Incomparable Obesity Villains – Soda Pop, Pizza and Potato Snacks

A Chip Butty

Analysis of data provided to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) by thousands of American children and teenagers revealed that on any given day, 22% of them eat pizza. Difficult as it may be to believe, this is actually an improvement over earlier reports, according to Lisa M. Powell, a health policy researcher from the University of Illinois, and her colleagues.

Kids from middle-income and high-income families have slacked off a bit on the pizza consumption. Also, the young are eating less pizza for dinner, although the breakfast, lunch, and snack amounts have apparently not diminished by much. This particular research team accused pizza of being an obesity villain equal to sugary drinks, which makes pizza a very sizable villain. The report says:

On days when children eat pizza, they consume an average of 408 additional calories, three additional grams of fat and 134 additional milligrams of salt compared with their regular diet. For teens, putting pizza on the day’s menu adds 624 calories, five grams of fat and 484 milligrams of salt.

Chips, Crisps, and Fries

Evidence against fried snacks continues to pile up—as if there were ever any doubt. Young people who responded to a poll at Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website voted for potato chips as the worst, most seductive and addictive problem food. Like their softer cousins the French fries, chips (“crisps” in the United Kingdom) turn bland potatoes into delicious grease delivery systems.

Crisps are one reason why, as Lizzie Parry phrased it for The Daily Mail, “British girls under 20 are the fattest in Europe.” She told the story of Brooke Clarke, who at age 10 was so big she was forced to wear her mother’s size 14 clothing. Apparently, the 5’1” Brooke was overweight by two stone, or 28 pounds. Granted, that is nowhere close to the ideal for a 10-year-old, but in the world sweepstakes of massively obese children, 28 extra pounds are far from impressive.

As so often happens, there was a complication—asthma, which left Brooke dependent on her inhaler. The short walk to school left her out of breath. The reason this even became a story is that the young girl eventually lost the extra weight. Parry describes her former condition:

At her peak, Brooke ate three to four packets of crisps a day, washed down with two liters of Coke…At her heaviest, Brooke was consuming almost double her daily recommended amount of calories and three times the amount of sugar…

Two liters is an awful lot of sugar-sweetened beverage to be consuming in one day, especially for someone who mainly sits around watching TV. Nowadays, there is more physical activity by Brooke, with her little brother and her mum, in the form of bike rides or swimming. The interesting part is, by cutting out the fried snacks and the fizzy drinks, Brooke dropped the extra weight in just three months.

Brooke’s mother told the press that losing the weight saved her daughter’s life. That is wonderful, but why did it take so long? Had she really never heard before that being overweight is not healthful, or that fizzy drinks cause obesity? Was this really momentous news? Probably not. The turning point here was a warning from the school nurse that Brooke was “very overweight.” Which at least goes to show that parents are not universally resentful of this intervention.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Experts zero in on pizza as prime target in war on childhood obesity
LATimes.com, 01/19/15
Source: “10 stone at 10 years old
DailyMail.co.uk, 07/27/15
Image by Smabs Sputzer

 

Women, PTSD, and Obesity

banksy - peaceful hearts doctor - 4

Yesterday, while looking at the relationship between children, stress, and obesity, Childhood Obesity News referenced a study that also had something to say about women and the aftermath of childhood stress. This study, financed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, set out to pinpoint the lifelong consequences that stress often has on obesity. It was a collaboration between professors Hui Liu of Michigan State University and Debra Umberson of the University of Texas.

They worked with information gleaned from a survey called Americans’ Changing Lives, which included 2,259 female subjects and 1,358 males. One thing they learned was that women who experienced a great deal of stress as children tend to gain weight more rapidly than women whose younger years were relatively stress-free. Furthermore, the prior existence of stress in childhood is more of an obesity villain for women than whatever current, grown-up varieties of stress they might be coping with.

But the big reveal was how different the outcome is for women and men. It seems that men don’t really put on weight because of stress, either the childhood kind or the adult variety. According to at least this particular study, men do not respond to stress by compulsively overeating, an assertion that is bound to be controversial.

The PTSD Angle

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder engenders such symptoms as numbness, avoidance of social situations, the feeling of being threatened, and the re-experiencing of the event that traumatized the person. In 2013, five researchers from several institutions collaborated on what was said to be the “first study to look at the relationship between PTSD and obesity over time.”

The raw data for the study came from 50,504 women, which seems like it should be a large enough sample to produce meaningful answers. But the subjects were all between the ages of 22 and 44, and they were all nurses. This might skew the results because, as one of the study authors suggested, nurses are more health-conscious and therefore probably less prone to obesity. It was also suggested that this might make the results come in on the conservative side. The report says:

Normal-weight women who developed PTSD during the study period had 36% increased odds of becoming overweight or obese compared with women who experienced trauma but had no symptoms of PTSD. The higher risk was evident even for women with sub-threshold symptoms levels and remained after adjusting for depression, which has also been proposed as a major risk factor for obesity.

According to the study authors, women are twice as apt to experience PTSD as men, because they are “more likely to experience extreme traumatic events like rape that carry a high risk for the disorder.” Given the enormous number of male military personnel who are known to suffer from PTSD, this is hard to reconcile.

At any rate, it is said that one out of nine women experiences PTSD at some point, but in the United States, only half of those women receive treatment. The researchers found that women affected by PTSD are more likely than their non-PTSD counterparts to be obese and to gain weight rapidly. The mechanism is, at this point, not known. It is thought that over-activation of stress hormones might be the initiating stimulus. The report describes two of the guesses:

PTSD may lead to disturbances in functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system, each of which are involved in regulating a broad range of body processes, including metabolism. Another is through unhealthy behavior patterns that may be used to cope with stress.

At any rate, the authors emphasize that PTSD is not just a mental health issue. Its physical consequences can include diabetes, cardiovascular disease and now, obesity. The silver lining of this cloud is that the risk of being overweight drops significantly when the PTSD symptoms go away.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood stress fuels weight gain in women,” eurekalert.org, 07/07/15
Source: “PTSD raises risk for obesity in women,” eurekalert.org, 11/20/13
Image by Eva Blue

Children, Stress, and Obesity

Baby Bump Photo Shoot

Childhood Obesity News has been exploring factors suspected of contributing to the obesity epidemic, including low income, a virus, a medical history that includes childhood cancer, odors, distraction, and too much variety.

A recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition started by choosing what seem to be the most harmful circumstances in early life. Heather Johnson reports:

The researchers identified five risk factors: maternal obesity, excess gestational weight gain, smoking during pregnancy, low maternal vitamin D status, and short duration of breastfeeding (less than one month).

Of the total child participants, only 148 (15 percent) had no early-life risk factors for childhood obesity while 330 (33 percent) had one risk factor, 296 (30 percent) had two, 160 (16 percent) had three, and 57 (6 percent) had four or five.

More than half of the kids in the study had four or five of the designated risk factors. Let that sink in. And only 15% had none.

This University of Southampton research revealed something very counterintuitive. A person might think that if a kid can get through early childhood maintaining a normal weight, the danger is over, or at least greatly diminished. But according to this study, the opposite is true. The researchers…

…assessed the children at age 4 and found that children with four or five early-life risk factors had a 19 percent higher fat mass and were 3.99 times more likely to be overweight or obese than children with no risk factors. Then at age 6, the children four or five early-life risk factors had a 47 percent higher fat mass and were 4.65 times more likely to be overweight or obese than children with no risk factors.

In other words, given that those early risk factors were present, elapsed time is no buffer. The further away from babyhood, the greater the odds are that obesity will eventually develop, and that is reason for concern. The good news is, every one of the risk factors can be reduced or removed. The bad news is, everything depends on the mother, who might already be overburdened or worse. It’s all well and good to talk about how intervention needs to start before conception, but the logistics are daunting, and reality will have to work hard to catch up.

So many things can go wrong before birth, and then, there is childhood to get through. A lot of time and talent are expended on trying to discover how to improve children’s lives, and the results depend on enormous amounts of data mining and number crunching. When researchers running a Michigan State University study wanted to track how stressful childhood events can lead to physical manifestations years later, the researchers got their statistics from a national survey that collected data on 3,617 people, four times over 15 years.

For the purposes of that study, childhood was reckoned to end at age 17, and anything after counted as “adult stress.” For children, whose worlds are necessarily smaller, the stressors mainly stemmed from family matters—poverty, divorce, an unknown father, a mentally ill parent, and so on. Stress has long been recognized as an obesity villain through simple observation. For instance, a German word that has been around for ages is “kummerspeck,” literally translated as grief bacon, referring to the fat accrued by emotional overeating. The hope for the future is that the connection between stressful events and obesity (and the additional stress caused by obesity, which leads into a classic vicious circle) can be broken.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Combination of Early-Life Risk Factors Could Quadruple the Risk of Childhood Obesity,” Business2Community.com, 02/04/15
Source: “Childhood stress fuels weight gain in women,” eurekalert.org, 07/07/15
Image by David Leo Veksler

Pessimism and Loneliness as Obesity Villains

Bronze Early Human

Billi Gordon Ph.D., popularizer of neuroscience, is acutely aware of the problems holidays, as well the rest of the year, can bring to compulsive overeaters and addicts of every kind. Even in a crowd, loneliness can attack. Sometimes, it comes from missing a particular person, but there are probably a hundred circumstances that can trigger the perception of isolation.

We have heard a lot about the reptilian brain that still lives in all of us, taking care of basic functions like respiration, heart rate, balance, and body temperature. Gordon explains that evolutionary mechanisms are also buried deep in the “old mammal brain,” particularly in an area known as the Ventral Tegmantal Area, or VTA, which “monitors the satisfaction of our vital needs such as breeding, social bonding and feeding.”

The Gullible and Trigger-Happy VTA

Apparently the VTA is easily fooled, which is understandable, because it is not equipped to cope with the unrelenting bombardment of stimuli served up by modern life. Why is the perception of isolation so upsetting? Because separation from the group equals vulnerability and potentially death: there’s nobody to mate with; no mammoth-hunting companions; nobody to watch your back when enemies come over the hill. Even without the presence of a subjective threat, isolation “reads” as crisis.

Loneliness may not even be “real” in the conventional sense. It could just as easily be a misperception, the kind that a little bit of therapy could banish. But the old mammal brain doesn’t know the difference. All it knows is, there is pain, and unfortunately, pain warps the perception even more. The conviction of isolation feels bad and makes a person want some dopamine, and substance abusers, including food addicts, know how to get it—from their substance of choice. Gordon says:

…The key is to remember, unless you are alone in lunar space tracking station, isolation is most often a correctable perception. The key to removing unhealthy habits is removing the reasons you have them.

We have seen that when the favored team loses a sporting event, its supporters look for solace in fats and junk food. When their team wins, they give themselves a break and load up on grub that is, if not impressively healthful, at least not quite as bad as the choices made by the losing team’s fanbase.

It has long been recognized that people who feel bad will eat comfort food, but University of Delaware associate professor Meryl Gardner and three co-authors from various institutions wanted to gain a deeper understanding of why that was so. Figuring out what lies behind preferences for different types and qualities of food might take them halfway there. Journalist Kathryn Meier reports:

To get at the “why,” the researchers married the theories of affective regulation (how people react to their moods and emotions) and temporal construal (the perspective of time) to explain food choice.

Those concepts are gone into in much greater detail in Meier’s piece. It would be advantageous if people could make better food choices, regardless of their emotional states. Why, exactly, does a person in a good mood choose raisins, while a person in a bad mood chooses chocolate?

It seems that stress eating might involve more than simple emotion. A person’s degree of optimism or pessimism probably affects his or her eating habits. In a positive mood, Gardner suggests, a person might be thinking about the future, in a more abstract frame of mind that would allow for caution and moderation. Maybe instead of that happening randomly, intentionality can make a difference. Before ordering a pizza, a deliberate reminder of how that will affect one’s weight loss goals could inspire a change of plan. Gardner is quoted:

If people in a bad mood typically choose to eat foods that have an immediate, indulgent reward, it might be more effective to encourage what we call mood repair motivation, or calling their attention to more innocuous ways to enhance their mood. Instead of looking at nutrition and warning labels, try talking to friends or listening to music.

Of course, a lot would depend on the friends. If they are wizards of fatlogic, never mind.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Truth about Loneliness.” PsychologyToday.com, 12/29/14
Source: “_Foods and moods.” udel.edu, 02/12/14
Image by mrgarethm

Is Ghrelin an Obesity Villain?

Fat Pigs

Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” reminds us to eat, in case we forget. It’s like the warning light on a car’s dashboard that tells you to add oil before the engine seizes up. Face-to-face with an opossum, “yum yum” would not be a person’s first thought. It took the survival-stimulating chemical ghrelin to make the connection between obtaining nourishment and continuing to exist.

In the old days, getting food was a lot of work. You had to locate an animal, outsmart or outrun it, kill it, build a fire to cook it with, pull the charred skin off, and so on. Frankly, it would be easier to just lie down and die. Without the nagging discomfort and then actual pain of hunger, early hominids might have decided to do just that, and we wouldn’t be here talking about it.

Ghrelin must have inspired innovation, the desire to try unknown plants to see if they could be eaten, and experimentation with ways of preparing various plants and animals to render them edible. Without ghrelin, many individuals would not have survived, and maybe our whole species would have gone belly-up. How could anyone be so rude as to call it a villain?

What Does Ghrelin Do?

If you want to make a lab mouse fat on purpose, its ghrelin signals and receptors had better be in good working order. When a lab mouse has too much ghrelin, its food preference changes. It doesn’t just want a supersize helping of everyday rat chow, it wants fatty foods with more taste value. Too much ghrelin flips the switch from “eating to live” to “living to eat.”

In humans, chronic psychosocial stress is associated with higher ghrelin production. Prof. Lisa Jaremka and colleagues gathered 42 married couples for a study of the relation between family arguments and overeating. The report says:

Hostile couples had significantly higher amounts of the appetite-triggering hormone after arguments if they were at a healthy weight or in the overweight category, while those who were obese—with BMI 30 or higher—showed no significant difference.

Despite ghrelin’s occasional tendency to make us overeat, nobody would suggest trying to eliminate it from our internal chemical factories. But it would be very useful to know how to keep it within bounds and under control. A Childhood Obesity News post characterized ghrelin as weird because it seems to operate in the realm of psychosomatic overlap, where the placebo effect takes place. A Yale study fed participants 380-calorie milkshakes, but told some of them they had taken in only 140 calories, and told others they had consumed 620 calories, and guess what? The subjects who believed they got more calories actually had lower levels of ghrelin, as would happen if they had truly consumed more calories.

Prader-Willi syndrome is a rare genetically caused disorder in which a chronic overproduction of ghrelin makes the person feel hungry all the time. Because of the condition’s other effects, a newborn will probably have difficulty in feeding. But as childhood progresses, the constant hunger usually leads straight to obesity and a high risk of diabetes.

Recently, a team at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles hypothesized that some adults who don’t have Prader-Willi syndrome act like they do have it, because their ghrelin-producing mechanism was somehow damaged in infancy. Experiments with baby lab animals revealed that metabolic dysfunctions can be caused by having either too little or too much ghrelin, so balance is the key. How can balance be achieved? Chris Weller writes:

There are several ways parents can help give their kids a head start in maintaining healthy ghrelin levels, and much of the advice applies not just to developing infants, but to the general public. They can start by putting their infants to bed as often as necessary and not skimping on naptime. One 2008 study showed one night of sleep deprivation raised people’s ghrelin levels. Another way is to keep a healthier diet. High-fat foods have been shown to keep ghrelin levels low for a far shorter time than carbohydrate- or protein-based meals.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Discomfort Food,” udel.edu, 08/14/1
Source: “Ghrelin Hunger Hormone Poses Obesity Risk For Life When Imbalanced In Infants,” MedicalDaily,com, 01/20/15
Image by Stinging Eyes

 

More Obesity Villain Suspects—Adenovirus and a Cancer History

 

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

The adenovirus AD-36, which has long been known to cause respiratory and eye infections in humans, more recently was shown to cause obesity in various lab animals—chickens, monkeys, rats, and mice. Whether it also has this effect on humans is a controversial open question, with many studies pointing to both confirmation and refutation. A Mayo Clinic study found the virus in 30% of obese humans and only 11% of non-obese humans.

Another study, from the University of California at San Diego, was reported in Pediatrics in 2010. This one couched its findings in more alarming terms, concluding that children with the virus weighed on average 52 pounds more than their virus-free peers. Even among obese children there seems to be a difference, with virus-affected obese kids weighing 35 pounds more than children in whom no trace of AD-36 was found. On the bright side, so far it looks like this is the only human adenovirus linked with obesity.

Just a few months ago, the National Institutes of Health published on overview of everything that is currently known on the topic of AD-36 infection as a possible cofactor that abets the development of obesity. As always, the authors include the disclaimer that obesity is “a multifactorial disease caused by the interaction between genetics, metabolism, social, cultural and environmental factors” as well as disease processes.

The relationship appears to be a two-way street, because “excessive adipose tissue,” also known as fat, is itself a predisposing factor for many infections. Conversely, adenoviruses appear able to directly influence adipose tissue. The physiological changes include not only increased body weight, but also increased glucose absorption and a decrease in the secretion of leptin and cholesterol. This carries implications for, among other things, diabetes management. The authors say:

Studying the favorable effect of Adv36 on metabolic consequences of obesity may provide insight to novel treatments that improve glycemic control despite adiposity. Identifying the viral protein responsible for influencing glucose disposal may help in developing novel anti-diabetic therapeutic agents.

On another front, it seems that surviving childhood cancer is a mixed blessing, with a downside marked by a 14% increased likelihood of obesity as compared to children who never suffered from cancer.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital looked at the records of 1,996 childhood cancer survivors who had subsequently lived for 25 years without a recurrence. At the time of the study, their average age was 32. Obesity is not the only potential problem, says corresponding author Kirsten Ness, Ph.D., because “Childhood cancer survivors are known to be prone to developing chronic disease.”

As might be expected, kids who were already obese when cancer hit had even worse statistics. Those survivors turned out about five times as likely to be obese in adulthood. Brain irradiation, a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and brain tumors, increased the risk dramatically, and this proclivity is suspected of originating in genetic variations.

47 percent of survivors who received brain irradiation as part of their treatment were obese, compared to 29.4 percent of survivors who received other therapies… In this study, 43 percent of the ALL survivors were obese, which is higher than the 19 to 32 percent reported in previous research.

St. Jude researchers see the importance of incorporating a weight management component into the overall pediatric oncology protocols. It seems that this particularly at-risk demographic could benefit from the features of the W8Loss2Go smartphone application.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Children Exposed to Virus Weigh 52 pounds More, Obesity Researchers Find,” Bloomberg.com, 09/19/10
Source: “Adenovirus 36 and Obesity: An Overview,” NIH.gov, 07/08/15
Source: “Childhood Cancer Treatment and Age Influence Obesity Risk for Childhood Cancer Survivors,” Newswise.com, 05/11/15
Image by David Cesarino de Sousa

Proposed Obesity Villains: Low Income, Team Sports

Superbowl XLII

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at possible contributing factors in the childhood obesity epidemic. Back in 2012, Rice University researchers looked at 17,000 kids from 4,700 American neighborhoods, and deduced from studying those 5-year-olds that growing up in a low-income area is an obesity risk. Nicole Etolen reports:

They found that children living in poorer areas had about a 28% higher chance of developing childhood obesity than their counterparts in wealthy neighborhoods. Even children living in middle-income neighborhoods were at a 17% increased risk than those in the more affluent communities.

Last year, word came from Canada that feeling unsafe is another component that goes along with an impoverished childhood, and together they are tightly aligned with weight issues. Researchers from the University of Montreal and the Sainte Justine Research Center interviewed more than a thousand secondary school kids about bullying of the verbal, social and physical varieties, along with their perceptions of victimhood and their feelings of safety.

Chronic poverty correlates with being overweight, despite the fact that economically disadvantaged kids get more exercise (probably because many low-income families don’t own cars). Perhaps surprisingly, boys feel more unsafe at school than girls, and experience more fear of victimization. When the poverty begins early, feelings of being endangered and vulnerable will spring up, even without actual bullying.

What does it take to increase the perception of safety at school? A neighborhood replete with trees and other plant life, and a reduction of disorder (which could mean a lot of different things, not all of them desirable). Also considered helpful are good relationships with teachers, and a general climate of respect and appreciation within the school environment.

Did Your Team Lose? You’ll Eat More

A French business school looked into the post-game dietary habits of American fans of National Football League teams, and found that…

…backers of NFL teams eat more food and fattier food the day after a loss. Backers of winning teams, by contrast, eat lighter food, and in moderation. After a defeat, the researchers found that saturated fat consumption went up by 16 percent, while after a victory it decreased by 9 percent…Overall calorie consumption went up by 10 percent after losses, and down by 5 percent after wins.

Prof. Pierre Chandon told the press that the binge reaction was even more noticeable in cities where football is something like a religion. Sports enthusiasts in places like Pittsburgh and Green Bay will consume 28% more saturated fat after their teams lose—while winning inspires them to take in 16% less saturated fat.

The really interesting part is, the wound does not even have to be fresh. When the researchers asked people to recall catastrophic team losses from the past, they gobbled up more saturated fat than ever. On the other hand, reporter Shankar Vedantam wrote:

Winning seems to make people think long-term—they look forward to the next match, for example. The satisfaction of winning increases the capacity of people to withstand difficult choices—to pick the salad over the fries.

And by the way, the French react in the same way to the fortunes of their soccer teams.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Impact of Income on Childhood Obesity,” OurFamilyWorld.com, 11/20/12
Source: “Feeling Unsafe at School, Poverty Tied to Childhood Obesity,”
PsychCentral.com, 05/04/15
Source: “Diet of Defeat: Why Football Fans mourn With High-Fat Food,” NPR.org, 09/23/13
Image by rick

Proposed Obesity Villains – Distraction, Variety, and Odors

chilli hot chocolateChildhood Obesity News mentioned one pioneering study on distraction as it affects appetite. The University of Liverpool study that we discuss today is a different kind, a meta-study that curated and collated the results of more than 20 previous studies. As expected, it showed that people who eat when their attention is distracted do not appreciate the experience as much, and definitely don’t keep track of how much they consume. (This is especially true in the evening hours.)

The scariest finding was that distraction can lead a person to eat as much as 50% more than she or he otherwise would have. That means one and a half times as much. To consume 1,500 rather than 1,000 calories can make a significant difference to the personal “bottom line.” Kathleen Raven of Reuters says:

[Lead author Eric] Robinson and his colleagues…found 24 studies conducted between 1997 and 2011 that met their main criterion…All of the studies were tightly controlled and monitored, but each had different methods of manipulating participants’ attention and awareness…Robinson said these findings could be used, for instance, toward developing a mobile-phone “app” that prompts people to eat with more attention and awareness.

Of the 24 studies Robinson and his team looked at, 18 drew their data from college students. Consequently, the weakness in this research is that most of the subjects were normal-weight people barely out of their teens. Weight-loss programs based on behavioral therapy have included “practices similar to attentive eating” for many years, but if the present landscape is any indication, mindfulness may not be helping much.

On the other hand, humans are influenced by many factors that don’t even rise to the level of being noticed by the conscious mind, and subtleties are ignored at a price. Deborah Cohen, M.D. believes that one of these easily-discounted factors is the explosion of variety that assaults us in every commercial establishment. As a senior natural scientist at RAND Corporation, the public policy research center, she published A Big Fat Crisis—The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic—and How We Can End It.

No one needs—to use one of the author’s examples—36 flavors of toaster breakfast treats. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of evolution is that humans want more than just what they need. To help this process along, clever advertising copy writers convince people that infinite variety is what they need, deserve, are entitled to, and must demand on all occasions.

Tremendous stress is placed upon consumers. In the old days, the ice cream choices would be chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and maybe something really exotic like orange sherbet. Making a choice was relatively simple. Now, a person can easily justify picking up half a dozen different flavored pints. Once you’ve chosen two, it’s just as easy to add a few more, especially if there is a multiple-item discount. Besides, despite their alluring novelty, one or two of them might turn out to be duds. Book reviewer Susannah Cahalan says:

Even when people are offered different-looking shaped foods, they often eat more. In one study, people were offered the same pasta dish but with different types of pasta—spaghetti, macaroni and bow tie. Those who were offered all three shapes (again, same flavors), ate 14% more than those who did not.

Impulse is the enemy of disciplined eating, which is unfortunate because some food odors invade our neurological circuitry and activate the impulse centers in our brains. This disorder has been observed by a team at the Hospital Infantil de Mexico in a very small study involving 30 kids between 6 and 10 years of age. Half had BMIs in the normal range, and half were clinically obese. The report says:

The chocolate smell elicited significant brain connections in obese children, compared to the normal-weight children…The results showed that in the obese children, the food odors triggered activation in the areas of the brain associated with impulse and the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder while the areas associated with impulse control exhibited no activity….

A brain whose impulse control areas show no activity is a brain that will not cooperate willingly with efforts to achieve a healthy weight. Again, it may be a minor and subtle factor, but it seems that the obesity epidemic may be exacerbated by quite a few of those.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Distracted eaters likely to take in more calories
Reuters.com, 03/15/13
Source: “Why gov’t should regulate food like tobacco & alcohol
NYPost.com, 12/28/13
Source: “’Impulsive’ brain area linked to obesity in kids
India.com, 11/24/15
Image by Paul Fenwick

Into the New Year

Happy New Year 2013“Well, I already broke my New Year’s resolution, so I guess I’ve blown it for 2016. I’ll just have to start over again next New Year.” Here it is January 4, and somewhere, a certified fatlogic ninja has formulated that rationalization, or one very much like it, on which to coast through the next 361 days.

So let’s talk about health logic instead. Actually, holiday feast temptation is just an exaggerated version of the problem some people face every month, week, or day. A lot of the helpful holiday hints are good all year round. For instance, if you know that lunch will be a food-gobbling circus, do a light breakfast and plan for a scanty supper.

Elena Scuro offers several suggestions for managing children’s holidays without incurring obesity penalties. Not surprisingly, the same common-sense tips are applicable throughout the year. Her post, of course, goes into more detail, but here are the basic precepts:

  • Plan ahead
  • Portion control
  • Be a role model
  • Update your recipes
  • Organize a fun activity

Scuro makes several other great points, including “Don’t bargain with food.” Some things should never be used as emotional bargaining chips, and food is one of them. As Dr. Pretlow and many other experts repeatedly remind us, using food as a reward or bribe is the shortcut to regrettable outcomes. The good news is, now more than ever, parents have the opportunity to do better.

In the past, you’d have to drive around to the bookstores, or hope a nearby university would offer an extension class in Parent Effectiveness Training or a similar program. Today, with the Internet, almost everyone has the means to learn better ways to do things. An astonishing amount of generosity is out there in the form of free help. Harsh as the world sometimes seems, a lot of “paying it forward” happens. Even technology is offered for the general good.

Reflecting on the holiday season has led to quoting Psychology Today‘s Dr. Billi Gordon before, and it’s about to happen again. This coping hint to cancel out stress is for adults and teens, and maybe even younger kids. It’s called the Power Shower and yes, there is a water shortage in many places, so a person might want to go long on the stretching, breathing, and singing, and short on the rinsing. This very pleasant ritual does beneficial things like stimulate the production of endorphins and lower the production of cortisol.

Anybody can sit around all day and enumerate the reasons why they got fat and the reasons why they will never be able to escape fat. Or we can step up our game and change our ways. Compulsive eating may be part of our history, but it doesn’t have to run our lives. One more paragraph from Billi Gordon:

It’s like having a dog with a biting history. You can’t extinguish it like a cigarette; you can’t pretend the chance of it biting again doesn’t exist; and you certainly can’t let it go unleashed. You have to understand the beast as best you can, be vigilant, diligent, persistent, responsible and loving to manage it successfully. We are who we are, and we have to honor that by embracing our assets and liabilities, triumphs and tragedies, personal angels and private demons, 24/7/365.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Avoiding childhood obesity contributors during the holiday season … ,” novakdjokovicfoundation.org, undated
Source: “The Power Shower: Washing Stress and Pounds Away,” Psychologytoday.com, 01/30/14
Source: “Christmas Cookie Blue,” PsychologyToday, 12/06/13
Image by Prachanart Viriyaraks

Escaping Winter Holiday Hell

The Christmas FeastAll the winter holidays are basically the same: festivals of consumption that make it easy for a person to justify or excuse overeating. A helpful tip for any one of the holidays is likely to be effective for the others. Childhood Obesity News passes along some hints from a real maverick, Dr. Billi Gordon, whose life story could provide material for several movies.

From a classically chaotic and abused childhood, Gordon learned early that almost everyone probably shares the latent ability to bury feelings with compulsive overeating. To an American public that loves The Wire, True Detective, and Sons of Anarchy, this concept should not come as too much of a shock:

It is like we all have the capacity for violence. That is not the problem. The problem is what external and internal cues cause us to access that capacity. For the gang kid, the symbol of disrespect can result in violent assault or death. For the compulsive overeater that symbol can cause compulsive overeating, which is just a differently directed assault and a slower death.

Leaning on another analogy, Gordon says:

In many ways, being a compulsive overeater is like belonging to a powerful, ruthless pimp. You cannot walk away or run away. You have to slip away and stay away.

Why would anyone take health advice from a morbidly obese neuroscientist? Would it help to know that Billi Gordon used to weigh almost twice as much? He was 300 pounds in high school, Carla Hall reported for the Los Angeles Times, and 400 when he married his husband. After that he just kept gaining and got to almost 1,000 pounds—while sustaining a career as one of the highest-paid “alternative” models in the business.

In 2009, after losing hundreds of pounds, Gordon suffered from depression and gained back 200 of them, bringing his weight back up to around 700. He entered the hospital to see what could be done about a mass that grew from his thigh. The medical team didn’t really think it was a tumor. More likely it was a massive localized lymphedema, one of the rarer co-morbidities of obesity, and a miserable condition to manage even if surgical removal of the initial growth can be performed. But they couldn’t tell without an MRI, and Gordon was at least 150 pounds too heavy to fit into the diagnostic machine. Finally in 2010 he had the MRI, and there are more chapters to the story, but today, we concentrate on ways of coping.

For instance, in a post titled “There Are No Victims, Only Volunteers,” he suggests a literal version of “fake it till you make it” that results in a release of the feel-good hormone dopamine:

Now, take a pencil, put it in your mouth, lengthwise, and bite down on it. The muscles that you use to do this are the same muscles you use to smile. When you bite down on the pencil, your brain will think, “Oh we’re smiling, we must be happy…”

If you would like some endorphins and oxytocin to go with that dopamine — and really, who wouldn’t? — the next suggestion is plain old, “get some exercise.” People keep saying it, year after year, because it’s true. Take a walk or better yet, dance. Gordon says even a person in a wheelchair can dance with their top half, and he is absolutely correct.

Another one of his suggestions is that the brain dislikes Change with a capital C. It is all busy “processing trillions of commands” and resents being assigned any more tasks. So change has a better chance to stick if it is introduced in small increments. The key is disciplined eating, which is the opposite of compulsive eating. Gordon says:

Winning the war is not about what you eat, but rather how you eat. Therefore, the goal is to establish disciplined eating… Once you establish disciplined eating, your meals will naturally and easily modify themselves to promote excess weight removal. Within a month, your meal size and content will drastically improve, because where the mind and soul leads, body and behavior will follow.

This leads to another opportunity to recall that disciplined eating is what the W8Loss2Go smartphone app is all about. The program is designed to effect change by small increments. Please find out more about it and about the upcoming pilot study which still has applications available!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Symbolic Eating,” PsychologyToday, 11/23/13
Source: “About That New Year’s Resolution Diet,” PsychologyToday.com, 12/31/13
Source: “A body larger than life,” LATimes.com, 10/14/09
Source: “There Are No Victims, Only Volunteers,” PsychologyToday, 12/25/13
Image by Ben and Kaz Askins

 

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