase in the number of people with diabetes confirms that we are in the middle of an unfolding public health disaster that demands urgent action; It is frightening to think that one in 17 people you walk past in the street has been diagnosed with the condition." What is perhaps equally as relevant is the number of people walking around who have not been diagnosed or are at least pre-diabetic. If your weight fluctuates up and down like the proverbial yo-yo you are quite likely at risk. So rather than stick your head in the sand and think to yourself “it won’t happen to me” look at the facts. You don’t suddenly need to become a professional athlete but you do need to get more active (regularly) and you do need to eat healthy all the time. Just a five percent reduction in your overall weight will result in a profound improvement in your health outlook.
If you want to avoid being the one out of seventeen people who has diabetes do something now that you can sustain for life that will improve your health and also increase your longevity. Don’t wait for someone at your GP practice to say “I told you so”.
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A new analyst report suggests that the sports nutrition market will grow massively over the next five years. This growth is being driven by an increased awareness of the importance of nutrition in any sporting activity. That would include from the novice level through to elite performance.
Warnings about sports nutrition supplement quality
One thing that could undermine this growth is the increased levels of contaminants in some products. If manufacturers do not show due diligence in their production techniques then the risk of contamination is elevated. Certainly at the elite level of sport a positive doping test would be catastrophic for an athlete’s career. Perhaps of more concern are supplements purchased from unknown suppliers via the internet. Obviously contamination is still a major concern here but now the type of contaminant is also an issue. Certain contaminants may ultimately produce a severe risk to health. To be sure the supplements you use are safe purchase them from a reputable source. Ideally your supplements should also be batch tested and have IOC certification. You are looking for the producer to have pharmaceutical standards in place. You are looking for ISO17025, this is the pharmaceutical production certification standard.
Who is advising you about Sports Nutrition?
There are plenty of trainers willing to offer advice about what supplements you should be taking. I would feel fairly safe in saying that the bigger majority of them are not qualified to offer any nutrition advice, let alone advice on sports nutrition. You want at least a degree in nutrition so either a registered nutritionist (RNutr) or dietitian. You then require a further qualification in sports nutrition on top of this under-pinning knowledge. Ideally a Masters in sports nutrition, the IOC is the most recognised of these or post graduate qualification along the lines of the Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) qualification. Hopefully this makes it very obvious that a short course or reading a couple of books is not sufficient knowledge or understanding to be able to offer prescriptive advice.
Lots of gyms now sell supplements, predominately protein powders, energy bars and energy drinks. It is debatable as to whether their members require any of these. For the average gym goer training three to five times a week they would most probably be better off just ensuring they have a well-balanced diet that contains sufficient energy to meet their overall energy needs. They then just need to ensure they are eating the right types of meals (in terms of macronutrients) at the right time. For a small minority certain supplements might be beneficial but that should be properly assessed by a suitably qualified individual (as stated above). In my experience working with a wide range of athletes from club amateur through to elite level the first thing that needs restructuring is their day-to-day diet. Once this is sorted out I will then consider whether supplementation is required. But do not lose sight of the fact that the clue is in the title – These products are supplemental to the overall diet and not a substitute or miracle cure for a poor diet.
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So what is the best exercise for weight loss and for fat loss? Well first off it’s important to realise that these are two different questions. We often say “oh I need to lose weight” but what we actually mean is “I need to lose fat”. Technically speaking it is difficult to be ‘overweight’ but it definitely is possible to be ‘overfat’. So the most important question is what is the best exercise to reduce your body fat?
Exercise and weight loss
People have waxed lyrical about this topic for decades and the fact of the matter is that most probably every article had an element of truth, most exercise regimes will help your weight loss efforts. But what a lot of these articles tend to overlook is the practicality of following a lot of these regimes. We have had tabata regimes in all shapes and variations, there is a trend for high intensity interval training at the moment, Zumba classes remain popular and this is just a few examples. These will all burn some body fat whilst you are doing the exercise although in reality, because of the intensity of exercise involved, not very much. However post exercise this will translate to fat burned because your body has to recover the energy deficit from somewhere. This brings me to the next point; if your diet is not correct and you are not creating an energy deficit then no amount of exercise will help you lose fat. This is important to understand because when it comes to any fat loss equation exercise is not really that effective. It takes you five minutes to eat a 400/500kcal chocolate bar; it will take you the best part of an hour to burn this off. Therefore in this respect it is a very unbalanced equation.
There are numerous factors that will affect how much fat you burn whilst exercising. Your typical diet will have an impact for instance as we know that higher fat diets tend to produce a reliance on fat burning. The fitter you are the better you get at burning fat and the intensity of your exercise will also impact the amount of fat lost. You could write a book on the factors that influence fat burning and many people have, but the simple fact is that if you are sufficiently active and have the correct diet you will, overtime, reduce your body fat stores.
So actually the answer to the question ‘what is the best exercise for fat loss’ is quite straightforward. It is the exercise you will do regularly and consistently enough to achieve the fat loss you require. So much as some exercises are better than others in terms of efficiency if you can find something you love doing that elevates your heart rate and you can do it often enough then this is the exercise for you. It might take a bit longer, but then let’s face it; you didn’t store the fat overnight. Realistically speaking slow steady fat loss is the safest and most effective way to reduce your body fat percentage and more importantly is most probably the best way to keep it off.
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You often here the fast food industry being blamed for the obesity epidemic, but is this really fair? After all you don’t see their employees on the street with baseball bats herding people through their doors. We choose to eat in these places of our own free will, so who is to blame.
Education and Weight Loss
You can apportion blame for the obesity epidemic in a number of areas and undoubtedly the biggest portion of that blame lies with the individual. You have freedom of choice as to which foods you choose to eat and how much you want to be active after all. However some blame needs to be deposited directly on the education system. We now have a generation who don’t all possess some basic cooking skills. I recently had a student on a personal trainer’s course who didn’t know how to make mashed potato. If people lack fundamental cooking skills is it any wonder that they rely on fast food restaurants for a lot of their meals? What is more lacking cooking skills is expensive as you then don’t understand how to prepare meals from basic cheap ingredients. We know that obesity has a strong correlation with socio-economic status with lower income groups having higher rates. So this group cannot afford to be eating fast food, what is more the nutritional value of these foods is very low leading to poor health and weight gain. The other thing common in this socio-economic group is lack of education. There is insufficient time given in school curriculums to both cooking skills and nutrition education. When you hear stories of primary school children not realising that potatoes come from the soil you know there is something amiss.
There is a real irony here because never before has there been so many celebrity chefs, cooking programmes on TV and access to recipes and advice via the internet. Mum’s are not passing on cooking skills to their children and in some cases this is because they don’t have them in the first place.
How do we redress the balance?
We need to invest more in nutrition and cooking education in schools. Long-term this will likely be more effective for weight loss than the regular public health messages about obesity, five-a-day etc. Educating the next generation about how to use basic ingredients and prepare simple meals is likely to have more long-term benefit than a bunch of leaflets and posters. It may also help them realise that healthy eating does not necessarily have to be an expensive choice.
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