Lizard Brain Traps

The base brain, or lizard brain, has a one-track mind. Its mantra is, “What do I want? A reward! When do I want it? Now!” The trouble is, when an addictor is involved, that idealized reward will never come again. It’s not repeatable, but the unintelligent lizard brain will relentlessly “chase the dragon,” vainly trying to recapture the bliss of the first time.

In pursuit of that unachievable goal, the lizard brain will buddy up, slap you on the back, and imply that you and it are teammates, colleagues, or best friends.

“We should have just one little drink,” it says jovially. When a person considers escape from addiction, old Lizard Brain has a whole arsenal of traps, which John McC has exhaustively catalogued, and these are only a few:

I’m under too much stress to quit right now.
I don’t have to really quit; maybe just cut down a little.
Everybody deserves to be able to relax once in a while.
I suffer from mental illness, so I am entitled.
Things aren’t that bad.
It would be more stress on my body to quit than to continue doing it.
But it’s free! How can you resist when it’s free?
Oh well, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson hung onto his nicotine addiction with the grand, all-encompassing excuse: “Frankly, I’m not ready to quit just now.” This was bolstered by the assertion that nobody (his wife, in this case) should nag a person about a little thing like cigarette smoking when he was so successful at resisting his main addiction, alcohol.

The corollary to this is, as a prize for nobly eliminating the most troublesome addiction, you actually deserve to hang onto a secondary addiction. Don’t fall for it!

Crazy like a fox

Despite its basic stupidity, the lizard brain has a way of enabling the higher brain to invent some pretty fancy justifications. For instance, it promotes the Big Sendoff theory. If you really are going to quit, old Lizard Brain sells the idea that you deserve to end your addiction with a grand, memorable binge. Then, when that monumental blowout occurs, somehow it turns out not quite good enough to count — so the best thing to do is carry on until a truly worthy goodbye party can be arranged.

In certain fields where part of the job entails entertaining clients, the career disaster rationalization is popular. It goes like this: “If I don’t drink (or smoke, or order the richest dish on the menu) my clients who drink (or smoke, or gourmandize) will feel uncomfortable, as if I’m judging them or something. Better not rock the boat, because I need this job.” Somehow, the elemental lizard brain convinces the higher brain to forget about all the damage that maintaining the addiction will cause to career and life.

The list goes on

“The doctor is just trying to scare me” is an attractive self-deception. So is this one: “My parents messed me up so bad, I’ll never achieve emotional health anyway. By retaining this addiction at least I’ll have something.”

Sometimes, the family can be called upon as unwitting accessories. “My father ate chocolate-covered bacon every day until he was 80,” an addict will stoutly assert. “If it was good enough for Dad, it’s good enough for me. What kind of a son would I be if I rejected his ways?” Yes, this kind of thinking is the epitome of absurdity. But the lizard brain will encourage the higher brain to try every trick in the book.

“It’s a special occasion! It has to be properly observed — with a drink or six!” This ever-popular rationalization calls for celebration if the team wins, or consolation if the team loses. It works with food, too. When a person believes that a special occasion calls for a binge, suddenly the calendar is full of special occasions. Magically, every day becomes a holiday!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Lizard Brain Addiction Monster,”, undated
Source: “The Funny Spirituality of Bill Wilson and A.A.,”, undated
Photo via VisualHunt

When Summer Ends

bottled water

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News talked about the importance of water, especially in summer. But soon summer will be over, and children will return to school. A few months ago, a Syracuse University study “found making water available through self-serve dispensers in school cafeterias results in student weight loss.”

In New York City, thanks to a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many elementary and middle schools have added “water jets” (which are basically electrically-powered dispensers) to their cafeteria furnishings. James T. Mulder writes:

Researchers compared body mass index and overweight status for all students before and after the introduction of the water jets…

Students at schools with water jets for at least three months saw a reduction in BMI of .025 for boys and .022 for girls compared to students in schools without water jets. The water jets also were associated with a .9 percentage point reduction in the likelihood of being overweight for boys and a .6 percentage point reduction for girls.

In other words, there were slight but observable and encouraging BMI changes, affecting boys slightly more than girls. It goes without saying that drinking a lot of water is advisable on general principles, and in the school setting, the researchers find that kids will often choose water instead of beverages with caloric content.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends five cups of water per day for the 4-8 years age group. For 9 to 13-year-olds, the recommended number of cups for girls is seven, and for boys eight. Between ages 14 and 18, boys need even more water, with the recommendation rising to 11 cups, compared to eight for girls.

Environmental factors come into play of course, like the ambient temperature and humidity. The site notes:

Before, during and after any physical activity, kids need to drink plenty of water, especially in hot weather. The goal is to drink a half cup to two cups of water every 15 to 20 minutes while exercising.

Adults interested in weight loss are advised, according to, to drink a pint of water 30 minutes before each meal.

Measuring your internal water

In an article about hydration and obesity, notes:

Urine osmolality is regarded as an excellent measure of hydration and is a better indicator than just water intake because it accounts for water and solutes acquired in food and other drinks.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Simple solution to childhood obesity: More water at lunch, study says,”, 01/19/16
Source: “Water: How Much Do Kids Need?,”, 05/03/16
Source: “Drink Water Before Meals to Lose Weight?,” 08/28/15
Source: “Poor Hydration May Contribute to Obesity, Study Suggests,”, 07/12/16
Photo credit: Steven Depolo via VisualHunt/CC BY

Hot Hydration

drinking water
Sticking with the summer theme, let’s talk about water. Not to be climate chauvinists, but in this country it’s now summer pretty much everywhere, and imbibing sufficient water is a high priority, or should be.

A brand new, hot-off-the-presses study from the University of Michigan’s Department of Family Medicine reconfirms the importance of water in pushing back against obesity. For, Marcia Frellick writes:

Researchers have found a significant association between inadequate hydration and both elevated body mass index (BMI) and obesity, even after controlling for confounders…

If obese people are not hydrating properly or are eating when they think they are hungry, but are actually thirsty, education may help differentiate the cues…

People with higher BMIs need a lot of water, because the body’s need for hydration is connected to weight, surface area, and metabolic rate. This report includes the shocking news that weight management guidelines handed out by primary care physicians are usually silent on the subject of adequate hydration.

Dr. Pretlow’s book, Overweight: What Kids Say, contains samples of how kids support each other with advice and empathy. A lot of the young folks who successfully battle obesity mention the importance of drinking plenty of water. On the crudest, most obvious level, it can create the illusion of a full stomach. Some of the kids even recommend drinking only water — which is good advice for everyone of any age.

Water weight

The search for health often provokes perplexing questions about seemingly contradictory principles. Over and over, we hear about the importance of hydration. On the other hand, we have also heard of “water weight” — and we dread it.

A person might retain 20 (or more) pounds of unnecessary water. Fitness expert Mark Sisson explains that carbohydrate is stored in the body as glycogen, and along with every gram of stored glycogen, the body stores three or four grams of water — both in and amongst cells.

A low-carbohydrate diet may produce immediate weight loss, but it will be the water saying goodbye. Sisson says:

[…] Often within just a week of decreasing grains and other simple carbs and sugars, as well as cutting omega 6s and the huge amounts of sodium found in the Standard American Diet, the body no longer needs to hoard all this water. Understand that this was water you never really needed in the first place; it was just there because agents in the diet sent signals to different systems to hold onto it.

In one post, we named water as an obesity villain — but that is only a figure of speech. Sometimes water is polluted with toxins — but that isn’t the water’s fault. Generally, some agency, corporation, or individual is responsible. When the lack of decent drinking water drives people to make do with sugar-sweetened beverages, that isn’t the water’s fault, either.

Even where the tap water is undrinkable, most people have the choice of buying water instead of SSBs. Americans are fortunate to live, by and large, in places where drinking water is available for free. Many people all over the world don’t even have the luxury of asking these questions or entering the debate; or any hope of influencing their governments to step up and make things better.

Indirect influence on obesity

Inadequate hydration can affect mental and emotional health, including attention and memory. It can also cause headaches, unpleasant mood states, and impaired kidney function. All these things make a person feel lousy. What happens to some people when they feel physically, mentally, or emotionally bad? They try to eat the world.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Poor Hydration May Contribute to Obesity, Study Suggests,”, 07/12/16
Source: “Dear Mark: Rapid Weight Loss,”, 08/24/15
Photo credit: Darwin Bell via VisualHunt/CC BY

Mosquitoes — Trillions of Tiny Obesity Villains?

This post could probably be filed under “Flaky Fringe” — our category for what might be called speculative science — ideas that are not and may never be fully proven. Still, the obesity epidemic is so big and mysterious and scary, with so many consequences and ramifications, it might be worth giving even the sketchiest theory at least a moment of consideration. In tune with the summer theme, let’s talk about those little varmints known as mosquitoes, and the hypothesis that they contribute indirectly to the unhealthful heaviness of kids.

The Asian tiger mosquito, described as “a particularly vicious species,” came to America in 1985. Apparently, these annoying insects arrived (via used tire shipments from Japan) in Houston, TX, and liked their new home enough to spread to half the contiguous states.

The distinctive trait of this mosquito species is its lack of pickiness about how large a body of water it deposits its eggs in. All it needs is a bottle-cap full of rainwater, or a tiny puddle in a flowerpot. But that is not its only unpleasant personality trait. While other types of mosquitoes mainly come out at dawn and dusk, these monsters pursue their aggressive agenda all day long.

Originally, a childhood obesity connection was not even on the researchers’ radar. The five-year research project began from fear that the Asian tiger mosquito will adopt here the role it plays in other parts of the world, as a disease vector; a creator of deadly epidemics like malaria and zika.

Rutgers University scientists identified very similar neighborhoods in two different New Jersey towns, employed mosquito abatement techniques in one but not the other, and compared the results. Two years later, for the sake of fairness, the experiment was repeated in the same towns, but reversed.

It was found that adults plagued by mosquitoes tend to cut down their outdoors time by nearly three hours per week. But look what they say about the kids:

This parental-report data is even more striking for their children, aged eight to 12 years old, as time spent in outdoor play was estimated to be 63% less than it would have been if mosquitoes were not a persistent annoyance.

As mosquito targets, active people seem to be unjustly penalized, because mosquitoes are attracted by the carbon dioxide emitted during vigorous exercise. Also, the smell of dirty sweaty feet is like perfume to them. The good news to come out of this study is that mosquito abatement is a teachable skill that homeowners seem willing to learn and utilize.

Of course the community still plays a large role, with education and pesticides, but there is proof the effort actually produces a result, by providing children with more time to go outside and be active.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New Rutgers Study Explores Mosquito Prevalence on Outdoor Physical Activity and Links to Childhood Obesity,”, 06/24/13
Photo credit: John Tann via Visualhunt/CC BY

Everything You Know About Summer Is Wrong

Okay, maybe not everything. But many people still cherish the myth that for children, summer is invariably a time of intense activity and fitness. Some retain memories of their own youthful days, spending the hot months doing hard physical work every day, on a family farm or in some other type of job.

For many wonderful years, Americans basked in the idea that the season is filled with hiking, swimming, and other physically challenging activities. In theory, and often in reality, high school and college athletes make good use of the summer by getting in shape for fall training and games. Many children have enjoyed these benefits, and many still do.

There was a time when a family could bicycle across the country, but probably few would try it now. The world keeps on changing. In recent years, fewer families own getaway cabins on lake shores or in woods. A lot of parents can’t afford to send their kids to camp. But even those who can manage a special camp might be disappointed. Michael Prager, who wrote Fat Boy Thin Man, shattered illusions by admitting that despite three summers at fat camp, going back to school meant regaining whatever weight he had lost.

Physical activity epidemiologist Dr. Lara R. Dugas, who teaches at Loyola University, learned that “Many children finish the school year in June fitter and leaner than when they go back to school in August.” The difference is only a couple of BMI percentage points, but the observation does call to mind the theory that constant weight fluctuation subjects the body to a lot of wear and tear.

The yearly up-and-down of children’s weights could be meaningful, and even indicative of larger issues in need of fixing. Why does it happen? Could the standard school year be the problem? Some experts think not, because the schedule has remained pretty much the same for decades. True, more kids used to walk to and from school, but they still have outdoor recess, and sports, and so on.

Some suggest that school is better for kids because they only eat at designated times, and can’t snack constantly. (The corollary to that is, in the summer they supposedly are free to graze on junk food all day long.) The combination of an unstructured schedule and “unlimited access to food” is seen as destructive.

However… The assumption that school schedules inhibit snacking might be overly optimistic. As rumor has it, one way or another, plenty of snacking goes on in schools. Also, just because school is out, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all kids everywhere are drowning oceans of food.

The obesity epidemic is more than an equal opportunity affliction. Sadly, it practices reverse discrimination. Dr. Dugas’s research showed that summer weight gain shows up more among low-income girls from minority groups.

Strangely, the study of 6,453 children and adolescents done by the Mailman School of Public Health did not seem to bear this out. Although it found that lower-income teen girls exercise less during the summer than their higher-income counterparts, the press release quotes Dr. Claire Wang as saying:

Although obesity-promoting behaviors are generally more common during the summer break, the differences in obesity behaviors between income groups were not exacerbated during the summer break.

Despite uncertainty over whether the school schedule is a genuine obesity villain, Dr. Dugas has a suggestion, spelled out by journalist Stephanie Viguers:

Another potential solution is the implementation of a quarter system, which would substitute 12 weeks of summer vacation with 6 to 8 weeks of vacation as well as a 2- to 3-week break every 3 months.

If nothing else, perhaps some good could be accomplished by a more equitable redistribution of the relative demands and perils of the school year versus vacation. But the public school schedule affects many other sectors of society, from the way businesses are run, to the summer programs and youth missions sponsored by churches. A redesigned school year would probably be a difficult concept to sell.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood obesity increases during summer break,”, 07/29/15
Source: “Obesity-related behaviors increase when school’s out,”, 07/14/15
Photo credit: Lotzman Katzman via Visualhunt/CC BY

Is Summer An Obesity Villain?

A study undertaken by the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University found that in the summertime, kids eat fewer vegetables and consume sugar-sweetened beverages at a rate that averages out to three extra ounces per day, which can add up. Also, when school is out, kids watch an additional 20 minutes of TV per day. (Only 20 minutes? That is a counterintuitive finding.) According to that particular study, the summer-versus-school amounts of physical activity undertaken by the kids seemed pretty much the same.

Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic thrives. If we call it the childhood obesity epidemic, we may be kidding ourselves, because the wording implies that it might be something they will grow out of — like the old “baby fat” trope.

The thing is, in far too many cases, there is no outgrowing it. A fat baby predicts a fat child, and to a much greater extent, a fat child predicts a fat adult. This is everybody’s obesity epidemic.

The idea that the hot season can be harmful is not a new one. Quite some time ago, Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website asked a poll question: “Do you tend to gain weight or lose weight during the summer?”

Well over half — 58% — of the kids who responded said they gained weight. Boredom was mentioned as a factor. Also years ago, Dr. Paul von Hippel determined that children gain weight three times faster during summer vacation.

As Childhood Obesity News has mentioned, the recommendation made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regarding the amount of physical activity kids should partake in, amounts to an hour a day of exercise. This doesn’t mean just walking, either. To make a difference, it should be the kind of exercise that gets the heart pumping and causes the person to almost feel out of breath.

For, Mark Huffman notes that it doesn’t need to be a consecutive hour, but can be done in bits and pieces. He reviews the American Heart Association’s guidelines, which include limiting children’s screen time to two hours per day. This presumably includes all kinds of electronic viewing, from watching cartoons to playing video games. He quotes two other recommendations:

Introduce new games to a group of children. When kids learn the rules of a game at the same time as their peers, they’re more confident and are more likely to participate.

Keep it fresh. Don’t get stuck in a workout rut. Try and incorporate a new exercise or game every few weeks to keep kids motivated.

It seems obvious that there should be more summer programs in parks, more camps, more sports to keep kids active, because such activities improve not only their physical health but their cognitive abilities. As always the question is, who pays?

Experts also hope that parents will do their part by stocking up on vegetables and fruits, and keeping homes free of junk food. One of the most important tips heard from many sources is the recommendation to push water, especially as a substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity-related behaviors increase when school’s out,”, 07/14/15
Source: “Summer has become a season when kids pack on the pounds,”, 07/21/15
Photo credit: David Robert Bliwas via Visualhunt/CC BY

Food Junkies, a Book

When Food Junkies was published, it was reviewed by Dr. Arya Sharma, who founded the more than 10,000-member Canadian Obesity Network. At the University of Alberta, he is Professor of Medicine and holds the Obesity Research and Management chair. The book’s author is Vera Tarman, M.D., a self-identified food addict whose practice specializes in addiction.

The first thing to know about Dr. Tarman’s worldview is that she divides people into three categories: normal eaters; people with eating disorders; and food junkies. Normal eaters may have their bad habits and their bad days, but they are capable — through education, coaching, and practice — of pulling themselves into the safety zone.

Eating disorders are driven by emotion, and might be as extreme as binging. By handling their psychological difficulties, for instance, via cognitive behavioral therapy, people can abolish their disordered eating patterns. Then in the third category, there is such a thing as addiction to certain foods that people get strung out on just like drugs:

[…] with the same clinical signs that range from denial and loss of control, to physical symptoms on “withdrawal” and relapse that can be prompted by minimal exposure, even years after being “clean” or “sober.”

The bad news for these folks is that the condition is permanent, with the only answer being complete and perpetual abstinence from the problem foods, preferably under the auspices of a 12-step program. Dr. Sharma’s summation is full of quote marks but the meaning is clear:

For the true “food addict”, no amount of education, psychological counseling or attempt at “moderation” will ever lead to success. Any attempt to get the “food addict” to learn how to “use” their “drug” in moderation will be as futile as trying to get a drug addict to learn how to use alcohol or heroin (or any other drug) in moderation (the vast majority will fail).

More than likely, a person’s trigger foods or problem foods will contain sugar, flour, fat, or salt, or a combination of those ingredients, or even a grand slam of all of them.

Dr. Sharma calls Food Junkies a “compelling treatise in support of the existence of a discrete and definable subset of obese (and non-obese) individuals who may well be considered ‘food addicts’.” The book contains case histories of the co-authors and various patients who succeeded in eliminating the dangerous problem foods from their lives.

The review was followed up by a guest post in which Dr. Tarman addressed several topics. These are her thoughts on engineered, processed hedonic food:

The food industry has created foodstuffs that provide an highly efficient delivery system to our brain’s reward center. This manipulation gives us a copious amount of delight immediately: the quick fix… Our primal brain which is accustomed to moderate pleasure is overwhelmed with the euphoric bliss of highly palatable foods. Willpower sags under the strain.

Like Dr. Pretlow and many others, Dr. Tarman sees that the addict can’t learn moderation, because any amount of a problem food can trigger aberrant behavior. Still, as Dr. Pretlow will be the first to remind readers, successful weight loss might not immediately show up as a result of quitting the specific problem foods.

However, the quitting itself does work. Dr. Pretlow says:

In our three studies involving 127 young people, nearly all were able to successfully withdraw from at least one problem food, and the majority were able to withdraw from all of their problem foods.

There is also the confidence factor. Success in one area is a predictor for success in other areas, and this is especially true of the young, who don’t have a huge backlog of life experience to compare anything to. Also, we too often forget that influence does not always lead to immediate behavioral change. Sometimes it takes a while for ideas to sink in, and emotional states to stabilize. A 10-year-old might master the skill of quitting the problem foods, and remain content with that accomplishment for years, and only later decide to really get in shape.

While not implying that Dr. Tarman specifically endorsed W8Loss2Go, she did write:

A food addiction treatment plan may also include ample amounts of food so that the person does not over/under eat. To this end, it may even be necessary to weigh and measure foods. This is not about calorie counting or food restriction, it is about keeping the food addict safe by controlling the amount and type of food choices. The result of such a plan is not deprivation. It has given many a new freedom from the compulsion to compulsively overeat that some of us have lived with for too many years.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Does Food Addiction Require Abstinence?,”, February 2015
Source: “Guest Post: Food Abstinence for Food Addicts: Deprivation or a New Freedom?,”, February 2015
Photo credit: beketchai via Visual Hunt/CC BY-ND

Taste Receptors Are Everywhere

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at enteroendocrinc cells (EECs) and what they do. These random phrases come from a study of EECs and their potential to be utilized in treating obesity:

[…] the microbiome and its products directly influence differentiation and function of EECs…

[…] prebiotics change the gut microbiota composition […] and thereby increase the integrity of the gut barrier and prevent bacterial metabolites from crossing the barrier, entering the circulation, and promoting systemic inflammation…

[…] changing the quality of nutritional intake is accompanied by a modulation of the gut microbiota, which in turn probably affects EECs…

Learning about gut peptides or hormones can lead to surprises. For instance, taste receptors (bitter, sweet, etc.) exist not only in the mouth, but also in the intestinal tract, and exert influence over what the neurotransmitters and neuromodulators do throughout the body.

Why does the stomach have taste receptors? For, Esther Inglis-Arkell writes:

Bitter-flavored compounds have an effect on us as they are digested. The effect takes about a half hour, and it kicks in only after a decent meal, but eventually the bitter flavor causes the stomach to stop emptying, making us feel fuller longer.

Researchers have developed a theory about this. Since bitterness could be a sign of toxicity, which might overwhelm the body’s defenses if released all at once, the stomach retains these contents longer so the other organs have a chance to handle the possible threat in an orderly manner.

The taste receptors in the mouth are connected with the conscious mind, for the pleasure of eating, of course, but also to warn us about things that we should make the decision immediately to spit out. As the other half of an elegant two-part expulsion system, there are also taste receptors deep in the colon, over which we have no conscious control. But if it detects too much bitterness, the colon “triggers a release of ions, which in turn causes water to pour into the gut via osmosis, and the body experiences diarrhea.”

The main thing to know about the interior taste receptors is that in obese people, they are somehow out of whack. For example:

Altered expression of taste molecules, including increased expression of gustatory signaling elements and a decrease in T1R3, the sweet-umami receptor, has also been reported in the gastric mucosa of morbidly obese patients compared to controls.

The point here is, chances are good that members of the gut microbiome are capable of either enhancing or impeding the efforts of EECs to do the right thing. If the bugs can help prevent or reverse obesity, their help needs to be enlisted.

As these study authors express it:

The identification of sensory receptors detecting changes in luminal contents in diet-induced weight increase represents an important step toward the elucidation of the molecular events underlying intraluminal chemosensing and ultimately the discovery of new therapeutic approaches for obesity.

The other point is, when faced with the challenge to rewire eating habits, there is no better tool than W8Loss2Go.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Regulation of Appetite, Satiation, and Body Weight by Enteroendocrine Cell,”, February 2015
Source: “You Have Taste Receptors in Your Colon. Here’s Why,”, 08/18/15
Source: “Expression of the Bitter Taste Receptor, T2R38, in Enteroendocrine Cells of the Colonic Mucosa of Overweight/Obese vs. Lean Subjects,”, 02/11/16
Photo credit: Pierre Vignau via BY

EECs, Prebiotics and Hormones

The gut, now acknowledged as the body’s largest endocrine organ, produces over 30 different hormones. Here is a nice description:

The enteroendocrine system orchestrates how the body responds to the ingestion of foods, employing a diversity of hormones to fine-tune a wide range of physiological responses both within and outside the gut. Recent interest in gut hormones has surged with the realization that they modulate glucose tolerance and food intake through a variety of mechanisms, and such hormones are therefore excellent therapeutic candidates for the treatment of diabetes and obesity.

The website of Karger Medical and Scientific Publishers contains a section specializing in pediatric hormone research. There are strong indications that both obesity and type 2 diabetes are affected when the gut microbiome is tweaked. The ingestion of prebiotics can improve states of inflammation, metabolic endotoxaemia, and gut barrier function.

Performance nutritionist Danny Lennon of Sigma Nutrition Radio is a fan of prebiotic fibers, because they increase the numbers of L cells, one of the enteroendocrine cell (EEC)  types. Prebiotic fibers occur in leeks, garlic, onions, blueberries, apples, and many other foods.

Lennon is also in favor of foods that are highly colored by nature, because they promote the growth of bifidobacteria (the kind essential for babies to get from their mothers). When chewed up and partially digested food comes through the GI tract, the mucosa of the intestine acts like a sensory organ thanks to the EECs, which then send messages telling the rest of the body what it’s dealing with.

Many mysteries are yet to be revealed. For instance, science knows a fair amount about what EECs are doing in the upper gastrointestinal tract, but their activities in the lower gut are not so discoverable. Comprising less than one percent of the epithelial cells, they live widely separated from each other.

EECs sense “mechanical distension” and track how desperately full the bowel is. One of their sub-categories are enterochromaffin cells, which used to be credited with making all the body’s serotonin.

Then, new research led to new theories:

Microbes can activate EECs to secrete, for example, serotonin and thereby stimulate enteric nerves and regulate GI motility and secretion. There is evidence that the EEC metabolism is controlled by the microbiome.

Serotonin affects the appetite — here we are, back at obesity again — and it is also a psychobiotic, meaning it affects the mind. The American Psychological Association assures us that 95% of the body’s serotonin is manufactured by its gut bacteria. The chemical of happiness and balance and anxiety reduction is made — along with feces — in the intestines.

The very optimistic “Conclusion” section of the Karger report says:

Recent advances in our knowledge regarding the food-sensing skills of EECs and the interaction with different macronutrients or diets and the gut microbiota may lead to new therapeutic approaches, starting with dietary modifications and prebiotics as a considerable strategy to prevent and treat metabolic diseases.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Enteroendocrine Cells: Chemosensors in the Intestinal Epithelium,”, February 2016
Source: “Regulation of Appetite, Satiation, and Body Weight by Enteroendocrine Cell,”, February 2015
Source: “Episode 31 with Mike Mutzel,”, October 2014
Source: “Classification and functions of enteroendocrine cells of the lower gastrointestinal tract,”, August 2011
Source: “The gut microbiome: how does it affect our health?,” MedicalNewsToday, 03/11/15
Photo via Visual Hunt

Motivation and Pokemon GO

How many times has Childhood Obesity News discussed motivation? Yesterday we looked at the pros and the cons of a new motivator that has appeared on the cultural scene and that seems to exert nearly universal appeal. Pokemon GO only came to public awareness less than a month ago, and already it has been incorporated into an app that keeps track of kids’ physical activity with the aim of clocking an hour of exercise per day.

This is where things start to get fuzzy. The hour-per-day recommendation made for kids by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention references the kind of exercise that keeps a person nearly out of breath. They’re talking about aerobic activity, like running and jumping rope, and muscle-strengthening activity, like pushups.

This is probably not the level of activity that Pokemon Go inspires. Still, it is undeniable that some exercise is better than none.

According to the people interviewed by journalist Chris Weller, the game “creates an incredibly strong desire for you to seek rewards.” Prof. Ian Kellar said it employs techniques that are…

[…] successful in convincing people to change their habits… [T]he game is leveraging 3 out of the 4 most well-evidenced behavior change techniques in this context.

The mechanism here is artificially implanted motivation, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In the broadest sense, that is what the entire education system aspires to. In theory, anyway, we aim to expose kids to many different areas of human knowledge and endeavor, in hopes that they will be drawn toward actions that will both satisfy them and benefit society. Ideally, that is how it’s supposed to work, and Pokemon GO seems to be working that way.

On the other hand, motivation can spring from the dark side. What if a person is motivated to do something destructive to self or others, like start a habit that could become more like an addiction, which video games have been known to do?

As Weller mentions, the game is said to have an attraction “so powerful that people forget they’re making themselves tired.” Could Pokemon GO, Ingress, and other games that encourage wandering around at night, become just another problem for society to solve?

The M word

Wisconsin reporter Andrew Dawson obtained quotations from people in two different demographics:

I want to be the very best like no one ever was. You got to catch them all. — C.J. Mulnix, age 21

I did it to vex my children, who sometimes think that they are only ones on the cutting edge. — Maria Bisceglia, age not given

Chris Weller interviewed Jane McGonigal, director of R&D in the games sector at the Institute for the Future, whose bio lists a remarkable number of accomplishments for such a young person. She mentions the dopamine rush that can be obtained from achieving each incremental win that the game offers. That is what makes a person goal-oriented, which is pretty much the same as motivated.

Motivation is similar in many ways to addiction, and there is no point in kidding ourselves about it. A great deal of progress can be made by helping people segue from harmful addictions to beneficent ones. McGonigal says:

Pokemon GO may gamify exercise, but it never makes exercise the priority. The game is always the hero. Less successful games fail to motivate people because users know they’re supposed to be getting “tricked” into enjoying exercise. Pokemon GO comes at it from the opposite angle. People don’t have to want to exercise; they just have to want to play this game.

The TechInsider page also offers a 3:16 video demonstration that doesn’t really go far toward explaining how this works in the real world. But more than likely, everybody already knows.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How much physical activity do children need?,”, undated
Source: “‘Pokemon GO’ may have gotten kids more active in a week than the White House has in years,”, 07/13/16
Source: “Imaginary Pokemon causing some real world issues,”, 07/13/16
Photo credit: David Woo via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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