Stories tagged obesity

May
09
2012

Man, there has been a ton of obesity-related news this week (no pun intended).

Weight problem: This will be almost half of us by 2030 if we don't shape up.
Weight problem: This will be almost half of us by 2030 if we don't shape up.Courtesy FatM1ke

Mothers of overweight toddlers believe their children are smaller than they actually are.

Bans on school junk food pay off in California.

The US obesity rate could hit 42% by 2030. (How accurate are those predictions, anyway?)

Prepregnancy obesity could lead to lower child test scores.

Kids who sleep in their parents' bed (those that don't suffocate when a parent rolls over on them or die of SIDS, that is -- the studies are conflicting) are less likely to be overweight than kids who always sleep on their own.

(Also, Meow, a literal "fat cat," has died from complications related to his morbid obesity. This kitty weighed in at a whopping 39 pounds! And, yes, I realize that this one is a little off-topic.)

I could go on. There are also a lot of "fixes" out there for the obesity epidemic--everything from national policies to questionable medical devices and weight-loss pills or "cleanses" to "personal responsibility." Ultimately, though, the individual solution to a weight problem means balancing calories in vs. calories out. And it's almost summer here in Minnesota, so get out there and do something. Take a walk over lunch. Ride your bike to and from work. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. It turns out that you only need 20 minutes of moving around to get most of the benefits of exercise and that 100 fewer calories a day can have a major effect: 10 pounds in a year. And dropping 500 calories per day can mean a weight loss of almost a pound a week.

I thought this BMI visualizer was pretty cool. Give it a try. It will probably inspire you to go jogging or something...

Mar
30
2010

Are you into the white stuff? Or are you a corn man?: Don't answer that.
Are you into the white stuff? Or are you a corn man?: Don't answer that.Courtesy Andrew_B
About a month ago I fell off my bicycle and got a brain injury. Can you imagine? The doctor called it a “corncussion.” I was thinking I would do a Science Buzz post on corncussions, but I couldn’t find any information on the condition. What gives, Google? Did I invent the corncussion? I don’t think so.

What I did find, however, was also pretty interesting: this new research on corn syrup.

Don’t run off! Corn syrup is interesting! And it’s relevant! On my desk, for instance, I see three food-related items: a half-full pack of m&m’s, a Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper, and an apple. Of these items, only the apple doesn’t have any “high-fructose corn syrup” in it. High fructose corn syrup is the sweetener of choice for lots and lots of food in this country (check your kitchen), and it has been for decades. It’s cheap, it’s really sweet, and it’s made from corn (we like making things from corn in these parts), so what’s not to like?

Lots of things, according to some people, and nothing, according to other people. The problem is that the above disagreement usually goes something like this when it is discussed:

“Corn syrup is horrible! Why? Because, like, it’s not like regular sugar, and your body doesn’t… your body treats it, like… it’s different and bad! Chemistry! Biology!”
-or-
“Corn syrup isn’t bad, it’s awesome! It’s made from corn, and corn is natural, and when has anything natural been bad for you?”

And both sides, frankly, are pretty dumb. Because in the former’s case, people usually aren’t really saying anything. What you sort of heard from a friend who might have read something about how the body treats corn syrup differently or something doesn’t count as solid scientific backing for your position. Be honest—it’s just your way of saying that you shop at Whole Foods.

On the other hand, it’s not like we’re sprinkling kernels of fresh corn on our food when we’re using high-fructose corn syrup—lots of fancy refining goes into making that sweetener, which may or may not be a good thing. And, in any case, being “natural” doesn’t make something healthy. You know what else is natural? Syphilis, arsenic, and getting punched in the face.

The thing is, there seems to be an association between the rise in obesity rates (and related diseases) and the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (let’s call it “HFCS” from here on) to American diets about 40 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that there really is a link between the two—we don’t know exactly how HFCS would cause obesity, and we don’t know if it was for sure HFCS that made us all fatter, or if it was some other widespread lifestyle change. Or if it was a combination of things.

The issue is complicated by stuff like research that indicates that drinking too much pop can raise your risk of cancer. Is that because too much of a sweet drink is bad for you? Or is it because lots of soft drinks use HFCS as their sweetener?

It’s confusing, and we’ve never really been able to definitively say, “HFCS is/is not bad for you.”

And we still can’t.

However, yesterday I read an interesting article about a study that seems to reinforce the connection between HFCS and obesity, even if it doesn’t show a causal relationship. (That is, it seems to show that something really is happening, but it can’t say why.)

Researchers at Princeton studied two groups of rats. One group got regular rat-chow, and water sweetened with HFCS. The other group got the same amount of rat-chow, and water sweetened with regular sugar from sugar cane or beets (this sugar is called sucrose). All the rats consumed the same amount of calories each day, no matter what their beverage was.

The researchers found that some of the rats eating regular sugar gained weight, and that some of them gained no weight. However, all of the rats eating HFCS gained weight (from body fat), and showed an increase in blood fats called “triglycerides.” The researchers pointed out that even rats given a high-fat diet don’t show such consistent weight gain.

The next part of their experiment tracked the long-term effects of a high HFCS diet on the rats. These rats all showed signs of a condition known (in humans) as metabolic syndrome. They had lots of blood fat, and gained lots of weight, especially around the belly. In fact, they gained 48% more weight than rats eating a normal diet.

What about that?

Well, the Corn Refiners Association has something to say about it: They think it was a misleading study. In their response to the research the CFA points out that there was no regular sugar control for the second part of the study—HFCS-eating rats were only compared to rat-chow-eating rats, not to rats eating regular sugar. So it would be like comparing weight gain between someone who just ate candy bars, and someone who just ate granola, instead of between a candy bar-eater and an ice-cream eater. (Does that sentence make any sense?) I don’t know if the original study really did lack that control, or if there was a reason they felt it wasn’t necessary. The CFA calls it a “gross error,” but it could be that it was just outside the intended scope of the research.

The CFA also thinks that the portions of HFCS given to the rats constitute a “gross error.” According to them, a proportional amount given to a human would be about 3000 calories from HFCS a day. They point out that adults eat only 2000 calories a day, from a variety of sources. It’s a good point, but not a great one, I think. That 2000 calorie figure is based on the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended diet (you know, the label you see on the back of everything you eat), and how many people stick exactly to the recommended diet? A 3000-calorie/day diet would definitely not be out of the question for lots and lots of people. And, sure, those calories are supposed to come from many food sources, but, again, go check your kitchen, and see how many items in there us HFCS. (Lots do.)

Keep in mind, though, that just because the people that make HFCS are arguing that it’s safe doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not safe. Of course they want to defend their product. Not everything is a global corporate conspiracy.

But the Princeton study sure does make it look like there’s something about HFCS that causes it to contribute to obesity more than regular sugar. The study just doesn’t show how it might do that. That’s the causal relationship we talked about earlier. They have some ideas, though.

The CFA claims that “a sugar is a sugar, whether it comes from cane, corn or beets. Both sugar and HFCS are handled the same way by the body. Maybe, but sugar and HFCS aren’t totally identical. Both sweeteners are made up of two kinds of sugar molecules, called glucose and fructose. Regular sugar is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose. HFCS, on the other hand, has more fructose (about 55%), less glucose (about 42%), and a small amount of larger sugar molecules called saccharides (3%). The way these molecules are put together in the difference sweeteners differs too: in regular sugar, each fructose molecule is bound to a glucose molecule, but the process of making HFCS causes its fructose molecules to all be “free and unbound.”

Some scientists think that because the fructose in HFCS is free, it is more easily metabolized (used by your body) and is more quickly turned into fat. The extra step needed to separate the fructose from the glucose in regular sugar might cause it to be metabolized differently, with more of it being stored in the liver or muscles as carbohydrates.

But, once more, that part is what people are uncertain about.

It’s a tricky issue, because there are a lot of dogs in the fight—I’m sure the manufacturers of regular sugar are just as defensive about their product (and just as likely to be very selective about which studies the promote) as the corn refiners are. But what about us poor norms? All we want is to sit and eat sweet things all day, while gaining as little weight as possible. I mean, we could just consume sweeteners in moderation until science proves who’s really right, but… where’s the fun in that?

It’s something to consider. Choose wisely, and stuff.

Thanksgiving Cornucopia: Is too much food ever enough?
Thanksgiving Cornucopia: Is too much food ever enough?Courtesy Lawrence OP
Just in time for the Thanksgiving feast, researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases say increasing per capita food supply and food waste since the mid-1970s is over-taxing the environment and impacting global climate change. The research appears in the online journal PLosONE.

Mexico, the country, wants to loss 2 million pounds (more precisely 1 million kilos). Okay, insert your own anti-immigration joke here – I know you can't resist. Now click here to read the story about this national effort to keep obesity under control there. What an interesting concept for McCain or Obama to throw out there for our country in the final strecth of this year's election.

A recently-completed survey in Great Britain shows that, while the number of overweight or obese people has increased, fewer people correctly classify themselves as overweight according to their body-mass index (BMI).

Do you know your BMI, and how you're classified? (Here's how to calculate.) Having a general sense of where you fall along the spectrum might help you make decisions about food and exercise choices before you develop a problem.

A new study finds that obesity and over-eating may be caused by the lack of one single gene. (Though there are certainly other causes as well.)

Nov
12
2007


People who are overweight stand a greater risk of dying from some diseases, but not for othersCourtesy Roger Cullman

Pretty bad. People who are overweight are more likely to die from diabetes and kidney failure than the general population. And people who are obese are more likely to die from heart disease and certain types of cancer.

These common-sense truths were reconfirmed last week by a report from the Centers for Disease Control, which analyzed decades of data from 39,000 Americans. However, the news was not all bad. For instance, obese people had the same overall mortality rate from cancer as the population as a whole. Which means that while they were at greater risk of dying from cancers that attack fatty tissues (including the breast, uterus, ovaries, kidneys, colon, throat and pancreas), they were actually less likely to die from other forms of cancer.

For folks who are overweight but not obese, the picture is even more complicated. Neither cancer nor heart disease killed this group at higher-than-average rates. In fact, researchers found lower mortality in this group for all other causes of death, including infectious diseases and accidents.

The researchers aren’t sure why this should be. One theory is that carrying a little extra fat – but not too much – gives the bodies the energy reserves it needs to fight off illness.

Another possibility is raised by the way the study defined “overweight” and “obese.” They did not measure the patients’ body fat directly, but rather used a mathematical calculation known as the Body Mass Index or BMI. This widely-used tool gives doctors a rough estimate of a person’s body fat – a number over 25 classifies a person as “overweight.” A BMI 30 or higher qualifies as “obese.”

The trouble is, BMI basically divides weight by height (with a couple other calculations thrown in for fun). The greater the weight, the higher the BMI for a given height. The problem is, people can add weight as fat, or they can add weight as muscle. Somebody who exercises a lot may be strong, healthy… and have a BMI that qualifies as overweight.

If that’s the case, then that would explain why the “overweight” group fights off disease and injury so well. Which is good news if you’re fit, but not so good news if you’re flabby.

Nov
04
2007


Have fun!: I hope they at least got bigger life vests for us. (image courtesy of macroninja on flickr.com)
Obesity has invaded the Magic Kingdom.

Disneyland is having to revamp some of its boat rides, like the Small World, on account of people being too heavy for the little vessels. Designed and built in 1963, the boats were intended to handle men and women of the average weight at the time (175 and 135 pounds, respectively), but the heavier passengers of today are causing the boats to bottom out and get stuck in the flume.

Oh ho. Ho ho ho.

Disneyland has denied that the rides' refurbishments have any connection to obesity, saying that repairs over the years have caused the channels to become shallower at certain points. That could be true.

Aug
17
2007

Yum, yum, eat 'em up!: Photo by jaboobie at Flickr.
Yum, yum, eat 'em up!: Photo by jaboobie at Flickr.
When my mother was pregnant with me she must have been eating a whole lot of junk food according to a new study published by the British Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in Great Britain discovered that pregnant rats that overindulge candy bars, potato chips and other junk food seem to pass those cravings on to their innocent and unsuspecting offspring.

So far, the study only involved rats, but I’m certain my mother is the reason I really crave Lorna Doones® and chocolate donuts.

The female rats in the study were fed either a bland yet nutritious sort of rat chow, or given access to as much tasty junk food as they wanted. The diets were continued in some rats up to birth, and through the breastfeeding period.

When the offspring were divided up, some of the group from the rat chow-only mothers was offered just rat chow to eat; the remainder of that group was mixed in with the offspring from junk food-fed mothers and given the choice of boring rat chow or delicious junk food.

The rat chow-only offspring ate the least amount of food, but for the offspring given a choice evidently too much junk food isn’t enough, especially the babies whose mothers had been fed only junk food. Their offspring preferred the empty-calorie treats and consumed twice as much food as the offspring of chow-only group.

The reason for this, the scientists think, is that the “pleasure chemicals” unleashed by the rat mother when eating high-fat foods may have some sort of effect on the brain of the fetus.

It should be reiterated that the study only has to do with rats. No such study has been done on humans, but I’ll tell, I’d probably be a good study subject. My mom still loves to ingest lots of sweets and I’m not far behind her.

Not good for one's heart: Photo by &y at Flickr Creative Commons.
Not good for one's heart: Photo by &y at Flickr Creative Commons.
Which brings me to another disturbing study, which, in my case, could also be connected to junk food.

University of Texas researchers have determined that having a pot belly –even a fairly small one- increases your risk of heart disease.

"Fat that accumulates around your waist seems to be more biologically active as it secretes inflammatory proteins that contribute to atherosclerotic plaque build-up, whereas fat around your hips doesn't appear to increase risk for cardiovascular disease at all,” according to Professor James de Lemos, the research lead. “Even a small pot belly puts us at higher risk when compared to a flat tummy."

I guess that means I either have to cut down on my junk food intake or ratchet up my exercise regimen.

"What's important is that people consider their body shape as well as their weight,” said June Davison, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation. “Controlling both by eating less and being more active is an effective way to reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease”

Well, I suppose, but even exercise has some controversy attached to it.

Last week a study stated that even light exercise was beneficial.

But then this week a new study proclaims that workouts must be “tough” to be of any benefit.

Oh, the heck with it. I'm going back to the couch with a bag of donuts on my pot belly and wait for some more agreeable studies to come out.

LINKS

Cravings story
Pot belly story