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Are You A Willpower Wimp? Then Change Your Environment To Lose Weight

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Need to lose weight? Instead of changing yourself, you might consider changing your environment.

Making changes — big and small — to the world around you is much easier than mustering the willpower to refrain from eating high-calorie foods, says Brian Wansink, who has for years studied our eating habits, currently as director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.

And those changes can mean that your diet is more healthful without working so hard.

Wansink dismisses the popular idea that mindful eating is the way to eat what we need without overeating junk food. “For 90 percent of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating — our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy,” he writes in his new book, “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.”

The book includes ways restaurants, schools, and other institutions can offer more healthful food, and provides scorecards for readers to figure out whether their homes and workplaces, the restaurants and supermarkets they patronize and their kids’ school meals, are designed for slim.

Restaurants and food companies are likely to change if they can make more money, Wansink noted in a telephone interview. “If a bunch of consumers say, ‘Is there something you can come up with that’s not French fries or a boring salad? I would eat here more often,'” then companies are likely to listen, he said.

They’re in the profits business, not in business to make people fat, he said. It’s a lesson Wansink and his students stumbled upon when they realized that the bigger the package of food, the more people ate of it, and that consumers would pay more for smaller packets that would help them control how much they ate.

“Eventually, Nabisco/Kraft gave my theory a run and launched the 100-calorie snack pack,” Wansink writes. It’s the sort of change that helps people eat less with no effort.

“Most of our lives have made us fat by design,” Wansink said. So it’s time, he said, to make ourselves thin the same way. Here are some of his findings and suggestions; pick those that work for you, he says.

— If you come home through your kitchen door, you’ll weigh more than your neighbor who goes home through another room. Solution? Kind of obvious.

— Wansink and his researchers spent a lot of time watching and cataloging the behavior of people who ate at buffet restaurants. The slim diners scouted out the entire spread before taking any food and then cherry-picked their favorites. Heavy diners went straight for the plates and started piling on from the start of the line. And thin diners sat far from the buffet facing away from it. You can guess what the others did.

— If your plate is the same color as your food, you’re likely to serve yourself 18 percent more food. You can either buy new dishes, or color-code your meals if you want to eat less. But here’s a hint: White plates and lots of pasta, potatoes, and rice? Maybe not. Smaller plates are better, too.

— Clear the counters! The average woman who had potato chips on her counter weighed 8 pounds more than a neighbor who did not, Wansink writes. Big deal, it’s chips, you say? Get this: Woman with a box of breakfast cereal visible anywhere in the kitchen weighed 21 pounds more than that neighbor who kept it in the cupboard, Wansink writes.

— If you are really serious, move your pantry food to a closet elsewhere in the house and that closet’s stuff into the kitchen closet. Or put up shelves in a faraway room to hold the food. That, Wansink writes, will decrease “browsing” for snacks and make you think before the food gets to your mouth.

— Buying in bulk saves money, right? But Wansink writes that one study showed people ate half the chips, cookies, ramen noodles. and the like in the first week — regardless of how much they bought. What to do? Buy only healthful foods in bulk. Or repackage the items once you get home and store some far from the kitchen, he writes.

— Pay attention to the menu. On average, Wansink writes, a dish described as “buttery” has 102 more calories than a similar one not described that way. Crispy? Adds 131 calories, he writes.

— To lessen cravings while in the supermarket, chew gum, Wansink says. When he and colleagues gave shoppers gum at the start of a shopping trip, they bought 7 percent less junk food than their empty-mouthed fellow shoppers.

Photo via WikiCommons

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First Federal Gluten-Free Regulation Takes Effect

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Regulations that tell consumers just what it means when a product is labeled “gluten free” take effect on Tuesday — a “major milestone,” says one of the leading experts on gluten disorders.

“The gluten-free diet for someone with celiac disease is like insulin for diabetics,” says Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of the recent book “Gluten Freedom.”

The Food and Drug Administration has determined that, as of Tuesday, packaged food labeled gluten free (or similar claims such as “free of gluten”) cannot contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten. (Another agency regulates meat and poultry.) One caveat is that use of the gluten-free label is voluntary; there is no requirement that a package containing gluten must declare that.

People who have the autoimmune disorder celiac disease can become very sick if they eat the tiniest amount of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye; there are, however, a range of other conditions set off by gluten, sensitivities that cause headaches, intestinal problems, and respiratory issues.

Additionally, gluten-free diets have become “fashionable,” which has helped prompt hundreds of new gluten-free products but also has meant that real medical problems are sometimes treated lightly, Fasano says.

“For people like myself, this is a medical necessity. My diet is my medicine,” says Beth Hillson, the president of the American Celiac Disease Association.

“This labeling rule makes it very clear cut. … That gives me a lot more comfort. My son, who is 27, is also celiac, and he’s out on his own and cooking. That gives me peace of mind for him as well,” says Hillson, author of the upcoming book “The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free.”

People should not “just try out” a gluten-free diet if they suspect problems; a medical diagnosis is essential, Fasano says. For one thing, if the underlying problem could affect relatives, it’s important to know. And it’s impossible to find the effects of gluten in a person who eats none.

Fasano writes in his book that when he began talking about gluten issues in the United States, coming here from Italy in 1993, people told him celiac disease was almost nonexistent in this country. They were wrong, he says. About 1 in 133 people in the United States now is thought to have celiac disease.

These days, the market for gluten-free foods tops $6 billion, with a counterpart for cookies, cakes, pizzas, and just about every food containing gluten, analysts say. Gluten, Fasano says, is “nutritionally useless,” so it’s generally fine for people to avoid it as long as they are careful to get the vitamins, fiber, and minerals found in foods such as bread and pasta.

From his perspective, Fasano says, goals that remain are discovering a “safety net” treatment, a complement to a gluten-free diet for people who inadvertently are exposed, and to find a way to prevent the disorder.

The new FDA regulation doesn’t mean that people who must avoid gluten can completely relax. A product doesn’t have to carry any claim about gluten, unlike requirements for allergens such as nuts and wheat. Although wheat is one of the major foods containing gluten, it is not the only one. And some products that contain wheat have had the gluten removed. That means some consumers still must read ingredient lists carefully.

Consumers can file complaints about compliance with the regulation through the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition by calling (240) 402-2405 or by going to www.fda.gov and typing into the search box “medwatch form.”

Photo via WikiCommons

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Study Finds Five Servings Of Produce Is Enough, But We’re Not Eating It

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

How many times will we have to be told? Apparently we haven’t reached the point when we’ll change our habits, but here goes again: Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day can help us live longer.

That comes from researchers’ analysis of 16 studies covering 833,234 people, published this week in the BMJ.

Scientists from China and the United States looked at the growing evidence of a connection between produce consumption and heart disease and cancer. They wanted to quantify the “dose response” — or how much we need to eat — in relation with all causes of death, heart disease, and cancer.

The average risk of death from all causes was reduced by 5 percent for each additional daily serving of fruits or vegetables; risk of cardiovascular death was reduce by 4 percent for each serving. They did not find the risk of cancer to be appreciably associated with produce consumption.

“There was a threshold around five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, after which the risk of all-cause mortality did not reduce further,” the scientists wrote Tuesday.

This conclusion contradicts a finding published recently in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, in which researchers led by Oyinlola Oyebode of University College London wrote that people “eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily have the lowest risk of mortality from any cause.”

One of the researchers involved in the more recent study, Wei Bao of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said his group’s analysis did not find additional benefits over five portions.

“There could be debate on how much, but we should be aware that the average intake across the world is very low, far below five,” Bao said.

The studies followed participants for up to 24 years and tallied a total of 56,423 deaths — 11,512 from heart disaese and 16,817 from cancer.

Bao said it’s possible that there is an optimal dose or particular kinds of produce that would affect cancer death rates.

Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian, noted that half a cup of cooked leafy greens counts as a serving, as do about a dozen baby carrots or six asparagus spears. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only about a quarter of American adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, he said.

In the earlier study, the researchers noted that people do not eat enough produce, citing difficulty in changing habits, lack of motivation, lack of time, and cost.

Those scientists used the 2001-08 Health Surveys for England, plus several years of follow-up, on more than 65,000 people 35 and older. The study subjects reported eating an average of 3.8 servings of produce — 1.5 of them vegetables. The study didn’t know how many of those were French fries, which tops many lists of vegetable consumption.

Eating at least seven servings was linked to a 42 percent lower risk of death from all causes, 25 percent lower from cancer, and 31 percent lower from heart disease or stroke in the study period, after excluding deaths within the first year of the monitoring, the researchers reported.

The World Health Organization recommended in 1990 that people eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to protect against cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

These studies suggest potential not only for individuals, Bao said, noting that to “promote people to consume more would be of some benefit” in terms of policy.

AFP Photo/Johannes Eisele

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We’re All In The Clean-Plate Club, Researchers Conclude

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Seems that most of us take to heart the common admonition to clean our plates, at least when we fill them ourselves.

Adults eat nearly 92 percent of the food they put on their plates, according to research published in the International Journal of Obesity.

There were some variations: If people were distracted, they ate less, almost 89 percent of what they took; they ate 92.8 percent of meals but only 76.1 percent of snacks. At home or in a lab, the amount eaten was about the same, and men and women ate the same percentages.

“If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach,” said Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and the study’s lead researcher. Wansink, who frequently studies eating habits, conducted the research with Katherine Abowd Johnson, a doctoral student at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The studies that looked at children showed they ate about 60 percent of what they took.

Nor is the urge to clean our plates strictly an American trait: The results were nearly identical in the United States, Canada, France, Taiwan, South Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands.

A bit of good news: People who were eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat or dairy ate more — 91.2 percent — than those eating less healthful foods — 80.6 percent.

The researchers wanted to try to fill in a gap in studies about how much we eat, noting that portion size — particularly its increase — seems connected to the epidemic of overweight and obesity. Some studies measure what people take when they serve themselves, such as at buffets. Others measure how much of a plate of food that’s served people ate. Wansink and Johnson wanted to look at how much people ate when they served themselves.

They analyzed 14 studies. Their study, the researchers said, offers preliminary evidence on the topic but can give people some direction in the search for a path to a healthier population.
As researchers from several disciplines work to find ways to address overeating and obesity, figuring out what makes people consume more or less is an important goal. The researchers in the current study noted that when a study shows, for example, that skipping a meal led people to take 200 extra calories at the following meal, what really matters is how much of the food they ate.
This study could help suggest the answer. And the answer generally is “most of it.”

“Just knowing that you’re likely to consume almost all of what you serve yourself can help you be more mindful of appropriate portion size,” Wansink said in a statement.

AFP Photo/Johannes Eisele

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Overweight Teens More Likely To Be Rejected By Thin Peers, Study Says

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Overweight adolescents are indifferent about the weight of their friends, but not so the thin peers, who are more likely to choose friends whose weight status is like their own, researchers looking at teenagers’ social networks say.

The role of obesity in friendships among young people is complicated, as are the ways relationships contribute to health, the researchers said. For instance, they wrote in the American Journal of Public Health on May 15, “(f)riendships among overweight adolescents may reinforce unhealthy behaviors that further exacerbate weight problems.”

The researchers, David Schaefer and Sandra Simpkins of Arizona State University, looked at a group of teenagers by taking into account both the person initiating the friendship and the target of that advance as well as what role weight played. They used the 58,987 students from 88 schools who were part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

The young people listed their five closest female friends and five closest male friends. The researchers accounted for selection of friends based on connections such as extracurricular activities or a mutual friend, to isolate weight status as a criterion.

Young people, the researchers said, are more likely to socially marginalize overweight peers and, as a result, overweight young people have an average of one fewer friend than normal weight teens. Teens who were not overweight were 30 percent more likely to select a friend who was not overweight than one who was, the researchers said.

“This is especially troubling since friendships are important sources of support and companionship,” Simpkins said in a statement. “Not having or losing friends is associated with higher depression and lower self-worth for young people, which could exacerbate the health problems associated with being overweight.”

Photo: Wader via Flickr

Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Affect Nutrients In Crops, Study Says

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

The increased concentration of carbon dioxide that comes with climate change could mean some basic food plants will carry lower concentrations of iron and zinc — and deficiencies of those nutrients are already a “substantial global public health problem,” scientists reported Wednesday.

The scientists studied grains and legumes grown at the elevated atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide predicted for the middle of this century. They conducted a meta-analysis of data from their own study and previous ones, looking at 143 comparisons of the edible portions of crops at both ambient levels of carbon dioxide and elevated levels of 546 to 586 parts per million.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to reach 550 ppm in the next four to six decades. The lead scientist on the study, Samuel Myers of the Harvard School of Public Health, said by telephone that the issue should be of concern to people no matter their views on climate change.

The work was done at seven sites in Japan, Australia and the United States. The scientists tested rice, wheat, maize, soybeans, field peas and sorghum over several growing seasons.

“We found that elevated carbon dioxide was associated with significant decreases in the concentrations of zinc and iron,” the researchers said in the journal Nature.

The wheat had 9.3 percent lower zinc and 5.1 percent lower iron at the elevated levels, for example. And the protein content was 6.3 percent lower in wheat and 7.8 percent lower in rice, the researchers reported. Maize and sorghum had no significant change, and there was a small decrease in protein in field peas, they said.

“(W)e find that the edible portions of many of the key crops for human nutrition have decreased nutritional value when compared with the same plants grown under identical conditions but at the present ambient” carbon dioxide, the researchers said.

An estimated 2 billion people are deficient in zinc and iron, leading to a loss of 63 million life-years annually, the scientists said. And, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 2.3 billion people live in countries where at least 60 percent of the dietary zinc and iron comes from the affected grains and legumes.

Decreases in protein, the researchers said, could lead to increased risk of hypertension, heart disease and other problems.

The major micronutrient deficiencies globally are iron, zinc and vitamin A, Myers said. Vitamin A generally comes from produce, and he said he didn’t know of any efforts to look at effects on it of elevated carbon dioxide.

As for solutions, Myers noted that iron and zinc fortification and supplementation programs have existed for years and not solved the problems. Alternatively, work is underway to develop biofortified crops and to develop new cultivars that are less sensitive to the elevated carbon dioxide levels, he said.

“We note, however, that such breeding programs will not be a panacea for many reasons, including the affordability of improved seeds and the numerous criteria used by farmers in making planting decisions that include taste, tradition, marketability, growing requirements and yield,” they wrote.

A rice called Golden Rice, which was fortified with vitamin A, was a cautionary tale, Myers said, because “the adoption has been less than hoped.” That, he said, does not mean such work should be stopped.

“I think it’s a mistake to take too many arrows out of our quiver,” he said, when efforts to feed the world will encounter problems ahead including water scarcity, soil degradation and elevated carbon dioxide.

Photo via Flickr

 

Lower-Income Teens Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep, Researchers Say

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

African-American high school students and boys in low- to middle-income families reported short, fragmented sleep, and that could play a role in their health risks, researchers reported Monday.

Anyone who has ever lived with a teenager knows they often don’t get the eight to nine hours of sleep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Researchers writing in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at one group of young people — those in a lower socioeconomic community.

A sample of 250 students from western Pennsylvania, ages 14 to 19, took part in the study over a week. Based on a diary and a monitor worn by the students, most of the students slept around six hours a night during the week. They reported more time, about 6.8 hours, in their diaries, but the researchers said that included time they tried to go to sleep.

The study evidence “suggests that black male adolescents may be the demographic subgroup most vulnerable to the negative consequences of inadequate sleep,” the study said.

Less sleep, the researchers said, “is associated with more negative cognitive, behavioral and functional measures among adolescents.”

Teenagers have a biological tendency to stay up late and sleep late in the mornings, when they can, the researchers wrote. But school schedules don’t generally accommodate that.

They wrote that “a more optimistic view of adolescent sleep was recently published” from a nationally representative sample using diaries and showing that 14- to-18-year-olds slept around nine hours a day. “No gender or racial or ethnic differences were observed,” they wrote.

But the researchers in the current study noted that teenagers in “disadvantaged communities or who are disadvantaged by virtue of their minority status are faced with challenges that may result in different sleep patterns.”

They called it “premature” to conclude that adolescents are getting enough sleep.

Photo via Flickr; Timothy Krause

Medical Cost Of Childhood Obesity Is $19,000 Per Obese Child, Researchers Say

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Are the millions of dollars spent to try to reverse childhood obesity a good investment? One answer might be found in the cost if the condition goes unchecked: about $19,000 per obese child in lifetime medical costs, researchers reported Monday.

That’s $14 billion just for the obese 10-year-olds in the United States, according to researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. They reported their results in the journal Pediatrics.

A less costly estimate, $12,900 per child, was made for normal-weight children who gain weight in adulthood, they said.

For comparison, the researchers noted that the 2012 fiscal year budget for the Head Start Program was $7.8 billion, and the cost of a year at a public four-year college was almost $17,000.

“Reducing childhood obesity is a public health priority that has substantial health and economic benefits,” said Eric Andrew Finkelstein, the lead author of the study. He also said that efforts to reduce obesity should not be based solely on dollar savings.

To reach their estimates, the researchers analyzed and updated previous estimates by reviewing the scientific literature outlining the medical costs of childhood obesity over a lifetime. They took into account such factors as a decreased life expectancy for obese people and the rising of costs with age. Obesity is a risk factor of such illnesses as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

While some progress was recently reported in some states to reduce childhood obesity, one in five children and one in three adults are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers noted also that the prevalence of extreme obesity, children who score at or above the 99th percentile of body mass index measures, is rising. And estimates are that half of the adult U.S. population could be obese by 2030, barring successful efforts to change.

Costs of controlling obesity are “significant,” the researchers noted, offering a couple of examples, including a 10-year, $1 billion program to build health-promoting communities by the California Endowment.

Knowing the costs of obesity is one way to justify the expenditures to prevent it, the researchers wrote. They measured direct medical costs of obesity, not costs of such things as lost or reduced productivity. They recommend additional research to account for those.

Photo: Ed Yourdon via Flickr

Smoking Bans Can Help Kids’ Health, Researchers Say

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — If legislation banning smoking protects people from disease, then the proportion of the world population covered by such laws is too low — just 16 percent, according to researchers.

“Smoke-free legislation is associated with substantial reductions in preterm births” and hospital visits for asthma, the researchers wrote in the Lancet last week. That conclusion, combined with the benefits of such laws to adults, is strong support for the recommendation of the World Health Organization to create smoke-free environments, wrote the researchers from the Maastricht University School for Public Health, Hasselt University and the University of Leuven, both in Belgium, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Estimates suggest that pediatric hospital admissions for asthma and preterm births decline by 10 percent after smoke-free legislation is enacted, making the public health effects of such bans “considerable,” the researchers said. At present, worldwide, more than 11 percent of children — about 15 million babies — are born premature each year.

The researchers found 11 studies from 2008 to 2013 that covered more than 2.5 million births and 247,168 asthma incidents. Five of the studies concerned local smoking bans in North America, and six concerned national bans in Europe.

About 5.7 million people die of smoking annually, and 600,000 people die of secondhand smoke, the researchers said.

“The effects of in-utero and early-life exposures on health in childhood and later life is a growing specialty” for researchers. Because their lungs and immune systems are still developing, they are at particularly risk to the effects of secondhand smoke, they said.

Among the outcomes of early exposure to tobacco smoke are stillbirth, preterm birth, asthma, infant mortality and respiratory infections. And recent studies, the researchers wrote, have implicated childhood secondhand smoke exposures in the development of noncommunicable diseases in later life.

The researchers said some “knowledge gaps” remain, including the effects of such legislation on low-income countries. And the researchers said there was a risk of bias in some of the 11 studies — with six of them having a moderate risk and one a high risk.

Photo: DucDigital via Flickr

Pro Baseball Players Keep Some Bone Strength For Life, Study Says

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Young men who exercise keep some of the benefits to their bones into old age, even if they don’t keep at it, according to researchers who compared the throwing arms and the nonthrowing arms of professional baseball players over time.

Bone mass, size and strength increase with physical activity in youth, but it was unclear whether those benefits carried into later years. The researchers looked at the arms of 103 pro baseball players — major and minor leagues — and at the arms of 94 “regular” men; they reported their findings in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Half of the bone size and one-third of the bone strength benefits of throwing baseballs as young people were maintained lifelong, the scientists said. “In players who continued throwing during aging, some cortical bone mass and more strength benefits of the physical activity during youth were maintained.”

The scientists concluded that it’s important to encourage physical activity at a young age for bone health. The focus, they said, should be on optimizing bone size and strength, rather than on increasing mass. And it’s a good thing to remain active as one ages.

“Although the benefits in bone mass acquired during youth may be lost, some of the benefits in bone size and strength may persist throughout life,” wrote the scientists, who are from Indiana University, the University of Melbourne and the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.

Bone size was measured in cross-section; activity deposits new bone on the outer surface. The researchers looked primarily at the humerus, the upper arm bone.

The professional baseball players were good subjects for the study, the researchers said, because they had routinely thrown lots of baseballs from a young age. Additionally, baseball has not changed in 100 years, meaning that players would do the same activity over time, they wrote.

One limit of the study is that the players were all men, they noted, saying, “It is possible that conclusions would differ if the study were performed in women” and using a bone that is prone to osteoporosis.

Photo: cathyt via Flickr

Appetite Regulation Might Be Link Between Genetics And Environment, Study Says

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Most anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight probably has wondered about appetite, perhaps wishing it to be less voracious. Scientists are looking at appetite and feelings of fullness as they try to figure out genetic connections to weight and what to do about the obesity epidemic.

Children now are growing into a higher body mass index than any previous generation, and that is “rooted in environments with easily available, cheap, palatable, energy-dense and intensively marketed foods,” researchers wrote this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

But there’s more to obesity than environment, the researchers say in two studies and an accompanying editorial, which look at aspects of childhood weight gain around appetite and satiety, or feeling full.

In one study, led by Jane Wardle, researchers from University College London looked at sets of twins to see what happened over the first 15 months of life based on response to cues regarding food such as smell or sight and on satiety.

In the other study, led by Clare Llewellyn, the researchers also looked at twins, this time with a mean age of 10, studying their satiety, food responsiveness and weight gain. Their results suggest that “low satiety response” is one way that genetic predisposition leads to weight gain “in an environment rich with food.”

These studies suggest that ability to feel full is a way that genetics can play a part in who becomes obese. And the use of twins meant that some factors could be ruled out, because they had the same environment.

“A heartier appetite in early infancy is associated with more rapid growth up to age 15 months,” the researchers wrote. Babies with bigger appetites could be more at risk and might be well targeted in strategies to prevent obesity, they said.

An editorial accompanying the studies, by Daniel Belsky of the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University Medical Center, suggests that the work could lead to the possibility of intervention before children become overweight rather than leave families with the difficult task of reducing weight and maintaining the loss.

“Findings suggest that a mother’s report of her child’s appetite may be informative in identifying children especially vulnerable to developing obesity,” Belsky wrote.

He also said that studies should be done to determine what the differences in appetite in childhood mean for adolescent and adult weights.

Photo: Wader via Flickr

Yoga Helps Cancer Survivors Lessen Fatigue, Inflammation, Study Finds

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times

Practicing yoga for at least three hours a week for three months reduced the fatigue and inflammation in breast cancer survivors, compared with survivors who did no yoga, researchers reported.

And the more yoga, the greater the change.

At six months — three months after the formal yoga had ended — fatigue was 57 percent lower in the women who had done yoga, compared with those who had not. Inflammation, measured by blood tests, was reduced by up to 20 percent, said the researchers, from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We also think the results could easily generalize to other groups of people who have issues with fatigue and inflammation,” Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, the lead researcher and a psychiatry and psychology professor at Ohio State, said in a statement.

Two hundred breast cancer survivors were divided into two groups: one that took two 90-minute Hatha yoga classes a week, and one that did no yoga. The yoga practitioners also were encouraged to do additional yoga at home, and did so _ an average of almost 25 minutes a day. The women were yoga novices.

The researchers noted that yoga can be tailored to various abilities — the women in the study were ages 27 to 76 — and has been shown to help with mood and sleep among cancer survivors.

The study did not include aerobic exercise, and the participants did not lose weight.

And that, Kiecolt-Glaser said by telephone, led to a surprise. Other research had shown that inflammation — a mechanism for loss of function and disability — was unlikely to be reduced without weight loss. But she said there could be several reasons why her subjects had reduced inflammation without losing weight, including that yoga helps sleep and stress, which are associated with inflammation.

The women practiced Hatha yoga, a restorative form that was recommended by an expert in Columbus, Ohio, Kiecolt-Glaser said.

Breast cancer treatment can be exhausting, and that can lead to less activity, which in turn can lead to a decreased capacity for activity in what Kiecolt-Glaser called “a downward spiral.”

“Breast cancer survivors with lower levels of physical activity have a higher risk for premature death,” Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues from Ohio State, including her husband Ronald Glaser, wrote in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. About one-third of survivors say that fatigue interferes with their daily activities.

The people who did not take yoga in the study were offered yoga classes at the end of the study, and Kiecolt-Glaser said 60 percent to 70 percent of them enrolled.

Photo: Go Interactive Wellness via Flickr

Advocacy Group Calls For Clearer Seafood Consumption Guidelines

LOS ANGELES — The advice to eat more seafood for a healthy heart might be familiar, but when consumers get to the fish counter, there are confusing questions galore: Which types have the most of those good fatty acids? Which are high in mercury? Which are better for the environment?

The Environmental Working Group, in a report out this week, says the federal government is not doing a good enough job at answering those questions for consumers, especially when it comes to advice covering children and pregnant women.

“You can’t just tell people to double or triple their consumption” without clear information about what to eat, Sonya Lunder, one of the authors of the report, said by phone Tuesday.

People who follow the federal government’s advice could consume too much mercury or too few omega-3 fatty acids, the fats that are good for the heart, the report concludes.

The federal dietary guidelines for Americans, which offer consumption advice and affect programs such as school lunches, were last issued in January 2011 and called for increased consumption of seafood. Other federal agencies also have guidance about seafood.

Federal agencies are considering 2015 guidelines, and the Environmental Protection Agency is modernizing its seafood guidelines.
The Environmental Working Group has several recommendations, including:

It would like to see “portion-based guidelines for people who face various levels of risk, such as pregnant women, children and adults with cardiac disease.” And it would like to see fish choices highlighted that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, low in mercury and sustainably produced, as well as “moderate mercury species” that might pose problems for some people.

The EPA should lower its “safe” mercury level, the report said. That recommendation is based on evidence that “suggests that mercury does more potent damage to the developing brain than previously thought.”

Lunder said the federal government should be more explicit about what to eat and not.

Dietary guidelines suggest 8 or more ounces a week of a variety of species of seafood, less for young children. Average consumption is about 3.5 ounces a week.

Federal officials tell pregnant women to eat a variety of seafood, and to avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, and to limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week because of the mercury content of those fish.

But the Environmental Working Group report said pregnant women who complied with the dietary guidelines to double seafood consumption “could run the risk of consuming harmful amounts of mercury.”

A second issue is getting more omega-3 fatty acids into people’s diets. “Most of the commonly eaten species such as shrimp and catfish are very low in beneficial omega-3 fats,” the report said. That doesn’t mean those fish are bad to eat, Lunder said. “You should eat these fish. You can eat these fish, but don’t count on these for your fish fats.”

Eight of the 10 species that are 90 percent of the U.S. seafood market — including shrimp, catfish, clams and tilapia — have very little of the two omega-3 fatty acids found in some other seafood. To get the recommended 1,750 milligrams of omega-3s weekly, a person would have to eat 20 to 100 servings of those eight species, according to the Environmental Working Group’s calculations.

“Among popular seafood species, salmon stands out as an excellent choice,” the report said, adding that 4 to 8 ounces a week can provide the recommended fatty acids. Some kinds of farmed salmon pose environmental problems, and wild is preferable, the report said. Other good choices include anchovies, sardines, farmed trout and mussels.

And tuna. Americans eat more than 400 million pounds of canned tuna a year — second only to shrimp. It’s easily available and affordable. But tunas differ in their amounts of mercury (less in light or skipjack) and their healthful fats (more in albacore). Federal advisories have told pregnant women and children to limit consumption, but the report said those limits needed to be lower.

Depending on your weight, age and pregnancy status, eating tuna one or two or three times a month for many people is fine, Lunder said.
A joint project of several universities called Seafood Health Facts has an online consumption guide (seafoodhealthfacts.org) that takes into account various habits and conditions.

General advice can be difficult, said Christina DeWitt, director of the experiment station in Astoria, Ore., for the Oregon State University department of food science and technology — one of the schools involved in the Seafood Health Facts project.

“The guidelines depend on the amount people are eating. For the majority of Americans, most people are not eating two to three seafood meals per week. So when you start warning people about eating certain types of fish, they go to the default and avoid all fish,” she said.
Emphasizing variety also helps to mitigate any problems, she said.

The working group report notes that the “ultimate solution” is for the world to reduce mercury pollution. Lunder said that any effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan were not part of the working group’s analysis.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Muscle Training Linked To Diabetes Prevention In Women, Study Says

LOS ANGELES — Women might consider aiming for those Kelly Ripa sculpted muscles — it’s not just jogging that will keep Type 2 diabetes at bay, scientists said in a study this week.

The benefits of aerobic exercise such as running and swimming to help prevent Type 2 diabetes have been established, but with a study of thousands of middle-aged and older women, researchers say that weight-lifting and other muscle-strengthening exercise including yoga were associated with lower levels of the disease.

That doesn’t mean you should hang up your running shoes or swimsuit.

“The findings from our study also suggest that incorporating muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities with aerobic activity according to the current recommendation for physical activity (from health authorities for 150 minutes a week) provides substantial benefit for Type 2 diabetes prevention in women,” the authors wrote Tuesday in the online journal PLOS Medicine.

Women who did at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week and at least an hour a week of muscle-strengthening exercise were a third as likely to develop diabetes as inactive women, said the researchers, who were from several institutions including the Harvard School of Public Health.
The researchers followed 99,316 women ages 36 to 81, from two ongoing health studies of nurses, for eight years. The nurses completed questionnaires about their activity levels. (The authors note that two weaknesses of the study are that most of the nurses are of European ancestry and that they were self-reporting their workouts.) During the study, 3,491 women developed diabetes.

There is evidence that glycemic control can be improved with muscle-strengthening activities, the researchers said, adding that there had been less evidence that such workouts helped in prevention. Examples of that activity include resistance training, yoga and lifting free weights.
In the follow-up years, the researchers found that the more activity, the more the benefit, even if not at the level of Ripa, the super-toned television personality.

The effect may occur in several ways, the researchers said. One possibility is that because aging is associated with loss of lean body mass, building muscles may help to counteract that. Another possibility is an enhanced capacity for glucose utilization.

More than 370 million people worldwide have diabetes, characterized by dangerously high amounts of sugar in the blood.

Photo Via Wikimedia Commons